lifeServe with Habitat for Humanity of Dane County Elsa Gumm

In mid-July, a team of eight people representing all three sites of the Church served with Habitat for Humanity of Dane County in a neighborhood on Madison’s west side.  We also partnered with Thrivent Financial, who provided us with t-shirts and refreshments.  Working with a Thrivent employee and the on-site construction supervisors, we were able to clean four homes, making them move-in ready, and help with wall construction on a fifth home.  When we spent most of our time that day cleaning instead of building, we tried to remember that following Christ’s example means serving where there is need, not serving only where or how we prefer to serve.  Christ also set the example for us of learning what assets and resources already exist within a community that we can make use of in order to best serve that community.  Serving with community partners like Habitat and Thrivent -- who have already built relationships with the neighborhoods and families they serve and who serve with them -- makes it easy to say “yes” when we’re invited to work with them.  And we will have many more opportunities to say “yes” to these lifeServe opportunities in the future.


Habitat for Humanity of Dane County’s mission -- seeking to put God’s love into action, bringing people together to build homes, communities, and hope -- is making affordable housing increasingly accessible for families in the greater Madison area.  In 2017, the Church has committed to partnering with Habitat for Humanity’s Faith Build in Fitchburg’s Renaissance on the Park neighborhood.  A Faith Build involves several churches coming together to provide an Apostle’s share (or 1/12) of what it takes to build a Habitat house, and committing to a minimum of five workdays staffed by teams of church volunteers.

I invite you to pray with me for current and future Habitat families and all the volunteers who work to build affordable homes, and for our church as we continue our partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Dane County for the 2017 Faith Build in Fitchburg.  Prior to the beginning of the Faith Build, I invite you to attend one of their informative, inspirational “Unlock the Dream Tours.”  During the tour, you’ll learn how Habitat’s homeownership process works, and hear a homeowner’s personal story about how owning their Habitat home has made a lasting impact on their family. Upcoming tours will be held on Thursday, August 18 (5pm), September 7 (8am), September 15 (5pm), and October 5 (8am), and last one hour.  Contact me if you’d like to attend one of the tours, and consider inviting a friend along with you!





Turning Point

Progress does not always move in a steady, uphill trajectory.

At times, there are turning points that change the direction of a life, a ministry, a business.

I help churches, and non-profit ministries remember turning points and reflect on the significant lessons learned from those turning points.

I sense the Church is at one of those points.

Allow me to explain.

We have staffed this ministry with the teammates we need to lead the mission Jesus has given us to do. Yet, the financial revenue it takes to support that staff is not being raised. This has been a trend since 2008. God has always helped us find a way to continue moving forward. But, your staff has received numerous cuts in salary and benefits with one 5% raise since 2008.

Our funding of the mission is lagging behind the need. Through June (first 6 months) we are $20,000 behind our budgeted revenue and therefore, our actual expenditures. We need to stop this $3,333 monthly loss for the remaining months and make up the $20,000 deficit.

As good managers of the gifts entrusted to us then, we have been considering some or all of the following measures to either increase revenue, or cut expenses.  Here are those measures:

  1. Cut one full-time staff member to ½ time.
  2. Institute an ALL STAFF 2-week Unpaid Furlough by the end of 2016
  3. Eliminate Staff continuing education for remainder of 2016
  4. Sell the Church van
  5. Conduct a Special Fundraising effort before the end of 2016
  6. Initiate and emphasize on-line and text-to-give opportunities
  7. Begin a special prayer emphasis

What can you do?

I can think of four things:

1) Pray

2) Be an answer to your prayers.

3) Evaluate the importance this ministry has in your life, and your neighbors’ lives.

4) Contribute accordingly.

5) Be a catalyst for creative participation in the midst of this challenge. What have we not thought of? What kind of new, innovative, creative measure to support this mission are you thinking of?

6) Invite someone else to join you in 1-5


Good Faith

Have you ever driven past a tiny, partially hidden cafe hundreds of times and then one day on a whim took a look inside? Or finally got around to reading that best-seller your sister gave you for Christmas? Did you discover something you wished you had experienced sooner? Whether or not you’ve actually had such an experience, I think you just might be pleasantly surprised if you took a step into our church library. When I first discovered it, I was impressed with the depth and variety of what is offered. Becky Levy, the church librarian, puts her heart and prayers into the collection and it shows. I have been privileged to read fascinating books on topics as diverse as the oral origins of scripture, human sexuality and modern Christian practice. My son, Cephas, has gotten to enjoy some of the charming children’s books. Even my husband Phil has gotten in on the action when I read my favorites to him on long car rides. I love walking into the library on a quiet weekday and browsing its shelves for uplifting movies, commentaries, books on personal relationships and parenting. And there is so much more than that, if you’ll only take a few minutes and look.

I also discovered that anyone can make recommendations for the library to purchase as well. This is another wonderful feature as we can all help contribute to its content. In fact, I’d like to tell you about a book I recently recommended called Good Faith: Being a Christian When Society Thinks You’re Irrelevant and Extreme by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons.

That our society increasingly tends to view Christians as “irrelevant and extreme” is something many of us suspect. Good Faith refers to and shares many of the data that support this claim (22), but goes beyond stating the problem by taking “…a factual, realistic look at the challenges of living faithfully in our new cultural reality…” and helping “…the community of faith respond effectively--both individually and collectively” (20). In this book we have an evidence-driven guide to help us live our faith in a positive and attractive way, without compromise but also without alienating or condemning those who do not believe what we believe.

Good Faith covers four areas: 1) Neighborliness and intolerance in public life, 2) Relationships, 3) Sexual Ethics, and 4) Church and religion (46-47). These are topics that affect all of us, and again, the evidence-driven approach is invaluable. A simple approach is advocated, summed up as the phrase “love, believe, live” and is illustrated with numerous personal examples from the authors’ and others’ lives, including encounters with Oprah and President Barack Obama.

There were a few insights that I personally drew while reading this book that I wanted to share. The first is how much our “I”-centered culture has permeated the church, where “…91 percent of practicing Christians agree that ‘you have to be true to yourself’” and “76 percent…believe ‘the best way to find yourself is to look inside yourself’” (228). At the very least, it’s an interesting reflection of how we tend to think. I certainly felt convicted when I read these statistics. 

The other and more challenging insight I took away was that the church does not have a monopoly on the good. One of the responsibilities of Christians today is to work to redeem the culture in general, promoting and affirming any good that exists in the culture at large and not just that which had its origin in the church. We aren’t any better than the world we are trying to serve. This point was driven home to me when David and Gabe wrote: “To a Christian audience of today, Jesus might have said the good Samaritan is a bisexual, atheist burlesque dancer with one of those Darwin-amphibians-eating-a-Jesus-fish bumper stickers. And the broken man is us” (78).

Good Faith is a good book. It is easy to read, and has practical recommendations. It gives us a critical look at ourselves that if taken seriously, can help us toward personal and community transformation we need to effectively love, believe and live the truth of God’s word in a world that (still) needs to hear it.

Consider checking out Good Faith from the library. And maybe a few others too.  


2016 Higher Ground Graduates

This spring, Higher Ground was able to celebrate some talented, faithful, compassionate young adults as they graduated from high school. We are so proud of these students and would ask you to join us in recognizing who they have become as children of God, and also in praying for them as they begin new chapters in their lives.  Each July I take time to highlight these students for you, so you can celebrate their achievements as well. This year, I asked their parents to take time to consider who God created their child to be. What makes this student unique? What special contribution has God called your child to add to His kingdom? What three words best describe your child? Here are our 2016 high school graduates!



COLIN COMPTON: Inquisitive, Discerning, Quick-Witted

                Colin, son of Dave and Gloria Compton, has always had his faith as an important and central part of his life. He was involved in Higher Ground and served the Church through the Higher Ground leadership team, mission trips, working at Vacation Bible Schools, mowing the lawn, and running screens.  Colin was created with a passion for outdoor activities – football, soccer, camping, hiking, and backpacking. He was also involved in Boy Scouts for many years. Also passionate about 20th century history, he enjoys interviewing veterans about their experiences. Colin has been gifted in the area of photography and hopes to use that skill in future endeavors. Colin is exploring options for the future, and considering how God may be calling him towards mission work or travel photography.

JULIA DAWSON: Charming, Musical, Artistic

                Julia, daughter of Mark and Joan Dawson, has become a confident and motivated leader and musician. Passionate about music, Julia played in the Higher Ground band, leading worship on Sunday evenings, at retreats, and on mission trips. Gifted with leadership ability, she has served on the Higher Ground leadership team, led middle school mission trips, was inducted into the National Honor Society at West High, and achieved teacher of the week status at Swim West within just a few weeks as a new swim instructor. Julia has also been committed to sharing her faith with her friends. Because of her friendship and invitations, 3 of her friends were baptized at the Church. Julia will attend UW LaCrosse in the fall.

ALLISON MEYER: Determined, Thoughtful, Loyal

                Alli, daughter of Jeff and Amy Meyer, has a heart to show Jesus’ love to others. She is quick to serve others with a joyful attitude, and has gone on mission trips with Higher Ground and also to Ethiopia. Because of her invitation and friendship, her friend was baptized at the Church and become a regular part of our community. Alli, “the baby whisperer”, is gifted with a unique ability to love and care for children and animals and combined those passions by serving as a camp counselor at Heartland Farm Sanctuary.  Alli was also able to utilize and grow in her leadership ability by participating in Change! – a 9 week Biblical leadership course. Alli’s future plans include working with animals and pursuing careers in early childhood.

ANNA STRANGE: Joyful, Servant-Leader, Kind

                Anna, daughter of Bill and Peg Strange, loves learning and sports. She always found challenging school work fun and exciting and is a life-long learner. She participated in ballet, soccer, and volleyball, building friendships and enjoying her God-given talents. Anna also participated in homeschool art and choir groups and plays the piano. She used her leadership ability as a choreographer for elementary students and to also teach piano. Anna has a strong faith and an ability to genuinely love others. One of her high school highlights were the mission trips because of the people she met, the growth in her relationship with God, and the opportunities to serve. Next year, Anna will work and continue to earn college credits through College Plus. She will attend Messiah College in Pennsylvania in 2017.

Maddy StrangeMADDY STRANGE: Creative, Insightful, Empathetic

                Maddy, daughter of Bill and Peg Strange, has a passion for all things related to creative expression – dance, choir, and art. Maddy danced ballet and participated in choir group for many years, and enjoys painting, pottery, and drawing. She also discovered how much she enjoyed children as she babysat, played with neighbor kids, and connected with children on mission trips. Maddy utilized those passions, as well as her leadership ability, by teaching dance routines to middle school students, assisting in art classes for a homeschool group, and helping with many Higher Ground projects and visual arts needs. Maddy is also passionate about her relationship with Jesus, evident in her eager participation in Higher Ground and on mission trips. Maddy will attend Wisconsin Luther College in Milwaukee in the fall.

As I reflect on this year’s graduating class, three words come to mind – Transformed, Faithful, and Motivated. They have been transformed in their faith and their confidence. They have been faithful to each other, their calling to share Jesus with others, and faithful in their walk with Jesus. And they have been motivated to use their unique gifts and passions to serve others and glorify God. It has been an exciting journey watching these young people grow in their relationships with Jesus and explore the unique ways that God has created them. We don’t have to wait to see how God will use them in the future – we can tangibly see how God has used them to already impact our Church community, their neighborhoods, and our world. It has been a true honor and privilege to walk alongside and learn from these young people. Well done, good and faithful servants!


How to Establish Your Personal Impact Area

In my June 2016 article I wrote about the usefulness of defining a Personal Impact Area (PIA), the geographical space where we spend most of our time and have the greatest opportunity to engage our neighbors. But as with all things discipleship, knowing the importance of something is one thing, doing it is quite another.

Because ministry and listening go hand in hand, we should think of our Personal Impact Area as our personal listening area - a little slice of our region for which we care deeply and are compelled to listen to the people there - our neighbors. So the value of our PIA is that it provides a listening strategy that is realistic and facilitates relationships with our neighbors. It is the place where we have the greatest opportunity for invitation and influence. So let's look at how we can establish our own PIA.


Steps to Establish a Personal Impact Area

Get a Map - Obtain a map that covers your neighborhood and a small amount of the area on all its borders. Your church staff is currently identifying a resource for neighborhood maps that can be provided to each family at a very reasonable cost.  Having a large physical map has several qualities that are useful for understanding your PIA:

  • a large map can be viewed easily by several people at the same time allowing brainstorming to be a family project;
  • you can display your map in a prominent place in your home, keeping your neighbors and the space you share with them always before you;
  • a PIA map helps you strategize how to develop relationships with your neighbors around shared community experience.

Walk and Pray - Walk your neighborhood and pray that God would open your eyes to its realities, appreciating what is good, useful and right, and acknowledging what needs His redemption. The key question to always ask yourself is, "Where do I see God working?" By prayer walking your neighborhood, you will see more, hear more, smell more, and grasp more completely what God is doing there.

Define the Boundaries - Define the boundaries of your PIA. Physical and social barriers separate people and the formation of relationships based upon their shared community experience.  These barriers are important signposts that help us determine the boundaries of our PIA. Add the following to your map:

  • Physical Boundaries. These include rivers, lakes, parks, green areas, freeways, busy boulevards, etc.
  • Boundaries of Class, Race, and Ethnicity. Sometimes it makes sense to ignore physical boundaries in order to maintain the continuity of social groups. If, for example, a freeway splits an immigrant population, consider traversing the freeway to include the entire group. The group may share leadership and family members living on both sides of the freeway. Never use boundaries of any kind to exclude groups of people from your PIA for convenience sake or prejudice.
  • Listening Posts. Neighborhood gathering places like coffee shops, restaurants, pubs, and parks are often our best opportunity to have conversations with people based upon the community experience we share with them.

Make it Walkable - Look at your map and scale your PIA down to an area that can be easily walked.  Avoid being a drive-by neighbor by committing to live life with the people God has placed in close proximity to us. From a car we can only wave. On a walk we can listen and embrace.

Connect the Dots - Plot on the map all the people you have relationships with in your PIA. After you identify where they live in the neighborhood, teach them to take responsibility for the blocks surrounding their homes. That way you can divide your neighborhood among other missional believers and increase the relationship potential of your ministry.

As you walk, pray, and learn more about your PIA, routinely record your observations and insights on your map. The more you learn about your neighborhood, the better you can define it and increase the effectiveness of your listening. An updated map will reveal and clarify the unique relationships between places and people, people and people, and statistics and people. More on these relationships next time.