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




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




The Problem with Sundays

6 03 2014

Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place. Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.’ “For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another, if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own harm, then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers forever. Jeremiah 7:4-7

Gathered WorshipThe people of Judah in Jeremiah’s time and so many of us in the church today have all suffered from the same delusion…that genuine change begins in gathered worship. But, just like a genuine dating relationship doesn’t really begin until the SECOND date, genuine change in a Christ-follower’s heart doesn’t begin on Sunday. The real change begins on Monday.  The people of Judah discovered that too late.

Young King Josiah had good intentions and a good heart. He had “rediscovered” God’s instructions about worship and about Holy holidays and festivals. He had even made great strides in destroying the idols and instruments of worshipping those idols. He had restored the people’s respect and reverence for the temple. All of that was good. But it was not enough.

And gathered worship is definitely good for the church today as well. Please don’t hear anything in this post saying otherwise.  I believe we as Christ-followers should be participating in Spirit-filled worship as often as possible.  It is where we celebrate together God’s activity in our lives. It is also where we get our engines “recharged” for the week. And it is where we PREPARE our hearts for the changes and course corrections they need. But, like the people of Judah, as soon as we begin measuring the real “change” in our lives primarily by what happens on Sunday, we have set up an embarrassingly wrong metric.

It is easy, isn’t it, to attend church every week, to serve on committees, councils and leadership teams, to read our Bible every day and thereby tell ourselves that we are in a right relationship with God…that we are right on track in our Christian walk.  But do you see that none of those things necessarily demonstrate any change of the heart at all? Our actions and attitudes toward others on Monday through Saturday are the things which show real heart change. Without that proof, our gathered worship is, well, shallow…even empty. It will not please God. Not without an active faith to go with it.

Our liturgies, hymns, praises and prayers on Sunday are supposed to be reflections of hearts and lives turned toward God all week long. Otherwise, they become meaningless…even hypocritical.  And that is the problem with measuring our faith by our Sunday activities.  Moreover, as leaders, doesn’t this mean we must admit that Sunday-oriented goals, while certainly informative on some level, are not our most important goals?  In preparing our Sunday lessons, maybe the question is NOT “what do I want them to KNOW at the end of my lesson on Sunday?” Maybe the right question is, “What do I want them to DO on Monday?”

© 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




“Church People Don’t Mind Change…They Just Mind Being Changed”

21 08 2012

Tuesday Re-mix –

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.  Romans 12:2

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead,  I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.  Philippians 3:12-14

Change is inevitable.  We can fight it, we can rebel against it, we can pretend it doesn’t exist.  We can hide from it, we can curse it, we can cry out to God against it.  But in God’s church, among God’s people, there will always be change…because this revolution Jesus called “my church” is in fact a living, breathing organism.  And where there is life, there is necessarily growth…and where there is growth, there is  [gulp!] CHANGE.  Mark it down.  It is an eternal truth.

Yet despite all of the scripture devoted to this truth and even in the face of thousands of years of evidence of it in the human experience, managing change among God’s people (i.e., in the church) remains one of the toughest leadership challenges around.  I have never met a pastor who did not consider the ushering in of change to be one of his most difficult leadership tasks…ever.  But if you were to come to the conclusion that God’s people just do not like change, I believe you would be wrong.

One of the coolest things my Dad taught me about the church is that God’s people do not mind change…they just mind being changed.  That statement has taken on a variety of meanings for me over the years, but I think how I have come to understand it is this: the only truly effective and God-honoring change in the church is the change born out of the spiritual transformation of God’s people as opposed to change that is imposed upon them.  Like the gardner to the flowering plant, the pastor can create a healthy environment for growth and change, he can protect the garden from harmful environments, and he can pour nutrients into the soil and into the plants themselves, but one thing the gardner cannot do no matter how hard he tries is to create or even expedite the blooming process.  That, it seems, is up to God-ordained processes working within the plant.  Surely I do not need to tell you how foolish a church leader looks when he/she is striving and pressing and bursting veins in the neck trying to force the flower to bloom or trying to speed up the process.

If the church you serve is dealing with issues of change (and everyone is these days), and if your frustration level is growing because it does not seem to be happening quickly enough for you, resist the temptation to expedite or short-cut the process against the will of your people.  Rather, love them, nurture them, pray for them, feed them and help them to grow from within, looking more and more like Christ…then wait patiently for the Lord to bring them to bloom.  Believe me, it will be much more satisfying to you, loving to them, and honoring to God.

“Cease striving, and know that I am God.”  Ps. 46:10 (NAS)

Thanks, Dad.  Excellent lesson!

© 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




Counting Noses or Changing Lives?

7 08 2012

Tuesday Re-mix –

And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people.  They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over.  The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.  Matthew 14:19-21

Jesus did not take an institutional approach to ministry.  He did not survey the neighborhood to determine what the physical needs were then implement a task force to study those needs and to plan the infrastructure of an organization that might be able to meet those needs and then go looking for funding for that organization and then go looking for the right people to fill the various positions in that organization.  Jesus did not do strategic planning to set specific goals and objectives for his ministry over a one-year, five-year and ten-year plan.

However, I do think Jesus operated according to God-inspired vision.  In the case referenced in Matthew 14 above, I believe Jesus recognized the hunger of the crowd and immediately developed a God-sized vision of what could be…of what should be…and of what would be.  And I believe he had one goal in mind…changing lives.  I do not think that merely feeding the people was his goal.  I also do not believe he had any goals regarding the number of people he wished to reach with this miracle.  Rather, I believe he wanted to change their lives AND change the lives of the disciples who helped Him.  His “vision” for that ministry was far greater than just getting a little food into several thousand hungry stomachs.

So it makes me wonder about our ministries…whether our vision for them is truly God-sized or not.  It makes me wonder if “changed lives” is what we are aiming for  in whatever ministry endeavor we undertake.  It seems to me that, if lives are not being changed by how we as a church are spending our efforts and our resources, then we are not really being the church at all.  I believe this because, everywhere we see Jesus doing ministry in the New Testament, we see lives being changed.  That was always the case then and it seems to me it should always be the case now.

Please understand, I am all for church growth.  In fact, you could probably convince me that growth is a vital sign of health.  So I am not opposed to “numbers” at all.  I do not think a church can be truly healthy if it is not growing.  But I do think that a church or ministry can be growing in terms of number without being truly healthy.  If counting noses is our best measure of the effectiveness of our ministry, then we have completely missed the mark.

The persons to whom Jesus ministered had their lives changed by their encounter with Him.  Moreover, the disciples who participated in His ministry likewise had their lives changed not only by their own encounters with Jesus, but by participating in others’ encounter with Him as well.  Indeed, this particular miracle of feeding the 5,000 was so very life-changing for the disciples that it became one of the very few moments which are written about in all four of the gospels…and yet, there is not a single mention of how many of those 5,000 actually “joined” Jesus’ band of followers.  This ministry moment was not about adding numbers to Christ’s followers.  It was about changing lives.

The question, then, for me and for you…for my ministry and for your church…is this: irrespective of your numbers, are there lives being changed?  Is your life being changed?  Isn’t that the clearest evidence of an encounter with 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