What Does Your Church Need God For?

16 12 2014

Tuesday Re-mix:

Sell your possessions, and give to the needy… For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.  Luke 12:33-34

wealthy churchThe parable of the rich fool is, I think, a difficult lesson for the American church…a bit like teaching personal hygiene to a rodent…where do you even begin?  Let’s be honest here, the American church has taken material wealth to levels never even dreamed by the founders of the New Testament church.  “Give us this day our daily bread” was a genuine, heart-felt prayer reflective of a deep-seated daily need by the early church.  My church, on the other hand, raised $1.5 Million last year for a new air conditioner in our Sanctuary.  I’m not saying God wasn’t in that…I absolutely believe it will bring honor to Him…I’m just saying there is a bit of a cultural divide between the American church today and the early church in matters of material wealth.

There are a lot of benefits which come with that wealth.  Churches all over the world pray every day for some of that kind of wealth.  It has its perks.  But there are some pretty clear downsides as well.  And, at one level or another, the biggest downside is its impact on our faith in God.  The sad truth is, we just do not need God to meet daily needs when we have material wealth.  And when people outside the church look in at us and at our huge buildings and large staffs and extravagant Christmas pageants and decorations, one inescapable question arises:

What, exactly, does our church need God for?

If your church’s answer to that question is not plain…if it is somehow hidden or illusive…then you are not yet finished with your church’s communications strategy.  I certainly believe this is true on the individual level as well, but it is especially true about the church corporately during the Christmas season, when so many eyes are turned toward the church as a matter of course.

What does your church need God for?

Would your answer to that question be apparent to me if I visited your church this Christmas season?  I wonder if “where your treasure is” tells the story you want your church to tell?  I wonder whether your church’s current “brand” clearly illustrates your total and deep-seated dependence on the Lord?  I wonder if your church’s Christmas image says, “Come Lord Jesus!”, or whether it says, “We’ve got this, Lord…check back with us later.”

Maybe another way to think about this question is this: What kind of Christ-followers are we trying to grow?  Are we trying to raise up an army of disciples who rely on the Lord for every victory, or are we rather teaching our people that the keys to success are strategic planning and wealth management?

These are some hard questions, right?  Jesus was like that.

© Blake Coffee
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way and do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. For web posting, a link to this document on this website is preferred. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Blake Coffee.  Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: © Blake Coffee. Website: churchwhisperer.com




Truth, Bias, and the American Way

21 10 2014

Tuesday Re-mix:

Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.  2 Peter 1:20-21

oathAs a trial attorney, I suppose I have said it to at least a hundred or so jury panels during the voir dire examination of them, when the parties are trying to decide whom to strike from the jury panel.  That’s the way our system works.  The parties each get to strike a certain small number of prospective jurors, and the first 12 left comprise the jury.  It is an examination for one purpose…to determine any relevant bias which may make a juror the wrong juror for a particular case.  So, I have said this to all of them: “We all have biases.  They don’t make us a bad person.  They don’t make us liars.  They don’t make us deceptive.  In our area of bias, they just make us an unreliable finder of truth in that area.”

Those words rang so very true, I think, as little as 50 years ago in our culture.  Truth cannot be found in bias.  But, in more recent years, I fear that our bias-rich American culture is making it more and more difficult for us to explore truth without bias.  I have stopped watching national news, pretty much completely.  Why?  Because every single national news syndicate in our country is hopelessly biased, whether by choice or by accident.  I’m certain it does not matter which.  What bothers me most about that sad fact is that real journalism was our last secular hope for knowing truth.  Then again, maybe that was false hope from the very beginning.  Maybe there is no real hope for truth in a secular world.  Maybe the human condition forbids it.

So, if the secular world holds no hope for discovering truth, what about the spiritual world?  What about spiritual discernment of scriptural truths?  It seems that the church has had its share of struggles there as well.  We are an intelligent and creative people.  We are apparently capable of making scripture say almost anything we want it to say.  And that is a problem.

And so, Peter’s words above shed some light on an awful lot of the debates raging in the church today over interpretations of scripture.  Truth, as it turns out, is not born in the hearts of men…it is not a matter of our will.  We cannot begin any genuine search for truth with a clear bias for what we want it to be.  That, it seems, is one obstacle that makes any genuine search for truth, well, not so genuine.  When an honest read of my heart has me starting my search for truth with what I want it to be, my search is flawed from the beginning…and my results will be flawed as well.

So, may I just suggest this tip in your ongoing search for spiritual truth?  Stop and make an honest assessment of that search, and of your own heart and desires.  On any given question about scriptural truth, ask yourself this: “What do I WANT the truth to be?”  And if you have a truthful answer to that question, then factor that bias in to your process.  Cop to it from the outset.  If you miss that adjustment, you will miss the truth, and your time of searching (and the time and efforts of those searching with you) will have been wasted.

The term “voir dire” is actually a French term.  Roughly translated, it means “to speak the truth”.  Speaking the truth, in our culture, means owning our bias and making the necessary adjustments.  Otherwise, we just become another talking head in a world full of op-ed talking heads.  And there is no life-changing testimony in that.

© Blake Coffee
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way and do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. For web posting, a link to this document on this website is preferred. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Blake Coffee.  Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: © Blake Coffee. Website: churchwhisperer.com




The Medium is the Message

19 08 2014

Tuesday Re-mix:

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son… Hebrews 1:1-2

God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.  Hebrews 2:4

JesusMarshall McLuhan was the first to coin the phrase, “the medium is the message”.  In his instance, he was referring to the ushering in of the information age (specifically, television) back in 1964.  He noted that television (and other similar media) were more than just conduits of information, they were actually shaping and reshaping the message and were as much a part of the message as the message itself.  I suppose we could make the same observation today about social media.  Twitter and YouTube and SnapChat are literally reshaping how (and what) we communicate.  It just seems that, from time to time, a medium comes along that changes everything we thought we knew about messaging and communication.  When that happens, “the medium becomes the message.”

Never in the history of the world has this notion been truer than with Christianity.  In ancient days, God spoke His message through angels, He spoke His message through the prophets, He spoke His message through the law, and He spoke His message through miraculous signs and wonders.  But never was the message so clear and so divisive and so disturbing as when God spoke His message through  Jesus.  The very embodiment of God, representative of all His glory and power and authority, Jesus is “the Word become flesh.”  He is BOTH the medium AND the message.

For Christ-followers (for His church), we have a contemporary medium through the gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed among us.  For us, this is a visual representation of God at work among us.  But for the watching world, it is gibberish.  For that world, there simply is no clearer image of God than Jesus Christ.  His life is a canvass upon which God’s Word is painted vividly in living color.

There is a great deal of talk in the church today about messaging.  It is good talk.  Important talk.  Using all the media available to us to tell the Gospel story is, I believe, important.  But even as we discuss websites and Twitter and blogs and videos…even as we consider signage and platforms and lighting and projections…we must keep one medium ever before us: Jesus.  In the midst of all our new languages and vehicles, we must show the world Jesus.  Because, in the end, He is the medium which really matters.

Show them Jesus.  And let all the other messaging flow from that.

© Blake Coffee
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way and do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. For web posting, a link to this document on this website is preferred. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Blake Coffee.  Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: © Blake Coffee. Website: churchwhisperer.com




The Church as the Sandwich Generation

10 07 2014

Thursday Re-mix:

When the time drew near for Israel to die, he called for his son Joseph and said to him, “If I have found favor in your eyes, put your hand under my thigh and promise that you will show me kindness and faithfulness. Do not bury me in Egypt, but when I rest with my fathers, carry me out of Egypt and bury me where they are buried.”

“I will do as you say,” he said.  Genesis 47:29-30

I believe it was Will Rogers who came up with these four stages of life: First we are our parents’ child, then we are our child’s parent, then we are our parents’ parent, then we are our child’s child.  Right in the middle of those stages, there is a life stage, a generation (if you will), referred to as the “sandwich generation”.  It is that life stage where you find yourself not only still parenting your children, but also being a  caregiver to aging parents.  That is where Joseph found himself in Genesis 47-50.  He was a father to two sons born to him in Egypt, while at the same time being called upon to honor his dying father’s heritage.  I am grateful to God that I have two healthy parents and have not quite arrived at that sandwich stage (and I’m not sure either of my parents would ever permit me to), but I can only imagine it is wrought with difficulties and tensions.

three generationsIt seems that having our focus divided between raising a new generation into adulthood and, at the same, honoring an older generation is a real challenge.  Then again, as a church leader you already know that.  The sandwich illustration, you see, is a perpetual life stage for every local church…always raising up new leaders and always loving well those leaders who are aging.

The challenge hits us at virtually every turn in the church.  The tension surfaces in worship, in communication patterns, in fiscal policies, in government issues, in missiology, in community ministry, and in leadership styles.  The demand for effective leadership development in the much-studied but rarely understood generations X, Y, and Millenials in the church has never been higher.  But at the same time, the need for elder care and learning to honor the numerous and now-aging baby boomer generation, looms large in almost every church today.  There simply are no shortcuts.  Just about every church must figure this out and must do the hard things necessary to nurture both ends of the generation spectrum.  In most cases, forsaking either end spells doom for that church.

In some cases, it may mean bringing in a staff member specifically for each end of the adult generation spectrum.  In other cases, it may mean being more assertive in creating community among the generations…genuine Spirit-filled relationships between them.  In still other cases, the real need might be a senior pastor who is adept at loving and shepherding across generational lines.  But in every case it takes intentionality.  It requires creativity and strategic thinking…a plan, if you will.  It will not happen naturally, not in this culture.  It takes thinking and effort and a commitment on the part of your leadership.

So, what about it?  What’s your plan?

© Blake Coffee
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way and do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. For web posting, a link to this document on this website is preferred. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Blake Coffee.  Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: © Blake Coffee. Website: churchwhisperer.com




Let’s DO Have Hard Conversations…but NOT On Line

5 05 2014

Monday Morning Quarterback – Encouraging God’s people to be responsible, encouraging and uplifting in their use of social media.

We have said here over and over again that “the church” really must be especially effective at communication. After all, “go ye therefore and make disciples” is pretty much ALL about effective communication. We should not be the ones learning communication from the world…we should be the ones blazing trails in effective communication.

One fundamental concept of effective communication is truly understanding the limits of any particular vehicle. Every form of communication has its limits. We do not use post-it notes to write a doctoral thesis. We do not use texting to break-up a relationship (please, agree with me on that one). We do not use video to make a grocery list. Every form of communication, every vehicle, has its ideal purpose and use as well as its limitations.

difficult conversationSocial media is no different. You want to capture a fun moment in a photograph or video and then share it with friends instantly? Social media is ideal. You want to make the world aware of your opinion, even wisdom, on a recent cultural or political event? Social media works great. You want to reach out to a demographic and get some quick feedback on a particular subject or do some quick and low-cost marketing analysis on a product or service? Social media can help there as well. Even spewing your own spin on controversial topics is easily and effectively accomplished through social media.

But what about difficult conversations? What about the kind of conversations every Christ follower is called to be a part of from time to time, where emotions are running high and where genuine understanding of the other side is running very low? What about conversations that have been “hi-jacked” by groups with political agendas and extremists, which make it virtually impossible to read any statement at all without looking behind it for the real agenda?  Unfortunately, social media has proven itself over and over again to be the WRONG place for those conversations. In fact, trying to have those conversations on social media, with all its public pressures and biases and easy “cut and paste” options has ended up doing a lot more damage to those conversations than good.

Abortion has become one of those issues. Same-sex marriage is another. You can probably name plenty of others. For these kinds of issues, if all you are interested in is spewing forth your own position without listening to any opposing position, then social media works just fine for that. But if you are genuinely wanting to have a conversation, or if you at least want to be perceived as being interested in a conversation, then social media as your communication vehicle has lots and lots of limitations. You get no vocal inflection (all caps and exclamation points and emoticons will only go so far), you get no facial expressions, you get no body language…and all of those comprise a massive percentage of the key information we are accustomed to taking in during a conversation.

If being misunderstood is a genuine concern of yours, then you have probably already experienced this frustration numerous times with social media.  The thing is, we do need to be having these hard conversations. If you’ve been reading my thoughts very long, you already know how strongly I believe that. Having hard conversations is something leaders do…much more so, church leaders! But we should be sitting down face to face and having those hard conversations. Yes, it is less convenient than just lighting up a Twitter feed, but it is critical in order to really listen to one another.

To quote “Dirty” Harry Callahan: “A man’s got to know his limitations.” Church leaders take heed…Dirty Harry was right. Know your limitations. Know when to hit “send” or “publish” or “post” and know when to pick up the phone and set up a meeting instead.

© Blake Coffee
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way and do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. For web posting, a link to this document on this website is preferred. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Blake Coffee.  Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: © Blake Coffee. Website: churchwhisperer.com




Due Respect for the Word of God

27 03 2014

Now after the king had burned the scroll with the words that Baruch wrote at Jeremiah’s dictation, the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: “Take another scroll and write on it all the former words that were in the first scroll, which Jehoiakim the king of Judah has burned. And concerning Jehoiakim king of Judah you shall say… I will bring upon them and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem and upon the people of Judah all the disaster that I have pronounced against them, but they would not hear.’”  Jeremiah 36:27-28, 31

praying hands and BibleIn these recent days of Christians arguing over same-sex issues, we see a lot of lip service given to how much we love and honor God’s Word and how much we love each other (the sinner), while hating the sin. I am taking an opportunity today and next Monday (in my Monday Morning Quarterback post) to ask some hard questions about our sincerity on both counts.  Today’s question: do we really respect the Word of God?

Young King Josiah, when he first heard the words of the long lost Book of the Law, tore his clothes in grief over the message (2 Kings 22:11). Years later, his son (King Jehoiakim) heard the Word of the Lord and responded very differently…he burned it.  They both heard God’s Word and it was not what either of them wanted to hear. But their responses were very different. One showed immense respect for it. The other, utter disdain and disrespect.

A proper respect for God’s Word means we do not bring any of our own bias or phobias or agenda to it when we seek its truth. We do not start with what we want and then go looking for an interpretation that fits that agenda. We do not google the issue of the day and look at other people’s interpretations of it until we find one that supports what we want or what we feel. A respect for God’s Word does not bring a particular comfort level to it and then work to maintain that comfort level in how we interpret it.  That is disrespectful of God’s Word. It does not give it its due honor.

God’s Word itself says: For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LordFor as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. Isaiah 55:8-9.  How dare we, then, bring our biases and our feelings and our ways and use them as the narrow lens through which we interpret God’s Word?  Doesn’t the proper respect for His Word rather come to it with an open heart and open mind and allow His Word to be the lens through which we interpret our lives and our world?  It is the difference between having a Biblical worldview and having a worldly Biblical view.

And so, I am making a commitment to God and to myself and to you…

When I am inclined to post a status update or to write a blog or to comment on someone else’s update or blog with my interpretation of scripture, I am going to pause and ask myself a hard question or two about how prayerfully I arrived at that interpretation.  What bias or fear or “feelings” did I bring to that interpretation? Is it an interpretation at which I arrived after my own prayer and study and seeking of God’s face, or did I simply stop at that interpretation after reading it somewhere else, and after finding it that it fits awfully nicely with my own personal or political or social agenda?

And if I do not KNOW that I have given God’s Word that due respect in arriving at my own interpretation, then I will not be posting that comment until I do know that.

That is my commitment. You?

© Blake Coffee
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way and do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. For web posting, a link to this document on this website is preferred. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Blake Coffee.  Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: © Blake Coffee. Website: churchwhisperer.com




Speaking Without Seeing

27 02 2014

The word of the Lord came to me: “What do you see, Jeremiah?” “I see the branch of an almond tree,” I replied. Jeremiah 1:11

“Learn that simple lesson well, O you who try to speak for God! You must be seers before you can be speakers.” Charles Spurgeon

It’s the first rule of communication: know what you want to say before you start saying it.  Few things are more frustrating than trying to listen to someone who is trampling on this rule…their mouth is moving and the words are flowing and they have no idea where they are trying to go.  That, I believe, is where the prophets of the ancient days set themselves apart.  They were called “seers”…because they could see what was unseen by all the rest of us.  It was not so much a gift of SPEAKING, as much as it was a gift of SEEING and then simply speaking the truth about what they saw.  That calling was made so very clear in Jeremiah’s case.

?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????I do not study scripture in the original Hebrew. But Charles Spurgeon did. And he notes that the Hebrew word for “almond” actually comes from a root word that means “awake” or, more specifically, “wakeful”.  That is because the almond tree started to blossom very early in the Spring (even late Winter), while all the other trees were still sleeping.  So, in the Hebrew language, this tree was known as the “wakeful tree”.

The imagery would have been clear to Jeremiah.  His assignment was to see, first and foremost. If Jeremiah will remain wakeful to see, God will remain wakeful to perform His word just as Jeremiah sees it. God’s assignment came with a promise. It always does, doesn’t it?

And isn’t that the church’s assignment as well? Are we not called by God (even set apart) to see the world through the lens of His Word, and then to speak in love about what we see?  Doesn’t the church have that responsibility to see and understand God’s Word and God’s ways and then to speak those truths as a God-honoring interpretation of what is going on in the world around us?

Our ability to speak the truth…our credibility as stewards of that truth…all depends upon our wakeful watching and seeing.  It means seeing God’s Word, seeing what God is doing in the world in which we live, and understanding the unseen world around us as well. It means being genuinely guided by the Spirit of God to see what we otherwise would not have seen and to understand otherwise incomprehensible truths.

Pondering this responsibility, I suppose I am feeling a little panicked.  It just seems to me that, over the centuries and perhaps much more so in my lifetime, the church has been caught a little too often speaking without seeing…sometimes it is not all that clear just how “wakeful” we are being.  Just spend a little time perusing your social media streams today and ask yourself whether “the church” is really seeing or not.  And then join me in praying for forgiveness for when we speak before we see.

© Blake Coffee
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way and do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. For web posting, a link to this document on this website is preferred. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Blake Coffee.  Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: © Blake Coffee. Website: churchwhisperer.com