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




Does the Church Have a False View of Self?

23 10 2014

The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.  1 Timothy 1:15-16

eye in the mirrorDoes it matter whether or not Paul was in fact the “foremost sinner” before coming to Christ? Or, is the more important point that he perceived himself as such? Yeh, I think so too. It is the self-perception on this issue which matters most.

I think  two of the biggest problems for most Christ-followers today is (1) having a false sense of who God is, and (2) having a false sense of who we are without him. The gospel is difficult in the American culture because there are so many in this culture who, frankly, do not feel the need for a savior.  What’s worse, the church has become less effective as those of us in the church have tended to forget for ourselves just how desperately we need a savior. Still.

Churches, you see, can have a false sense of self just as well as individuals…we can actually stop remembering who we are without God. We can get so wrapped up in “doing church” that we lose sight of what matters most. Specifically, here are five ways I have seen us have a false sense of self…here are some lies we sometimes believe about our church:

1. We’re better because our music/preaching/buildings/programming/resources are better. Truth is, we are probably not better at all. But IF we are better, it is only because of the work of the Spirit among us. All the stuff we do…is just stuff. With Jesus, the church has all it needs. Without Jesus, we can do nothing.

2. Our numbers prove that we’re successful and making a difference. Our numbers prove we are reaching people, and that’s a good thing. But our numbers do not tell us anything at all about spiritual transformation or changed lives. Without those, we are accomplishing very little.

3. We are a missional church and should be focused outside the church, not on relationships within the church. According to Jesus in John 17, missions outside the church DEPEND UPON relationships within the church.

4. We’re efficient, doing more and more ministry with fewer and fewer people. What do you think is more valuable to the kingdom…having a broader ministry reach or involving more of our people in real ministry? Think about it.

5. The current absence of any unhealthy conflict in our church proves that we have unity. Wrong. It proves we are currently between issues. And that’s it. Unity has to do with the quality and transparency of our relationships with each other, with conflict or without it.

When Paul refers to himself as the foremost among sinners, he is simply recognizing who he really is without Christ. In desperate need of a savior. It is a healthy self-awareness. Let’s help our church have that same level of reality when we look in the mirror. It will do us good.

© 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 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




Loving Obedience is Caught, not Taught

8 07 2014

Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices
    as much as in obeying the Lord?
To obey is better than sacrifice,
    and to heed is better than the fat of rams. 1 Samuel 15:22

loving GodMy dear (now deceased) friend and Board member, Warren Clark, loved telling a story about teaching some of our materials on reconciliation in a church in Eastern Ukraine some years ago. He was in the middle of the teaching when people started getting up and leaving the church building. Not all at once…just a few here and then a few more there. During a break in the conference, he asked the pastor if he had done something wrong to offend them, since they were leaving. The pastor smiled at him and said, “No, brother, not at all! They are hearing a word from the Lord about reconciliation and they are going to reconcile with brothers and sisters. Isn’t that what you want?” Well, of course it is. We in the American church would just never have expected it.

Immediate and complete obedience is really the only obedience.  Anything less (delayed obedience, partial obedience, etc.) is just a form of disobedience. That was Saul’s lesson in 1 Samuel 15. And that will be the lesson ultimately for the American church, I fear. We talk a lot about God and Jesus and God’s Word and other such spiritual things…we can argue theology all day long, thanks to 200 years of freedom to study it…we can write books and blogs about building churches and vision and preaching and small groups and creative programming…but in the end, it is going to matter to God that his people followed some social or political or personal agenda first, and His agenda second. Any agenda, you see, which comes before God’s agenda is disobedience plain and simple. It was for Saul and it is likewise for us.

In the wake of a busy week of arguing about Hobby Lobby and Independence Day and the “correct” Christian view of those social and political issues, I wonder if God is feeling the love? I wonder if the church (and more specifically, those of us who have been called to lead the church) has truly loved God more than we have loved politics or social agendas or being on the “right” side of either one? You see, being truly faithful and truly obedient to God is a simple function of one thing: our love for God. That was Saul’s problem. He did not really love God. He acted as if he had a fear of the Lord, but ultimately, it was not God’s agenda driving him. It was some different agenda.

Our various agendas are, I believe, at the heart of all our rebellion and disobedience. We are very much like Saul. It is not a hatred of God. It is not even a dislike. It is simply that we do not love God enough to allow Him and Him alone to set our agendas. We would rather trust our own understanding (and the understanding of our news syndicate of choice), rather than demonstrating to our people a complete dependence on God and on an unbiased interpretation of His Word. That love for the Lord, after all, is the only right motive for obedience. You and I talk about loving God, we try to grow our people’s faith in God, and we devote hours of study to the teaching of His Word. And then we complain to God that our people are still living in disobedience to Him and wonder out loud why they do. You see, as it turns out, loving God is most often caught more than it is taught.

The American church today is not wanting for leaders. There are plenty of voices speaking loudly and clearly from leadership platforms in the church. But my fear is that we are wanting for leaders whose demonstrated love for the Lord and respect for His Word cause them to rise far above all political and social agendas…leaders whose love for the Lord is contagious, and who make us all want to love God with that same faithfulness and obedience. The church today doesn’t need leaders who will inspire us to be “right”…we need leaders whose faithfulness will inspire us to love God more and more.

© 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




I Want Maturity (and I Want it Now)

5 06 2014

Thursday Re-mix:

Then he had another dream, and he told it to his brothers. “Listen,” he said, “I had another dream, and this time the sun and moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” When he told his father as well as his brothers, his father rebuked him and said, “What is this dream you had? Will your mother and I and your brothers actually come and bow down to the ground before you?” His brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the matter in mind. Genesis 37:9-11

Old and youngMaybe it was youthful arrogance that made Joseph share his dreams with his family.  Or maybe it was just youthful ignorance of how it would be received by them.  Either way, it was not a problem with telling the truth; rather, it was just an ill-conceived manner of handling the truth.  In a word, it was immaturity.

Just a couple of chapters later, after some hard life experiences and some growing up, we see Joseph making much wiser decisions.  Life has a way of doing that to all of us.  When I think back to the naive and arrogant young leader I was 20-30 years ago ,well, it is a bit embarrassing.  Maturity, alas, cannot be learned from books or from classrooms.  Moreover, it almost always requires a generous measure of time and experience.

It is worth noting that Joseph was actually wise beyond his years.  By most standards, he is the model character in God’s story.  He is, from the beginning, a young man of integrity and high character.  His gift of interpreting dreams elevated him to leadership heights at a reasonably young age.  But his youthful faux pas were glaring and ended up costing him years of heartache and hard knocks.  In short, for leaders among God’s people, no matter the talent level, there seems to be no substitute for time spent maturing.

For this reason, I have some concerns about many of our churches’ apparent disrespect for our more elderly congregants and our seemingly obsessive search for younger, dynamic leadership to the exclusion of its older, wiser counterpart.  I do not ever want to serve in a church without plenty of elder wisdom from more mature members.

I have been in churches whose “market” is Gen X and Gen Y, and who have precious little of the kind of mature leadership which only comes from 20 or 30 or 40  or even 50 years of experience in church life.  The best case scenario for those churches is that they are literally filled with young “Josephs”.  Maybe you have seen it happen in your own church…a bright, young leader comes up with an idea for this ministry or that ministry and he/she presents it with an arrogance that suggests he/she actually believes nobody has ever thought of it before.  Yes, 2,000 years of the New Testament church in action, and he/she believes this is actually an original thought.  It is embarrassing.

I believe the church is operating at its best when it has the benefit of both the energy and creativity of young leaders and the experience and wisdom of older leaders, and when there is genuine respect and humility in each of them toward the other.  That, it seems to me, is what “church” should be…young Josephs and older Josephs working side by side and together.

© 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