Making disciples

Lessons From My "Praying Grandma"

Partners with the President with Pastor Quintin Stieff

Every month, EFCA President Kevin Kompelien highlights stories, vision and leadership from around the EFCA in his monthly e-newsletter, "Partners with the President." This month, Kevin met (virtually) with Quintin Stieff, lead pastor at Valley Church (EFCA) in West Des Moines, Iowa, to discuss the impact of transformational churches on the lives of families and communities.

Around the Kompelien family—from children to grandchildren­—my dad’s mom was known as “Praying Grandma.”

To the outside observer, Bella Kompelien may not have seemed like the matriarch she was to our family. She was a relatively uneducated, first-generation immigrant to the United States from Norway. She never had a driver’s license—she walked everywhere she went. She worked hard to make ends meet—knitting mittens, making quilts and taking in renters to extra rooms in her house. From a material perspective, Grandma Kompelien didn’t have much to her name.

But she loved Jesus like crazy.

All these years later, I still remember my grandma’s old Norwegian Bible sitting on a stand by her favorite chair, wire-rim glasses perched on top of the Bible. I remember how the pages of her Bible were crinkled because she would read the Scriptures daily and weep. She cried and prayed for the people she loved. Every morning, Bella prayed for each of her 18 grandchildren, including me, by name.

We are shaped by the people with whom we surround ourselves.

Grandma Kompelien impacted me and my family in such profound, powerful ways through prayer that when she passed way in 1990, Becky looked at me and said, “Well, it’s my turn. It’s my generation’s turn to be the praying mom and grandma. Because Praying Grandma’s with Jesus now.”

I’m at a place in my faith today largely because of people like my parents and grandparents who passed down, from generation to generation, a faith in the transformational power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. In fact, my personal experience reminds me of Paul’s words to Timothy:

“I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.” (2 Timothy 1:5)

The impact of family on the faith of individuals is clear in Paul’s greeting to his disciple. We are shaped by the people with whom we surround ourselves.

In the last few months, we’ve talked about transformational churches—“a church where people together are becoming more like Jesus and, empowered by the Holy Spirit, are extending the influence of Jesus’ redemptive work in the lives of individuals, families and communities among all people”—and their impact on both individuals and communities, but there’s an important middle ground we’ve yet to cover. In a ministry setting, it’s easy to say, “We’ve seen individual lives being changed, and we want to see this change multiplied to transform the larger community.” But regardless of how honorable our goals are, there’s still the gap that remains between the individual and the broader community, neighborhood or city. And often, pastors and church leaders are left with the question, “Well, how do we get there?”

The missing link is the relationships in between.

God transforms families—biological and non-biological—through individuals.

By their nature, relationships affect the people around us. When we spend enough time with the same group of people, we begin to become like them, and vice versa. Whether it’s our families, our roommates or our co-workers, all of us have people in our lives who we impact and who impact us. That’s why disciplemaking isn’t based on programs—it’s life-on-life. Look at the words, again, of Paul in 2 Timothy:

“And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.” (2 Timothy 2:2)

When God works in the lives of individuals, it also impacts their relationships. Think of the children from non-believing families who come home after spending the day at Sunday School and VBS. Think of the parents who then say, “My kids are different because they’ve been involved with people from your church.” Think of the person who, after seeing God change her best friend, asks, “I’ve noticed something different in you. Has something changed?” God transforms families—biological and non-biological—through individuals.

When God transforms us—when we lean into His Word and His promises and place our trust in Him—it naturally becomes visible to our families and those with whom we surround ourselves. Peter and John give us a good example of this in Acts 4:

“When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13)

When we spend time in the presence of the Spirit of God, in the Word of God and in redemptive relationships with the people of God, people begin to notice. Parents notice differences in their kids; wives notice differences in their husbands; co-workers notice differences in their colleagues. And as those small groups begin to experience God’s transformation through the lives of individuals, they, in turn, impact communities.

One church, in particular, stands out in my mind when it comes to extending Jesus’ redemptive work through relationships in community: Valley Church (EFCA) in West Des Moines, Iowa. Through a number of different outreaches—a community center, “Love You Des Moines” campaign, children’s ministry—Valley has intentionally dedicated time and effort into influencing the lives of their neighbors, with the goal of God transforming their entire community.

This month, I talked with Quintin Stieff (above), the lead pastor at Valley and the man whose heart is behind the church’s focus on community outreach. We talked about Valley’s ministry, their heart for reaching families with the gospel and their upcoming annual conference, “Good for All,” which is a fantastic event for helping churches love their neighbors and communities. Although that conference is typically in-person, like all of us, Valley has pivoted from their original plan to offer both in-person and livestream options. You can buy tickets for that online.

How can we specifically and intentionally create pathways for the gospel to impact lives through relationship?

In our current cultural context, like Good for All, our programs can’t operate in the same way. This season is a good and necessary reminder that transformational churches aren’t just about doing programs or events. They’re about events with a purpose—seeing God change people’s lives through the gospel. So, although we’ve had to cancel, postpone and reorganize many plans and events, we still have both the opportunity and the responsibility to be creative in extending Jesus’ redemptive work to individuals, families and communities. That’s what it means to be transformational—even in the middle of a global pandemic.

Typically, the fall is a time of kick-off, new sermon series and new direction for churches, but obviously—even if you’re in an area where COVID-19 has remained relatively mild—this fall is going to look different. In light of that, we need to ask ourselves, “How can we specifically and intentionally create pathways for the gospel to impact lives through relationship? Are there ways we can both coach people and provide opportunities for people to leverage the relationships they have to see gospel fruit born in people’s lives?”

Maybe it’s phone calls and text messages. Maybe it’s more Zoom calls. Maybe it’s socially distanced coffee conversations. Whatever creative ways your church adjusts your plans for the fall, let’s join together to be intentional about extending Christ’s work into people’s lives through relationship. Like Grandma Kompelien, my “Praying Grandma,” let’s encourage each other to invest in the people around us and watch God multiply transformation across our movement.

In what ways has your congregation ministered to families and community members? What gospel fruit have you seen God produce through those relationships? Let us know in the comments.

This content and video conversation appeared in the August 2020 edition of Partners with the President. To receive future updates, you can subscribe here.
Kevin Kompelien

President, EFCA

Kevin Kompelien is president of the Evangelical Free Church of America, serving in this role since June 2015. He previously served more than 20 years as a local pastor in the EFCA and then nine years as international leader of the Africa division with EFCA ReachGlobal. He and his wife, Becky, are members of Hillside EFC in San Jose, California.

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