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




X-Men Origins: Joseph, the Dreamer

26 06 2014

Thursday Re-mix:

Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him all the more.  Genesis 37:5

Then Joseph said to Pharaoh, “The dreams of Pharaoh are one and the same.God has revealed to Pharaoh what he is about to do.” Genesis 41:25

Super HeroI know there are some theological problems with comparing our Spiritual gifts to “super powers”…no doubt even more problems than I am aware of.  Still, it makes me happy to think of them that way. So indulge me, please, for just this one post, because I believe the story of Joseph and his particular spiritual gift reads like a classic Marvel Comics super hero tale.  He was like one of the X-Men with his super power of prophetic dreams and their interpretations.

Like most classic super heros, Joseph had a rough start with his gift.  He wasn’t very polished in how he used it.  It caused others to hate him and he just mishandled it more often than not.  His fumbling of it got him sold into slavery by his spiteful brothers.  Of course, years later, he would look back and see that was God’s plan all along.  But in the meantime, his gift would cause him much pain.

As he matured, he came to understand the power and began to use it to help others (every super hero faces a crossroads early on when he/she must decide whether to use his/her power for good or for evil).  As he made that choice more and more often, great and amazing things began to happen around him and he eventually rose to extraordinary power in Egypt, not to mention saving hundreds of thousands of lives in the midst of seven years of drought.

So here is the application (maybe you already got it)…

The purpose of spiritual giftedness is to benefit the community of believers (see Ephesians 4).  Joseph’s story is a beautiful illustration of what happens when we make the conscious decision to turn our giftedness outward and hone it for the purposes of helping others, rather than using it for our own glory or edification.  It is a difference of motive, of attitude, of the heart.  If your giftedness is mostly just drawing attention to you as opposed to pouring into others (and this is not always an easy heart-check for most of us), then you may be missing the point.

So, when you examine your heart on this issue, what do you find?  When you think about your giftedness, is it first and foremost to build yourself up? Or is it first and foremost for the benefit of others?  And maybe even more important…as a leader in the church, are you helping your people learn this lesson as well?

© 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




Terrorists, Christians and the Walls that Divide Us

15 04 2014

Tuesday Re-mix:

Do not withhold your mercy from me, Lord;
    may your love and faithfulness always protect me.
For troubles without number surround me;
    my sins have overtaken me, and I cannot see.
They are more than the hairs of my head,
    and my heart fails within me.
Be pleased to save me, Lord;
    come quickly, Lord, to help me.  Psalm 40:11-13

It was one year ago today that the Boston Marathon reached a horrifying and premature conclusion. When the bombs went off, I was right there with you in my response: “Who would do such a thing?”  “How could anyone just kill and maim innocent people like that?”  With those questions and so many others like them, we begin trying to re-order our world by categorizing the good people and the bad people.  It brings us some comfort.  It is how we deal with otherwise “inexplicable evil”.  We find some solace in drawing those distinctions and in placing ourselves on one side and “those kinds of people” on the other side.  Honestly, it helps us sleep at night, doesn’t it?  We feel better about ourselves and about our world when we can identify evil, point it out as clearly “other” than us, and come to terms with the comforting reality that we are, in fact, better than those kinds of people.

brick wallBut scripture does not help us with that worldview.

Scripture does not paint a picture of a world divided.  If we go to our Bibles and read the stories of our heroes and heroines and hope to be able to place David and Joseph and Moses and Peter and Paul and you and me all on the side of “good”, and then place the murderers and adulterers and rapists and terrorists all on the side of “evil”, we are hugely and humbly disappointed.  Scripture does not divide the world between the good people and the bad people.  It divides the universe between the holy and everything else…and this world ALL falls into the “everything else” category.  You and I are part of that.

I heard an interview with Rudy Giuliani just after the bombing.  The interviewer asked him, “Is this just the world we live in now?”  His response was that this is the world we live in ever since September 11.  But that’s not really accurate, is it?  Scripture says otherwise.  It says this is the world we live in ever since the fall of man.  And, by the way, you and I don’t just live in this world, as if we are innocent bystanders…we are participants in it.  We have contributed to the brokenness.

This is why one of our heroes of God’s story, David (the “man after God’s own heart”) could say, “May all who want to take my life be put to shame and confusion” and also, in the very same psalm, “my sins have overtaken me, and I cannot see..They are more than the hairs of my head, and my heart fails within me.”  Scripture does not teach us this tendency to “otherize” people, even bombers and terrorists.  Scripture does not comfort us with categories and levels of unholiness, so that we can distance ourselves from those who seem “more evil” than us and thereby find rest.  Rather, God’s Word throws us all into the same unholy, murky mire together, and then says to us all, “you need a savior”.

That is the truth, is it not?  We may engage in the hair-splitting of comparing our own sins with the sins of “those evil people” and tell ourselves that we come out on top.  But do we?  When we are compared to the holiness to which we are called, do we come out anywhere near the top?

As I reflected on the horror of last year’s bombing in Boston and its devastation in the hearts and minds of so many fellow humans, and as I then looked to scripture for some perspective on it all, I was left with two realities: (1) this world is horribly broken and in need of a savior, and (2) so am I.

Come quickly, Lord.

© 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 Peacemaker’s Advent: Mary and Joseph

15 12 2011

Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.  But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”… When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.  Matthew 1:19-21, 23

 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.”  “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.  Luke 1:35-38

The Christmas story is filled with contrasts between those who rearranged their very lives in order to make room for the birth of the Messiah and those who either opposed His birth or were completely indifferent to it.  Mary and Joseph had their lives changed forever.  Their obedience and their ability to embrace a seemingly impossible circumstance set them apart.  Even more, it was their willingness to set aside their own pretty good plans in order to be obedient to God which makes them perfect illustrations for our “Peacemaker’s Advent” series.

Upon learning of Mary’s pregnancy, Joseph had a plan.  he respected the law but also had great mercy on Mary.  He would just divorce her quietly.  No public spectacle.  Follow the law but do as little harm as possible to Mary.  He had it all worked out.  It was actually a good and honorable plan.  And then God gave him a different plan…one fraught with risk and probable public humiliation.  Through a series of dreams, God would show Joseph a better way.

I started my peacemaking ministry to churches as an arrogant young lawyer out to teach all the simple-minded laymen in the church a thing or two about conflict resolution.  Having spent hundreds of hours in mediations and other conflict resolution forums, I felt confident that I had a good and honorable plan for dealing with conflict among God’s people.  Just a few huge disappointments later, God had my attention.  We would not be doing peacemaking the world’s way…we would be doing it His way.

Oh how I would like to be able to report to you that, like Joseph and Mary, I immediately stepped in line and started to get it all right.  I did not.  Frankly, I still do not.  But I am learning more and more that peacemaking among God’s people is not a process that lends itself to nice, clean formulas and protocols…rather, it is a dance…with God…and I am not leading!

Mary and Joseph are wonderful illustrations for us.  They demonstrate what it looks like to let go of our own very good plans in order to pursue the clear will of God, even when that will doesn’t make a great deal of sense to us or to the people around us.  As peacemakers among God’s people, there is no more important skill for us to develop than letting go and letting God do what only He can do.    It is a trust thing.  Merry Christmas, fellow peacemakers.

© 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 Peacemaker’s Advent: the Angels

1 12 2011

I’ve never done an Advent Series before on this blog.  This will be fun!  Watch for “A Peacemaker’s Advent” right here every Thursday from now until Christmas.

But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard.  Luke 1:13a

But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. Luke 1:30

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.  Luke 2:10

I have never seen an angel, but apparently, it is a frightening thing.  We know this because, every time an angel appears in the Christmas story, the first words it says are, “Do not be afraid…”.

Now, I am no angel.  But, as a peacemaker, I do know what it feels like for people to be frightened of me.  It is actually a fairly common response, especially in church conflicts.  When I am called in by a congregation or Christian organization to begin my work as a peacemaker, and I begin having my one-on-one meetings with the players, it is always interesting to me how frightened they seem to be to talk to me.  Maybe it is because they know I am a lawyer?  Or maybe it because they have misunderstood my role in the process?  Or maybe it is their fear of being held accountable?  I honestly do not know.

But I do know that, for peacemakers, it means we have one task that is first and foremost in every conflict…we must be a non-anxious presence.  We must develop an ability to disarm the players, reassure them that they are safe, and guarantee a process which they can trust.  We apparently share that task with the angels.  Everything about our demeanor and our words must send a clear message: “be not afraid”.

Being a non-anxious presence is our first prayer this Christmas season for ourselves and for the other peacemakers in our lives.  Being like the angels in that regard is a great Christmas lesson.  Merry Christmas, everyone!

© 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 (Sometimes LONG) Journey to Forgiveness

18 10 2011

Tuesday Re-mix –

True confession: when I teach forgiveness, I often oversimplify it, making it appear much easier than it is.  I do that, I think, because God’s Word to us about forgiveness is clear: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Eph. 4:32.  God’s forgiveness of us became immediate 2,000 years ago, with Christ’s proclamation on the cross: “It is finished.”  Therefore, our forgiveness of others is likewise supposed to be immediate.  But in reality, “supposed to” and “is” are two very different concepts.

That’s why I am so very encouraged to see one of my heroes, Joseph, struggle with the journey to forgiveness.

When Joseph sent his brothers back home to get their youngest brother (Benjamin) and return with him, Joseph kept one of his brothers in prison.  We don’t know for sure how long it took for them to return, but we know it was at least “seasons”, more likely years.  Think about that… for that entire period of time, while Joseph pondered how he would respond when he next saw his brothers, one of those brothers sat in his prison.  Every day, day after day after day, Joseph went to work knowing that his brother was sitting in his prison.  And every night, Joseph slept in the comfort of his own home, knowing that his brother was sleeping in his prison.  That went on for at least months, more likely years.

He could have “made himself known” to that brother at any time, the way he would eventually “make himself known” to all of the brothers together.  But he did not.  His brother sat in prison all the time Joseph pondered forgiveness.  For Joseph, getting to forgiveness was a long, long journey filled with suffering and hardship.  And sometimes, our own journey to forgiveness is like that.  In fact, the deeper the woundedness and betrayal, the more “suffering” we must go through to get to forgiveness.

My friend, Marla, who facilitates the “Considering Forgiveness” support group in our Heart 2 Heart Ministries, has helped me to see this.  Making the promises of forgiveness sounds nice and simple on paper, but actually getting to that point in real life is messy and complicated.  And I believe it was for Joseph as well.  I find that encouraging.

So I am going to do better in my counseling on this subject.  I am going to have a new level of patience when someone says to me, “I’m just not ready to forgive yet.”  When I hear that, I am going to smile, knowing that my hero, Joseph, would have said the exact same thing as he began his long journey to forgiveness.  But I am still going to point to Joseph as an example of someone who actually made the journey.  And as you know, in order to make the journey, you have to get started at some point.

So how about your journey to forgiveness?  Would today be a good time to start?

© 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