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It was to be a cold Christmas high in the mountains of Mt. Baldy. The children wished for snow. The fathers wished for more wood for the fireplaces and potbellies. The mothers wished for their shopping to be completed before the first snowstorm of the season.
It was a time of excitement and busyness. Everyone seemed caught up in the wrappings and trappings of Christmas. The ‘I wanna’s and I gotta haves’ included everything from the largest tree, to the most presents, the best decorated house, the prettiest Christmas clothes…and the list went on. Can you imagine at this wonderful time of the year that people were so busy, busy, busy, getting, getting, getting that they were actually saying they wanted Christmas to hurry and be over so they could get back to their regular pace of life?
But there was one place in the tiny mountain village where the air was filled with quiet beauty and anticipation. There was no hustling and bustling, just great expectation of what was to come. It was the small Village Church that stood next to the creek and just at the entrance to Bear Canyon.
She beckoned the children, their friends and parents to come, but everyone was too busy. Her fireplace burned giving warmth but nobody came to be warmed. Her windows looked out to the stars…one was ever so bright, but no one came to see them. A giant evergreen tree telling of everlasting life stood glowing in the corner, but no one was thinking of everlasting life. They were thinking only of now. The Advent wreath in all of its beauty told stories of faith, hope, joy and love but these weren’t the gifts on anyone’s lists.
Nestled beneath the communion table a crèche scene graced the sanctuary of the small village church. Straw fell from the manger where a tiny baby lay quietly to share his love with the families of the mountain. Would they come? Surely they would come. It’s Christmas Eve.
All of a sudden the doors opened! There was laughter and joyful greetings. There were young and old alike. There were oohs and ahhs. They came to be warmed by the fire. They came to see the star. Did it lead them there? They came to feel the glow of the tree and to know the everlasting power it represented. They came in hopes of receiving the gifts of faith, hope, joy and love. They came because they wanted to share their love with the little one who lay in the manger of straw before them. They gathered around the crèche and sang lullabies of “Away In The Manger” and “Silent Night” to the babe and then silently prayed for their gift of gifts before breaking into a rousing, “Joy To The World.” Love truly came down that Christmas ~ a love for you and for me. It was a Christmas the families of Mt. Baldy will never forget.
This is a picture of my 5 year old grandson, Luke, singing his little heart out and praising the Lord. I’m not sure he knows what praising the Lord is all about, but I do know he loves singing and dancing in his church choir. Our job as parents, grandparents and church family is to teach him the deeper meaning of praising the Lord, having the heart of hallelujah as a child of God. I want my grandson to grow up not seeing the church as a somber institution, but as the joyful Body of Christ.
I have written a new song entitled The Heart of Hallelujah. I wanted to write a song with words that would lift our spirit, and a tune that would get our toes tapping and our hands clapping. Take a moment and listen to this song and feel the joy it brings.
All of life should be lived in hallelujah, which means, Praise to the Lord.
Kimball Coburn, S.E.
In the 1950s, before “Sex, Drugs & Rock ‘n’ Roll” became a lifestyle, there was Doo-Wop. Like many teenagers at that time, my Dad jumped in. Actually, he dove in head first. While still in high school, he began writing, recording and performing his own songs. Kimball soon became a rock ‘n’ roll star in and around Memphis, Tennessee. Young Kimball discovered a love for creating music.
When the 60’s rolled around, he and his high school sweetheart, Pam, were married and began their family. Kimball Jr, Collie, Kathy, and Cari immediately became more important than stardom. But Dad didn’t stop writing. Also during that time, he felt God calling him into the ministry. It was a new and exciting chapter for both Dad and Mom, and us kids. And Dad continued to create music.
So what happened in the 70’s was no surprise. Dad traded in his baritone ukulele for an electric guitar, Kimball Jr found his groove on the drums, I got cheesy on my Vox Continental organ, and the girls filled out our sound with tambourine and sweet sounding harmonies. (In case you’re wondering, The Partridge Family was NOT based on us)
Dad’s passion for songwriting didn’t stop, but it did change. What changed was the message he would share with his new audience. That audience was the Church. Throughout his ministry, Kimball has worked creatively to encourage, challenge, and share God’s message of love in ways that will stick long after the sermon is over. That’s one reason why Dad’s ministry has been successful for more than four decades.
Since the good ol’ days of “Michael Row the Boat Ashore” and “Kum-ba-yah”, the Coburn Family Band has grown in membership and musical ability, adding talented family and friends along the way. Our name changed to The Calling Band, but our mission to help Dad share the message remains.
As I write this brief history, Dad’s new CD, A Servant’s Songs, is being put together at the manufacturer. It contains 10 brand-new songs that I believe are his finest yet. When you download and listen to There’ll Always Be Songs, you’ll certainly notice that Kimball, the doo-wopper from the 50’s, still has a passion for songwriting. But it’s his genuine love for the Church, along with the natural blend of Cari’s voice that makes this Coburn family duet so special.
Collie Jr is the children’s pastor at First Christian Church in Santa Maria, CA, and my grandson. He and his wife Dana have been wonderful additions to that church for several years. Although Collie is young, he wrote these wise and thoughtful words of encouragement in several recent blog posts. I’ve condensed them into one post.
How to Thrive in a Struggling Church
Collie Coburn Jr
When working in a struggling church, it can be hard to be optimistic. Sometimes it seems like good news is hard to come by, or that everyone is just in a rut. And while serving in a struggling church has challenges, there also comes with it a great opportunity – the chance to create something great. After all, when things are going well, people are all the more averse to change. Nobody wants to mess with a good thing. That’s why sometimes successful churches (and organizations) struggle with being innovative. But when you’re in a struggling environment, you’re in a position to look for and try new ideas. You may not need to work as hard to sell the idea of change because it’s evident that change is required! Of course, turning around momentum is difficult, so the challenge is to create something that will really make your congregation get excited and jump in.
If you find yourself serving in an environment of stagnation, don’t give in. Prayerfully look for an opportunity for God to do something new and big, and then chase the dream. After all, a struggling church often gives you the best chance to create something great.
Never Stop Planning for Growth
It’s really easy to assume things will stay the way they’ve been. When you’re growing, you think you’ll always grow. When you’re on the decline, you assume there are no changing things. But there is! At some point, the opportunity to grow will present itself, and when you are working in a declining church you need to be ready to change direction. Never stop planning for growth. It will keep you hunting for new ideas, provide encouragement, and lay the groundwork for good things ahead.
Talk to Someone
The need to have friends who can guide, admonish, and hold you accountable is present in every ministry context. However, when you are working in a struggling church, the need to find people to talk through ministry takes on a different tenor. Find people who you can be entirely open with, and that often means going outside the body of your church. Talk to people with expertise; people who understand the unique challenges that come with ministry.
Find people who can speak truth into your life. We need people who can tell us when we’re wrong, misguided, or plain dumb. After all, the pain of being corrected by a friend is far more bearable than the pain of realizing you’ve been on the wrong path for weeks.
Ask Hard Questions
Looking back, I feel that I could have avoided an immense amount of frustration if I had simply asked, “Why do we do this thing?” Sometimes you’ll find there are great reasons, but often you’ll find the reason you need a change of direction.
Actively Fight Discouragement
Discouragement will happen. It will happen in thriving churches as well, but it can be especially insidious in hurting ones. You need to know when discouragement is having an effect on your ministry, and you also need to know what will help you fight through it.
Remind Yourself that God’s Work Isn’t Finished
When you serve in a declining church, it’s easy to think that the future is fait accompli. It’s not! Even in struggling churches, there are opportunities for growth and for God to turn things around. It may be difficult, but it’s certainly possible.
Take Holy Spirit-Inspired Risks
God wants to do great things in your community, but often our desire to hold on to what we know prevents us from chasing these opportunities. If you feel the Holy Spirit leading you somewhere surprising, go for it. After all, God wants to use your church to grow His kingdom, so don’t be afraid to try something new.
In conclusion, hold on to hope! God can do great things. He wants to do great things in your church, so keep listening and chasing the dream. Know that I’m praying for all of you who serve in struggling congregations. I know God will move in powerful ways.
Experts tell us that if a person is shy, hesitant, or passive, he or she runs the risk of leading a life full of unfulfilled goals. So how serious would it be for the church to be reticent in it’s objective to reach out to this world with the love of Christ? Are we to be content in a “holy huddle”, with very little interaction beyond our church walls?
Today more than ever, your community needs a church that’s not afraid to step out in faith. It doesn’t matter if you don’t do everything exactly right. What matters is that you press on, believing God will use you as an instrument of peace. I hope you’ll join me as I fight the good fight, to be the Church that’s fearless. Let’s boldly work together as we keep our Eyes on the Prize.
Eyes on the Prize is Kimball’s new song that’ll encourage you to “Press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 3:14
Sigmund Freud wrote: “The church socializes its youth to ask only those questions the church is able to answer.” Can this be true? If so, it would explain why the church struggles to be relevant in today’s society.
Now, I’m not preaching chaos, but I do believe the church needs newness. We need bold, creative, and imaginative thinking that will take us beyond our institutional parameters. It starts by asking questions that challenge us to look at things in new ways. Of course, not all new ideas and actions are the right ones, but let’s not squash them before considering them.
I’ve worked with many youth and young adults in my ministry, and they are full of ideas and questions. Every time I come away from a meeting where the program led the young people into a free flowing discussion, I feel renewed with hope. I’ve also had the privilege of meeting and working with many pastors. Some are very excited about the possibilities of taking the church into the future. Others are tired and discouraged, feeling they’ve done everything, with nothing new to try.
The good news is that as long as there is God and the teachings of Christ, there is always incredible potential for the local church to alter the spiritual landscape of it’s community.
So keep probing – keep pushing – keep pulling – keep reshaping – keep rethinking – keep renewing.
There comes a time in every person’s life when he or she is faced with the choice to go with the crowd or stand against it. The “crowd” can represent money, status, acceptance, career success, conformity, popularity or just plain coolness.
Sometimes the crowd is in our churches saying we ought to say and sing the name Jesus, but not always do what Jesus would do. The crowd doesn’t always like the radical ways of Christ. They disrupt comfortable routines. They confront, challenge, and call for change.
Honestly, I sometimes wonder if I could have hung with Jesus. I really would like to have walked and talked with him and learned from him. But after being the lead singer in the band, the lead on the team, the lead preacher, could I be a follower too? Has the popularity and acceptance made me so comfortable that I have lost the courage of the prophetic spirit? Am I willing to live out the teachings of Jesus to the point of losing my crowd pleasing status?
Eugene Peterson writes:
Every time we retrieve a part of our life from the crowd and respond to God’s Call to us, we are that much more ourselves, more human. Every time we reject the habits of the crowd and practice the disciplines of faith, we become a little more alive.
To answer the questions posed above, well, let me say it like this. I do want to be liked. But I’ve learned that when it comes to the crowd leading the church in being a comfortable social club, I must stand and speak out. When I see the church gaining the crowd but losing her life, it’s time to give up popularity for the prophetic spirit.
Help us, Lord ~ give us the strength and courage to hang with You.
The United Methodist Church is in a campaign to “Rethink Church.” I like it. It’s catchy and hopefully will cause people to see church in a new light. For seekers it’ll help them to see a church that is open to doing things differently.
Rethinking deeply, profoundly and prayerfully is a demanding spiritual exercise. It means putting our imagination and creativity to work. Rethinking church means preaching the Good News in ways that excite people and calls them to action. It means genuinely reaching out to people because we care about their souls. It means being bold enough to challenge and change the reality of our decadent society. It means being innovative in worship. There is no one style of worship that fits all. True worship is warm, moving and uplifting. It should be indigenous to the people.
Rethinking church is thinking again how Jesus taught us to live our lives for one another and in community. It’s a “re” word that is part of the family of renew, revive and reformation. To do this:
We need to look around today
We need to speak to every age
We need to go beyond the walls
We need to witness and live so all can see
If you’re thinking, “Kimball is on the verge of writing a song,” you’re right. In fact, I’ve already written and recorded it. I hope you will download it, enjoy it, and share it.