Jan picked me up as before & we made our way to his home in Gau Algesheim, a very rural town about 20 minutes or so out of Mainz. I’m a bit familiar with the place, as I spent some time there a couple of years back when I stayed there with my friends, Alex & Linda on the Laurenziberg, an expansive, rolling hill overlooking the town.
We immediately sat down to a quick lunch; barbecued chicken & rice. I couldn’t help but wonder if we were eating one of the neighborhood chickens… Our discussions over lunch & beyond centered on what is happening with Foursquare Germany. Jan told me of the “1/3” reality that exists, meaning that 1/3 of the churches are struggling, 1/3 are doing ok, 1/3 are thriving. He laid out some of the strategies he & his regional leaders are pursuing for the coming years, & went back & forth on some ideas about how the US church (our division/district specifically,) might be able to partner with them in their plans… to help & be a part by giving key resources (money, time, & people.)
Some things that stood out to me from our discussions:
-There is a great desire & need in Germany for regional church planting centers, as that would also help with pastoral health & leadership development. Currently, there are no Foursquare churches in East Germany, & only 1 church of less than 20 people in the German capital, Berlin, a key & strategic city for Germany & for Europe.
-The intention & focus of the leadership team is to plant a thriving, life-giving church in Berlin late Summer/Fall of 2011 by sending a pastoral team from one of the ‘thriving’ churches to Berlin to head it up. Jan is hopeful that outreach teams from other churches in Germany (& the US,) could come alongside for the ‘launch” of the church. One of the concerns they have is what will happen when the pastor of a ‘strong’ church leaves their current church & moves to Berlin – will there be a strong pastor & leader to replace the church planter so that the church left behind will continue to develop & thrive.
-Our talks reminded me of the necessity to pray for workers – for people to declare the Good News, & also to be a part of the “making disciples.” The scripture that comes to mind is Matthew 9:38, when Jesus tells His disciples:
The harvest is great, but the workers are few. Pray to the LORD Who is in charge of the harvest; ask Him to send out more workers for the harvest.
My heart was torn as I listened, & I’m determined to amp up praying for this.
In the late afternoon, the two of us took a walk through the vineyards, to & past the nearby Benedictine monastery, to a scenic overlook of the valley Gau Algesheim sits in. We spent some time there, under the waving flags of Germany & the European Union, talking & getting to know each other better. We discussed American & German politics; our wives & kids; the things we are most prone to struggle with, areas of weakness & temptation; what feeds our soul.
Back to the house for a quick bite (good bread & split pea soup, with a dash of vinegar to give it some extra bite,) & we made our way to Bingen, a town along the Rhein about 30 minutes away. We left a little early to be able to take a few minutes to walk through the tiny village.
Bingen is feeling the bite of the downturn of the economy – stores are empty, others are suffering as those that want to shop usually trek the extra few kilometers into Mainz or Frankfurt to buy what they want & need. It seems to me to be a town without identity – unremarkable. What I mean is that where many (most?) German cities have a distinctive downtown, with an open, spacious square & buildings restored to their 18th century look, Bingen is narrow, closed, & feels like being in an elevator; with the buildings reminiscent of 70s era Eastern bloc chic.
As usually happens, we found our way to an espresso bar & took turns pretending to be coffee aficionados. Pretending. ☺
Jumped into the car & found our way to the church. It’s an independent, non-affiliated fellowship that is looking to become adopted into Foursquare Germany. I asked Jan how this sort of thing happens here, as I know that Germans have a process for everything. I wasn’t disappointed.
The ‘adoption’ process is 3 years long; the 1st year is spent getting to know each other through hanging out together & attending Foursquare meetings & conferences. The 2nd year is more involved with specific, structured interactions, in-depth interviews, & examination on both sides. In the 3rd year, there are formal reviews, interviews, & a couple of month long evaluation by the regional leader, who at the end of the process, will make a recommendation, “yay” or “nay.” Then, the final decision on what happens is made by the Foursquare Germany board, consisting of the 4 regional leaders & the 1 national leader.
This church, the Brunnen Gemeinde (fellowship) is fairly established, & is unique in Germany in that they built & own their own church building. Nina, the pastor, is an olderish, motherly type woman who reminded me a lot of my mother-in-law, with her distinct & sweet singing voice, & quick, contagious laugh. The building itself was what theBean would say is “crisp & clean,” with an open layout, though in the sanctuary, the stage area took up almost 1/3 (!) of the entire sanctuary. There were about 10 of us total in attendance (the pastor, her husband, & some of the key leaders, Jan & I.) We gathered for worship, then made our way into a kitchen meeting room.
This time, I’d had a little more time to prep & more background info on the church for the talk I’d be giving. I was led to talk from Psalm 71 about passing on the great things God has done in, through, & around us. How it’s our responsibility to always be looking for those that Don’t Know yet – don’t know about the fingerprints God’s left on us personally & as a family. Don’t know what are we, who are we, & why are we. How this isn’t just the domain & responsibility of the individual & the family, but it’s also something that every church has to intentionally build into itself. It seems that the longer we’re in our church, & the more we ‘know” the history, the more likely we are to make the assumption & jump that others understand it in the same way that we do. We talked about different ways to bring these things up, talk about, rehearse & revisit them until they become a common thread woven into the fabric of our lives together.
I talked for about an hour, often referencing my own learning processes, shortcomings, struggles, & places where I had to grow, stretch, & be developed. Most poignant (to me) was the discussion on the pastoral role of ‘equipping the saints to do the work of the ministry;” growing in unity, & coming to maturity in the faith, as measured by us becoming like Christ. I reflected quite a bit on my & Hillside’s own journey through this process.
Then, there was another hour of questions – most in the vein of, “what & how” questions. A couple examples:
-How do I find people to share my faith with? (Friends. Family. Co-workers. The people you see & interact with on a regular basis; those already in your life.)
-What do you do if someone in the church doesn’t seem to want to grow or change in Christ? (Feed the hungry bird – meaning, spend as much time as you can with those that DO want to grow, that ARE there, that ARE looking to do whatever they can
-Would you let someone who is knowingly in “bad sin” (their word) be on an after service prayer team? (No.) To which the response was a collective gasp. And Louie said, “Oops.” That wasn’t theoretical, was it?
After praying together, Jan & I made our way back to Gau Algesheim – the last couple of days have been a bit taxing, & both of us were pretty tired, but not ready for bed yet. So we sat in the darkness of his back patio, sipping a treasured 16 year old single malt, relaxing & talking about our favorite & most personally influential books, movies, & music. My kind of getting to know each other.
Finally, I made my way towards bed to try & catch a couple hours of sleep before starting my Friday. It was a great day, & I’m thankful for the growing relationship with Jan.