Church Leaders and Our Hard Hearts

26 08 2014

Tuesday Re-mix:

So, as the Holy Spirit says:

“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts
as you did in the rebellion,
    during the time of testing in the wilderness,
where your ancestors tested and tried me,
    though for forty years they saw what I did.
That is why I was angry with that generation;
    I said, ‘Their hearts are always going astray,
    and they have not known my ways.’
So I declared on oath in my anger,
    ‘They shall never enter my rest.’ ”  Hebrews 3:7-11; Psalm 95:7-11

heart of stoneAs it turns out, hard hearts come in a pretty large variety of shapes and forms…even among church leaders.  It is rarely as overt as Israel’s rebellion at Meribah.  More often, it is a mild arrogance or self-reliance or pride at the heart of our hard-heartedness.  So, as I study the above passage, I am reflecting on some of the less obvious (but more common) ways I have seen leaders “harden their hearts”…including me and my own heart.

Hardening our hearts to the power of God’s Word.  Every time we catch ourselves thinking, “what this text needs is a little more of me…a little of my flash and polish will go a long way in helping it hit home in this sermon…” our faith in the power of God’s Word diminishes just a little more.  Every time we receive a compliment for a lesson well-taught and we fail to acknowledge that it was God’s Word and not our communication skills that caused the real transformation, we steal God’s glory, and our heart hardens just a little more to the miracle of His living word.

Hardening our hearts to the power of prayer.  When the priority we give gathered prayer meetings falls somewhere between  repairing the hems of the choir robes and making sure there is toilet paper in the women’s restroom, we miss the mark as spiritual leaders.  When our public prayers reveal just how little time we have spent in private prayer, we set an example of a heart hardened to prayer.  Jesus said his church would be a house of prayer…what type of house are you and your leadership building?

Hardening our hearts to Christ in our brother.  Finding Christ in our people…ALL our people…may be the most critical difference between good leaders and great leaders.  When we respond to criticism by saying to ourselves, “God is not gong to speak to me through THAT ignorant person…” our heart grows a little colder. When we refuse to hear a brother because of some sin in his life or because his choices are not like ours or because he votes differently than we vote or watches a different news outlet than we do…we harden our hearts not only to that brother, but to Christ in that brother…and in doing so, we forsake the single most significant “help” God has for us as leaders: His Spirit living in His people.

Do you see, then, that (especially for leaders who live in the accountability of the lime light) a hardening heart does not necessarily begin with a sense of rebellion nor outright rejection of God. Rather, it more often begins with these much less obvious moments of shrunken faith or heightened sense of self.  Unfortunately, there are many roads that lead to the hardening of the heart…many dangerous paths from which to choose.  They just don’t seem all that dangerous in the beginning.

God has a “groove” of His perfect will for His church and for its shepherds…a “rest” for the weary leader.  But it is not there for the hard-hearted.  It is for the humble leader whose heart remains pliable and moldable and whose faith is strong.  It is for the leader who trusts entirely in the Lord and in His Word and in prayer and in God’s people.  As leaders, we can choose whether or not that rest is ours.  Do not harden your heart.  Enter into the rest that is yours.

© 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




Meanwhile, Until We are Truly “Abiding in Him”…

29 04 2014

Tuesday Re-mix:

If you say, “The Lord is my refuge,”
    and you make the Most High your dwelling,
no harm will overtake you,
    no disaster will come near your tent.  Psalm 91:9-10

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”  John 15:5

Holy Scripture is filled with amazing promises.  But almost all of them come with conditions.  You know the formula…“IF my people…will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, THEN will I hear from Heaven and…” etc.  Or…“Trust in the Lord with all your heart…and He will make your path straight.”  Most of God’s awesome promises come with a condition of some kind or another, or at least an assumption or implication.  It seems to be one of His many wondrous ways.

I read all the wonderful promises of Psalm 91 in that same light. Those promises of God’s protection and provision all hinge upon the very first line (repeated in verse 9): If you make the Most High your dwelling.

baby feet in heartWhen I deal with conflicting parties within the church, I often hear both sides invoke the name of the Lord for their positions.  I hear both sides claiming that God is on their side, that He will prevail and that He will bring about what they want.  But I also hear both sides in very much a “win/lose” mindset, wherein they will not be satisfied unless they win AND the other side loses.  I recall working with a church some years ago wherein one group was very much wanting to get rid of the pastor.  They were acting as “God’s agents”.  Midway through the process, the pastor accepted a call to another church and resigned, whereupon that group became  angry!  They had won…but they also wanted him to lose, and he did not.  At that point, I’m afraid their true motives, their true hearts, became crystal clear.

Meeting God’s criteria for enjoying His promises is never as simple as merely doing something for God.  It will never be enough to say, “I have prayed about this” and therefore expect God’s armies to go before you and to smite anyone who gets in your way.  The criteria for God’s promises, more often than not, have something to do with abiding in Him…DWELLING in Him.  You cannot hold a handful of prayer meetings with those who all agree with your position and come away claiming God’s anointing and a superior handle on God’s will.

If you have never read Andrew Murray’s devotional book, Abide in Christ, you really must. It should be a part of every Christian leader’s library.  He does such a masterful job of exploring just what it means to “abide in Him”.  It is a mindset…a condition of the heart…a way of being…a lifestyle…and so much more.  I believe a person who is truly “abiding in Christ” actually does have a leg up in terms of wisdom and understanding God’s heart and God’s desires.  I know a few people whom I believe fit that description.  I trust them implicitly in matters of discernment.  But the rest of us will just have to continue doing our best to seek God’s will together and will continue to see “as through a glass dimly”.  We will just have to continue to rely on the cumulative effect of hearing God speak through his Word, through prayer, through His people and through the church.  And it will NOT be an nice, easy process.  It will take time…more time than we want to take.  It will require uncommon humility and extraordinary patience.

And when it is all said and done, you and I will both be better for having waited on the Lord and for having walked through the process together.  And if we step carefully and prayerfully, at the end of the discernment process, we may well find ourselves one step closer to truly “dwelling in Him.”

© 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




It’s a Relationship, Yes…but Different

1 04 2014

Tuesday Re-mix:

When I kept silent,
    my bones wasted away
    through my groaning all day long.
For day and night
    your hand was heavy on me;
my strength was sapped
    as in the heat of summer.

Then I acknowledged my sin to you
    and did not cover up my iniquity.
I said, “I will confess
    my transgressions to the Lord.”
And you forgave
    the guilt of my sin.

 Psalm 32:3-5

Theology is difficult for me. Understanding God is difficult for me as well. I do so much better with stories and metaphors to try to get my mind wrapped around Biblical truth.  Maybe you’re that way too…in fact, maybe we are all that way.  Maybe that is why God gave us His Word in the form of Jesus and in the stories of the Bible rather than in formulas and spreadsheets.  Surely that is why Jesus used stories, similes, and metaphors so much in his own communication.

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The metaphor most of us use to describe our Spiritual pilgrimage, our faith walk, is relationship.  We talk about our relationship with Christ, or with God.  We use little sayings like, “It’s a relationship, not a religion.”  We use that term (that metaphor, if you will), because it best captures what it means to follow Christ.  It is NOT a metaphor Jesus used for ancient times, because it would not have had meaning then.  It is NOT a vocabulary we find anywhere in God’s Word.  But, like the term “mission”, it still has profound meaning to our culture today, and it is a useful way of describing our part in this amazing revolution that is Christianity.

The call to follow Christ is a call to relationship. Yes.  So, why doesn’t that answer all our questions?  Why does that metaphor fall short for us?  Specifically, what does it NOT teach us about grace and forgiveness?  Because, even though it is indeed a relationship…it is different from any other relationship we have ever known or ever will know.

David wisely points out in Psalm 32 that, just like in any other relationship, the only way forward in our faith journey is through open, honest communication.  Every relationship depends on honesty.  We understand that.  The metaphor works well in that respect.  Honesty with God, what I like to call “eye contact” with God about sin in our lives, is a critical first step toward spiritual growth and transformation.  The relationship is simple in that regard…honesty means growth, and secrecy means no growth.  There is not a healthy relationship in your life which operates any differently than that.

But here is where the metaphor leaves us short in fully embracing God’s grace.  There is no other relationship in your life experiences, nor even in your dreams, which comes with a completely limitless supply of forgiveness and grace.  None, but this one.  When scripture says God “…is faithful and just to forgive”…when Jeremiah says God will “…remember your sins no more…” and when David says “…you forgave the guilt of my sin…”, we have a picture of a relationship which is unlike any relationship we can ever experience otherwise.  It does not compute.  It does not make sense.  It does not match up with any of our life experience.  It is as impossible for us to grasp as infinity itself.

And THAT, I believe, is why we often have trouble confessing and being open and honest with God.  It is why we hide.  It is why Adam and Eve hid.  It is why David hid.  We just have a hard time believing any relationship can be utterly bottomless in terms of grace and mercy and forgiveness.  Oh, how we want the love relationship!  We genuinely desire it!  But we don’t completely trust it…not completely.  Because, as relationships go, it is different from anything else we have ever known.

Unfortunately, all our human examples fail us on this point.  Our metaphors for God fail us as well.  When all the words are done and all the illustrations have fallen short, we are then left with a rather large gap to fill in order to truly believe in and embrace God’s forgiveness.  We are left with…[gulp!]…a step of faith.  Faith that God is who he says he is and that he will do what his word says he will do.

I’m OK with that.  How about you?  Do you have the faith to be open and honest with God about that sin in your life?  It is the only way forward.

© 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




A Spirituality of Fundraising

3 09 2013

Tuesday Re-mix –

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. 1 Timothy 6:17-19

This year has been a huge transitional year for our ministry, Christian Unity Ministries. We will always remember 2013 as the year we transitioned from a small, church consultation ministry operated by Blake and a few of his friends in their spare time to a full-fledged, global non-profit organization with a paid staff and active arms operating in churches and denominational entities all over the world. Last year’s budget: approximately $75,000. The 2013 budget: approximately $350,000. That, my friends, is a God-sized transition!

One of the most painful transitions, it seems, is the one going on in me…the transition toward becoming the visionary leader this new organization now requires. And, just to get very specific here for purposes of this post, I am thinking primarily about the transition into becoming a leader in matters of money and fundraising. Anyone who knows me very well at all, knows that I have simply never been very passionate about fundraising. I have long recognized the eternal truth that the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. And so, it has always been easier for me to just avoid talking (or thinking) about money rather than having to delve into any theology concerning it.

But scripture really does not permit that, does it? A truly Biblical worldview really will not coexist with a fear of this conversation…in fact, a truly Godly perspective demands that we (as Christ followers) have a well-developed theology concerning money and wealth. So it is with fear and trepidation that I read Paul’s admonishment to me and to you and to young pastor Timothy and to every other leader of Christ-followers about our role in teaching and mentoring others: Command them …to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.

My friend, Barry Nelson, is Director of Development at Canadian Southern Baptist Seminary & College. Early last year, he gave me a copy of Revolution in Generosity, a compilation of profound writings from Christian leaders on the spirituality of fundraising (find that resource here or Google it…I believe it is crucial reference material for every leader of every Christian organization). That work’s project leader and editor, Wesley K. Willmer, makes this point this way:

If we view giving as an instrument of transformation, we will support our givers through a consistent program of prayer and personal interaction, accepting the fact that it is the Holy Spirit, not our personality, that influences how they give. The change will take time, both for those asking for and those giving funds. But as we embrace the transformational model, the focus shifts from the gift and getting money to seeing God’s power work in individual lives. Revolution in Generosity, p. 40.

And so, the transformation in me (and in my leadership) takes root in the deepest passion of my spiritual life: my desire to see lives being changed. When my heart says to God, “I don’t want to raise funds…to talk about money…” God’s voice says back to me, “Then you don’t want to be about real life change…about real discipleship.”  So, I am not raising funds…I’m raising Christ-followers.  I can get comfortable with 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




Our Own Undercover Boss

13 08 2013

Tuesday Re-mix –

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’  “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’  “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’  “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life. ”  Matthew 25:41-46

Have you seen the reality show, Undercover Boss yet?  I have not, but I think  the concept is brilliant.  What could be more entertaining than seeing a bad employee treat someone badly who turns out to be the CEO of their company?  It’s one of those concepts that makes you stop and imagine…the horror!

Jesus was pretty good at coming up with those concepts as well.  There were times when you just know the disciples sat speechless, looking at one another…in horror.  I think the passage above is one of those times.  I think when Jesus spoke these words, all of the disciples’ minds went to the exact same place yours and mine do…to that homeless man or woman in the street earlier today with whom we would not make eye contact, because we just did not want to speak to them or otherwise get involved with them.

Our minds go there because we are very, very uncomfortable with the notion that Jesus Himself may have been living in that man or woman and waiting for us to do something that more closely resembles a Christ-like response.  The founder of the very revolution which you and I claim to be fighting for was IN THAT PERSON waiting and watching to see if this revolution really means anything to us at all.

The fact that you and I may actually be judged by our willingness to find Christ in otherwise unappealing people…to find Christ in that person with whom we disagree so strongly…to find Christ in that person whose needs are so very overwhelming to us…to find Christ in even the ugliest or most annoying of people…that fact mortifies us.  Jesus is good at that.

The opportunity to find Christ in someone presents itself pretty much every day of our lives.  Without engaging here in the debate over who exactly “one of the least of these” includes, I think you will agree that it at least includes some of the very people you or I will encounter today.  Consider now that, according to Jesus, our response to that encounter will be remembered in Heaven.  Forever.  Yikes!

Can you even imagine the episodes of Undercover Boss that play in Heaven?  Are you at all worried about the videos that will play of you or me ignoring a brother or sister in whom Christ resides?

I worry about that.

A lot, actually.

© 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




Every Day is a Church Start!

2 07 2013

Tuesday Re-mix –

All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.
Acts 2:44-45

All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.  Acts 4:32-35

Here’s a test question for you as a church leader: which is more “successful”…ministering to the needs of 50,000 people by mobilizing 5 people…or ministering to the needs of only 500 people by mobilizing 500 people?

Some 15 to 20 years ago (suddenly feeling great surprise that it’s been that long now) my wife, our two little girls and I joined a small team of about 5 other families, all spending our Spring Break on mission in Ciudad Acuna, Mexico, doing Vacation Bible School at a small church there.  Over the ensuing 8 years, that same trip grew to become a church-wide Spring Break family mission trip of some 100-150 “missionaries” ranging in age from 6-months to 80-years.  We had medical mission teams, construction teams, music teams, drama groups, VBS on multiple sites, sports evangelism teams and even pastoral care teams.  We gathered everyone together at our campsite every night for worship and reporting.  As you might imagine, it was chaotic and fantastic all at the same time.  There was no childcare ministry…we all took care of everyone’s children.  There was no “poverty” ministry…everywhere we worked, lived and slept was impoverished, so all of us ministered all the time.  We had assignments, to be sure, but there was very much a spirit of everyone pitching in and doing whatever he/she needed to do to minister.  It was an amazing experience for those of us who had grown a bit calloused and ingrained in an otherwise “institutional church” experience.

That was the closest I have ever come to being a part of a “church start” experience.  For that growing group of families, we were “church” together for a week every year.  We definitely made an impact there in Mexico, but the overwhelming testimony of all of us was that the larger impact was on each of us.  That experience changed how we “did church” when we returned each year.  We all recognized that it was much closer to the “church start” experience described in Acts.  If you have ever been a part of a church start or perhaps of a similar mission experience, then you know exactly what I am describing.

Reading the two passages from Acts 2 and 4 above, there are a lot of numbers that might jump out to you.  And there are a lot of concepts that might grab you.  But I think we make a mistake in what application we draw from these passages if we focus in on the wrong numbers and the wrong concepts.  To me, it is the very first word in each passage that merits our most attention: All.  That, it seems to me, is what these passages teach us about the genuine New Testament church.  How many “members” were mobilized into ministry?  What percentage of them were finding a way to contribute…to make a difference in someone’s life?  All of them.  That, my church leader friend, is what success looks like.

I admit that kind of success is easier to achieve in a church start than in a well-established institutional church.  Once we get very, very efficient with our ministries, we start missing the wild-eyed, “just do whatever it takes” attitude of a people who are running around meeting needs and plugging holes…like in a church start.  And therein lies one solution: we really should be starting more churches.  That is where we are the most like the New Testament church.

But don’t we also have to develop some strategies for the institutional church?  Isn’t it possible…no, isn’t it CRITICAL to find ways to jump-start the hearts of our people into a bit more of that wild-eyed, “just do whatever it takes”, everyone-is-a-minister mindset?  Here’s a challenge: stop measuring your success in gross numbers…and start measuring your church’s success in terms of percentages, i.e., the percentage of your people who are meaningfully engaged in ministry.  That might just change everything!

© 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