Getting in the Water: Pier Ministry at Messiah6 min read

The hallway of Carpenter Elementary School in Midland, Michigan, was packed with people. A young boy stepped into the gymnasium. Tables full of brand-new, brand-name sneakers lined the room. The boy’s eyes grew wide as he took in the hundreds of shoes, the people, the friendly faces.

Volunteers help kids find the right pair of shoes

“Let’s get your feet sized,” said a volunteer–an older woman with a kind face–as she smiled at the boy. “I’m your shoe buddy.” The boy nodded. A few moments later, he held his new pair of black and orange sneakers, grinning from ear to ear.

The event, called SNEAKERPALOOZA, exists to show the Midland community the love of Jesus through serving and shoes. Held in August, SNEAKERPALOOZA provides Midland County Kindergarten through 12th-grade students with over 1,300 brand-new pairs of sneakers.

SNEAKERPALOOZA is just one of several community-focused events and ministries that Messiah Lutheran Church, located in Midland, Mich., has created or partnered with other churches and organizations to offer to the community.

Messiah’s mission and strategy? Reach one more life with Jesus by creating environments for life transformation. And environments for life transformation don’t always equate to an actual church building.

It can be a coffee house. An automotive garage. Home and lawn care. All different environments designed with the same goal: help people meet their needs and, as a result, meet Jesus.

Piers in the Water

Messiah Lutheran Church’s Senior Pastor Ed Doerner is smiling. He has his phone in hand as he takes a picture of the shoes in the gymnasium at SNEAKERPALOOZA.

“Do you see the light shining in?” he asks, glancing at the window. “Jesus is all over this place.”

Doerner has led the charge to develop different ministries, or piers, as he calls them, which include Journeys Coffee House and Filling Midland’s Cup, a ministry dedicated to meeting the needs of the community. Both ministries helped organize SNEAKERPALOOZA.

His Hands Auto Care

Other Messiah ministries include: His Hands Auto Care, a full service automotive garage; Restoration Fellowship, a Saturday-night worship service for those with hurts, habits, and hang-ups looking for hope, healing, and growth; and Messiah’s latest ministry, His Hands Home and Lawn Care, a home and lawn care service designed to employ those who have struggled to get a job due to life circumstances. Along with other community-focused initiatives, such as theatre and drama, kids & youth events and after-school programs, growth groups and conferences, Sunday morning worship is one of many ways Messiah is trying to reach one more life with Jesus.

“The pier ministry model is simple,” Doerner said.

“Ultimately, the reason we are creating these piers or ministries is because people are going to hell,” Doerner shares. “We need to use every means possible that is biblical to reach people with Christ. We have to be valiant to get people where they are, and then we find the means to reach them where they are. People are floating down the river, and if they don’t grab onto a pier, they will reach the waterfall and go over the edge (hell). So we go to them and give them an opportunity to meet Jesus by showing them Jesus and meeting their needs. We are reaching people who never set foot in church.”

Suzy Kruger has been a member of Messiah’s faith family for 45 years. An avid volunteer with Messiah’s after-school programs and Filling Midland’s Cup ministry, Kruger said she thinks Messiah’s ministries are a great way to reach people’s lives with Jesus because she’s seen it herself.

“There are so many God stories I have heard from these ministries, it’s amazing,” Kruger said. “I’ve had so many conversations with children in our after-school programs that are now asking questions. They initially didn’t know Jesus, but now they are asking questions about Jesus and even baptism and how to get baptized.”

Kruger said the ministries are a great touch point for people who have gotten away from church.

“The ministries bring so many people out that do not know Jesus or don’t have a church connection,” Kruger said. “The ministries bring them in, whether it’s for automotive repair or a food giveaway or after-school programs. I’ve heard stories of people who have gotten away from church, but through these ministries, we bring in people, especially the young people. We are a family here.”

Meeting Jesus

Doerner said so far the pier ministry model has helped people to meet Jesus by meeting people where they are.

“You have to meet Jesus before you listen to Jesus,” Doerner said. “Piers are created based on need. Needs are identified and then, creatively, we’ve found ways to meet these needs. Every time we meet a need, it is never to meet Messiah’s needs. It’s always with the understanding of the community need, what the community needs. It’s not for us. It’s for the community.”

Journeys Coffeehouse

Doerner said Journeys Coffee House, which has a location in downtown Midland and another within Messiah’s church building, is a way to create an environment to meet the community’s need of a safe place to gather together.

“Journeys Coffee House is designed as a non-threatening environment,” Doerner said. “Our theology states Christ is in all of us, so every person who walks into the coffee shop will meet Jesus. And the coffee shop becomes a “church” in its own way … not a congregation, but a church. As people are drawn into their environment, they begin to ask questions. They want to learn more about Jesus.”

Restoration Fellowship is another one of Messiah’s piers that was developed with the intention to not only create a non-threatening environment, but a non-judgmental one, as well. The service, held every Saturday night with a free home-cooked meal at 5 p.m. and worship at 6 p.m., welcomes all people: those who have turned away from the church, those facing addictions, those in recovery; those struggling, those hurting, those in need of hope. As a result, Restoration Fellowship has had numerous baptisms as people have come to know Christ in a whole new way.

Doerner said pier ministry is a way to introduce people to Jesus.

“People need to meet Jesus in us first,” he said. “After they meet Jesus in us, then they ask questions. We don’t have to prove anything to them about Christ because they’ve already met Christ through us. Then they start to ask questions: ‘Tell me about him. Tell me about Jesus.’”

To learn more about Messiah Lutheran Church, visit

Photos courtesy of Messiah, Midland

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This blog is published by the Communications Department of the Michigan District, LCMS.

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