Iowans display attitude of Christ in storm and crisis

by Greg Baker

Iowa’s recent “derecho” storm – and, more specifically, the way Iowans have responded to it – reminds me of what makes this coastless state in the Heartland an incredible witness to the nation and an incredible place to live for the over 3 million people who are blessed to call it home.

Even before the pavement could dry from the derecho’s downpour, Iowans fully displayed an incredible heart of service and love of neighbor that remind me of the verse in Philippians, where the Apostle Paul challenged Christians to make their attitude that of Christ Jesus, who emptied Himself of everything. Iowans have and must continue to strive to make their attitude that of Christ Jesus.

I had the opportunity to join my church from Des Moines in serving a fellow church in Marshalltown, as they worked to clean up from storm, which leveled a wide swath of Iowa’s crops, trees, and buildings with the force of a rare, inland hurricane. The path of destruction stretched over 100 miles long.

Upon entering Marshalltown my heart was just broken, as it seemed not a single tree survived the storm, and so many dwellings sustained serious damage. It took a full day’s work from dozens of volunteers to clear just two people’s yards.

This might seem a discouraging pace, but I left the day encouraged instead. During our time removing trees, neighbors who had just finished up their own yards joined us. Their addition of chainsaws doubled our production and allowed us to finish in an afternoon what would have otherwise taken several days.

This incredible story of churches from outside communities and neighbors working together was not unique to us, neither was it unique to this storm. It has been the story across Iowa since COVID’s persistent time of crisis began in March. From serving food, offering childcare, giving blood, standing with a neighbor, and now clearing debris and offering shelter, Iowans have stepped it up to serve one another.

This incredible example we are seeing in neighborhoods across our state is exactly what Christ had in mind for His Church in neighborhoods all around the world. Christ not only commanded this, He also modeled it. Christ modeled it when He looked after the orphan and the widow. Christ modeled it when He fed the poor and healed the sick. Christ modeled it when He dined with the sinner. Christ modeled it when He died on the Cross for those who would never show their gratitude.

Christ, who was fully God, full of more wealth and power then anyone could ever imagine, gave it all up for us.

The Bible says, “He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a servant” (Philippians 2:7) and, “He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to their point of death, even to death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8).

Jesus served us, taught us about the Kingdom of Heaven, and died for us on the Cross, satisfying the payment of our sins and giving us the hope of eternal life. Jesus did this not for Himself, but for us.

This is the incredible example Christ has set before us. He has called us to not only look out for our interests, but to also consider the interests of others. This is exactly what Iowans are doing across the state and will continue to do. It is in our history. It is who we are. It is who Christ has called us to be.

Greg Baker is The FAMiLY Leader’s vice president of church engagement.




Tony Evans on racial unrest: ‘This is a divine moment for ecclesiological reset’

On Thursday, June 18, The FAMiLY Leader welcomed leaders of sister state organizations from around the country to a Zoom meeting on racial reconciliation with Dr. Tony Evans of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas, Texas.

Organizational and Church Ambassador Network leaders from several states partnering in TFL’s The Daniel Initiative joined the meeting, representing Arizona, Florida, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wisconsin.

“We are grateful for the opportunity to work with likeminded organizations in states across the country and honored to welcome Dr. Evans to the discussion,” says Bob Vander Plaats, president and CEO of The FAMiLY Leader. “Especially at a time of such division and brokenness, our hope is that Pastor Evans’ perspective can open up new understandings and paths for healing in the Church and in America.”

Watch Evans’ presentation during the meeting below:

During the meeting, Evans described both the COVID crisis and the racial unrest sweeping America as “disturbances” God is using to capture the Church’s attention.

“God is disturbing through a virus and through our strife the natural order of things in order to advance His Kingdom,” Evans said. “The bigger the disturbance, the bigger the message. And the reason why He disturbs the natural order of things is to shake up things on earth to reveal things from heaven.”

And what is God revealing?

“This is a divine moment for an ecclesiological reset,” Evans said.

Beginning with some historical context, Evans argued the racial divide in America today is being driven by the failure of the Church to teach at the outset of the nation God’s declaration that kidnapping and selling a man into slavery is a capital crime (Exodus 21:16).

“The Church failed in the initiation of our nation to address this issue biblically,” Evans said. “That set in motion things that would unveil a Civil War, peonage [the practice of incarcerating people to use them as slave labor, permitted under the 13th Amendment], Jim Crow – all of this endorsed actively or passively by the Church. Theological systems were set up … formal and informal embedding of systems that would keep people of color behind the 8-ball.

“All of this is to say there was a great failure of the Church,” Evans said. “The reason you have a black church and white church today is because the Church was not being the Church.”

But just as the Church bears responsibility for the sin, Evans said, it also holds the keys to healing.

“There are two answers to every question: God’s answer and everybody else’s. And everybody else is wrong when they disagree with Him,” Evans said. “If God is your problem, politics is not your solution. If God is your problem, social action is not your solution.

What is the solution?

For Evans, it’s the Church listening to God’s “divine moment,” correcting its practical theology, and leading the healing by example.

“Since the Church was the theological engine to injustice,” Evans says, “it needs to be the theological solution for it.”

“In the Bible, justice and righteousness … are joined at the hip,” Evans continued, citing Psalms 89:14 and Genesis 18:19. “But while the Anglo church has been emphasizing righteousness, the African-American church has been emphasizing justice. You are splitting a baby that God doesn’t split. … He wants both. Because we have not treated both with same tenacity, the same fire, and with the same insistence in the Church and in society, the society does not have the pattern to follow that should have been established by the Church.”

Evans’ ministry, The Urban Alternative, he relayed, is working to establish just such a pattern, through a three-point plan it’s implemented in several communities, including racial tension hotspot Ferguson, Missouri.

The first point of the plan, Evan said, is to gather the churches of a local community together for a “solemn assembly.”

“There must be a coming together, for the purpose of establishing unity … which invites God’s glory,” Evans said.

From that gathering, The Urban Alternative encourages pastors to stay in contact monthly, for prayer and for discussion, and for corporate impact.

The second point is for the churches of a community to “speak with one voice, so that there is no uncertain sound about the key issues that your communities face – not just a unity of fellowship, but a unity of communication.

“There ought not be any uncertain sound on the issue of racism, on the issue of injustice, on the issue of righteousness,” Evans explained. “We complain about [these issues] in our own circles, but what we don’t do is speak collectively about them. And that ‘one voice’ is critical.”

The third point, Evans said, is to “serve together to impact the environment in our communities. We let the Church be visibly seen as salt and light. Let men see your good works, not hear your good words alone.”

The Urban Alternative has focused on encouraging churches to adopt their public schools – to provide mentoring to students, many of whom come from broken homes.

“But that’s not the only thing you can do,” Evans said. “We’re also going to adopt a police precinct … to influence how community and police relationships go. You get to set the stage. We’re going to provide counseling for their officers. Invite them into what the Church is doing, so the people can see them. … We’re going to bring them into the Church, inviting the community, and we become repairers of the breach.”

And there’s one more secret to unlocking the Church’s power of healing, Evans outlined during the Q&A session: Bring black churches and white churches to work alongside one another.

“Because here’s the key to reconciliation: It happens through service, not seminars. When you serve someone worse off than you, you get to know the one you serve with,” Evans said. “When you join forces to help the hurting, and you do that in a tangible way, the hearing and the openness will go up. … Out of the connectivity and shared experiences, when those emanate from common faith, we can let [reconciliation] grow organically rather than trying to force it, because we are ministering together.”

“If the Church would do this or something like this, it would go a long way to bring healing,” Evans said.

“Dr. Evans has given me all kinds of ideas,” said Greg Baker, vice president of church engagement for The FAMiLY Leader. “The church networks these state leaders represent are all about the transformative power of building relationships between pastors, community leaders, and elected officials – and the common goal they share of bringing blessing and healing to hurting people. What better place to start the healing than with the Church being tangible salt and light?”

“This does just scream ‘The Daniel Initiative,'” agreed Vander Plaats. “A model of building relationships between local pastors and local officials, impacting their local communities, spreading state by state – it’s how you change a nation!”

The leaders on the call with Evans participate in The FAMiLY Leader’s The Daniel Initiative, which mentors independent state organizations in a strategy of inspiring the Church to engage with government for the advance of God’s Kingdom. Part of that strategy includes developing Church Ambassador Networks, which bring ministers of God’s Church (pastors) into non-partisan, discipleship relationships with ministers of God’s government (elected officials). Together, The Daniel Initiative organizations represent networks of thousands of churches across a dozen states in the U.S., with the goal of seeing culture-transforming Church Ambassador Networks in all 50 U.S. states and beyond.




States find unexpected partner in COVID response: Churches

Overburdened government agencies in several states found an unexpected partner in formulating their COVID-19 response, thanks in part to a unique model of church-government cooperation that began only a few years ago in Iowa.

In 2017, Iowa’s The FAMiLY Leader launched “The Daniel Initiative,” or TDI, which partners with Christian organizations in other states to create independent, statewide, church networks. These “Church Ambassador Networks,” in turn, work to build personal relationships with and minister to local government officials. Today, the Daniel Initiative is in more than 10 states, from New Hampshire to Texas.

These networks have already blessed many government officials and churches, but when COVID hit, the networks became an unexpected and crucial part of several states’ response to the virus crisis.

“We just got thrown into COVID crisis mode,” muses Kurt Weaver of the Pennsylvania Family Institute. “Who knew the Church Ambassador Network would be connecting the Church with elected officials for just such a time as this?”

In Pennsylvania, Ohio, Minnesota, Indiana, Iowa, and more, TDI-linked Christian policy organizations suddenly found themselves a conduit between churches looking for COVID guidelines for the thousands of people in their congregations and state governments needing to spread guidelines to thousands of people quickly. In some states, government agencies also discovered that the thousands of ready volunteers in the churches could become part of providing tangible assistance to communities in need.

Minnesota

“The Church might be the largest untapped volunteer base in Minnesota,” explains Jeff Evans, the Church Ambassador Network director for the Minnesota Family Council.

Evans is the only faith leader serving on the Minnesota Food Insecurity Task Force. Evans was invited to join the task force by the Democrat state administration because he offers something CEOs and government officials lack: connection with Christian churches across the entire state.

These connections continue to grow and deepen as Jeff hosts video calls between pastors and legislators around the state, including phone calls with non-Christian legislators.

After offering to pray for a legislator last week, Evans recalls, “She got real quiet and said, ‘No one’s ever asked to pray for me before.’”

Evans has hosted over 30 such video calls with hundreds of pastors since the pandemic started.

Pennsylvania

Minnesota is not the only place where engagement with the Church has provided unexpected entrée. The Pennsylvania Family Institute, or PFI, organized three calls with Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine, a key figure in an administration generally hostile to PFI’s policy goals.

“We overwhelmed their conference call system,” laughs Weaver. “We had to do two calls back-to-back.”

Their first call with Sec. Levine had over 1300 pastors participate, and their most recent had around 850.

Weaver estimates the Pennsylvania Family Institute has served thousands of Pennsylvania churches by offering legal advice, weekly webinars with hundreds of church leaders, and bi-weekly denominational leader calls with about 15 participating denominations.

“The Lord is using it, I think, to bring the Church together and to grow the Church Ambassador Network,” Weaver said.

Indiana

The Daniel Initiative in Indiana turned one year old this February, but Josh Hershberger of the Indiana Family Institute describes tremendous growth.

Hershberger connected churches with others to organize blood drives, childcare for emergency workers, and to support clinics in low-income communities.

“A lot of churches want to help, but aren’t sure what to do,” he said. “We wanted to connect them with frontline ministries and organizations, and I’ve really been grateful for how churches have responded, really being the hands and feet of Jesus.”

Ohio

Citizens for Community Values in Ohio, or CCV, was the first organization to partner with The FAMiLY Leader in The Daniel Initiative.

“We had a great opportunity to pivot to support God’s Church,” explains Ruth McNeil, the church network director for CCV. “It was very timely, having the Church Ambassador Network already established.”

The first thing CCV did after COVID broke out was convened a conference call with the Governor’s Office of Faith Based Initiatives, giving pastors an opportunity to ask questions. After 500 churches participated in the first call, CCV now host a regular “Faith Friday” call between pastors and the Governor’s Office. Between 230-350 churches participate weekly.

McNeil also describes organizing the Joseph Council with Christian ministry leaders from around the state. The Joseph Council meets weekly to discuss how churches can serve and to promote best practices. Recently, they created recommendations for churches to safely reopen.

Additionally, McNeil is partnering with Ohio Pray to host the “Holy of Hour of Prayer” on Facebook Live every Friday. She says this hour averages 1200 people, many hosting Facebook Watch parties.

Especially during a pandemic, McNeil notes, “The Church has to continue to pray, fast, and serve.”

Conclusion

The Daniel Initiative seems providentially prepared to serve the Church and our country in this difficult season. A public health and economic disaster like COVID-19 is a special opportunity for the Christian Church to share the love of Christ with her neighbor – and supported by The Daniel Initiative, churches across the country have risen to the challenge.

“We’ve made huge headway,” summarizes Minnesota’s Jeff Evans, “and that bodes well for the future.”




Des Moines police, pastors kneel together in prayer

DES MOINES, Iowa – On Monday evening, June 1, over 100 pastors, religious, community, and government leaders met on the steps of the Des Moines Police Department to pray for Iowa’s governing leaders and to ask God to bring peace, healing, and restoration to a nation in turmoil over the death of black Americans at the hands of police.

The meeting was inspired by the “kneel down” event in New Orleans and the peaceful, kneeling resolution of a standoff between police and protesters in Des Moines, both on Sunday.

On Monday evening, police officers in Des Moines again took a knee, this time to receive prayer from community pastors.

“It is vitally important for the Body of Christ to come together like this, cross-denominationally, city/suburb, cross-ethnically, and stand as one, and that can only come through Jesus Christ,” said event moderator Al Perez of Help Des Moines, a group of pastors that seeks to meet community needs in Des Moines. “And it looks like what’s going on behind me right here. … We are the intercessors, but we are also the answer to prayer at the same time.”

Perez, with assistance of The FAMiLY Leader Vice President of Church Engagement Greg Baker, contacted a wide diversity of pastors across the metro and surrounding areas, asking them to join with each other and government officials in praying for peace and resolution.

In addition to police officers, the pastors prayed over guests Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie, and Des Moines Chief of Police Dana Wingert.

“Tonight marks a breakthrough,” said Baker. “For six years we’ve been working to get church leaders and government leaders to partner together. So far, we’ve built successful partnerships in the areas of policy and community organization, but this is the first time that we’ve seen leaders in government and in the Church come to the end of themselves and realize they need to partner together in prayer.”

Baker continued, “There was genuine Christian community here tonight. There was something special going on. The Bible tells us to honor our leaders, and this was a great example of the Church doing it.”

Gov. Reynolds took time at the event to thank pastors for ministering not just to her, but to Iowa communities in need of healing and hope.

“The power that prayer and you have working through our community and our elected officials – that’s just the beginning of what is possible,” she said. “So thank you for forging those relationships, for reaching out to law enforcement in our community and for making a difference each and every day.”

Pastor David Sixtos, who helped negotiate the kneeling standoff between police and protesters Sunday evening, also attended the Monday evening event.

“We have the same heart for the police and for the protestors,” Sixtos said. “We want Jesus to be the peacemaker and allow God to do what He wants to do.”

“We are here because we know the real answer to these problems is Christ. The real need is transformation from within,” said Pastor Luke Hukee at Walnut Creek Downtown Church. “God is powerful and bigger than any race divide or injustice, so we believe that gathering together and praying is the best thing we can do.”

The hour-long event included prayer for Gov. Reynolds, Mayor Cownie, Chief Wingert, police officers as a whole, pastors of minority churches, pastors of large churches, small churches, college ministries, the youth, all the schools in the Des Moines area, student and college ministries that are working with troubled youth, Latino pastors for the community affected by the pandemic, and for the division between denominations. The event concluded with prayer by women who serve in parachurch ministries that seek revival and transformation.




Governor’s press conference highlights church response

The FAMiLY Leader’s Vice President of Church Engagement Greg Baker joined Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds by invitation for her daily live press conference on Friday, May 1. Baker shared an update on how churches across Iowa are working to responsibly reopen their doors and how many churches have been stepping in to care for needy Iowans during the coronavirus crisis.

Baker also gave some background on how the state of Iowa has come to partner with churches fur just such a time as this:

“For six years [The FAMiLY Leader Church Ambassador Network] has been working with churches to develop relationships with our elected officials, bringing together shepherds of the Church (pastors) with shepherds of government (elected authorities) with the purpose of building relationships as a person, as a shepherd, and as a partner in meeting community needs,” Baker said. “And this COVID-19 crisis has shown the need for that partnership.”

Baker cited examples of churches around the state that responded to specific needs identified by the governor. Following collaborative discussions with government officials, Iowa churches stepped up to staff food banks, conduct blood drives, deliver food to the elderly, produce personal protective equipment for medical personnel, and more.

“Jesus came to serve, and we want to serve as well,” Baker said.

Gov. Reynolds also expressed appreciation for churches that are taking virus-safety concerns seriously, even as they’re hoping to reopen their doors.

“In times like these, it’s our faith that gives so many of us the strength that we need, and I’ve been very impressed with how religious communities have remained connected even while they’re apart,” Reynolds said. “I want to thank all religious leaders for their thoughtful, responsible approach.”

Watch Baker’s comments at the governor’s press conference below:

Read TFL’s guidelines and recommendations for reopening churches in Iowa here.




VIDEO: Iowa opens, but what about churches?

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds has defended religious liberty and issued a new proclamation about opening churches. But with liberty comes responsibility. TFL’s Bob Vander Plaats and Greg Baker discuss how churches can embrace their liberty with diligence and a servant’s heart:

Read TFL’s guidelines and recommendations for reopening churches in Iowa here.




Guidelines and recommendations for reopening churches




Pastor Equipping Webinar: Criminal justice reform

“Church and Government: How can my church advocate for justice reform and why does it matter?”

Do you have questions about what the Christian response to crime and over-incarceration in America should be? Would you be interested in tools to equip your church to pursue justice that restores? Please watch this webinar to understand why and how Christians should care for prisoners and advocate for justice reform.

Our featured speakers include Vice President of Government Affairs and Church Mobilization at Prison Fellowship Heather Rice-Minus, Pastor Quovadis Marshall of Hope City Church in Waterloo, Iowa, and Pastor Jon Kelly of Chicago West Bible Church in Chicago, Illinois:




Pastor Equipping Webinar: Mental health

When roughly one out of every five adults in America is struggling with mental health issues, it has become clear that churches need to understand how mental health impacts their community and what they can do to help.

To that end, TEAM Restoration Ministries has a God-driven commitment and passion for facilitating the healing and strengthening of marriages, families, and individuals through the blood of Jesus and the transforming power of the Holy Spirit.

Joel Fry, president of TEAM Restoration Ministries, shares how TEAM is working with the Church to address mental health and meet mental health needs in communities:




Pastor Equipping Webinar: Human Trafficking Solutions

Joy Fopma with Wings of Refuge in Iowa Falls presents the startling reality of human trafficking and how churches can both combat this wickedness and bring help and hope to those who have been trafficked.

There are over 27 million slaves in the world today, more than at any point in human history, and 80 percent of them are sexually exploited. Fopma reveals real-life evidence and stories that show this isn’t just a third-world problem, but a shocking reality, especially in Iowa.

But Fopma’s experience with Wings of Refuge shows there’s something local churches can do to make a real difference in real lives:




Pastor Equipping Webinar: Combating porn in the church

How can pastors and church leaders help the people in their congregation struggling with pornography?

According to a recent study, 87% of people say that no one is helping them in their fight against porn, and 54% of those couldn’t even think of anyone who could help.

Pastor Luke Hukee of Walnut Creek Church in Des Moines shares key insights, strategies, and help for churches who want to help people find freedom from addiction to pornography:

Research Resources:

Josh McDowell: The Porn Epidemic Portfolio
The Porn Phenomenon by the Barna Group
Fight the New Drug.org

Ministry Resources:

“Clean” by Doug Weiss
“The Game Plan” by Joe Dallas
Conquer Series
“Redeemed Sexuality” by Andrew Boa
“Sexual Sanity for Women: Healing from Sexual and Relational Brokenness” by Ellen Dykas
“Making All Things New: Restoring Joy to the Sexually Broken” by David Powlison

Accountability Resources:

Covenant Eyes
Accountable2You




Relive the 2019 Holy Week Service at Iowa Capitol

The 2019 Holy Week Service at the Iowa Capitol was held Monday, April 15. The annual service allows the community to bless elected officials and Capitol staff by providing a time of worship and reflection on God’s Word at the beginning of the week that leads up to Resurrection Sunday.

The theme of this year’s service was “Second Chances,” which mirrors the theme for this legislative session established by Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds. Cal Swan, the superintendent of the Central District of the Evangelical Free Church, delivered a message that focused on the “second chance” of redemption offered by Jesus Christ in his death and resurrection.

Following the service, attendees were invited to join the governor in her office, as she signed a “Second Chances” Proclamation, which has similarly been signed by governors in more than a dozen states.

While no video can capture the powerful experience of praise and song echoing through the Iowa Capitol Rotunda, you may watch a video of the service below.

Below the following video are time codes, which you can click upon to skip to designated parts of the service itself:

0:00 – Opening worship
10:37 – Greg Baker ~ Welcome
15:50 – Isaiah 53:1-6 ~ Read by Joshua Christian Academy students
17:41 – Cal Swan ~ Message
44:25 – Closing Worship
49:40 – Greg Baker ~ Closing remarks