book excerpts: in dying we are born

In Dying We are Born: The Challenge and Hope for Congregations by Peter Bush (The Alban Institute, 2008), pb, pp.114,121,128 [http://tinyurl.com/ntp4dw]
“What if the promise of life coming out of death … [is] a promise not just to Jesus, nor just to individual believers, but also a corporate promise? … [Is] death leading to life a pattern for communities of faith, not just individuals? … How do we as leaders and as a congregation, learn to die every day?” (pp.5,10)
“Most authors who document the decline of the Western church go beyond simply describing the contours of that decline; they also attempt to diagnose the problem. Among the causes cited: * materialism and hyper-consumerism, * the privatization of religious expression, * greater competition for people’s time, * a wider range of paths through which to express one’s spirituality, * loss of confidence in the church’s faith, * inability to move beyond the narrow confines of a naive faith, * overcommitment to the traditions of the church, * lack of commitment to the traditions of the church, * biblical illiteracy and a lack of expositional preaching, * disconnection from postmodern culture and the missional opportunities it provides, * and fear that nay change from the status quo will only make things worse.” (pp.13-14)
“A dead congregation learns to pray with Jesus, ‘Thy will be done.’ Congregations that know they are going to die will move from seeking their own survival to seeking God’s reign. Aware that they are wet from the waters of baptism, they are unconcerned about their future. Understanding that they have nothing to lose, these congregations see risking all for God as no great threat. Leaders of ‘dead congregations walking’ do not spend time devising plans to cut costs or to make more efficient use of resources; rather, they spend time waiting on God (in prayer, in silence, in expectation of what God will do). They have no empire to build, no legacy to leave; the future is entirely in God’s hands. … Dead congregations have had a change in their outlook; no longer is it all about them …” (p.19)
“The reality remains that the church is not ours; it is God’s.” (p.21)
“… congregational leaders should not even try to turn ‘congealed,’ inward-looking congregations around. The best thing to do is to let those congregations die.” (p.29)
“Two types of congregational death are possible. Some congregations need to close their doors, bringing an end to years of ministry. Such a death means that the congregation is no more. Other congregations need to dramatically change their culture and ways of doing ministry. Such a drastic change may not entail the literal closing of the doors, but it will require people to give up deeply held understandings of the life and purpose of the congregation. This, too, is a death.” (p.32)
“Churches are called to live within a paradox: facing with brutal honesty the reality of their situation, even when that appears to be a path leading to death, and living in hope that the God who knows how to get out of the grave will raise them up as well. Neither the paralysis of fear nor the paralysis of optimism is an option for communities of faith.” (p.47)
“Many members believe that they have been entrusted not only with the church but also with a particular way of being church, a way that must be passed on intact to the next generation. … The members rarely express their anger directly, reverting instead to passive-aggressive approaches or simply repressing their anger until, when it finally erupts, it is directed at something completely unrelated to the real cause of the anger.” (p.50)
“Only as leaders are prepared to die with the congregation, in the hope of being resurrected with it, will the church have the leadership resources needed to die so that it may be raised to life by the power of God. Joining a church that is dying, or that needs to die, is an emotionally costly venture, but the spiritually wise leader lives in the hope of a God who brings congregations out of the grave.” (p.58)
“Leaders of dying congregations see in the death of the congregation an invitation from God to trust God’s ability to bring new life. They have a robust faith in God that has been refined in the fires of personal experience. They know the pain of loss – the loss of dreams, hopes, loved ones, and relationships – and they know the rugged truth that God is faithful even in the midst of loss.” (pp.76-77)
“Congregational leaders cannot bring new life. No matter how much people point to this congregational leader or that pastoral leader as being the one who brought new life to a dying congregation, it is God who raises the church to life.” (p.81)
“Only when a congregation dies does it realize all the planting and all the watering are just so much planting and watering without the action of God giving the increase. The congregation cannot give itself life, cannot make growth happen, and cannot stem the slide to death. The ability to do all of those things belongs to God alone. …
“Sadly, over time congregations sometimes forget that the life they are living is a gift. They begin to think that somehow they have brought this life into being by their own ability and hard work. …
“Congregations that know death and rebirth are part of God’s plan ask, ‘Where in the life of the congregation are there signs of death? Where do we see the denial, anger, bargaining, and despair that accompany the dying process?’ These are the areas to pay attention to, because they may be the areas where new life will bloom. Precisely in those places where death has taken hold is the hope of renewal the greatest. In the stone-cold tomb, death had taken hold, yet the empty tomb stands as the boldest sign of God’s work.” (pp.114,121,128)

In Dying We are Born: The Challenge and Hope for Congregations by Peter Bush (The Alban Institute, 2008), pb [http://tinyurl.com/ntp4dw]

“What if the promise of life coming out of death … [is] a promise not just to Jesus, nor just to individual believers, but also a corporate promise? … [Is] death leading to life a pattern for communities of faith, not just individuals? … How do we as leaders and as a congregation, learn to die every day?” (pp.5,10)

“Most authors who document the decline of the Western church go beyond simply describing the contours of that decline; they also attempt to diagnose the problem. Among the causes cited: * materialism and hyper-consumerism, * the privatization of religious expression, * greater competition for people’s time, * a wider range of paths through which to express one’s spirituality, * loss of confidence in the church’s faith, * inability to move beyond the narrow confines of a naive faith, * overcommitment to the traditions of the church, * lack of commitment to the traditions of the church, * biblical illiteracy and a lack of expositional preaching, * disconnection from postmodern culture and the missional opportunities it provides, * and fear that nay change from the status quo will only make things worse.” (pp.13-14)

“A dead congregation learns to pray with Jesus, ‘Thy will be done.’ Congregations that know they are going to die will move from seeking their own survival to seeking God’s reign. Aware that they are wet from the waters of baptism, they are unconcerned about their future. Understanding that they have nothing to lose, these congregations see risking all for God as no great threat. Leaders of ‘dead congregations walking’ do not spend time devising plans to cut costs or to make more efficient use of resources; rather, they spend time waiting on God (in prayer, in silence, in expectation of what God will do). They have no empire to build, no legacy to leave; the future is entirely in God’s hands. … Dead congregations have had a change in their outlook; no longer is it all about them …” (p.19)

“The reality remains that the church is not ours; it is God’s.” (p.21)

“… congregational leaders should not even try to turn ‘congealed,’ inward-looking congregations around. The best thing to do is to let those congregations die.” (p.29)

“Two types of congregational death are possible. Some congregations need to close their doors, bringing an end to years of ministry. Such a death means that the congregation is no more. Other congregations need to dramatically change their culture and ways of doing ministry. Such a drastic change may not entail the literal closing of the doors, but it will require people to give up deeply held understandings of the life and purpose of the congregation. This, too, is a death.” (p.32)

“Churches are called to live within a paradox: facing with brutal honesty the reality of their situation, even when that appears to be a path leading to death, and living in hope that the God who knows how to get out of the grave will raise them up as well. Neither the paralysis of fear nor the paralysis of optimism is an option for communities of faith.” (p.47)

“Many members believe that they have been entrusted not only with the church but also with a particular way of being church, a way that must be passed on intact to the next generation. … The members rarely express their anger directly, reverting instead to passive-aggressive approaches or simply repressing their anger until, when it finally erupts, it is directed at something completely unrelated to the real cause of the anger.” (p.50)

“Only as leaders are prepared to die with the congregation, in the hope of being resurrected with it, will the church have the leadership resources needed to die so that it may be raised to life by the power of God. Joining a church that is dying, or that needs to die, is an emotionally costly venture, but the spiritually wise leader lives in the hope of a God who brings congregations out of the grave.” (p.58)

“Leaders of dying congregations see in the death of the congregation an invitation from God to trust God’s ability to bring new life. They have a robust faith in God that has been refined in the fires of personal experience. They know the pain of loss – the loss of dreams, hopes, loved ones, and relationships – and they know the rugged truth that God is faithful even in the midst of loss.” (pp.76-77)

“Congregational leaders cannot bring new life. No matter how much people point to this congregational leader or that pastoral leader as being the one who brought new life to a dying congregation, it is God who raises the church to life.” (p.81)

“Only when a congregation dies does it realize all the planting and all the watering are just so much planting and watering without the action of God giving the increase. The congregation cannot give itself life, cannot make growth happen, and cannot stem the slide to death. The ability to do all of those things belongs to God alone. …” (p.114)

“Sadly, over time congregations sometimes forget that the life they are living is a gift. They begin to think that somehow they have brought this life into being by their own ability and hard work. …” (p.121)

“Congregations that know death and rebirth are part of God’s plan ask, ‘Where in the life of the congregation are there signs of death? Where do we see the denial, anger, bargaining, and despair that accompany the dying process?’ These are the areas to pay attention to, because they may be the areas where new life will bloom. Precisely in those places where death has taken hold is the hope of renewal the greatest. In the stone-cold tomb, death had taken hold, yet the empty tomb stands as the boldest sign of God’s work.” (p.128)

family talk questions for Sun.; Aug. 30

1. This coming Sunday morning’s sermon is the last in our month long series on “emotions” as seen in the proverbs of Solomon and Jesus’ parables. Anger and patience (or the lack thereof) make up an enormous part of our life. To become all the more sensitive to this truth, do two things: (a) think of some specific instances in your life where your anger (whether your’s or someone else’s) has put you in a jam; (b) listen to, read, or watch the news for 15 minutes with your mind’s antenna fully extended to pick up the presence of any and all things related to anger. What did you come up with?

2. Anger, impatience, etc. are frequently mentioned in Solomon’s proverbs and Jesus’ parables. Using an online Bible search site (http://www.zondervanbiblesearch.com) or an exhaustive concordance, look up some, or all, the following words (and their variants) in Proverbs: anger, hot-tempered, patience, quarrelsome, quick-tempered, strife, wrath.

3. In light of the proverbs you read as your response to the preceding question, what are some specific, practical things a person can do to either prevent anger from flaring up in their heart or to help get things back under control?

4. What part does anger and patience, impatience and strife play in Jesus’ best known parable, the parable of the prodigal son (Lk.15:11-32; http://bit.ly/ctzwf)? Consider the matter looking through the eyes of all three main characters. How does the father’s patience and refusal to become angry affect the story?

5. What effect can overindulgence in drinking alcohol have on your emotions, particularly the emotions of anger and those related to it (Prov. 23:29-32; http://bit.ly/P12iC)?