A few months ago I was asked to come up with some sort of prophetic drama thing for one of our events, our annual Sheffield Praise Day. As I’m neither the world’s most natural thespian nor content with coming up with something shallow I spent a few weeks not knowing what to do, wrestling with ideas.
Last year has been described for my church as a make-or-break year. Years dim our vision and wane our energy and over time we can find ourselves short of the driving, fiery love which once infused everything we are. We started 2013 widely acknowledging our need of God (what better way to start a year?) and gave ourselves a theme of ‘hearts on fire’, looking to regain our first-love for God again.
The year was ‘patchy’. Green spots sprung up and it seems like God has been accelerating the pace of change. Getting back to first love inevitably means getting back to our core mission, back to a spirit of pioneering, of movement, of adventure. We don’t really know where we’re going, but hey, who cares? We know who’s leading us.
It was because of that theme that I read Church Transfusion by Neil Cole, a book about transfusing old, stale churches with the life of Jesus, exactly what we need. One of the ideas presented by the book was that senior pastors could hold a funeral for their church, then a baby shower the week after! Sometimes our own ideas, bold or traditional, cynical or hopeful can get in the way of Jesus’ dreams for his church. Categorically central to the goal of bringing new Jesus-life into a church is the process of putting Jesus back at the centre of things. That means every individual has a personal two-way relationship with Jesus and that we allow Jesus to speak into (or against) everything we are and do, our systems, routines and modes of conduct.
‘Life out of death’ is clearly a core Kingdom-principle, and so the idea was born. The dramatic item was to be a funeral for our church, with a coffin carried from the back of the congregation (so it’s about ‘us’ rather than a stage-only item), and we were to bury it in the stage somehow. I wrote a script. However, complications with a lack of coffin meant I had to delay the dramatic demo to our next major church event, the New Year Celebration held on 28th December.
Between that time two things happened that made life oddly turbulent.
The first event was an encouragement. I’d been following Dr. Gary Thompson’s blog posts for a while because he’s an old boy who’s saying some cutting edge stuff that old boys rarely say. A post of his called The Church Must Die? caught my eye, not just because it has a provocative title but because it expressed exactly my thoughts. A quote:
The church has a choice: to die as a result of its resistance to change or to die in order to live.
I started studiously learning my script off by heart, more intent than before on communicating the message. We established we’d bury the coffin by submerging it in our baptistry.
The second event was not an encouragement.
I realised that for any major prophetic word to the church like this there’s a responsibility for the prophet to embody what (s)he speaks, and a testing of the word in their life. I wondered (and other guys had asked me) what kind of death I would have to go through as part of communicating this word to the church?
A couple of weeks ago my Dad admitted himself to hospital with stomach pain and sickness. A few scans and drugs later and we found out my Dad probably has cancer, and secondary (more advanced) cancer at that. That even hurts just to type.
I found this out just five days before the event, so the idea of walking in front of a coffin in front of a thousand or so people talking about our need to die in order to live wasn’t my greatest ambition right at that point, to put it mildly. I wondered if it was even appropriate and sensitive to do the demo, but the burning I felt inside when I’d heard from God and followed His train of thought gave me the conviction to still try.
I asked a friend to be ready to step in on the evening (reading the script live) if I wasn’t in a fit state to do it and I was very grateful to receive prayer offered for God’s grace for my mum & I.
God is faithful, and I managed to lead the item.
“All things work together for good for those who love the Lord”, and I hope my grief gave the delivery a poignant sincerity.
I’ve published the script below.
I’m calling us to cross a line.
It’s a very unpopular line, not often crossed.
I guess it’s the ultimate line that all others point to.
It’s the only way to life.
I’m calling us to die.
And really, death is unavoidable. But it’s up to us which kind of death we choose.
If, as a church and as individuals, we commit the sin of faithless self-preservation we will follow the way of many movements of God greater than us from movement, to machine, to monument. However, if we allow the death of Jesus to work in us, His church, our coming days will be brighter than our first.
We have a choice: to die as a result of our resistance to change or to die in order to live.
See this coffin? In invite you all to join in your hearts with what’s happening here symbolically. We’re going to bury this coffin tonight.
I want you to place all cynicism, all your disillusionment, all your grudges in this coffin… Place all your dreams in there too, and everything you desperately long for. Put in there everyone you love, your hobbies and the work that you do. What is of God He will give back to you with added blessing.
But more than all these individual things and more than just us as individuals, together as His church we must die.
God has taken us on an amazing journey. We found an incredible richness in the body of Christ when those who were formerly a collective of individuals were melted by Jesus into the colourful koinonia fellowship of ‘a people’ following Him. Everything we’ve done as a church has come from that, but for every step forward God has called us to die.
Of course God has led us to die to bad things: to die to our complacency, comforts, prides and sinfulness, but He’s also led us to die to good things too: to surrender our grasp on all we’ve accomplished, all that we are and where we think we should go.
A church that has died to what it has been or what it hopes to be is a church that can become all that Christ desires it to be. Our clever ideas will not produce the church. Our schemes, plans and routines alone cannot produce the church. Only the life of Jesus in his church brought through our joining him in his death, burial and resurrection will produce the church.
And so here at the Northampton Jesus Centre on the 28th December 2013 we put to death ourselves and all the work of our hands. Before God we surrender all our traditions, all our routines, our plans, our schemes, hopes and dreams. We lay them at the feet of Jesus.
We renounce the sin of self-preservation.
We renounce the sin of flogging dead horses.
We renounce the sin of working harder than we listen.
We renounce the sin of trusting in our schemes, plans and routines to produce life and growth.
Having entrusted our church into the hands of God, we now commit ourselves to the ground, earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, in sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died, was buried, and rose again for us. To Him be glory for ever.
God, give us Your dreams.
Feel free to modify and reuse this text however you wish, so long as the essence of it’s meaning remains intact. Attribution is unnecessary.