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Is going to your church worth the walk?

Walk To Church For Shoes at Emanuel Presbyterian in Newark. (Photo: Rolnand Perez)

Walk To Church For Shoes at Emanuel Presbyterian in Newark. (Photo: Rolnand Perez)

Is going to your church worth the walk? There many reasons to walk, and many reasons to go to church. I bet you haven't thought to walk to church for shoes. Here's a story about a church that decided to help the neighborhood get an important job done… (See my recent blog post about the Jobs To Be Done framework: Hello community! We can get your jobs done!)

Emanuel First Hispanic Presbyterian Church congregation was energized when they realized their rather ordinary, ineffective, Everybody Is Welcome campaign produced few results. Instead, they considered their neighbors' needs. They essentially tried to answer the question, "What jobs do our neighbors need to get done?" Instead of looking at their out-reach as a way to get people into church, they came to see that addressing what their neighbors needed was fundamentally more a more authentic, and effective, way of showing God's love outside.

One job parents needed to get done was acquiring good shoes. Kids needed shoes for school. Moms and dads needed shoes for work. And for those that already had a closet full of shoes, they needed something better to do with surplus shoes then take up space in the closet.

The Jobs To Be Done model does not focus on the product the organization has to offer, but at understanding what specific jobs are needed to be done by the customer/consumer.Shoes.

The Walk To Church For Shoes project offered good condition shoes for free at their corner in Newark. Want to get a clearer understanding of the Jobs To Be Done idea? Let's use Emanuel's Walk To Church For Shoes as a short case study.

What is your congregation's mission proposition? To get at that answer, let's consider two underlying questions.

  1. What are you offering in exchange for the time the community invests with you and your ministry? In other words, what do you help someone do, in exchange for their time with you? Sure, you may say, there are general spiritual needs every person has, but most people are not looking to get that job done. They are looking for something else. If you can identify and deliver the specific tasks and things a person is looking to get done, you are already earning the right to do more. Offering only what you have, when the recipient is looking for something else, is fundamentally a disconnect that is hard to remedy.
  2. What outcomes do you expect from your ministry? How will you know you achieved those outcomes? Besides the initial perplexed look on church leaders' faces when first considering this line of thought, I keep asking questions about the behaviors they do, and the outcomes they expect from those behaviors. Often, their behaviors are conflicted, sometimes negating the net effects of otherwise good messages.

When I do this kind of analysis with congregations, I invite them to think more deeply about their behaviors, and actions. What are they actually doing, when they are doing their ministry. For example, consider the church's sign board on the building or front lawn. What message does the sign convey? Is the information updated and relevant to those who invest their time to read it? Can passers by read it at all, given the style and point size the letters are displayed in? Does your sign essentially say, All Are Welcome? In fact, is everyone welcomed? Really? And does the sign represent at least a hint of what your church is willing to give in exchange, in reciprocity, with those who attend your services promoted on the sign board?

Inviting responses to these kinds of questions can provoke generative conversations. Responses can also be disruptive to the church's status quo. Don't resist this important disruption because it can lead to a readiness to change and grow.

As a result of Emanuel's Walk to Church For Shoes, new families became involved, and hundreds of people were blessed.

Emanuel Presbyterian Church is celebrating ten years of ministry on Sunday. I am grateful for Pastor Rolnand Perez and his leadership team. With Walk To Church For Shoes, they are taking the community's needs seriously.

Your church can have the same kinds of thoughtful conversation about ministry, community, and the outcomes you believe God has called you to achieve.

If people walked to your church looking for what they needed, would they find it? If its shoes they need, tell them about Emanuel Presbyterian in Newark, New Jersey. Its worth the walk.

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Abundance v. Scarcity; Whose side are you on?

There's a battle raging in our churches. The outcome is being decided every day the congregation is sent into the world. Abundance v. Scarcity; Whose side are you on?

A few weeks ago, the PC(USA) Middle Governing Body (MGB) staff met with executive and general presbyters from the 173 presbyteries to listen and respond to the challenges of common ministry. The annual Association of Executive Presbyters meeting and the Polity Conference was held in Minneapolis to give attendees a preview of the city that is hosting next year's 219th General Assembly.

I appreciate the openness I observe at these national events. Louisville (our denominational headquarters) and Syracuse (our synod office) may seem a bit removed from our life in Newark Presbytery, but these meetings help me better understand their connection to our transforming work as communities, congregations, sessions and pastors.My last visit to Minneapolis was about ten years ago for a youth violence reduction initiative exchange and clearly, the city was undergoing a visible transformation with new buildings, skyways, business expansion and wonderfully hospitable residents.

Shortly after registering, I told a staffer of the host Twin Cities Presbytery what a great city Minneapolis was, to which they responded, "Oh, we have nothing to do with that." Nothing to do with that, indeed.

That remark made an impression on me. How disconnected was that staffer's view of the relationship between their own presbytery's mission and its city? As it turns out, this disconnect became almost a theme as I listened to a denomination perpetually focus on its own survival, even as it tries to help its member presbyteries and congregations to survive. Have we become so detached as congregations and presbyteries, synods, and denomination that we regard ourselves has having little or no relationship to help with the vitality of our region, cities, towns, or neighborhoods we live in?

Our own understandable fight for survival seems contrary to the prophet's advice when he wrote: "Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper" (Jeremiah 29.7).

This principle of reciprocity throughout Scripture incentivises our interaction. We are not alone. We are in community. We have responsibility to our communities, and as our community is blessed, we will be blessed, too. Taking Jeremiah's admonishment a step further, we hear Jesus say: "For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it" (Mark 8:35) NIV. Eugene Peterson adds even more emphasis to Jesus' words:"Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to saving yourself, your true self" (Mark 8:35) The Message.

Survival as individuals versus survival in community is the case in point from Mark 6 in the feeding of thousands of hungry people on a hill. When confronted with their own, and the crowds' hunger (survival), the disciples saw a problem that could only be solved individually: "Send the people to town so they could buy food," they advised. But Jesus saw something different. Instead of a scarcity of resources, Jesus saw abundance. Not limited by individual survival, with money as the solution, Jesus assessed the collective resources available to the disciples (five loaves and two fish), and then extended the frame of reference for a greater blessing to emerge in community.

Jesus organized the thousands into groups of fifties and hundreds. Was this, as theologian Dr. Francis Taylor Gench of Union-PSCE suggests, an example of early community organizing? With the blessing of Jesus, abundance prevailed with plenty of time, food, and resources for everyone. Individually, there wasn't much. That's what the disciples missed. Scarcity was about individuals. Abundance was evidenced in community. Only by transforming together was a transformative blessing experienced and twelve baskets of leftovers remained for even more abundant sharing with those not even present.

Around our world, abundance is winning over scarcity. For example, a previously limited, government controlled resource like clean water is freely given away to allow hope and economic vitality to flow into South American villages once held hostage by scarcity. In Philadelphia, local community newspapers faced closure when their content controlled subscription model failed. Now, partnering with a Presbyterian congregation which invested $100,000 in the project, news is now free, in print and online, promoting community and business life.

We are painfully aware of what we don't have as congregations. I hear that a lot. We can't. We don't. Our understandable response may be to conserve, protect, control, and limit. But Jesus invites us to take another look, not at what we don't have, but instead asking ourselves: "What does our congregation have in abundance?"

Our new Community Transformation Corporation is an example of Newark Presbytery's response. Your congregation offers other examples. It may require imaginative and creative thinking, but every one of our forty-one congregations has been blessed to share. What can we creatively and responsibly give away to show the Good News in new ways, alternate times, maybe in even more compelling venues?Our survival will not be found in saving ourselves. Our Synod has already begun steps in this direction with its new funding priorities.

The PC(USA) cannot save itself through control and reorganization motivated by self-help. Instead, lets ask in what ways the Presbyterian Church (USA) can more boldly release resources to bless a nation and world? This to me is the essential challenge for the 219th General Assembly. For example, could the Presbyterian church in North America be so in love with Jesus Christ and connected and committed to the vitality and wellness of a nation, that Presbyterians would lead a resurgence of volunteerism in every community in America? Imagine the difference we could make.

I look forward to your invitation to listen and learn together with your pastor and session to explore ministries inspired by God's abundance. I want an opportunity to view your communities through your eyes and, with our presbytery, view the world through God's eyes and grow through abundance.

Steps to get started: Could you organize resources differently, organize neighborhood challenges differently? Jesus said, if you want to emerge with vitality, give yourselves away. Pastors and elders: What can your congregation imaginatively redirect, release, empower, collaborate, or time-shift that would evoke more praise to God as it blesses others? The possibilities are endless. Giving ourselves away, establishing new links in our communities through our unique ministries, will result in our own growth and vitality. I am grateful for all of you. As our communities are blessed through our ministries, let's be able to enthusiastically say, "Yes! We helped with that!"

Abundance v. Scarcity; Whose side are you on?

In abundance,


(Here's the text referred to in blog)
Mark 6.35-43: By this time it was late in the day, so his disciples came to him. “This is a remote place,” they said, “and it’s already very late. Send the people away so they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” But Jesus answered, “You give them something to eat.” They said to him, “That would take eight months of wages! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?” “How many loaves do you have?” he asked. “Go and see.” When they found out, they said, “Five—and two fish.” …They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish.



Newark, NJ Blessed in Late Night

For weeks now, the Mayor of Newark, Cory Booker, has been sparing with late night TV host Conan O'Brien on NBC's The Late Show with Conan O'Brien. Always up to Conan's challenges about Newark's transformation, Mayor Cory Booker continued to step up and lift up Brick City. Last night on late night, Conan surprised the Mayor, and the watching and blogging audience, with a gift of $100,000 for Booker's project, Newark Now, which is advancing the quality of life in Newark, New Jersey. NBC, along with Conan and his wife, donated the money in order to not be part of the problem, but become part of the solution. Conan commented that $100,000 made for one expensive joke, and further promised to donate $500 to a Newark Joke Jar for each future jab at Newark's expense.

Newark Presbytery's eleven congregations in the city of Newark are places of hope, delivery stations in the name of Jesus Christ. In the months and years to come, along with people like Cory and Conan, we will continue to be channels of God's blessings to help build a transformed Newark and grow the lives of its 280,000 residents in the name of Jesus Christ. Newark Presbytery's Community Transformation Corporation is another ministry vehicle just beginning to organize to bring blessings not only to Newark, but to all of Essex and parts of Bergen and Hudson counties.

Newark Presbytery celebrates the $100,000 gift to Newark Now and is grateful for the leadership of Mayor Cory Booker and the generosity of Conan's family.

Become part of the solution. Is your community unraveling? How can your church help your community reconnect to itself? Who are the key connectors? I know forty-one Presbyterian congregations who are, and who are committed to be, key connectors of God's blessing.

Following adapted and edited from Jeremiah 29.7

“Make yourselves at home there and work for the country’s welfare. Pray for Newark's well-being. If things go well for Newark, things will go well for you.”

More information can be found at Newark's: StarTribune and StarLedger .

Building Brick City, one brick at a time.



Great Commission: Communion in Context

Great Commission: Communion in Context

Jesus put the mandate right out in front when he said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. As you go, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit.”

When the Gospel moved out of Jerusalem on Pentecost, amazing results occurred. Instead of hoarding the Good News in the Upper Room, the Holy Spirit moved the people of God to get up and MOVE. TRUE Communion with God always results in a blessing in the Context, on the street.
In Acts 16, we come across an incredible story.
Acts 16:6-15
(New International Version)

  Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas. During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.
  From Troas we put out to sea and sailed straight for Samothrace, and the next day on to Neapolis. From there we traveled to Philippi, a Roman colony and the leading city of that district of Macedonia. And we stayed there several days.
  On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. One of those listening was a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us.

In Acts 12-13, Paul completes his first missionary journey, traveling from Jerusalem to, Phrygia. The Spirit prevented Paul and his group from ministry in Asia at that time, but in a vision, recorded in Acts 16, Paul heard the cry for help from Macedonia, in Europe. So they took a boat from Troas, leaving Asia behind, and went across to Europe where God blessed their ministry. Was that visit about Europe alone? I don’t think so!
They ended up in Philippi, a place that became a dear and special place in Paul’s heart, people to whom the Letter to the Philippians was written.

It was there they were led to do a Bible study by the river, (but who could have known), that a woman named Lydia was there. She was a merchant, a business woman who sold purple cloth. Incredibly, the text says, “The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.” But the blessings was not to her alone. Here entire household believed. And there’s more!

A friend ofmine, a gifted preacher and colleague in the Presbyterian Church, the Rev. Steven Yamaguchi from Los Ranchos, California, recently shared this story: I heard a very talented and gifted preacher once say in discussing this text, “So Lydia was the first European convert to the Gospel.” Well, that sounds good, right? But look closely at the text, or take a look at a map of the region. Lydia was not a European! The text says she was from Thyatira, a city in ASIA! She was Asian. She was a very successful, educated, resourceful, ASIAN who as an ex-patriot, an ASIAN immigrant living in EUROPE, believed in Jesus Christ. My preacher friend was right that Lydia was in Europe when she believed, but he was dead wrong that this story described the first European convert. God chose an ASIAN woman (in europe) who met Jesus and through her, to bring the Gospel to EUPOPE and through Lydia, an entire continent was blessed. We are here today because an Asian woman heard the Gospel! The Gospel got to Asia through a ministry in Europe.

The Macedonian call was to Paul a cry for help. In Communion with Christ, he now needed to pay attention to his Context. He had to cross borders. He heeded the invitation of the Spirit to take the Gospel into a new area. Asians, Africans, Europeans, everyone. Each person we serve in kindness and love, in the name of Jesus, can become another launching pad for the Gospel moving into new areas. We do not need to go to Europe to share the Good News with Europeans.

Many of you today are, through your ministry and love, sharing God’s blessings with people from all over the world. Not just in Taiwan, but everywhere. The world is at our doorsteps and the principle of Contextual Intelligence reminds us that God is planting us as grapes in his vineyard in communion, to bear fruit that the world would be blessed in context.

John 1:14 (in the Message), says, “The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood.” We need to pay attention to our context. In communion with the Holy Spirit, we must listen to God calling us into NEW neighborhoods. What can those of us living in Livingston have to offer to those living in Newark? Already many of you have been assisting with the ministry at Memorial West. What a wonderful expression of love! I commend you for this ministry.

What other voices are calling? Where is God calling you now? Is there a clearer voice from God’s Spirit, like the Macedonian vision, to come and help? How can your work with others in Newark Presbytery by serving on presbytery committees, or volunteering at Presbytery Center, or supporting community service and educational programs in Newark? How can your effort at Memorial West be a launching pad to even greater capacity to do even more?

Lydia knew that the inside had to get outside. She could not keep the Good News to herself. Lydia modeled her communion with Jesus Christ in her context in four ways:

1. Be real. Lydia was an authentic human being. One of the most frequent observations non-church folks make about church folks is that they don’t seem real. Since God loves you so very much, you need not act greedy nor be fearful. We can become more real, generous, and loving toward others!

2. Be a friend. Lydia was a good friend. Many don’t invite friends to their church experiences is because they don’t have any. Be a friend. Act as a friend. That’s the way we demonstrate God’s love for us. We can become more generous as a friend and loving toward others!

3. Be involved. Lydia was involved in her community. She was with others (ethnically diverse) by the river. Maybe you could volunteer in the neighborhood. Since God loves the world, how will your neighborhood know if you are not involved? We can become more generous with our time and loving toward others!

4. Be a leader. Lydia was a leader. Pastors, Elders, Deacons, key congregational people need to be leaders, not only managers. She responded to opportunities all around her. We are not put on this planet for such a short time to serve ourselves. Instead, we need to listen to God’s Communion call to bless our Context. We can lead by modeling humility and being more loving toward others!

Let’s understand that we must not continue to do the same things in the same way if we want different outcomes. If we are committed to reaching new people, the same old ways are no longer working, and to do ministry the same old way will not result in different outcomes.

Contextual Intelligence: The ability to read the forces that shape the times in which we live and seize on the resulting opportunities.

Our context is changing more rapidly than ever. We must change in meaningful ways to keep up. The world is on our doorstep. Our communities are looking for real friends and involved leaders who hear God’s call to demonstrate God’s love to all people. God so loved the world.... that's our true mission in context.



Greed Never Produces Good Fruit

Greed Never Produces Good Fruit

“Listen to another parable: There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and went away on a journey. When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit.

What a great story. A man had resources, land, lots of fertile land and he put a vineyard on it. Following General Assembly a few months ago in San Jose, California, my wife, Melissa, and I visited vineyards in Napa valley. Beautiful vineyards, great wine. Wonderful. Well, this man in Jesus’ parable has a similar goal as Napa valley’s landowners. He wanted to grow grapes. So he hired workers to complete the task. You reap what you sow, right? So the landowner expected a great harvest at harvest time. Not before harvest time! No. The grapes would be ready when they were ready and the workers, the servants in the parable, cultivated and tended the vineyard so that when the time was right, the fruit of their labors, the return on the landowner’s investment in that land would come forth! Well, the vines were bursting with life and the presses were working overtime, but the workers said to themselves:

“The tenants seized his servants; they beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. Then he sent other servants to them, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them the same way. Last of all, he sent his son to them. ‘They will respect my son,’ he said.

“But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.’ So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.

Wow! Instead of the grapes being pressed into useful and life-giving wine produced by the workers in COMMUNION with the landowner, the workers cared only about themselves and in GREED, too not only the wine, but killed the very son of the landowner!

When we are not in communion, when we are not in a right relationship with one another, we care only about ourselves, our needs, our wants, our desires, and in this state of greed, want what is not ours to have. The vineyard belonged to the owner, and to the owner’s son. Like some executives on Wall Street, they took what was not theirs and they cared only for themselves. The results were devastating.

The Harvard Business School established a database about the top 900 executives and published a book entitled In Their Time: The Greatest Business Leaders of the Twentieth Century by professors Mayo and Nohria.

They wrote about three leadership types in business, government, and the church, as well. Mold-makers, Mold-breakers, and Mold-takers. Mayo and Nohria offered an incredible insight when they considered the question: Was there one ingredient these great leaders had in common? Yes, they concluded, and here it is:

The ability to read the forces that shape the times in which they live and seize on the resulting opportunities. They called this ability Contextual Intelligence. Not being selfish about their own needs and viewpoints, but taking the time to see the community, the world, through the eyes of others is the key to healthier living. Contextual Intelligence refers to thoughtfully understanding the real world right now, and instead of taking from it, giving to it in Jesus’ name.

The church can choose to be less concerned about the church itself, and instead, invest its more energy in the real-life experiences of people outside our churches. Congregational transformation occurs when a congregation takes Communion with God so seriously that it considers its Context just as seriously, too.

What the vineyard workers did not understand was that if they were in Communion with the vineyard owner, they would have received great blessings. But greed led them to take what was not theirs and in the end, they received nothing, loosing their very lives.

The missional theme of our presbytery is Together Transforming Lives, Congregations, Communities, and World.

How we understand our context is critically important, not only for business leaders, city officials, individual congregations, but for the whole church and all its leaders. Greed never produces good fruit.