Letting Your People Mess Up

24 07 2014

Thursday Re-mix:

And the Lord told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king.  As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you.  Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights.” 1 Samuel 8:7-9

“There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.”  C.S. Lewis

Here is a fundamental truth for church leaders (including pastors): the church is not for you (not really), nor is it about you.  If you think about it, that is actually a rather freeing reality.  That means it is not your responsibility to manipulate every outcome.  Rather, it is your responsibility to speak God’s truth to the best of your ability and to love your people well…and love often means letting them mess up royally.

Asleep in ClassMost of my own best illustrations of this leadership principle come from parenting.  If you are a parent, you already know the phenomenon well.  There are times when a parent can see a wrong direction a child is headed and the very best way to teach this lesson is to simply warn them and then let them make their own decision (and live with the consequences).  Take bedtimes, for example.  Toddlers are simply told when they will go to bed.  But, as they grow older, we eventually get to a point where they must learn to use their own judgment about sleep time.  The first time we lift the bedtime requirement, we simply explain to them, “Go to bed whenever you like…but if you stay awake too late, you’ll be awfully tired tomorrow at school.”  Then, that first night we find them playing on X-box at Midnight, we warn them again: “You’re gonna be awfully tired tomorrow if you don’t go to bed soon.”  Well, you know how this one plays out.

That illustration is harmless enough.  The worst outcome for that student is a little humiliation in class and perhaps a bad grade or two.  But the more mature our student becomes, the bigger the consequences.  We begin allowing them to make really big decisions with really big consequences.  It is all a part of growing up.

Shepherding God’s people is no different.  As leaders, there really is no other effective way to lead than to allow God’s people to make decisions as a people, even when those decisions are sometimes horribly wrong.  You can give them the benefit of your own spiritual discernment, you can warn them about the consequences of their wrong direction, you can even ask them to please reconsider.  But in the end, more times than not, it is their decision to make and not yours.  You cannot make it for them.  You cannot even make it for yourself.  Most importantly, you cannot take it personally when they decide not to take your counsel.  They will make their decision, and you and they together will live with the consequences of it, and you will just keep loving them as well as you know how.

God’s words to Samuel in 1 Samuel 8 echo in so many of your church’s important decisions today.  You can see the majority forming and you can see the damaging consequences of that direction.  They are about to make a decision exactly contrary to how you have counseled them.  This is when God’s whisper comes: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king…Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what [their decision will mean].” That is what leadership looks like.  That is what love looks like.  Swallow your pride, listen to your people, counsel them as best you know how, and then walk with them…even through the muck and mire of wrong decisions.

© 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




Seeing Through the Flaws in Your Shepherd

17 07 2014

Thursday Re-mix:

The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.  1 Samuel 16:7b

Most of the church conflicts into which I get called are swirling (at one level or another) around a pastor.  And most of the opposition parties I meet eventually get to a point in the conflict where they are saying, “We never should have called him as our pastor…we made a terrible mistake.”  And that conclusion is always based upon a (sometimes very long) list of flaws which, in their eyes, disqualify him/her as their shepherd.

finding flawsIt always reminds me of the life of Israel’s most effective King…King David, the “man after God’s own heart”.  So much of God’s story in this world was written through David’s life…so much scripture…so much poetry…so much history…it is hard to imagine anyone being used more profoundly by God.  His passion was extraordinary, his love for God immeasurable.  His leadership was undeniable, and his lineage would produce the Savior of the world.  Not a bad spiritual resume, if you ask me.

Did I mention his poligamy?  His adultery?  The murder?  The “divorce” from his first wife (she apparently had a problem with his dancing in the streets in his underwear), the attempts by his father-in-law to kill him, and the subsequent re-marriage to her?  Did I mention his eight other marriages (and that number is just the number of wives whose names we know…there were apparently many others whose names are not mentioned in scripture)?  How about David’s first son’s rape of his half-sister…followed by her brother’s murder of that same son in retaliation?  How about the attempt by that second son to overthrow David’s reign as king?  Did I mention that David’s own men would subsequently kill that second son as well?

In short…David’s house was a mess!  His life was a mess.  And his “kingdom” was as conflict-ridden as any imaginable.  So, as I am reading through this muck and mire which David called a life, I could not help but wonder…how do you think David’s resume would fair in your church’s next pastor search process?  For that matter, how about Peter’s resume?  Or Hosea’s?  I think you get the picture.

At some point, we as Christ-followers have to come to grips with the fact that God’s ways of testing the heart of a leader are pretty different from ours.  We have to embrace the sheer magnitude of God’s grace and His ability to write His story through the lives of horribly flawed people with horribly flawed lives and horribly flawed families.  Indeed, we must acknowledge that God’s purposes for his/her leadership may well be served best in our situation BECAUSE of those “flaws”, and not just in spite of them.  Those “flaws” may bring exactly the perspective God wants in his/her leadership for a specific place at a specific time.  I have said often that I never want to be pastored by a shepherd who does not know personal turmoil or tragedy.  It has a way of bringing “perspective” to my own turmoil.

So, does that mean we must rejoice in all our leaders’ flaws?  No, not necessarily.  But it does mean we do not have the privilege of writing them off merely because of those flaws.  We must learn to recognize that, when God calls a leader to a task, He does so with full knowledge of that leader’s “flaws”.  In short, we must learn true spiritual discernment…and not just some worldly version of measuring leaders.

Tall order, I know.  Then again, if it were easy, everybody would be doing it already. Right?

© 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




Corporate Prayer as a Means of Focus

15 07 2014

So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. John 5:19

And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. Mark 1:35

camera lensIf your church is anything at all like mine, there is a pretty limitless supply of human needs and desperation within a 5 mile radius of it in any direction. There are single moms struggling to make ends meet, there is poverty and homelessness, there are drug addicts and prostitutes, there are sick people and broken people…lots of reminders all around us that we live in a broken world. I wonder if all that brokenness causes you to lose sleep at night, trying to discern what needs are your church’s to meet and what ones are not?

You cannot meet them all. And even if you could, it is probably not God’s assignment for your church to meet them all. He is funny that way. Like a tornado which touches down on one house and leaves the one next to it standing, God’s assignments for us often have us meeting needs in one person (or one family or one group), without meeting the needs of scores of others all around them.

That was the disciples’ experience with Jesus in John, chapter 5 at the pool at Bethesda. A pool surrounded by a “multitude” of crippled and lame people. The disciples followed Jesus to the pool, watched him heal one man, and then watched him leave all the others behind. I don’t know about you, but that would have troubled me a great deal! Jesus could have spoken one word and healed everyone at that pool. He did not.

Beginning in verse 19 of John 5, Jesus offers an explanation for how he knew where to work and where not to work. He explains, “…the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing.” It was true of Jesus, and it is true of your church as well. A local body of believers (the body of Christ), can only do what it sees the Father doing. That is how we discern our assignments.

And how did Jesus maintain such a laser-like clarity in his discernment? How did he stay so very focused on the father’s activity around him? Through an extraordinary prayer life. And how does the church likewise maintain an extraordinary focus on God’s activity around it? Through an extraordinary prayer life.

Prayer together, you see, is the vehicle God has given the church to bring clarity to its vision. It is the lens through which His people see the world around them. It is the means of understanding the will of God for the church. Corporate prayer life, then, is so much more than just remembering the sick congregants or the upcoming surgeries and hospitalizations. It is how we discern God’s will together. My understanding of God is shaped and molded by how I hear you pray, and vice versa. If the discipline of prayer is the gradual process by which we begin to see the world through God’s eyes, then gathered prayer is the means by which a church does that corporately. There is a reason, you see, Jesus insisted that the church be a house of prayer…there is a great deal riding on it.

And, all of a sudden, Wednesday night prayer meeting takes on a whole new purpose.

© 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 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




Loving Obedience is Caught, not Taught

8 07 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Blake Coffee
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way and do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. For web posting, a link to this document on this website is preferred. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Blake Coffee.  Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: © Blake Coffee. Website: churchwhisperer.com




The Spiritual Gift of Voting “No”

3 07 2014

Thursday Re-mix:

Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.” But the men who had gone up with him said, “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.” And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, “The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size.  Numbers 14:30-32

voting noOnce it becomes clear that God is calling your church to join Him in a particular adventure, it is always troubling when those few naysayers vote “no”.  The struggle is only compounded by the realization that this is the very same group of people who voted “no” on the last big initiative as well…and the one before that, and the one before that.  You know the ones I mean.  They are the pot-stirrers in your church who have the spiritual gift of voting “no”.

They may be a minority, even a tiny minority in terms of numbers, but they can be vocal.  They can also be influential.  Like the 10 naysaying spies, these individuals can spread their negativity like a wildfire through the congregation.  And before you know it, your people’s fears can seem insurmountable, faith is out the window, and a vision is well on the way to dying a slow and painful death.

You know how Caleb’s story ended.  In what may be one of the greatest “I told you so” moments in all of God’s story, Caleb ends up receiving God’s reward because he was courageous enough to speak the truth and because he stayed with all those people who voted against him for another 40 long years.  We don’t know much about Caleb during those 40 years.  Perhaps he and Joshua had a weekly support group meeting with each other, helping them survive the pain of living with the consequences of other people’s lack of faith.  Perhaps Caleb carried around some bitterness all those years.  We just do not know.

But Caleb was faithful to God, faithful to the vision, and even faithful to the very people who had conspired against him.  He found a way to stay faithful and loving, even in his pain.  And in the end, his reward was waiting for him!

So how about it?  Who do you need to love well today, even though they tried to squelch your dream?  Who is deserving of your forgiveness and your continued love and support, even though they have opposed you and your vision?

© 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




“Look How They Love Each Other!”

1 07 2014

And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. 1 John 4:21

And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. Colossians 3:15

sibling hugThis Summer, my younger daughter is living with my older daughter (and her husband and their dog) while she does an internship for her major. This last weekend, I had the privilege of visiting them for the first time since that arrangement started. So far, nobody has killed anyone. I am happy about that.

The truth is, my girls get along really well with each other. They give each other a hard time, but they are also clearly best friends. And when they fight, they fight fair. That’s important. That brings an amazing amount of peace to a parent. I am pretty sure I would never have understood that peace until I became a parent.

There is an aspect of God’s perspective on our love for each other that is “parental” in nature.  Paul references it in Colossians 3 when he admonishes that church to “let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts”.  I do not read Aramaic, nor Greek. But I am told that Paul actually wrote peace of Christ in Latin (Pax Christi), so as to make it a play on words for that culture. You see, the nickname for the Roman occupation under which those churches operated was the Pax Romana (“Peace of Rome”). It referred to a kind of imposed peace which Rome enforced in all of its territories. It was an understood connotation of Pax Romana: you and your neighbor are both now  part of the Roman Empire…if you have a problem with your neighbor, you have a problem with Rome. Paul says we should let the Pax Christi rule in our hearts. It was a strikingly “parental” notion of making sure the “children” loved each other well. Of course, those of us who don’t speak Greek or Latin miss this play on words of Paul’s.

John used a similar notion in his writings, but much more directly. No fancy metaphors for John. Just a simple, direct warning which cuts right to the chase: whoever loves God must also love his brother. Same concept…”you are now a part of God’s kingdom…if you have a problem with a brother, you have a problem with God.” Loving each other is not a suggestion. It is a requirement. It is not something we do as we feel some warm, fuzzy spirit move us…it is a discipline which we practice as a matter of routine, one at which we get better and better over time. And we do it by faith, which pleases our Heavenly Father.

That discipline of loving each other is also what Jesus said would set us apart from the rest of the world. We would in fact be known by that extraordinary discipline of loving each other. The world will look at us and marvel, and some will even call us ridiculous and unreasonable because of how we love. They will call us naive and childish (and much, much worse). All because of how we love each other. All because our Father in Heaven insists that his children love each other well.

So, what about it? What does the world say when they point to you and your relationships with your Christian brothers and sisters?

© 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







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