Being poor stinks!

Posted: October 29, 2014 by efenster in Ideas, Stories
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Wire Shopping Cart 180L 45 degree_medium“Being poor stinks!” said the woman to me at the check-out lane.  I asked her how she was and she took me seriously.  In fact, she went on for the next ten minutes.  (Thank goodness no one else was in line!)  A broken marriage, a mother who had died and left her with a feeling of abandonment, unsupportive siblings to help her deal with settling her mother’s estate, a pregnant daughter out of state whom she is desperate to be with at the time of delivery, financial problems.  Yes, being poor stinks!

North Judson United Methodist Church, pastored by Rev. David Mullens, is serving its community’s poor in a variety of ways–clothing ministry, food bank, etc.  However, what it’s doing that’s unique is that everything is home delivered.  Lay people take the clothes to the family, allow them to try the clothes on to make sure they fit, hear their stories, and pray with them.  The same with the food.  Rather than having people stand in a line, lay members bring bags of food to each family, spend time listening to their stories and pray with them.

You see it isn’t just about the clothes or the food, it’s about being present about offering prayers and hope.  Something that we Christians can do anywhere–even at the check-out line.  You see poverty stinks.  People feel alone.  Many are as desperate for a listening ear and prayer, as they are for the goods we have to offer them.

How about your church?  How is it serving the poor?

– Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director for Church Development

Unknown-1I recently had a pastor ask me for tips on how to deal with church conflict.  Here are five things that came to mind…

  1. Where there are two or more present, there will be conflict; it’s normal.  How we deal with it is the key.
  2. Acknowledging and dealing with conflict is an act of love.  If we didn’t love those involved, we wouldn’t care and would just shrug it off.
  3. Dealing with people face-to-face, rather than behind their backs, is essential (Matthew 18:15-17).  In order to get a congregation to communicate in such a way, some churches are using church covenants that include things like—we take our concerns to the person, rather than going to someone else (triangulating); we don’t deal with anonymous comments or complaints; we can disagree when discussing issues in committees, but once our group makes its decision we publicly support it 100%.
  4. In order to deal with conflict in a healthy way, we must trust those involved (See The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, by Patrick Lencioni); so how can we build trust?  By spending time together, listening to each other’s stories, creating a safe place.
  5. Dan Moseley, pastor, writer, and professor at Christian Theological Seminary, says that helping people learn to grieve is a fundamental element in helping people deal with conflict.  They need to be asked, “What is it that you’re afraid to lose?”  This helps them articulate what’s behind their grief and it helps them discover that they’re not alone, that others are losing something too, even those who hold an opposing view.  Part of the role of the pastor is to create a safe place where this conversation can happen, and to be vulnerable by honestly sharing themselves; otherwise, others won’t open up and be vulnerable.

What would you add?

– Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church Development

What does a church making peanut brittle have to do with making disciples and transforming the world?  Maybe absolutely nothing  but maybe there is a connection.  The key is that every activity your church does–from its annual rummage sale to its vacation Bible school–must be able to complete the “so that” test.

Lovett Weems and Tom Berlin, in their book entitled Bearing Fruit, says that everything a church does must be linked to its mission by the words so that.  A church must be able to answer the question, “How does this activity help us to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world?”

In the case of peanut brittle, a church could say, “We are making the peanut brittle so that we can rub shoulders with newcomers to our church, so that they can develop friends and get connected with a small spiritual growth group with those friends, so that ultimately these newcomers will grow in their relationship with Christ.”

If you can’t come up with an answer to “so that,” then stop doing it!

Below is a group from Chesterton United Methodist Church that applied the “so that” test to their Companions in Christ group.  The group isn’t new but its members hadn’t, until now, articulated how their group helps carry out the mission.

So, how might your church use the “so that” test too?

– Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church Development

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GidenKeithC_20130301Who is God calling your church to reach?  If you’re like a lot of people, you’ll say it’s for all people.  However, the reality is that it usually is for people like those already attending.  Monson Community United Methodist Church, in South Bend, IN, is an exception to this rule.  The church, led by its pastor Tim Aydelotte, had a vision for becoming a church for all people.  What they really meant by that is to become a church that reaches those who have been forgotten, who live on the margins, who are living on life’s edge (my words, not theirs).

So earlier this year, with the help of a Conference Church Development grant and the blessings of the district superintendent, the church began renting a storefront on South Bend’s west side.  It named the space the Keith Giden Community Outreach Center, after a man who went from what he called the “wrong side of the tracks” to the “right side of the tracks.”  He recently passed away as a result of a battle with cancer and it was his dream to create a ministry center that helped those who grew up the way he did.  And now the center offers free meals, dances for “all abilities,” free movie nights, a “Get Out of the House” fellowship time for all ages, as well as Bible and Brew, Joshua’s Men, and a weekly prayer group.

After visiting a similar ministry in Columbus, OH, named the Church for All People (a United Methodist ministry), Pastor Tim and the Monson Community leaders launched their own Sunday morning congregation called, The Church for All People, South Bend.  It meets weekly on Sunday mornings at the Keith Giden Community Outreach Center.  Last Sunday’s service had 70 people of all ages, economic status, and colors–blacks, whites, and Hispanics–ages (one-third were children), first-time guests and regular attenders, all seated around tables.

Worship music was led by i-Worship videos.  People requested prayers for new jobs, sobriety, a party for a 15-year-old friend that was disrupted by “gang bangers,” and for people with health concerns.  There was a “working” sermon time where everyone changed tables and worked together on an assignment related to the stewardship message.  There was also a single Hispanic woman and two of her children who joined the church.

The bottom line is that it felt like a big family gathering that included middle-aged black men hugging an 80-year-old white church matriarch, a young white man who had come off the street, and folks living from budget to budget.  It embodied Keith Giden’s vision.

Although it isn’t a church for everyone, not everyone will want such a church experience, it is a church whose posture is a warm heart with open arms to anyone who is looking for the Good news of Jesus Christ and a loving family.

– Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director for Church Development

Jirehs_Picture_035Kevin had anger issues, the pastor said.  Kevin is part of a group of disabled adults that come together the fourth Tuesday of each month at 6pm to worship together at New Hope United Methodist Church in Elkhart, IN.  The service, called Jireh (Hebrew for “God provides”), attracts anywhere from 30 to 50 people each month, most disabled.  Rev. Andy Martin, the church’s pastor, says the service is a powerful, lively experience, that engages every person.  It includes dancing, singing, prayer, and a message.  And it transforms lives, lives like Kevin’s.  He’s now known as the “gentle giant.”  His group home has been so amazed at his transformation that it is now trying to get all its residents to attend!

Our mission, as United Methodist churches, is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, and that’s just what is happening each month through the Jireh worship service, as well as many other ministries, at New Hope UMC in Elkhart.  How’s it happening at your church?

– Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church Development


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs I read the Book of Acts and Paul’s letters, I am struck by the countless number of people who sacrifice all they have for the sake of Christ.  Just yesterday I read about Epaphroditus mentioned in Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi.  Paul calls him a “fellow worker and fellow soldier” sent by the church to care for Paul’s needs.  It goes on to report that he had been ill and almost died.

Having just returned from a mission trip to Kenya, I’ve been reflecting on the countless persons who have given their lives away for the sake of Christ.  While on the trip I read a biography, written by Gina Riendeau, of Ken and Lorainne Enright who served their entire lives in Congo as Methodist missionaries.  Time and time again, they were threatened, even arrested, yet they continued to faithfully serve, and their children continue to serve today.

I think of Tony, a native Kenyan, who leads a ministry to 150 boys who live on the streets of Kenya’s third largest city.  Every Sunday he’s there ministering to them, when nearly everyone else in the community ignores them and wishes they’d go away.  I also think of Julie Campbell, a missionary with the Mission Society, who left her home in Pennsylvania after working in the area of social work for two-dozen years and settled in Wachara, a tiny village in the bush of Kenya, where she serves children who have been orphaned due to HIV/Aids through Life for Children Ministry.  Julie lit up when someone from our mission team offered her a package of cheese crackers from America.  She goes without such simple comforts every day!

And the church in Africa continues to grow by leaps and bounds.  The area the Enrights served leads the entire United Methodist denomination in the growth of converts and churches.  Julie is not only serving those kids but has also founded four new churches, all while pastoring a church that my congregation in Fort Wayne had a part in starting.

So as I read about Epaphroditus, and think about the Enrights and Julie, I ask myself to what degree I am willing to give it all up for the sake of Christ and the mission of His church.  What about you?  And guess what, we don’t even have to go to a distant land.  We can do it every day right where God has placed us!

– Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director for Church Development


header_03I’m presently on my second visit to United Methodist churches in the Philippines.  When I first visited the country just over ten years ago, I got to know one of the oldest UMCs in the country, Knox United Methodist Church located in downtown Manila.

Knox is like a lot of our churches in the states.  It once was a church that the professional class called home.  But times have changed and with them the church has changed and adapted.  How did it do this?  Because it is totally focused on its mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world!  This means that whenever decisions have to be made, the church places the mission above personal preference.  An example of this is how Knox has intentionally decided to forgo air-conditioning in its sanctuary and instead use that money toward planting churches.

As a result, it has planted over a dozen new United Methodist churches–some located in the Middle East, for example Dubai and Kuwait.  This done by a church that intentionally is serving the poor around its main location.  It is a church that continues to give itself away, and God continues to provide it with all it needs–leaders, funds, and vision.

And last night I was privileged to see just a little of its fruit–a children’s dance troop, made up of local children, many of whom from poor families.  Bright smiles, full of the joy of the Lord!  No problem forgoing air conditioning when you’re looking face-to-face at children who reflect the face of Christ.  Christ gave up everything for us.  What are we and our churches willing to give up for Him?

– Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church Development