“The Lord Always Before Me”

11 03 2014

Tuesday Re-mix:

I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. Psalm 16:8

I recently read a blog post by a prominent leader in the evangelical world.  It was a post about “Rules of Thumb” for healthy churches.  The rules were all about the proper acreage for church property, the number of parking spaces per attendance, the maximum occupancy for buildings, maximum debt payment budgeted, and so on.  You get the picture.  It broke my heart.

http://www.dreamstime.com/-image15608205I know this leader/blogger to be a godly man and a well-respected leader.  I absolutely do not question that.  To his credit, his own comments to that post state that he regrets using the words “healthy churches” in his title, as if these various metrics have anything to do with church health.  I respect that, and am so glad he made that correction.  I had actually written my own comment to the effect that he should have entitled the post “Ten Things You as a Church Leader Should NOT be Obsessing About”.  I refrained.  Maybe I shouldn’t have refrained.

Two observations here:

1. I believe our pastors and ministers and rectors and priests often do obsess about the wrong things…I believe church leaders today are easily swayed from “setting the Lord always before us”;

2.  I believe that is our own fault for allowing them, even encouraging them, to do that.

Don’t you think “I have set the Lord always before me” is a comment about focus?  I do.  I think it means always, always, always helping us stay focused on the Head of the church (Jesus) and what He desires and what Honors Him and what His kingdom requires.  I think it means, when the rest of the world is focused on money or buildings or programs or processes or legalities or metrics of one kind or another, or counting noses or measuring parking spaces, somebody somewhere in a leadership role is helping us stay focused on Jesus…helping us see all of these issues (and others) through the lens of scripture and through God’s eyes.  It means seeing EVERYTHING against the backdrop of the cross.  That is what spiritual leadership does.

It seriously breaks my heart to see so very many pastors and church leaders spending their precious energies and their sacred calling to gain the world’s wisdom about parking spaces and seat bottoms.  I think we should expect more from them…and as a leader myself, I think those whom I lead should expect more from me.  I think we should stop pressing our pastors to know those things and should start pressing them to press us!

When I teach the Principle of Focus in churches overseas, I am sorry to report that I have a seemingly endless supply of illustrations of LACK of focus from the church in America.  Sadly, that is our reputation.  Even more sadly, we have earned it.

But be encouraged…because, no matter how badly we fail, and no matter how out-of-whack our focus becomes, it is still His church…and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it.  I am so glad for 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




Focus…Trees: Leadership Focus that Jesus Values

4 02 2014

Tuesday Re-mix:

“Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”  When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him,“You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.  Mark 12:32-34

Forest for the treesI believe the church has more than its share of leaders who cannot see the forest for the trees.  They get so distracted by the minutia, the petty, the theological fine points, they lose sight of the main thing.  I suspect you know a leader or two like that.  You may even BE a leader like that…but, if you are, you probably do not know it.  After all, what kind of leader would knowingly be like that?

The Pharisees and other teachers of the law in Jesus’ day were often that way.  They were so distracted by the complexities of their traditions and the fine points of the Mosaic law, they had virtually lost sight of the Spirit behind those laws.  Questions like, “What’s most important?” were particularly troublesome for them.

Jesus, on the other hand, seems to me to be a “big picture” kind of leader…at least in matters of theology.  He always had an eye on the things which matter most, and he had a way of embarrassing the institutional religious thinkers of his day in this regard.  He valued a theology which kept the main thing as the main thing.  I think that is what he saw in this particular teacher of the law in Mark 12.  This was a rare moment when Jesus actually commended one of those teachers, and it seems to me to be because this teacher was actually able to keep the details in perspective and to see the forest for the trees.

When I work with congregational conflict, I am never particularly surprised at how out of focus we church people are capable of becoming, how tunnel-visioned we get, particularly in matters of doctrine and theology.  We can get so zoomed in on the differences among us that we completely lose sight of the major worldview we have in common.  But I get particularly disappointed in shepherds among us who lose their focus on what is important, because they are who set the focus for the rest of us.  Show me a church which is overly focused on money and material possessions, and I will show you church leadership who is out of focus that way.  Show me a church who is overly focused on politics and I will show you church leadership who is leaning out of bounds in that same way.  In matters of focus, we truly are a “follow the leader” kind of people.

Leadership vision which allows discussion on the finer points but which maintains its focus on the larger points is a vision Jesus commends.  He saw it in this teacher of the law. He will acknowledge it in you as well.  Keep your eyes on the forest, pastor.  Always remind us and help us to see it.  There will always be plenty of people around to point out the individual trees.  You keep us focused on the major stuff.  Jesus will be pleased.

© 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 Truth About Spiritual Gifts

6 11 2012

Tuesday Re-mix -

Now about the gifts of the Spirit, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed… to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.  1 Corinthians 12:1, 7

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.  If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.  1 Corinthians 13:1-3

I wish I could see exactly what the question was from the Corinthian church.  I mean, I wish I could know exactly how they reported their issue with spiritual gifts.  The mediator in me has watched Paul call out three of the four factions in that church in the first part of this letter (“I follow Paul”, “I follow Apollos”, and I follow Cephas”), and I wonder if the “I follow Jesus” faction was representative of the culprits here, because that is the way it comes across in so many of our church conflicts today where spiritual gifts are at issue.  Somebody is making a practice of doing something that is causing all kinds of havoc in the church, i.e., ripping the church apart, and their excuse is that “I am just exercising my spiritual gift…it is the Spirit of God Himself working through me…I am just following Jesus.”  I am troubled by that for several reasons, not the least of which is that spiritual gifts are ALL ABOUT UNITY and bringing the church together…not ripping it apart.

Despite Paul’s concern that we NOT be uninformed on this subject, I think we are.  Paul was kind of a “bullet point” communicator.  But he did not have the advantage of a word processor.  If he had, maybe he would have written his lesson on spiritual gifts more like this:

  • Spiritual gifts are not just abilities; they are the Spirit Himself.  The Spirit, you see, is the gift.  When the Spirit of God manifests Himself through a believer, i.e., “peeks out” at the rest of the church from inside a believer, we call that a “spiritual gift”.
  • Your spiritual gift is not for YOUR benefit at all…it is for the benefit of the church.  It is the Spirit of God working through you for the common good, “so that the body of Christ may be built up  until we all reach unity in the faith…”
  • Even though you should “desire” the greater gifts, you do not get to choose your gift…God does.  Wouldn’t it be nice if we could tell God how He should manifest Himself through us?  Then again, wouldn’t that be scary?!
  • You may well have an opinion about what your gift is, but since it is a gift to the church and not to you, you probably do not see it as clearly as the church does.  I am always a little skeptical when someone tells me what his/her own spiritual gift is…I always listen a lot more closely when he/she talks to me about someone else’s spiritual gift.
  • If your “spiritual gift” is damaging your church (i.e., Christ’s church) or is dividing God’s people rather than bringing them together in unity, do you really think that is the Spirit doing that?  It may well be some perversion of a spiritual gift, or not a spiritual gift at all, but it is not likely the Spirit.
  • That God would manifest Himself through you differently than how He manifests Himself through me is not a bad thing…it is a good thing.  God’s idea of unity comes via diversity.  Strange but true!
  • Your spiritual gift, no matter what it is, can only be received by the church through the lens of personal relationships.  In other words, you may be the most gifted communicator of God’s Word alive today, but if the 9 people sitting in your Sunday School class do not know that you love them, then you have nothing to offer them…you are just a bunch of noise.
  • There are not just 5 spiritual gifts, or 9 spiritual gifts, or 14 spiritual gifts.  Be careful about numbering or categorizing or otherwise limiting the various ways God may choose to manifest Himself through a believer.  The lists of gifts mentioned in scripture are more likely illustrative, not exhaustive.

I am with Paul on this…I do not want to be uninformed when it comes to spiritual gifts.  These are some things I have learned so far, with the rest of a lifetime yet to go!  How about you?  What precious nuggets of truth have you learned about Spiritual gifts that the church today needs to recognize?

© 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




Stumbling over the “Stumbling Block” Metaphor

30 10 2012

Tuesday Re-mix -

Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak.  1 Corinthians 8:9

I do not drink alcohol.  I do have plenty of friends who believe I should…and there was a time in my life when I did.  But when I got out of college and got married and began my “grown-up” life, I made the decision to not drink alcohol.  I did not make that decision out of any moralistic reasoning, or because of any misguided belief that God frowns on alcohol…I do not believe that at all.  I made that decision because, in my particular “flavor” of Christianity (the Southern Baptist church), there are still plenty of people for whom alcohol is a major “stumbling block” issue…people with whom I would lose my testimony if I did drink alcohol…so it seemed like a small price to pay to retain that ability to be a Godly influence in their lives.  Thirty years later, it still feels like a very small price to pay.

That issue (alcohol in the Baptist church) is about as close as I can come to a contemporary example of the “meat sacrificed to idols” issue Paul dealt with in the Corinthian church.  In that community, there was meat for sale in the market place at a discounted price, because it was surplus meat from pagan temples, i.e., meat intended to be sacrificed to pagan gods, but which was surplus and therefore sold into the market place for resale.  Given the Jewish history with pagan gods and all, there were plenty of “traditionalists” in the New Testament church who refused to purchase or consume that meat and who were fairly judgmental towards those who did.  These are the “weak-minded” people whom Paul is protecting when he counsels the church to be careful about being a stumbling block to them.

This passage drives me crazy.  It really does.  I do understand the principle of taking responsibility for how other Christians perceive me, even if those other Christians are “weak-minded” or not so terribly bright.  I understand the concept of guarding my testimony so that I can be an influence in their lives, even if it means sacrificing some of my “freedoms” in order to do it.  I even understand the notion of respecting the social norms of my church and not stirring things up just for the same of being difficult.  All of that makes sense to me.

But what about the notion of “teaching” those weak-minded brothers?  Is there not a time and place to gently and lovingly help them to see the truth about the issue?  There was a day in the Southern Baptist church when people of color were not allowed in the building.  We had to be pushed, pulled, pressed and taught the truth.  It was difficult, it was painful.  Some would have even said it was a stumbling block for many.  But aren’t we glad we did it?

So it seems to me that there is a delicate line between pressing against a strong preference and actually creating a spiritual stumbling block.  For example, I do not wear a tie on Sunday morning at my church.  I know that surely bothers some people (including my mother :)).  They might prefer that I wear a tie.  But it does not rise to the level of a “spiritual stumbling block” for them (at least I hope it doesn’t).  Alcohol, however,  is a different issue in my church, at least for now.  It is not just a matter of preference, it is a matter of great conviction…even spiritual conviction for some.  So there is a degree of discernment necessary on my part to know the difference.  I cannot assume and I cannot presume anything.  I must engage my brother and my sister in conversation and listen well to his/her concerns.  I must spend time with him, knowing his fears and knowing his spiritual place.  I must actually have involved myself in his spiritual transformation process if I am to rightly discern what is conviction and what is merely preference.

In short, I actually have to love my brother well enough to know the difference.  Love my brother well.  Now there’s a novel concept!  If only we could start a revolution based upon that kind of love!  Oh, wait…

© 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




Hearing God Speak Through the Noise of My Brother

24 07 2012

Tuesday Re-mix -

Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came.  So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”  But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”… Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”  John 20:24-25, 29

The ears and the mind are necessarily connected.  That is because hearing requires much more than just ears.  When we were children, we could hear the wind blowing through a sea shell but we thought we were “hearing the ocean”.  We could hear just fine, but we could not discern very well.  Now, as I get older (alas), I am finding that my ears don’t always hear very well.  I can be sitting with you in a crowded restaurant, trying to hear what you are saying and my “discernment” has to kick in so that I can make up for what my ears cannot hear.  I suppose that balance shifts more and more with time.

Interestingly, our Spiritual hearing works in a similar way.  When we are young (spiritually), we don’t discern all that well.  We may hear God’s voice, but we hear it along with all the noise and may not have the spiritual maturity to discern that which is God and that which is other.  I believe we develop that discernment over time, with the help of the Spirit.  I also believe this spiritual skill is critical to our life together in the church.  Wasn’t that the point of Jesus’ lesson to Thomas in John 20?

Thomas’ brothers came to him, filled anew with the Spirit and sharing testimony of Christ’s appearance, i.e., the transformation which had happened in their lives as a result of the resurrection.  Thomas heard their testimony, but he missed the Spirit in it.  He could not (or would not) hear it.  He wanted to hear it directly from Jesus.

Not surprisingly, Jesus showed him grace despite his disappointment in Thomas.  Here is an important implication of his words to Thomas in v.29: Thomas, you’re going to need to develop spiritual eyes to see the Spirit at work in your brother and spiritual ears to hear God’s voice in him in order to be effective in helping to start this revolution…that is how it will work in my church!

In the church, discerning the voice of God is a sign of spiritual maturity.  When we are spiritual babies, we may hear the wind in the sea shell and believe it is the ocean.  But as we grow older, we really must develop the “spiritual mind” to know the difference.  In order to be effective as leaders among God’s people, we must be getting better and better at discerning the voice of God in His people.  Despite their many flaws and despite the “noise” of their flesh, we must learn to listen and to discern and to recognize the Shepherd’s voice when we hear it…even through the thorniest of relationships with our most difficult brothers/sisters.  Our effectiveness as a leader depends upon this skill.

Will you listen closely today?  What unexpected message will God bring you through a brother today?

© 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




Three Easy Steps to a Church Implosion

13 03 2012

Tuesday Re-mix – 

I remember a couple of years back when First Baptist Church, Dallas, made the news with its simultaneous implosion of several buildings on its campus in preparation for a major building program.  The videos were all over YouTube.  Here is one of them.

I’m not sure what the psychology is behind this, but I am fascinated by imploding buildings.  Feel free to comment about how twisted I am.  But even as I watched this video, I thought to myself, “There are easier ways to implode a church.”  I’ve seen it happen too many times.  So, for those who are interested in imploding your church but cannot afford the actual dynamite, here is a fairly quick and easy formula…three easy steps, and you won’t even need a fund-raising campaign to pull it off:

1.  Hold onto your pain and encourage others to do the same. This is not difficult.  In fact, it is very human.  Anytime anyone does something or fails to do something and it hurts your feelings (especially if it is a church leader…extra points for that pain), DO NOT go to them and DO NOT commit it to prayer…in fact, do not do anything at all which might actually cause you to forgive and let go of that pain.  Rather, hold onto to it with every ounce of energy you have.  Stir it regularly, just to keep it festering.  Use it however you can.  It makes a wonderful excuse for just about any kind of bad behavior in which you might care to engage.

2.  Talk to as many other people about your pain as possible. Never underestimate the value of gossip for the whole implosion process.  If you share your pain with enough people (NOT with the person who actually caused the pain, but with everyone else), it can actually go “viral”.  If you are lucky enough for that to happen, your job is probably done.  The implosion is almost sure to follow.

3.  Stay out of people’s way as they implement steps 1 and 2. It is, after all, none of your business what they do with the relationships in their lives.  Leave them alone.  Do not try to hold them accountable.  Just step back and watch the implosion that eventually happens.

Final warnings: Even if you complete all three steps, your implosion could still fail, so here are a couple of extra words of advice to help your implosion…

Leave God out of it. Do not look for Him to help you with this.  In fact, He may work against you.  Of course, if He does, you will  fail.  But if you are lucky, He will step back and allow the implosion (in order to accomplish some greater good, which of course is not your problem…you still get your implosion).

Leave scripture out of it. There is way, way too much scripture about all three of these steps that will trip you up if you pay too much attention to it.  Just keep telling yourself that it was all written 2,000 years ago and has no relevance to our culture today.  That should buy you some time.

Good luck with your implosion.  I hope it brings you all the satisfaction you are seeking…but if it does not, please do not call me.  I’m pretty much in the business of putting churches back together, not tearing them down.  I may not be much help to you.

© 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 All Else Fails, Read the Instructions

17 01 2012

Tuesday Re-mix – 

Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. James 1:23-24

When installing an appliance or putting together a piece of furniture, it seems to me there are levels of understanding. The lowest level is when you know you don’t know anything at all, so you sit down with the instructions first, before you do anything.  The next level is when you think you know something about it, so you start without the instructions and soon find that your are in fact an idiot and then sit down with the instructions. The third level of understanding is when you know enough about the task to know that each case is a little different, so you start by sitting down with the instructions.

If there are higher levels of understanding than this, I admit to being totally out of touch with them.  I myself typically float back and forth between the first two levels. When my wife sees me walking through the house carrying a tool, she immediately drops what she’s doing and follows me as she grabs the phone and calls for help. I have learned (mostly the hard way) how helpful it is to read and follow the instructions from the beginning.  In my case, it doesn’t guarantee success, but it at least prevents me from screwing my table top into the floor, or other such embarrassing results.

When asked how I can mediate congregational conflict in such a wide variety of denominations and churches, how it is possible to effectively navigate church conflict even with little understanding of the culture, the answer seems obvious to me: I just stay focused on the instructions, i.e., scripture.  I learned early in this ministry that there is no amount of worldly wisdom or experience which can guarantee a peaceful, successful mediation in a congregational dispute.  Emotions are high, the pain runs deep, and volatile relationships are unpredictable at best.  There simply is no putting things back together without starting with the instructions: the Word of God.

Interestingly, once you start there, the cultural differences suddenly do not matter much.  Scripture has this remarkable ability to cut through culture and the things of this world.  I certainly cannot always explain why it works…I just know that it does.  That, of course, is what child-like faith looks like.  Finding our way through broken relationships requires a child-like faith in the Word of God and what it tells us about relationships.  As my Dad always says: when all else fails, try reading the instructions.

Of course, I have from time to time encountered a group for whom the Bible is not the final word…a group who questions its authority.  I am always quick to clarify for them that I really have nothing to offer them.  I wouldn’t even know where to start.  If as a “church” they don’t recognize God’s Word as their supreme authority, then for me it is like trying to put something together with no instructions at all.  If the instructions which come with my new appliance are nothing more to me than guidelines, i.e., loose fences to lean against, then chances are pretty good that my new appliance will never work the way it was intended to work.  For a Christian, “The Word” should be at the very center of life.  For a church, it should be the very foundation upon which all things are built.

When it comes to mediating congregational conflict and all its inherent complexities, I am just not smart enough to come up with my own “wisdom” about how it should go.  I am at the lowest level of understanding.  So, I start with the instructions.  I let scripture order my steps and inform my process.  I allow God’s Word to set the agenda.  Then, just maybe, there is at least a chance for success at the end of the day.

© 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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