Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Greater Than the Sum of Their Parts

When followers of Jesus share life together in a particular place they become greater than the sum of their parts – they actually become something altogether new. The parish forms the context, and relationships of faith form the connectivity for wonderful new possibilities. (The New Parish by Sparks, Soerens, and Friesen, p 22)

We barely knew each other, we came from different backgrounds, and very different church experiences. To be completely honest, I wasn’t too sure how I felt about what God laying on my heart.

Pastor Ronnie Jackson’s church, Cornerstone Crusade Faith Center, has been located in the Hamline-Midway neighborhood for nearly 20 years. Pastor Jackson and I serve together on the leadership team of Mission St. Paul, a diverse group of pastors and leaders from around the Twin Cities, who pray for the transformation of our city. Although we serve together in Mission St. Paul, we are very different people. However, it was clear that God was calling us to join forces in praying for our neighborhood.

Pastor Jackson
Pastor Jackson grew up on the South Side of Chicago in the 1960s, and I grew up in a medium-sized town in Central California in the ‘70s. He comes from a traditional and more formal church setting and often wears a suit, and I work with exploratory church-planters and can’t remember the last time I wore a suit. He is in his 60’s, and, although I’m 50, I often work with people in their 20’s and 30’s.

When we started meeting in the Fall of 2014, it was just the two of us. We didn’t have an elaborate plan, but we did make one commitment that I believe was the key to our longevity. We determined to meet every Friday from 8:30-10 regardless of whether or not someone else joined us. Also, since we had invited others from our neighborhood, we agreed that if one of us was out of town, then the other one would still show up to pray at the designated time.

For the first several months, it was typically just the two of us. And, as discouraging as that may sound, it was anything but discouraging. As we shared our life stories, our current challenges, prayed for one another and the neighborhood, a deep friendship began to grow. I began to understand more of the history of our neighborhood from someone who has been here a lot longer than me. Pastor Jackson began to regain his hope for the neighborhood as I shared stories of new expressions of church that were being birthed. And, we both felt encouraged that we had an ally who was deeply committed to seeing transformation in our neighborhood.

In early 2015, others from the neighborhood began to join us. A couple of young church planters, a family with a ministry to the Arts community, a “retired” missionary who spent many years in Somalia, and an Eritrean immigrant who uses her East African restaurant to bless homeless young people. Our growth has been slow, but our growth has been deep, and this little band of intercessors has become a beautiful expression of the Church united.
Prayer mapping as we pray for the neighborhood.

This past year as we have prayed, two things have stood out to me. First of all, prayer is powerful. The power of praying for one another and our neighborhood has deeply united us relationally and spiritually, which is a compelling sign to a watching world. Our times of prayer are also profoundly shaping how we, as the wider Body of Christ, are living on mission corporately in our neighborhood.

Secondly, a united, praying Church is essential for creating a healthy environment for the transformative, redemptive work of God. A healthy Body life is crucial if we expect to see healthy, new expressions of church birthed in our neighborhood. If seeds of God’s kingdom are intentionally being sown throughout our neighborhood, then the condition of the “soil” is of vital importance.

And, this dream of a unified, praying Church is not only happening in our neighborhood, but is taking root in other neighborhoods as well. Wouldn’t it be beautiful to see more neighborhoods enjoying the power and beauty of the Church united in prayer and mission? It only takes a couple of people…could one of those be you?

Sunday, July 26, 2015


As a church community we have been studying The Art of Neighboring for the past month or two. During that time, we have had great conversations about how to impact our neighbors, how to build relationships that will lead to deeper intimacy with Christ and transform lives. But, in all of these conversations, we could never really imagine how powerful a simple “braai” (like an American barbecue, only with more meat) with our next-door neighbors could be.

Last summer, Bryan and I invited the 3 young men from next door to come over for a backyard braai. They had not lived in the neighborhood for very long and, as with most young men, they were often just passing in and out of their home. To get to know them better, we invited them to our home for a meal to spend a pleasant few hours in conversation. Basically, it was your typical introductory meeting with neighbors.

One of the young men, Andrew, brought along a young woman, Becky, whom he had just started to date. We learned that Andrew was studying to be a music pastor and that he was the one playing the organ at weird hours both day and night. He worked for Caribou Coffee, and he and his girlfriend Becky had actually met a few years before, went on a few dates, but decided they “weren't that into each other.” She moved away, he went on with school, time passed, and then one day she walked into the coffee shop where he worked. There was Andrew in green tights. Nobody is sure why he was wearing green tights (Halloween perhaps?), but she took another look at him and they reconnected. This time it was a different story and they began to date.

That evening at our home, we talked about how Bryan and I met, our relationship, and having teenagers. We talked about Jane Austen, my furniture, the Twins, and the weird hours that he played the organ. It all seemed rather normal, strangers who share a common fence getting to know each other. For the next year, we would watch them come and go, we would wave, have short conversations over the back fence, and we became Facebook friends. Bryan and I watched their relationship become more serious, we would ask the normal neighborly questions and so on. Then earlier this year, we received an invitation to their wedding, and Bryan and I assumed all the neighbors were invited. We debated whether or not we should go because we didn't really “know” them, we didn't want to intrude on an intimate family event, you only get so many beautiful Saturdays to enjoy in Minnesota, etc.

In the end, we decided that we'd actually enjoy going, so we did. We got up, put on our Sunday best, and drove the two hours to Wisconsin. Once there, we were surprised at how small and intimate the wedding was, and that we were the only neighbors there. It was a beautiful ceremony that was dedicated to God and their love for Him and each other. I was honored to be there, yet a bit confused as to why. We knew no one except for Andrew's roommate, Tim. But we mingled and ended up having a wonderful time, as their love and pure delight in each other was evident in every detail of the intimate and slightly crowded setting. During the reception, Andrew and Becky made it a point to struggle through the crowd and make their way over to the corner where Bryan and I sat. I was surprised that they would make the effort, but got up and hugged them in congratulations.

Andrew told me how pleased they were that we came, and how badly they wanted to share this day with us. Apparently, unbeknownst to us, our conversation the year before in our backyard had impacted them immensely and gave them the courage and hope to move their relationship forward, and eventually toward marriage.

We were a bit stunned. We couldn't for the life of us remember what we said that was so profound. I am still trying to remember what I said, apparently it was gold and I might want to say it again. But I am realizing that it was not even the words we used, but the moment that God chose to use. A seemingly normal chat with neighbors was transformed by a loving God into an encouragement for yearning hearts. We never know what someone needs to hear when we enter into a conversation with them, but God knows and is always eager to give us just the right words to say even when we can't imagine their impact. I am learning more and more, that if we live with Christ-like intent, no word will ever be wasted.

Thursday, May 28, 2015


At the central intersection of our neighborhood sits a local coffee shop/restaurant/bakery. Over the past decade, this coffee shop has changed ownership several times, and has had several different names, but it has always been the neighborhood coffee shop. Today it is known as Groundswell, and is owned by two families who are part of Third Way Church. Groundswell has become “the” local hang out in our immediate neighborhood. And, it was here, while having coffee with a friend, that I first met Angelie.

I can still picture the scene. My friend and I were talking about how Third Way could become more embedded in our neighborhood when Angelie, who was sitting at the other end of a long, communal table, leaned over and said, “I need to meet you guys because you are talking about some of my favorite things.” After introductions were made, it was fun to find out that Angelie lived on our street, just a block or two down the road.

Over the next several months, we slowly got to know Angelie better, meeting over coffee, hearing bits and pieces of her story, and sharing parts of our own. It didn't take long to realize that we shared a similar love for the Church, and a desire to see fresh, new expressions of church birthed and nurtured. Angelie also joined us for our backyard barbecue and conversations that summer, where a handful of people gathered for a monthly meal and conversation about launching new churches and communities of faith.

Like the coffee shop, Angelie has been part of the fabric of our neighborhood for many years (19 to be exact), and has seen many changes. Having worked as an engineer for many years, she is now a spiritual director, life-coach, and master gardner. She was also involved in the leadership of a church plant, and was considering a position with her denomination – a process that had been going on for more than a year.

As I got to know Angelie, I could see how CRM could be a great fit for her. However, it was important for me to honor the process Angelie was in with her denomination. The focus of our team is not to make more CRM staff, but to help leaders live into their calling and passion more fully, whatever that calling happens to be. Therefore, we kept laying the relational foundation that would support a kingdom partnership with Angelie.

Eventually, nearly a year after first meeting Angelie, I felt the nudge of the Spirit to invite her to explore the possibility of coming on staff with CRM. After several conversations, I invited her to the CRM world conference, an event that only happens every four years. I figured it would be a great opportunity to get to know CRM as a whole, and an important piece in making a decision regarding CRM staff. At the end of the conference, I spoke to Angelie and she told me that she had finally found her “tribe”.

Angelie with her new teammates.
Although we felt like Angelie would fit well on our team, her call to a Spanish-speaking context near the US-Mexico border led her to explore other options within CRM. She has since joined ReNew, a team based in Southern California, who walk alongside pastors, ministry leaders, and their spouses, to help them experience rest, renewal, and restoration in the midst of the ongoing demands of life and ministry. Being part of this team will allow her to live in community with other ReNew staff in a predominately Spanish-speaking neighborhood of San Diego.

As we walk alongside leaders in the Twin Cities, we love helping them embrace their giftedness, and gain clarity in their calling. In the grand scheme of things, we played a small part, but for her, the ReNew team, and those she will minister to, it has huge implications.

Monday, March 16, 2015

The Art of Neighboring

Sometimes you hear or read something that you just can't shake. Something that gets under your skin and becomes a part of you. Often times, it's something very simple, yet it has a profound impact on the way you think and live. The following story is one of those moments for a group of pastors, and, in their retelling of the story, it became one of those moments for me. 

In 2009, a group of pastors in the Denver area gathered to think, dream, and pray about how their churches might join forces to serve their community. They invited Bob Frie, the mayor of Arvada, CO, to join them, and asked him a simple question: How can we as churches best work together to serve our city?
The discussion that followed produced the typical list of social problems that many cities face: at-risk kids, areas with dilapidated housing, child hunger, drug and alcohol abuse, loneliness, and elderly shut-ins. The list went on and on.
Then the mayor said something that stopped these pastors in their tracks:
“The majority of the issues that our community is facing would be eliminated or drastically reduced if we could just figure out a way to become a community of great neighbors.”
The mayor's words that day were convicting, as the pastors considered his words in light of the words of Jesus to “love the Lord with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your mind,” and to “love your neighbor as yourself.” What if we did this with our literal neighbors, who live next door? As they wondered at the genius of Jesus, a joint-church movement was launched.

The (Lost) Art of Neighboring 

Partners in the art of neighboring.
Neighboring (or being a good neighbor) seems to be a dying art. I often hear people express a longing for deep meaningful relationships, and I hear Christians express a longing to share the Gospel and create kingdom realities in the communities where they live. However, in the midst of the busyness of life, it is easy to allow these longings for good things to remain just that... longings and not a reality.

Third Way Church recently asked me to help their three house churches to grow in sharing the Gospel with neighbors and co-workers. At the time, I was reading a book, The Art of Neighboring, and it felt like the right place to start. It seemed wise to work on building the kind of relationships with our neighbors/co-workers that would create the context to not only share our words, but our lives as well. 

In the book, two things really hit me. First of all, the authors ask people to think of the eight families that directly surround their house/apartment (see picture). They then ask: 

1) can you name each neighbor? (10% of people can name all eight) 

2) do you know anything about them, such as where they work? (3% can do this for all eight) 

3) do you know something of a personal nature, such as struggles, needs, dreams, desires, spiritual journey? (less than 1% can do this for all eight) 

Secondly, I was encouraged by the countless ways neighbors began to practically love and care for one another as they established deeper relationships. As people moved along the continuum from stranger to acquaintance to relationship, they began to invite one another into the more intimate and challenging areas of their lives. People began to taste of, and experience firsthand, the realities of God's kingdom and His love. 

The definition of incarnating is “to personify; to give human form to; to realize in action or fact.” There is nothing more beautiful than seeing the incarnation of the Gospel. We see it in Jesus, but we also see it when Christ-followers enter in, live out, and share the story of the great love of God in the person of Jesus. 

May it be so in our neighborhood as well as in yours.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014


Although he grew up in the suburbs of Denver, Michael found himself in Texas addicted to drugs and living in a house frequented by members of the notorious gang, the Crips. After years of running with a pretty rough crowd, and several run-ins with the law, it was in 2009 in a county jail that Michael gave his life to Christ. He now lives in Visalia, CA, where he serves in a ministry home for children, and attends Bible college.

Michael engaging some personal development.
One of my roles as a team leader is recruiting like-hearted people to join us in launching young leaders, who will launch fresh expressions of church. For the past few years, I have been getting to know Michael. I’m always drawn to people like Michael, who don’t seem to fit the mold, have an insatiable desire for God, and a natural way of inviting others to experience the good news of Jesus.

Dayton’s Bluff is known to be one of the “rough” neighborhoods of St. Paul. By rough, I mean higher crime rates, people living around or under the poverty line, more rentals/less ownership, and multiple families/generations occupying one house. Dayton’s Bluff is home to our newest missional community, Ekklesia, which is being led by our teammate, Tony.

emĖˆbed/ verb - to fix firmly and deeply in a surrounding mass; to implant within something else so it becomes an ingrained or essential characteristic of it.

As our team has been preparing for the launch of Ekklesia, we often talked about being embedded in the Dayton’s Bluff community. We want Ekklesia to be fixed firmly and deeply in the surrounding community. We want it to be an expression of the Body that isn’t just in the neighborhood, but one that is of the neighborhood. A group of people ready to be/bring the good news, yet ready to learn from the neighborhood, and woven into the very fabric of neighborhood life.

Free Yard Sale
Knowing that Michael is someone who connects easily with others, especially those who come from “rough” backgrounds, we invited him out for an internship for the month of August. Our hope was that he would help to connect Ekklesia relationally in the neighborhood. During August, he lived in the core community house of Ekklesia and spent a majority of his time living alongside and getting to know the people of Dayton’s Bluff.

Michael did a great job helping to organize and host neighborhood events like National Night Out, where neighbors gather on their street to share a meal and get to know one another. He also helped organize Ekklesia’s Free Yard Sale. This event runs on the premise that “some are able to give from their excess, and others are able to give by only taking what they need,” and it was wonderful to see people honor the spirit of the event.

Some days Michael would set out with a lawnmower to bless the neighbors by cutting their grass, which often led to deeper conversations. One teary-eyed, single mother was amazed that this young man would willingly come and help her in this very practical way. And, finally, he simply lived daily life with those who live on the block, deeply connecting with one house in particular where an extended family of 17 people lived.

Some significant steps were taken this August in helping Ekklesia become embedded in the neighborhood. For Ekklesia, the challenge now is to move forward in these relationships that have been started, and to continue to presence the kingdom of God and bring the good news of Jesus in word and deed. Please join us in praying that this would indeed be the case.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Natalie’s Hurdle: Others’ Love and Respect

Natalie stood at a critical juncture in her life and didn’t even realize it. Quite frankly, I’m not sure that others realized it either. Natalie’s heart and passion were on the line, but all of this could have so easily gone unnoticed. It was going to take someone who knew Natalie well to see the importance of the decision she was about to make.

Natalie has an inviting spirit and wisdom beyond her years. She naturally leads others, and has a sense of loyalty and responsibility that defies her age. Although she is only 25 years old, she has been a vital part of launching Thirdway Church. She has served in leadership for more than five years and is loved and well-respected. And, this very love and respect became one of Natalie’s biggest hurdles to following God’s call on her life.

Daleen and Natalie
Over the past five years, Natalie has grown in her understanding of God’s call upon her life. She is a natural builder of deep, intentional community among God’s people. She also has a love for sustenance farming, and envisions bringing these two worlds together in an urban setting. As clarity came and Natalie started pursuing her calling, an opportunity opened up at a church in Illinois that runs a local farm. In this setting she could continue to grow as a leader, and also gain invaluable experience working on the church’s farm.

Natalie began to share about this opportunity, and her desire to follow God’s leading. However, this began to cause dissonance for the people who love and value Natalie. Of course they were excited for her clarity of calling, but they certainly didn’t want her to move away. People began trying to convince Natalie to stay in St. Paul. And, for someone who is deeply loyal and responsible, this created a confusing situation.

Enter Daleen

Daleen has been meeting weekly with Natalie for the past 3 years. During that time, Daleen has listened to, prayed with, challenged, guided, and encouraged Natalie in her walk with God, and in her growth as a leader. With that foundation, Daleen was ready to step in and help Natalie gain perspective, and navigate this transition into a new season of life.

“...if I had made that choice, I think it would have stifled me,
and snuffed out the fire in my spirit.”

Natalie recently told me, “As long as I have known Daleen, she has encouraged me to GO. Not only physically, but to also go towards God and to not let fear stop me…I have a tendency to think the “right thing to do” is to settle down, and keep the home fires burning. But, if I had made that choice, I think it would have stifled me, and snuffed out the fire in my spirit.”

In the end, Natalie was able to embrace her calling, and confidently move into this new stage of life and development. Not long after Natalie moved, she wrote these words to Daleen:

You have certainly changed my life for the better...You have encouraged me to dream of something better. You have helped me to know my own freedom and confidence. You have spoken into and brought forth the best of who I can be. You’ve helped me to realize who I am. You’ve spoken about walking alongside women and I can attest to your gifts in that area because I feel truly gifted by you.

We consider walking alongside leaders like Natalie to be a privilege and a great responsibility. In a context where only 20% of American Millennials (pre-teens to 30 year olds) believe that church attendance is important, the role of these young leaders is crucial. Our goal is to develop leaders, who are not only confident to move into their personal calling, but are bold enough to lead the Church into its future as well.  

Monday, May 19, 2014

Changing Demographics

Three-quarters of students in St. Paul are people of color (African Americans, Latinos,
Native Americans, and Asians) and speak more than 100 languages.

Minnesota’s Tomorrow: Equity Is The Superior Growth Model,
a report by Policylink and USC Program for Environmental and Regional Equity

In 1980, 96% of Minnesotans were white, many with Scandinavian roots. However, over the past decade, Minnesota experienced the seventh-fastest growth of people of color among all the states, a large proportion of which are refugees. When our family arrived in Minnesota just three years ago, we were pleasantly surprised to find such a rich mix of cultures in the neighborhoods of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

Last month, I attended a symposium on Minnesota’s changing demographics at the University of Minnesota. Minnesota’s long history of active volunteerism in immigration and refugee resettlement, as well as active involvement from faith-based organizations, helped to establish Minnesota as a major refugee gateway in the Midwest.

Minnesota is currently home to the largest Somali community in the country (more than 30,000) and the second-largest Hmong community (more than 60,000), many of whom live within 5 miles of our home. And, although the largest refugee communities in Minnesota have historically been Hmong, Somalis, Vietnamese, Ethiopians, Liberians, Cambodians, and Bosnians, more recent refugees include Karen people from Burma, Nepali-speakers from Bhutan, and Iraqis.

 “We must face the sad fact that at the eleven o’clock hour on Sunday morning when we stand to sing, we stand in the most segregated hour in America.”
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr
Much of our daily life is shared with people from around the world, who look, think, act, and dress differently from us. Living and working alongside people from other cultures often creates cultural stress, which can magnify our differences.  Tolerance has become a buzzword of our day, but tolerance rarely leads to deeper relationships. However, when we learn to actually celebrate our diversity, it can open up wonderful opportunities.

Here in the Twin Cities, we have the privilege of working alongside pastors and leaders, who are embracing these cross-cultural opportunities.  Pastors like Touger, a second-generation Hmong, who is planting a multi-cultural church community in our neighborhood. Organizations like SALT (Somali Adult Literacy Training), who are bringing the Somali community and local churches together in language learning and friendship. And leaders like Jim, who pastors Bethel Christian Fellowship, where six different ethnic churches share one building and function as a family of churches.

As noted above, 75% of students in St. Paul are people of color, and by the year 2045, whites will no longer be the majority of Minnesota’s population. As we look to the future, I believe that the Church can learn much from the youth of today. Daleen and I are amazed at how easily our children connect with their friends, who come from a variety of cultural backgrounds.

If we’re not attentive and intentional, the changing demographics of our cities can be unsettling. As part of our work, we encourage and challenge local leaders to pioneer new church communities and initiatives that will transcend cultural barriers, and allow people to hear, experience, and be transformed by the Good News. I believe the changes in the cultural makeup of our cities is just another invitation to the missionary heart of God, and an opportunity to celebrate the beautiful diversity of the kingdom of God that will be our eternal reality.