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




“Mine, Mine, Mine, Mine, Mine…”

30 07 2013

Tuesday Re-mix –

And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain.  And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’  “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’  “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”  Luke 12:16-21 (emphasis added)

I honestly do not remember why or when I went to the trouble of circling all the personal pronouns in this passage in my Bible.  I suspect it was a sermon somewhere sometime.  But the circles are all still there, and it really does paint a clear picture.  The “rich fool” in this parable was totally self-absorbed and focused first and foremost on his own comfort level.  This point seems to be central to Jesus’ parable…and to God’s perspective on giving.

I cannot think about the concept of “mine, mine, mine, mine, mine, etc.” without thinking about the seagulls in Disney-Pixar’s Finding Nemo.  Remember these guys?

I suppose there are a lot of ways to measure how much you or I “give” to something.  For example, maybe you have a boss who expects you to give “one hundred, ten percent” and measures you that way.  Or maybe you had a coach in school who wanted you to “leave it all on the field” and measured your play that way.  Maybe you have had fundraising campaigns in your church which talked about “not equal gifts, but equal sacrifice” and measured the effectiveness of your giving that way.  Maybe you had a teacher or professor who gave you a grade for “class participation” and measured your contribution to class discussion in that manner.  Those are all meaningful ways to measure what we bring to the table in various settings.

I have heard of very wealthy people who give hundreds of thousands, even millions of dollars away every year.  Is that the best measure of their heart?  Would that be the best measure of my own heart…how much I give away?  Possibly.

But, reading this parable from Jesus, here is what scares me…

What if God’s way of measuring my heart is by measuring how much I keep for myself?  How would you measure up then?

Yep.  Me too.

© 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




When I Am the Rich Young Ruler

8 05 2012

Tuesday Re-mix –

Step 1: We admit we are powerless over our addiction and that our lives have become unmanageable.

When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”   When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy. Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”  Luke 18:22-25

I am using these Tuesday Re-mixes for a few weeks to think (again) about addiction to self-reliance and how that addiction is one of the biggest challenges to genuine community which we face in the American church culture.

You want to know another reason why it is so difficult for me to admit that I am powerless over my addiction to self-reliance and that my life has become unmanageable because of it?  It is because I am an American Christian…in other words, I am the “rich young ruler” to whom Jesus says, “give it all up and just rely on me, then we can talk.”

We, the church in America, are SERIOUSLY wealthy, not only in material things but in human resources, giftedness, skills, abilities, ingenuity, innovation, strategic thinking, and in almost everything else one might imagine to be helpful in building any organization.  Moreover, we have virtually all the freedom in the world to build our churches and to thrive, free from government interference or persecution.  We have entire libraries full of books written by our pastors.  We can flip to any of hundreds of radio stations and hear our choice of preachers.  And I can spend a lifetime (and HAVE) studying the church and learning strategies for building it and measuring which of those strategies works best in which environments.  We are really good at doing church.  I am really good at doing church.  How easy it is to carry on as if I do not need any help at all when it comes to being a good churchman.

So it hits me like a splash of cold water for Jesus to say to me, “You’ve done pretty well Blake…now go and get rid of everything you think you know about church and about conflict and about peacemaking and about the Bible and about my people…give it all to me and just come and rely on me.”  It is what He demands of me.  It is not safe and it is not popular.  In fact, it is not even reasonable.  It is utterly and profoundly radical.  And it scares me.

It requires such a level of childlikeness and humility so as to make me entirely uncomfortable.  I would much rather just rely on the things I know.  After all, I know more than most about the church and the Bible and about God.  Isn’t that enough?  It is certainly safer…and more predictable.  Of course, I may be wrong from time to time, but I will take those odds most days rather than give up all control and rely completely on Him.  That is the truth.  It is especially true when I am operating in an area of strength for me.  But Jesus says, “Go and give up that strength…put it all in my hands…stop relying on yourself and your wealth of resources and just rest in me.”

*sigh*

That is really, really tough.  And it is so much more than just a one-time event.  It is a constant, moment-by-moment deal.  And I suspect that I fail more than I succeed at it, which is why I find myself here in our Thursday support group for people addicted to self-reliance.  I need help!  I truly am powerless to do this alone.

© 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




Spelling “Success” for the Church

28 06 2011

Tuesday Re-mix –

“Looking at his disciples, he said:
“Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who hunger now,
for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when men hate you,
when they exclude you and insult you
and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man…

“But woe to you who are rich,
for you have already received your comfort.
Woe to you who are well fed now,
for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
for you will mourn and weep.
Woe to you when all men speak well of you,
for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets.

Luke 6:20-22, 24-26

Even before He started the revolution he called “the church”, Jesus established clearly and often that God would not measure its success in any ways we would like.  According to Jesus, here are some ways NOT to measure success as a church:

1.  Amount of resources. This is not just about financial wealth (though there is that too).  Riches include other resources as well, such as human resources (i.e., gifts, talents, innovation, leadership, etc.).  Be honest, even for the most Spiritual among us, when we see a beautiful young, talented, dynamic family join the church, doesn’t our heart skip a beat or two, thinking about how much “better” our church just became?  But when the homeless person walks in off the street and joins (if we will even permit that to happen), do we feel the same way?  Jesus spoke to this so often, yet we still get trapped by the way the world tends to see things.

2.  Amount of physical needs. Even though my local church may or may not have “riches”, we can at least say we have very few real needs, right?  We have a place to meet, we have God’s Word freely available to us, we live in a country where we have freedom to gather as a church, etc.  We have so few obstacles, so few genuine physical needs.  In America, we have created a veritable “religious utopia”, where the church can flourish, unfettered by oppression.  That’s a good thing, right?  That’s success, right?  Wrong.  I am not so sure Jesus ever really valued a church who “never missed a meal”.

3.  Happiness. There is a great lie being told to Christians young and old these days…it is that the church exists to make them happy, that their comfort and entertainment are the goals of the church.  Churches whose people are happy have, in the eyes of the world, achieved an extra level of success.  Those are the churches the world “wants” to see and to be a part of.  Pastors and church leaders are trained up to believe that the people’s happiness is their responsibility, that without it, they are not leading well.  But we never saw Jesus making decisions based on what would make his disciples the most happy.  In fact, that doesn’t seem to have even been on his radar screen as a leader.

4.  The praise of men. I am particularly sensitive to this one, because it is an area of great struggle for me personally.  I just want to be liked.  And I want my church to be liked.  Whenever I read an article in the local newspaper about another church doing some amazing thing, my first reaction is often to wish the press would come and look at my church and write good things about my church.  On a personal level, this attitude leads to vanity and can be blinding.  For a church, seeking the praise of men may help build a flashier organization, one with “pizazz”…but eventually it leads to spiritual blindness.  We wake up one morning years down the road and we realize it has been a very long time since we really needed God in order to do what we’ve been doing.

I know you see the problem, particularly in the Western church.  I don’t believe the problem demands that we scratch it all and start all over again (although some would say that is essentially what many “emerging” Christians are attempting to do), but I do think the problem demands that we reexamine how we define success in the church.

I know the American church lives in the wealthiest country in the world.  I know that we have been blessed with a grotesque amount of resources, both materially and humanly.  And I know that we do a lot of good things with those resources.  But I have always believed this about stewardship: good stewardship isn’t measured so much in how much you give away…good stewardship is measured more in how much you choose to keep for yourself.  I think our understanding of success causes the church to keep an awful lot of its resources for itself.  I think we should rethink how we spell success.  It would make Jesus proud.

© 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