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.


Keep Conversations Going

What happens when you are in a conversation with someone and they share a belief, or statement that clashes with what you believe or where you stand on a topic?  What is your first response?  Are you quick to defend or correct?  Do you go silent?  What could you do to keep the conversation going, which will also keep the relationship going?  

This was the topic of our recent lifeGroup leader retreat.  We actually took the time to practice having conversations and trying to respond in a new way.  Here are some of the statements that we tried.


“Tell me more.”

“Seems like you’re really passionate about this, can you help me understand?”

“You sound really sure about that, what’s led you to that conclusion.”

“That’s interesting. I’ve never heard that perspective before. Where did you learn about that?”


We do not have to debate or argue or correct people who think differently than we do.  We can seek to understand, listen and learn where the person is coming from.  Listening, and asking clarifying questions will keep the conversation going.  If you disagree on one topic or one issue, there may be several other areas you have in common with the person.  


We all learned an important lesson at the leader retreat as we took the time to role play and practice having conversations.  Practice helps.  The first time it was very uncomfortable. The second, third and fourth times were a little easier.  Practicing in a safe place gives us confidence for when we are in a real situation.  

Perhaps you could practice in your own lifeGroup using the above statements, or you could practice as a family.  Conversations with clashing viewpoints can be very difficult because there is usually a lot of emotion and passion attached. Take a deep breath, and ask the Holy Spirit to give you the words to speak and the heart to listen and understand.  Respond like Jesus did.  He did not condemn.  He did not condone.  He cared.  Surprise people with grace and love the next time someone says something you disagree with.  Hopefully the conversation will continue and you will build trust in the relationship.  Practice listening, you might be surprised by what you learn.

10 Things I Would Tell Myself At My High School Graduation

High School Graduation. I left home the day after mine. Moved into a garage in the back lot of Tommy Bartlett's in Wisconsin Dells. Lived off of Dinty Moore Beef Stew. Worked at Robot World and Exploratory. Don't laugh. Anything for money before College.

Turning 50. Now my children are leaving home. I’m moving into a new season of my life as papa. I’m working at being faithful to my life’s purpose.

In the spirit of the season, in honor of my last High School Graduate, and in the shadow of my 50th year of life, I would like to share a few of the things I’ve learned.

10 words of encouragement I would like to share with my High-School-Graduating Self.

Here they are:

Never forget to...

1. Ask for Help

You cannot do everything yourself. In this age of individualism and rugged independence, you can miss out on tremendous blessings and friendships if you don't learn to rely on others. Relationships are reciprocal, and mutually beneficial.

2. Master the Fundamentals

Daily, weekly, monthly, seasonal, yearly rhythms are built into the order of life. Find your rhythms and don't accept artificial solutions that promise relief and never give rest. Avoid complicating your life by overextending yourself, many are dying from the pace they've set. Read more here.

3. Be Yourself First

Don't have too many advisors. You know your own best answers. You were never created to be someone else-you are truly one of a kind.

4. Enlist Invested Partners

There are interesting people and there are interested people. Surround yourself with interested people. The key noticeable attribute of these people: they listen with curiosity, genuinely care, and love being with you.

5. Own Your Replenishment

Do whatever you need to do to figure out what replenishes your spirit. Make sure you intentionally include those moments within the normal rhythms of your life. Relentlessly defend that rhythm, others won't defend it for you.

6. Try New Things

You can't fail. You might just discover your next favorite thing. You could uncover a talent or calling that is yours to live.

7. Laugh More Often

Life is short. Life is hard. It is easier to live with a smile.

8. Release Your Quirkiness

You have interests and passions that others won't understand. There will always be somebody who can connect with your unique preferences. The world needs YOUR quirkiness.

9. Broaden Your Learning

In an age of specialization, don't be too quick to narrow your focus. Develop a comprehensive base. Your life's work will more likely be a portfolio of skills.

10. Live Beyond Failure

See #6. There is life beyond death, opportunities beyond dead-ends, new hope beyond broken dreams. So, when you experience the end of something, take a deep breath and step forward with a bold curiosity that asks, "What's next?"

What would you add to my list?



Your Personal Ministry Area

God, people, and place are inseparably bound to one another in a relational way.

Ask yourself this question, "Have I ever experienced God separate from people and/or place?"

Our contexts for life consist of the people around us and the places where we engage them. We all have experienced God many times and ways (after all, he is ever-present), and we cannot separate our memory of these experiences from the places we were and the people with whom we were engaged.

This is our human reality: God, people, and place go together.

It makes sense, then, to define the geographical space where we spend most of our time and have the greatest opportunity to engage people for ministry. For most of us, this is our neighborhood. Let's call this place our Personal Ministry Area (PMA) and take a look at some practical reasons for defining it.

Our Neighbors are of Unsurpassable Worth

Establishing a PMA recognizes that our neighbors are created by God and of unsurpassable worth to Him and, therefore, to us. Because they are worthy of God’s sacrificial love, they are worthy of our love, time, and attention as well. Establishing who our neighbors are creates opportunity to invest in them and to make praying for them by name or address a priority. In other words, by defining a geographical space that constitutes our neighborhood, we define an area for which we are responsible to shepherd spiritually.

Our Neighbors Share Community Experience

Establishing a PMA provides opportunity to make relationships with neighbors with whom we share common community experience. Together, our neighbors and we share the same community problems and are equally a part of the solution.

A hangout I enjoyed in my neighborhood in Minnesota was a coffee shop located a block from my home. This past summer the city of Minneapolis did some major roadwork that significantly inconvenienced several hundred neighborhood residents. Just mentioning the roadwork at 12th and LaSalle began many of the conversations that I had with my neighbors in this coffee shop. Because of our shared inconvenience, we had almost immediate rapport. Why? Because we shared the same space and the same issues inherent within it. Consider for a moment, what is going on in your neighborhood right now (good and bad) that affects nearly everyone who lives there? Such things are immediate conversation starters with your neighbors.

It’s also true that just as people within our personal ministry area share community problems, we also share together the responsibility for solutions to those problems. Our PMA helps us to discover the ways neighbors can work together for the neighborhood’s well-being. The good news is that all neighbors, including ourselves, have something to contribute to their neighborhood's well-being. The degree to which we ignore a person, family, or group of people is the degree to which our neighborhood’s well-being will be diminished.

Our Neighbors Deserve Our Unbiased Attention

Establishing a Personal Ministry Area commits us to the well-being of every person who lives within its boundaries and combats the tendency to not listen to people and groups we in some way find offensive or with whom we just plain differ. Yes, this happens. I have consulted with churches that do not seek out certain groups of people due to their own stated bias and prejudice. Committing to every person within our PMA helps avoid this.

Our Progress Thus Far

This article has focused on the reasons for defining your neighborhood geographically. The next question is how do we go about doing that. What criteria and tools do we use? Soon I will post on the livelifetogether.com blog step by step "how-to" instructions. Until then – peace in the neighborhood.

For Reflection

  1. What biblical examples can you recall that shows that human experience with God is inseparable from people, and place.
  2. Do some prayerful soul searching. Are there people and/or areas in your neighborhood that you avoid because of negative bias? To develop relationships with these neighbors, prayerfully contemplate one thing you can do today to begin melting barriers and initiating reconciliation.