“A SIMPLE FAREWELL”
June 20th, 2009
“I’m feeling extremely overwhelmed by all of this,” I sighed while sinking deeper into a couch during our Friday simple-church gathering. “I’ve just been asked to take care of all the music for the funeral service Sunday morning. They want me to play my guitar and lead the singing on top of delivering the message. There’s no way I can do this with so many songs, seven of them, several of which I’m very unfamiliar with, given only two days to prepare. There’s just not enough time to do both the music and prepare the message. Besides, I really don’t want this to be the Bill Hoffman show. In addition, Karl’s wife Karen is attempting to pull off the reception entirely on her own. She’s in mourning and shouldn’t even have to think about doing this. I’m sorry to dump this on you but I honestly don’t know what to do.”
Following my frenetic cry for help those in attendance began to discuss what they could do to help. In an institutional church with any history at all, such things as memorial services and receptions are handled by an army of volunteers and paid staff who all chip in to ensure everything happens just the way it should. But in our simple, organic churches there are no paid staff, and the army of volunteers amounts to a tiny squadron of four or five individuals, most of whom have no experience in attempting anything this large.
The deceased was a member of our home group and a close personal friend. He was well known and highly thought of by many people all around the Bay Area and Central California. We had no idea how many people would show up for his funeral but we knew for certain it could not be held in a home. The family opted to have the service in a mortuary and to set up the reception in a VFW hall not far away. Unfortunately for us, the man lived in Modesto and the mortuary they chose was in Turlock, about an hour and a half’s drive away from our home. How can a small house church conduct a funeral and host a reception over eighty miles away?
“The first thing we need to do is pray,” I suggested, and then I led everyone in a heartfelt plea to the Almighty for help. At the conclusion of my prayer one of our members spoke up.
“I believe Jesus is telling us all to let our gifts fall into place,” he announced. “We just all need to move in our various gifts.”
Immediately after he spoke another attendee chimed in. “I’ve done receptions like this before. Let me just give Karen a call to find out what she’s already done, what she envisions happening, and what still needs to be accomplished.”
“Why don’t we just put all those songs on a ‘CD’ and play that for the service?” asked another member. Within moments he was off to his home to retrieve his computer which had the necessary software to download music and burn our own “CD”.
By the end of the evening, plans were well in place and we all knew our own personal tasks. Most of our group would drive over to Turlock the next day to help decorate and set up for the reception. Some of us would remain there overnight to purchase the food and continue to prepare. I would be able to return home and work on my message for the following morning. Remarkably, the stress factor which had earlier been off the charts was now approaching the level of manageable.
On Sunday both the funeral and the following reception went off like clockwork. Everyone was thrilled, the grieving family was grateful, and God was glorified. Sunday evening we gathered in our home back in the Bay Area for our usual house church meeting. Though we were all completely exhausted it was a “good tired,” a healthy fatigue born out of everyone’s opportunity to put their various gifts into practice in order to pull off something we had once thought impossible. We were amazed at what God was able to accomplish with so few people.
So what have we learned through our first simple-church memorial? First of all, especially when the task ahead is anything but simple, it’s a good idea to approach the Almighty for assistance. “Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.” – John 16:24. As we discovered, God already had the necessary pieces to the puzzle in place, not in material possessions or carefully thought out plans, but in gifted Christ-followers who were eager to pitch in and lend a helping hand. “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” “All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.” – 1Corinthians 12:7,11. “It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers…” – Ephesians 4:11.
As I look back on the events of last weekend I can recognize many gifts which God’s people freely put into service. In addition, I can also recognize all five of the ministry gifts spoken of in Ephesians 4:11 in operation. The woman who organized and led the task of putting together the reception showed the gift of apostleship. The brother who heard from the Lord following my prayer Friday evening was using the gift of prophecy. My memorial message turned out to be solidly evangelistic, and several of us were used by God in a pastoral way to bring comfort to those who were bereaved. And the teaching gift, where was that revealed? Well, that began occurring Sunday evening as we gathered in our home church and shared what we had learned over the past three days.
Perhaps the greatest lesson learned is simply that God “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us…” – Ephesians 3:20. We were also reminded of the fact that ministry is a team sport, a function of the entire body of Christ and not a one man show. Our simple farewell for Brother Karl, although anything but simple, was a combined effort of several hard-working, gifted individuals. It was not the Bill Hoffman show I had feared, but rather the Jesus show as was plainly evident. And all the glory went to Him! “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ.” “But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.” – 1Corinthians 12:12,18-20.
It was fascinating to observe several of our members functioning in gifts which were new to them. Either such gifts had remained latent within them and been left unused until now, or the Spirit just called forth a temporary gifting to accomplish the task set before them. Since the Holy Spirit is certainly the power behind all of His gifts, and since He indwells every believer in Christ, it follows that He is perfectly able to use any Christian to accomplish any necessary task whether or not an individual has exhibited such gifting in the past. “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” – Philippians 4:13.
A week ago we were all wondering how a small organic church can pull off a simple farewell when the task ahead appears to be anything but simple. We now have the answer. Gather the church together whether it’s a large assembly or a small handful of believers, begin with prayer, listen to what Jesus tells you to do, then do what He says—even if that means attempting something which is entirely new for you. Come to think of it that’s pretty good advice when we’re facing any seemingly impossible task whether it’s putting together a memorial service on extremely short notice, helping a new widow face life in the absence of her loving husband, assisting families who are suffering mightily in the midst of a downturn in the economy, or even attempting to kick-start a church planting movement in Northern California.
Bill, a child of God still listening and learning