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The acrid tang of sweat hangs in the humid air like a mist. Echoes of screeching sneakers and the hollow thump of a dozen dodgeballs bouncing off the walls and floor fill the room, accompanied by shouts and “battle cries” of twenty or more high school students. In the midst of the adrenaline and organized chaos are a few key people who “run the show.” Whether it’s throwing dodgeballs with the rest of the kids, refereeing, or grabbing a quick water break and an escape from the stuffy back room where dodgeball is held, their focus is on those high school kids, making them feel welcome and loved. These are the staff and helpers of Sojourn. What is Sojourn? It’s probably not what you’re expecting. It’s not a school, not a sports camp. Sojourn is a church, but it’s not your typical church by any means. Sojourn is unique, engaging … life-changing.

What sets Sojourn apart? In what ways is it different? A more appropriate question may be, “In what ways is it not different?” When I tell people that my church is located in a mall, their reaction usually consists of raised eyebrows and repeating the statement back as a question, “It’s in a mall?” Yep, a mall. Shoppers can walk out of Bath and Body Works or GNC and discover our little niche at the end of a long dead-end hallway. When Sojourn was established five years ago, our pastor, Jim Parker, decided on “planting” the new church in the Mall of the Bluffs in order to have greater ministry outreach. This allows us to be more an active part of the community than we would be able to if we had a normal church building.

Our abnormal location is not the only factor that sets us apart from the usual stereotypes of church. During our service, we have what are called “worship stations.” Rather than conventional liturgy and traditions, worship stations bring a familiar topic home in a way that’s tangible. Worship stations can be anything from drawing a picture of something we’re thankful for, to game-like activities that demonstrate the topic of the sermon. The service has a very distinct youth-group atmosphere in that it’s very hands-on and encourages everyone to participate. Even the sermons are interactive. Rather than a podium, our pastor preaches sitting atop a tall wooden stool or walking back and forth in front of the stage, iPad Bible in hand. Throughout the sermon he makes use of slides, memes or funny photos, and an occasional movie clip. He also picks someone from the audience to be the “professional reader” for the day and read aloud the slide every time a Scripture verse appears.

Outside of Sunday morning, Sojourn sponsors several ministries throughout the week, two of the most influential being Celebrate Recovery and Dodgeball Night. Celebrate Recovery is a Christian based twelve step program, similar to Alcoholics Anonymous, but covering a broader range of topics. Dodgeball is a Friday night event that reaches out to high school and college kids who may have never set foot in a church. This ministry was created with the goal of providing these kids with positive recreation and role models.

One of the biggest success stories and proof of God’s blessing on the dodgeball ministry is Sojourn’s intern, Lucas Jones. Rewind about three years and you’ll see that Lucas had no interest in church. Like most high school students, he was on a journey of self-discovery, and although he didn’t know where that journey would take him, church was not on his list of places to look. “I had no idea what I was going to do with my life. … My identity was unknown to me and I didn’t know where to start.”

But things changed when a friend invited Lucas to Sojourn for Friday night dodgeball. At first, Lucas came just for the fun of playing a sport, but over the course of a few months, he developed a friendship with Pastor Jim and a few of the other Sojourners. After weeks of saying, “No thanks,” Lucas eventually conceded and decided to try out this “church thing” with his newfound friends. While sharing his story during a Bible study one night recently, Lucas said, “I thought that Jim and the other guys were cool, so their church might be cool too.” He wasn’t wrong. The crowd on Sunday morning was just as warm, energetic and fun as they were on Friday night, minus hitting each other in the face with dodgeballs.

Despite his general love for the unconventional church and its members, Lucas still didn’t understand the purpose behind Sojourn. Not for awhile. “I went for a couple months and he (Jim) shared the gospel in almost, if not every sermon. I just didn’t connect with it. One day, as I was driving home, I was thinking about it. All of a sudden, it just clicked in my head! It was in that moment that I realized that I understood what Jesus had done for me.  I didn’t have a hunger for finding myself, but Christ slowly revealed himself to me and it started slowly clicking in my head.”

Seeing this young pastor-in-training in action now, it’s astonishing to think back on how far he has come. He began as just another dodgeball kid, coming to Sojourn on Friday nights and avoiding church at all costs. Now three years later, he is our pastor’s “right hand man,” studying seminary and preparing to start his own church plant someday. All because some of our church members invested their time in this young man’s life.

I’m sure that if I sat down for coffee or lunch with anyone who has attended  Sojourn more than once, I would hear story after story of some unique way those people have been impacted by this little church at the end of a shopping mall hallway. The dictionary definition of the word sojourn is “a temporary stay as a traveler or guest.” Our mantra at Sojourn is that “We are on a daily, interactive, life-changing journey with Jesus,” and as such we believe that this mortal earth is but a temporary home. At Sojourn, church is not a building. It’s serving and loving others in every day life. Whether that means being an example at work or volunteering our time to hang out and chat with some sweaty dodgeball players. You never know what small action may impact someone’s life forever.

About that meeting…

Posted: April 1, 2014 in Uncategorized

We don’t have a lot of business-type meetings at sojourn. We like to keep our processes simple.  We communicate well. We have the same vision. When we have them, meetings help us to clarify decisions, brainstorm ideas, and disseminate information.  We try to keep it short.  Last Tuesday, March 25, we had a meeting with some people who were in a leadership position at Sojourn and a few others.  Here are the results of that meeting.

We talked about what we see God doing in and around Sojourn.  We talked about spiritual growth, relationship healing, and ministry. God’s work in and around us is evident and the group was very excited about it.

We talked about our vision.  We all see it as “we are on a daily, interactive, life-changing journey with Jesus.”  We all so that the application of this is to Read. Pray. Obey.  Within the obedience part is the Great Commission and our requirement to evangelize the world and disciple one another.

What is the one thing that needs to happen that only God can do?  The group agreed on a spiritual revival in Council Bluffs.  We agreed that this would be our primary prayer request.

We continued talking about some of the questions/issues on the pastor’s mind.

Should we push to have most people in small groups?

We determined that people were growing and being discipled without being in a small group.  We found that several people enjoy their group and it is beneficial to them.  We decided that we would not put all our discipleship efforts into small groups that meet each week but would continue with some small groups and add affinity groups that meet monthly or periodically.

Should we pursue online giving?

No one found the concept to be unbiblical.  Almost everyone stated that they do most of their banking and spending electronically.  We decided that we would continue with our offerings giving during worship taking checks and cash but that we would look into and pursue getting online giving also.

Should we push visitors to fill out a visitor’s card?

We decided that we still did not want to be pushy or smothering.  We would have a card available, we’d be more intentional about inviting the people to fill it out but we would not push.  If they want that level of connection they will make the effort. If we get a card, though, we most definitely need to follow up without being pushy or smothering.

We wrapped it up with this question; What is our plan of action from here?

Pray daily for revival in Council Bluffs.  Continue being friendly.  Participate in church fellowship.  Read. Pray. Obey.  Keep it simple.

Dodge Ball at Sojourn

Posted: April 13, 2013 in Uncategorized

When I was kid dogs were free to roam the neighborhood.  Some dogs would chase cars.  They would run behind or beside the car and bark. I used to wonder; What is he going to do if he catches the car?  I think we’ve caught the car, and like so many dogs, we don’t know what to do with it.

We’ve created a buzz at sojourn with an event that is popular and well-attended.  On a typical Friday night 40 to 50 teenagers come out to play dodge ball.  We’ve had super high attendance 150 at one time, and we’ve had low nights, 20 or less.  There are many regulars and each week we see several new people.

In 30 years of ministry (25 as a Youth Pastor) we’ve never seen such consistent success in a ministry event.  A typical youth event will consist of mostly the youth group and some of their friends from other churches.  There may be 10% or less visitors and non-believers.

But this is the opposite.  We’ve drawn the huge crowd of non-believers to church.  Now what?

Are you looking for a ministry opportunity that is really the “front-lines” in evangelism?  Are you wanting a way to obey God in sharing the Gospel?  Do you want to make a huge impact in teenager’s lives while also glorifying God?

This is NOT youth ministry where you walk into a ready-made class of students and teach them a Bible study.  This is NOT a youth ministry where all the kids are generally well-behaved Christian kids.  This is NOT ministry where people know how to act in church, where everyone understands church lingo, where people have been exposed to the Gospel and they are “right there” ready to believe, where there is a typical flow and expectation.   This is NOT your typical ministry.

This is Paul in Athens, Jonah in Nineveh, and Jesus in Capernaum type ministry.  This is you in a room with a bunch of angry, hurting, ill-behaved young people.  They cuss and cut, they lie and steal, they get frustrated and fight.  They are from foster homes and broken homes, some hate to go home and some don’t have a home.  They show up laughing and crying and arguing and yelling and most are excited to see you.  They have have hurt in their heart, a naked picture of their girlfriend on their phone, and bruises from their last fight.  They rarely ask you to tell them about Jesus.

Sometimes we get to tell them about Jesus.  Sometimes they become believers.  It’s rare.

There is no sermon, no band, no videos, no “lesson.”  We don’t have an invitation. We don’t have “visitor cards.”

We play dodge ball.  We love them unconditionally. We model mature and manly behavior (or womanly). We model Christ.  We develop loving relationships.  We engage them in their life.  When the Spirit is ready, He works out a situation where we can share the Gospel.  He always works out situations where we can talk about Jesus, church and the Bible.

But right now we are overrun.  God has brought to us a multitude of people who need to hear the Good News of Christ.  The harvest is plentiful.  The laborers are few.  This is my prayer for the Lord of the Harvest to send laborers.

Contact me if you are ready to get into the field.

I just preached the worse sermon ever. You know what I mean.  It was too long, rambling, unimaginative, empty of substance, uncreative, poorly delivered and boring.  I didn’t grasp the extent of my failure until well into the sermon when it was just painfully obvious to me that there wasn’t anything there.  I couldn’t get the point out.  I couldn’t get the illustrations to say or mean what I wanted.  It left my lips and took a slow spiral noise dive into the floor. 

Now I need therapy for this disaster, but we’ll have to settle for a “lessons learned” blog. 

1. ) My ego was the main casualty in this disaster.  I couldn’t wait to get out of there.  It was embarrassing. I made some apologies for taking too long.  I said a few “fishing” remarks about my poor performance and I left.  My pain was caused mainly by the embarrassment of how poorly I did.  I was concerned about what people thought of me.  I was frustrated at my poor sermon because my ego was hurt, not because I wasted the time of 60 or so people, or because I had the chance to share the Gospel with these people and failed.  Nope, I was irritated that they wouldn’t realize my awesomeness.

 

2) The sermon was bad because I didn’t put enough time and prayer into it. Fill in excuses here.  Whatever problems I have with time management and priorities need to get resolved.  When we rack and stack all our church duties we need to put the priority on prayer and the ministry of the word.  All the other important duties need to take a back seat or get delegated.  If you are ever going to prepare a good sermon you need to start with prayer and a good bible study.  Then you need to pray some more and let God give you a decent outline.  Once God has given you His message, you need to practice your delivery a few times before you stand in front of a crowd.  If God’s method of getting the Gospel out is through preaching (Romans 10:14) then we ought to get good at preaching.

 

3) The truth is that God doesn’t need me to be awesome, He needs me to be obedient and get out of His way.  I was in a hurry. I was over-scheduled and didn’t realize it or thought too highly of my self to realize the depth of my impending failure.  So I quickly strung together some thoughts and a short outline.  I tossed in a couple of illustrations and ran off.  I wasn’t out wasting my time or playing. I just didn’t put enough time into a very important opportunity to share the Gospel with people.  I  think deep down that I’m awesome enough to pull this off and I let that get in God’s way.  Next time I’ll relax and focus on God and let Him tell me what to say and do.  Let this be a lesson to me.

Small Groups and Unity

Posted: January 25, 2012 in Uncategorized

We have several Bible Study/Community Groups in the making or already meeting.  As I’ve said several times before, I would love if everyone at Sojourn was in a Sojourn Bible Study/Community Group.  Let me explain why.

English: Home bible study with the help of a b...


Jesus has called us out of the world and put us together, as one, in a local expression of His body (the body of the Christ – the church).  We are to grow together, minister together, serve God and one another together, worship together, fellowship together, and etc. together.  The way to develop this togetherness is to be together, get to know one another on a deeper level, trust one another, love one another, accept one another, etc.  This togetherness is

best developed in small groups that meet often.  As a part of Sojourn Church you’ll want to develop this with Sojourn.

The advantages of a small group Bible Study/Community Group

1)      Develops intimacy and unity between believers

2)      Helps you grow in your walk with Christ

3)      Bible Study

4)      Encouragement from other believers

5)      Grows churches spiritually and numerically

6)      Gives you a place to bring people you are introducing the Christ

7)      Gives a place to serve God together

1913 Reinhardt College Bible Study Class

1913 College Bible Class


Now, as you’ve notice I’ve been pushing you to join a SOJOURN bible study. Why? 

1)      You will develop this unity and intimacy in your small group

2)      You want this unity and intimacy with the church to which you belong

3)      You want to be a part of growing your church.  The small group is the way to go.

Now, I’m not suggesting that you give up any other Bible study, just saying add a Sojourn Bible study.

So we’ve put together several groups. (I’m always willing to start more).  Find one that suits you, or talk to me about creating another.

Bible Studies/Community Groups

(Leader – Time and Location – usual crowd)

Sarah – Friday, 5PM at the Food Court in the Mall – High School and College females

Paul – Friday, 9:30PM at Taco Bell in CB – High School guys

Jim – Sunday, 12:30PM in the Food Court – College and older guys

Linda – Sunday, 12:30PM in the Food Court – ladies

Chris P. – Friday, 6PM at Panera in Bellevue – College age ladies

Chris S. – Monday, 6PM at his house – Community Group – anyone

Morgan – TBD at her house – Community Group – anyone

Jim – TBD – Community Group – anyone

Jim – Wednesday, 7:30PM at Sojourn – Anyone and Everyone

Jim and Shane – Thursday, 6AM at McDonald’s near the Mall – everyone.

Worship Stations

Posted: August 19, 2011 in Uncategorized
SOAP

Don't Eat the Soap

1.  Clothing

Purpose:  We want the people to determine the old self that they are to remove and the new self they are to put on.  This little activity helps them focus on the concept and then think of the bad behaviors associated with their old self and the good behaviors associated with their new self.

Set up:  We had a table with several button up shirts we purchases from the thrift store.  We made sure they were XL or XXL so that they would be easier to use.  The shirts were arranged on the table with the instruction sheets on the table and taped to the wall.

Instruction Sheet:  the instruction sheet contained this information.  Scripture in italics.

You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. – Ephesians 4:22-24

We are told to “put off” and “put on.”  These words give us a picture of taking off some clothes and putting on some other clothes.  We are told to be “clothed in righteousness.”

Let’s put one of the shirts on.  Now let it represent all the sin you do.  Ask God to bring to mind those sins you regularly commit and which you struggle.  Now, confess this sin to God.  Take off the shirt.  This is how you are to treat those sins.  Take them off.

What does that look like in action?

Now, select another shirt.  Let it represent the righteousness of Christ.  Let it represent the life Christ wants you to life; a life of obedience to Him, a life of righteousness.  Now, put the shirt on.

What does that look like in action?

Make a commitment to Christ that you will live this life of obedience and act the way you are dressed.

2. Eat Soap

Purpose:  Many young believers use cuss words and inappropriate comments.  We want to help them move beyond this sin.

Set up:  We placed a nice silver tray on the table with soap.  (My plan was to have a bar of soap with teeth impressions, as if someone had taken a bite).  Instruction sheets were included on the table.

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. – Ephesians 4:29

When I (Jim) was a kid, my mother made me eat soap on a few occasions.  This was her punishment for me because I said cuss words.  I didn’t really eat the soap, I just had to keep it in my mouth.  Yuk!   I know many people who had their mouth “washed out with soap” because of their language.

I think we sometimes need a little mouth “washing.”

Think about your language; the angry and hurtful comments, the cuss words, the slanders, and the “jokes.”   There is no liberty in cussing and no way to “laugh it off.”  Using this type of language is disobedience.  It is sin.  Will you repent and let Jesus “wash your mouth out” with his redemptive death on the cross?  Commit now to using good and wholesome words not foul and sinful words.

Don’t actually eat any soap.

3.  Encouragement

Purpose:  We wanted to give the people an alternative to using foul and improper language.  So we

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. – Ephesians 4:29

This is the positive side to the “Soap” station.  Go to someone (or several people) in the room and encourage them.

Encourage means to build them up.

Here are some suggestions;

List what you like about them

List what you know they do well

Tell them of a time they were a blessing to you

Tell them you love them.

Ask about their walk with Christ and let them know where they are doing well.

Prayers

I

1. Love The Lord Your God with all your heart soul, mind and strength
Many times especially in the Christian realm were told if you want to love God than you must love with Him with your heart soul mind and strenght. However somehow no one really emphasised the word ” You” It wasn’t till my junior year of college I heard that message” You” love the Lord your God with all your heart soul mind and strenght Therefore leaving the Spring semester that was the message I heard God expressing that He wanted me and not the trival factors.

2. Acceptance of the fact God really loved me.
Therefore hearing that message I realized I hadn’t really heard it because of my past with broken relationships so this brought in blocks of shame and trust. And even though I had accepted Christ at early age I needed to to hear these two key points that I have spoken about because I believe that if I understand these two than I’m able to process these things as an individual.

3. If these God loves me and wants me , than whats the application?
Being able to process these these step was the next important thing which leads me to where God has been building that now that I’ve heard it how will I accept. So in the season I am in now being where I am this summer was actually what I needed though I didn’t see it because I was so use to busy routine that I forgot that it’s ok to be selfish. I’m not talking about the prideful selfish but accepting that God can take who I am molding it into something greater and thats enough. Therefore I decided to make goals.

4. So Translate Please
Therefore because I’m aware of these areas and applications need to take place it’s helped me to see that goals are more important than we realize. So for the first time my heart began to beat with a wake up call don’t just pencil it but pen it. And He did that by putting me in a host home where I saw one of girls leave her goals around to encourage herself.I needed that because I needed to be aware this is true for me also that I have the head knowledge as well but now I need to translate in to my life.

5. Take It Home
So because of these messages it’s taught me that sometimes the biggest message we need to hear is soul care. And to not get so caught up in the field. And therefore in these 5 points I’ve realized that I am somebody. Therefore that’s my prayer and it’s allowed me to see that if I want to care for others I have to love me than as I appreciate who God made me I’m able over flow what He puts in me.

>”On the wings of a snow white dove, He sends His pure, sweet love, a sign from above, on the wings of a dove.”  These are lyrics from a classic song.  My version has Marty Robbins singing it.  What a great song. We had an incident with a bird, a robin, not a dove.  Our Wednesday night Bible study has had a regular attender who is a non-believer.  He has come a long way since we’ve met him but just had not confessed any faith in Jesus Christ.  Our study brought us to Matt 12:30 “whoever is not with me is against me.”  My non-believing friend asked a series of “what if…” questions and the disciples answered reemphasizing that to NOT receive Christ is rejecting Christ.  I think my non-believing friend was finding a comfortably close-but-not-committed place for his religion. I challenged him to think through what sin he was embracing rather than Christ.  Later in the evening he texted me that he didn’t know what he was waiting for in order to believe, “maybe God would reveal it like a bird taking off and flapping.”  His metaphor was different, but I understood.  The next night he texted me “…so there’s this bird.”  A robin had built a  nest above his door and each time he left the house, the bird would attack him.  So, this Thursday night I receive a series of texts about birds attacking him, flapping, and even hitting him.  I asked, “what more do you need?”  He attempted to hide with the fact that this was easily explainable.  I commented that it is a very close coincidence and if he had made a metaphor about an octopus he would have found one in his yard!
The following day (while visiting the Hallmark store in the mall with him) I stated that God had truly answered him over and over and that I didn’t believe he would get more chances after such an amazing revelation.  He agreed.  We talked more about receiving Christ and what it meant then my non-believing friend said that Thursday night after the bird incident he laid in bed and told God, “I’m ready, come on and do with me what you do.”  I was very excited for this information and we talked about Romans 10:9-10 “confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead…”  My friend finally said “I am a believer in Jesus Christ.”  He was quite excited!
Last year this man was reading the Satanic bible and scared to talk with me and today he is a new believer in the Lord Jesus Christ!

>Raptured?

Posted: May 22, 2011 in Uncategorized

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Saturday, May 21 was quite the interesting day at Ice Cream and Answers.  We got a lot of questions about the advertised “rapture” of the church by Harold Camping and his Family Radio.  The community does not know much about the rapture and most people thought it meant the world was coming to an end. We explained and gave people hope and I used it as an opportunity to share the Gospel in a few instances.  Even believers who attended church somewhat regularly were confused.  I had to tell one such person that the rapture of the church was a good thing.  She didn’t understand and then we went into the usual explanations that she was a good person and should do alright. I explained the good news that she doesn’t have to hope that she is good enough, but that Jesus died on the cross to pay for all her instances of not being good enough and that when we believe in Jesus we are considered to be in Him and therefore “good enough” (or rather, righteous).
Aly, a student at nearby Iowa Western Community College, is a member of Sojourn Church and works with me at Ice Cream and Answers, told of her interesting evening.  She works at restaurant where she is the only believer.  Everyone is aware of her faith and began to bombard her with questions and comments about the coming “rapture.”  She was able to answer many questions and by the end of the evening shared the Gospel with three different people. 
So, even though the world had a great time with Camping’s ridiculous prediction, God was still able to use the situation for His Glory.  We try to walk by faith, and that means listening to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, and when He prompts, we try to do what He is telling us.  Yesterday was a great example to us.  God gave us opportunities, told us what to say, and then blessed our obedience.  

>Invitation Time

Posted: May 8, 2011 in Uncategorized

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Jesus told a story to a fellow at the dinner table.  He said there was a certain fellow who planned a dinner party and invited a bunch of prominent people. These people stood him up with flimsy excuses.  He then ordered his servant to go get the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.  There was still room at the table so he sent his servants out to the roads and country lanes to strongly urge people to come to the banquet.  Jesus left the story there.  He didn’t say that the fellow who was throwing the party got enough people and was happy, in fact, he left the story with the servants out gathering guests. (Luke 14:15 to 23).
 Let me suggest that in this story we are the servants, and we’ve been tasked with bringing in these guests to fill the banquet room and the reason He didn’t finish the story is because we haven’t had the feast yet. I think the great banquet is the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.
What does it take to invite the guests?   1) We need to speak their language.  We tend to speak in our own church language and there are phrases and words that others do not know or understand.  2) We need to speak in a way that is not culturally offensive and causes them to ignore us. The primary way we offend the culture is by “shoving religion down their throat.”  This simply means that we bring up the subject with an agenda.  If we let them bring up the subject they’ll talk about it all day long.  3) We need to invite them.  We rarely invite people to our churches and we even more rarely invite people to know Jesus Christ.  We have great big evangelistic events that are mostly attended by Christians.  When nonbelievers attend our events, the Christians tend to clump together and not engage them.  When we engage them, we only invite them to more events. 
Let me make a suggestion, go out into the roads and country lanes and invite people to know Jesus Christ.  Learn the language, learn the culture, go out and invite people to know Jesus.