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 boy’s 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.
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.