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




Being Found Worthy

28 10 2014

Tuesday Re-mix:

When the centurion heard about Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, asking him to come and heal his servant.  And when they came to Jesus, they pleaded with him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy to have you do this for him,  for he loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue.”  And Jesus went with them.  Luke 7:3-7

And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.  Hebrews 11:6

faithWhat is your plan for growing your people?  What is your goal?  What does “success” look like?  Can you describe the model Christ-follower into which your are shaping the sheep in your flock?

For me, this story (from Luke 7) about the centurion’s sick servant is all about “worthiness”.  It is about the qualities or characteristics which Jesus found worthy.  And it is chock full of irony.  Notice that the Jewish elders attempt to lure Jesus to come and help this centurion, because this man is “worthy”.  Their version of “worthy” is all about his achievements and his support of them.  Interestingly, Jesus goes.  As he is arriving, the centurion sends a message to Jesus.  What is that message? “No need to come here…I AM NOT WORTHY.”  But, in the end, Jesus actually finds that he is in fact worthy. But not for any of the reasons the Jewish elders had used.

Jesus finds the man worthy because of his great faith.  This centurion believed that Jesus was whom he claimed to be and that he could heal his servant.  It wasn’t his achievements that made him worthy.  It wasn’t his financial and political support for the synagogue that made him worthy.  It wasn’t his terrific people skills nor his dynamic leadership nor his heart for serving.  It was purely and simply his great faith.  The writer of Hebrews said it as well: “Without faith it is impossible to please God…”.

The question, then, this raises about us as leaders is this: what is our plan for growing people up in their faith?  What strategies or systems do we have in place designed to move a person from one level of faith to the next?  How does that look under your leadership?

I do not suppose any of us can answer those questions with any degree of clarity unless we can first identify a certain growth trajectory in our own faith.  Being found worthy ourselves, due to an ever-deepening faith, is pretty much a prerequisite to being able to lead others on that path.  How are you marking that growth in yourself?

As is so often the case, Jesus looks well beyond the things which we typically use to measure “worth” (if he looks at those things at all) and looks to our level of faith.  Similarly, when he looks at our people, whom we are leading and growing and shaping, he is not looking at their tithing history nor their service record nor their great knowledge of scripture.  He is checking their faith.

As a church leader, will you spend some time this week checking your own faith journey in recent months?  Is it growing? Deepening?  And as you use the next coupe of months planning for next year, will you ask yourself how your ministry plan is purposeful about deepening people’s faith?  It is about being found worthy.

© 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




Relevance and Fruitfulness

14 10 2014

Tuesday Re-mix:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.  Galatians 5:22-23

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.   2 Peter 1:5-8

spoiled bananasIt is an important question to ask ourselves as church leaders…is our church being effective?  I do not mean that in terms of numbers.  I think numbers of baptisms and numbers of people in worship and numbers of dollars in the budget are all important metrics for us…but nothing matters more than the question of whether lives are really being changed as a result of our efforts.  That, after all, is what we are supposed to be accomplishing as a church: changed lives.  And if we are NOT being effective, if we are rather unproductive and irrelevant, then what can be done about it?

As it turns out, for God’s people, making “relevance” all about music and worship styles and the latest trends in children’s ministry is a lot like making “quality” of a book all about its cover…it’s not that those things are not important, it is that they barely scratch the surface of quality, relevance and effectiveness.  That is probably why, when Holy Scripture addresses genuine effectiveness and productivity of our faith, it doesn’t talk much about forms of worship, musical styles, youth curriculums or cool murals on the walls of our preschool space.  Rather, scripture ties the effectiveness of the church to the growth and the bearing out (i.e., the preservation) of certain personal characteristics in God’s people.

It is an interesting study in their respective personalities, comparing how Paul and Peter each discuss this issue of “effectiveness” in ministry.  Paul chooses a metaphor about fruit.  He would say that true effectiveness in ministry is about the Spirit of God being set free to live through the lives of His people, producing qualities and characteristics in them which only He could produce.  That metaphor leans more toward getting self out of the way, and letting the Spirit work through you.  Paul, you see, was an intellectual, a thinker and a teacher of thinkers. “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind…” he would say to the Roman church.  For Paul, it all starts with how we think about things.  Peter, on the other hand, was all about action and doing.  Both, the Peter of the gospels (“ready, fire, aim”) and the powerfully transformed Peter of Acts, were about doing.  Peter would have said, “You claim to follow Christ? Show me.”  His instructions about how to stay relevant and effective in ministry were about our actions.  He would say, “ADD these things to your belief…be good, be kind, exercise self-control, persevere through difficulties and, above all, love each other well.”

Their respective counsel goes together like nuts and bolts.  Paul encourages us to allow the Spirit of God within us to incline our hearts as only He will.  Peter then encourages us to act on those spiritual inclinations.  For example, the Spirit produces “kindness” as a fruit in us…He inclines our heart toward helping that homeless person on the sidewalk outside the church.  But we must then act on that inclination if we are to be effective as a church.  It will never be enough to just feel the inclination, or to just see the world around us as God sees it.  We must actually do something about it.  If not, we become useless, ineffective, irrelevant and fruitless.  We must have fruit AND we must do something to preserve that fruit.

Yes, it is about personal characteristics (“fruit”) which only the Spirit can produce in us, and yes, it is about actually doing something with those inclinations (acting to preserve that fruit).  It is about both.

Seems to me this would be a good thing to be teaching our people.

© 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 Comfort of the Familar

16 09 2014

Tuesday Re-mix:

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.  Hebrews 10:24-25

dog in a kennelMy dog, Maile, sleeps in a kennel.  She actually prefers it.  I’ve had dogs my entire life, and she is the first one I’ve crate-trained.  I will admit I was skeptical at first.  It just looks so cruel!  How can anyone be happy, being in a cage?  But every night, when her eyes are heavy and it is time for bed, she voluntarily abandons the freedom of our bed and goes back to the limits and the restrictions of her tiny little bed in her little wire cage.  Do you know why? Because it is familiar to her…and, for dogs, there is great comfort in familiarity.

People are a bit like that too.  Church people are especially like that.  No matter how antiquated, no matter how ineffective, we all have a tendency to return to the familiar, to the “way it has always been”, because it is comfortable.

The writer of the letter to the Hebrews was fighting a battle which you as a present day church leader might recognize: the battle against the comfort of the familiar.  It was a daunting task, getting the Hebrew Christians to persevere in the face of the persecution they faced and to stick with the very different forms of worship from those  with which they had been reared.  Gathering together as a church body every week with no sacrifices, no holy places, no sacred implements, no fancy robes, and with “traditions” which were all of one generation in age…all of these new ways had to hold the commitment of a people who had otherwise been steeped in their former traditions for hundreds of years.  It is no surprise, then, when we discover there was a problem with Hebrew Christians  “falling away”…abandoning the new covenant for the old, ineffective one.

The call to follow Christ is a call forward.  It requires steady, constant, forward momentum in order to keep from falling.  It leaves no room for moving backwards and it leaves precious little room for standing still either.  Our role as leaders in the church is to be encouraging our brethren to keep moving forward and to persevere through difficult seasons.  Like the writer of Hebrews, we must find compelling truths to lovingly propel the church forward.  We must be ever reminding our friends of the failed systems they left behind, how far they have already come, and of the promises which lay ahead.  And this leadership task is always, always before us…because always, always against us is the comfort of the familiar.

Like dogs in our kennel, we do not want to lose the comfort of our familiar ways.  We are not interested in sacrificing in order to start new churches.  Please don’t ask us to try new forms of worship, nor press forward with new friendships.  We just want to stay here in the comfort of our tiny little cage.  It is familiar.

Isn’t it interesting that, after 2,000 years of doing church, we still fight this same battle?

But fight it we must.

© 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




Losing Your Church’s Training Wheels

9 09 2014

Tuesday Re-mix:

We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand.  In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food!  Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness.  But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.  Hebrews 5:11-14

training wheelsIt is kind of a big moment in a child’s life, going from three (or four) wheels to just two…going from the tricycle (or bicycle with training wheels) to a bicycle.  “Look Dad, I’m a big girl now!”  It is a big deal because it is a big adjustment.  It is not just about balance.  It is about forward motion.  It is an entirely different mindset.

After all, that is the biggest difference between a bike with training wheels and one without…you can sit on a bike with training wheels and not move at all.  You can just sit there and be pretty and comfortable and cool, never moving forward, never taking a risk, never changing a thing.  But as soon as those training wheels come off, that option (sitting still) is off the table.  You see, with the growth from child into maturity, there comes a requirement of constant forward progress, continuous pressing ahead without long stops, without sitting still and being comfortable, and without growing content where you are.

It really is a very different way of being, a totally different philosophy.  It is a new mindset, a new frame of reference.  Constant forward movement means leaning against the very human tendency of stopping to just wallow in the way things are.  An orientation toward forward progress requires leadership on your part, much like the leadership provided to us by the writer of Hebrews: though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again.  I read this exhortation less as a comment about what we do not know, and more as a comment about the direction we are headed…more specifically, the direction we are NOT headed…FORWARD!

Effectively leading God’s people toward a “forward orientation” requires steady, constant, loving pressure.  It requires a regular dose of discontent…not a depressing discontent, bringing everybody down all the time…rather, a healthy realization that we can get better, that we can get forward.  It requires a little cheerleading to celebrate the successes of the past, an appropriate pause to feel encouraged, and then an immediate shift toward what is next.  It requires a system for setting goals and objectives, for discerning what God is doing right now, for making quick adjustments to join that work, and then doing it all over again.  It requires evaluation and asking honest, hard questions about whether we are really “winning” in terms of the vision.  This is what “maturity” feels like for a church.  It is not a destination…it is a direction of movement.

If your leadership is not resulting in healthy change and moving forward, if the only prevailing mindset in your people is contentment with the way things are, then it may be time to take the training wheels off the bike.  It’s scary at first. For everyone.  But once you’re going forward, it’s a rush your people will never want to lose!

© 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 Best Laid Plans

7 08 2014

Thursday Re-mix:

When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body.  1 Corinthians 15:37-38

Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—  1 Corinthians 15:51

TransformationI am no visionary.  I am the first to admit it.  I am envious of those who are visionaries.  I’m pretty quick to admit that as well.  I am impressed with the leader who says, “This is what we will look like in 5 years.”  I very much believe there are people like that…leaders who know exactly what they want to achieve and who know how to cast a laser-like vision to make sure their people make it happen.  So when that leader gets to that 5-year mark and is able to look back and say, “This is exactly where I said we would be in five years, and lo and behold, we did it…” I am impressed and awed.  And if it is a spiritual venture, like a church, I am a little bit sad.

I am sad because that picture seems to leave little room for God’s transforming activity.  You see, there may be some things about the God of the Bible which are predictable, but there is very little about His creative side which lends itself to even the best plans of men.  When God gets involved in something, huge, unpredictable transformations occur…things that are not a part of anyone’s strategic plan.  If we are planning correctly in the church, all we are really doing is structuring so as to enable the organization to respond quickly and efficiently once God’s transformational activity begins.

That is why I love the metaphor of “planting” a church.  There may be some predictable activity associated with planting a seed, but as for the transformation of the seedling into the sprout and then into the flourishing plant, it is all still more mystery to us than science.  And there is nothing about the appearance of the seed that would give you any clue at all as to the ultimate appearance of the plant.  God is unpredictable that way.  And “planting” a church works that same way.  Ask anyone who has been truly successful at planting them…he/she will share story after story of how God moved in totally unexpected ways to bring about results which were not on anyone’s radar screen.  Ultimately, the church ends up looking very little like the original dream.

And so, the church growth testimonies which stir our hearts are not so much the ones which were totally predicted by their leaders; rather, they are the stories about huge, God-sized, unexpected things happening and a church which simply followed God’s activity.  And while we applaud the visionary and the clearly-articulated and well-implemented ministry vision, what moves us is the unmistakable transforming work of the Spirit.

Please don’t hear me saying strategic planning and vision-casting are wrong, even in the slightest.  I believe they are critical.  But the real work, the truest tack for God’s people, is learning to rightly discern the work of the Spirit among us and then mobilizing to join in that direction.  After all, in the end, the clearest evidence of God’s work among us is that none of us envisioned the transformation He would bring about.  His ways…His thoughts…don’t look anything like ours.

© 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