By Ms Kari Hawkins (AMCOM)July 27, 2011
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala.--For believers, faith is often a moving target.
No matter what stage of life a believer is in, faith can change, grow and transform, providing a sense of joy in the good times and a source of strength in the bad.
And for Chaplain (Col.) Robert Coffey, helping believers grow their faith is what his mission is all about.
“Faith grows in all stages of life and especially when people are going through challenging times or while they are facing difficulties that feel overwhelming,” Coffey said. “At those times, the relevancy of the scriptures, the fellowship or association with people of faith, and the emotional vibrancy of the worship experience helps a person to grow in faith.”
Beginning Aug. 7, Coffey will be leading a new worship experience at Redstone Arsenal that he hopes will provide believers with a contemporary way to grow their faith. The Bicentennial Chapel’s contemporary service " known as The Bridge -- is moving from Sunday evenings to Sunday mornings at 11. It will be offered at the Youth Center at the same time as the Protestant service at the chapel.
“Our Protestant service here is traditional with great organ music, hymns, liturgy and a message from the pulpit,” said Coffey, who serves as the command chaplain for the Army Materiel Command and as the senior chaplain on post.
“With our contemporary service, we want to provide more of an electric guitar, praise music atmosphere with less formal readings and a much more relaxed message. Instead of ‘What would Jesus say to the woman at the well?’ it’s more about ‘What would Jesus say to Lady Gaga?’ It’s a more edgy message that appeals to a different group of people.”
Life includes many normal, day-to-day happenings that can become challenges " or opportunities " to grow a believer’s faith, including events such as the birth of a family’s first child, starting a new job and the death of a parent, and situations such as coping with a difficult boss, parenting teenagers and managing financial difficulties.
“Sometimes simply all of those kinds of things collectively can provide you with an up close and personal experience with your faith,” Coffey said. “If a vibrant chapel experience is offered to folks, especially one that teaches how to apply the Scriptures in a practical way to
people’s everyday life, then it can yield exciting spiritual growth.
Throughout his 25-year military career as a chaplain, Coffey has had the opportunity to lead several contemporary services. As a young chaplain at Fort Hood, Texas, in 1995, he helped start the prototype for the Army’s contemporary services.
“It was called Chapel Next, but it came to be known as ‘The Unchappeled,’” he said. “Contemporary music really set the stage for the service, even going as far as taking secular music and changing the words slightly for a Christian message. The church has a long history of taking bar songs and converting them with Christian lyrics, and this was just an extension of that. Today’s contemporary services tend to have a little more energetic music and singing that leads the service and defines it.”
Besides music, the contemporary service is defined as being more streamlined than a traditional service. Gone are the traditional invocation as well as the hymns and formal prayers. Power point and other audiovisual features, and a “out from behind the pulpit” casualness prevail.
“The message is even different, with a much more relevant application to the scripture teaching. There are contemporary points made rather than just references to biblical passages. We’re teaching something very practical from the scriptures. The message is a little more intriguing and applicable, and is more interesting to the younger crowd, the unchurched and those who have not been to church for a long time,” Coffey said.
Contemporary services that thrive do so because “they create a kind of dynamic worship experience between the music and the word,” he said.
There are a couple of drawbacks concerning contemporary worship, Coffey added. One, is that contemporary congregations are often not a mix of older and younger Christians, but rather are focused on a younger crowd that doesn’t then gain the experience of older Christians with more experiences. And, two, it is more difficult for contemporary programs to develop small group experiences that build a sense of community within the congregation.
“It is more difficult with contemporary services to develop ways for Christians to connect,” Coffey said. “At Fort Hood, we started small group Bible studies during the week, and we had events like country and western dances, and adult game nights. We will work here to do the same kinds of things.”
Offering a contemporary service and other programs are vital to the chapel’s mission to help all Christians both young and old in their spiritual and physical lives build a strong faith and connect with a Christian family.
“The chapel is for many people a place to connect with God and a power outside of themselves. It can be a place of comfort through the readings, liturgy, songs and music, prayers, sermons and fellowship,” Coffey said.
“It is a place to meet God and others who have faced the same fears and struggles. It is a place to rediscover that we are not self-sufficient nor eternal, a place to grow in faith with the
Lord who is all sufficient and eternal. There is a comfort in such knowledge, and such knowledge and spiritual experiences can help people grow in their faith and find comfort in their faith.”
Coffey’s own experience with his faith " 34 years in the ministry with 25 of those years as a chaplain in the Army -- will be his guide as he leads a new congregation through the contemporary worship service.
“God, while a supreme being, is also a personal God who has offered to walk through
this life with me in both good times and especially during the difficult times,” he said.
“Along that journey, God has stretched me and helped me to trust Him and believe the truthfulness of the scriptures. I try to read the entire Bible every couple of years, and the stories of people who have walked a similar life journey with God encourage me and help me to grown in my faith. Over the years, I've been arrested in a foreign land while serving as a missionary, I've talked to hundreds of college students about spiritual things, I’ve marched and lived with Soldiers and taught Soldiers’ families. It still feels fresh and exciting to me. Sometimes a young Soldier will ask me if I need my faith as a crutch. I tell them ‘No, I need it as life-saving respirator.’”