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




Churches Dying Well

31 07 2014

Thursday Re-mix:

There on the mountain that you have climbed you will die and be gathered to your people, just as your brother Aaron died on Mount Hor and was gathered to his people. Deuteronomy 32:50

“None of us are getting out of here alive.”  Jim Morrison, Valerie Harper, Evel Kneivel, Colin Murphy, Hilary Swank, Jill Shalvis, Elbert Hubbard (and these are just from the first couple of pages of results on Google)

Life is terminal.  We all get that.  Dying is just a part of living, and that is an eternal truth.  We may not like it, we may not be ready to fully embrace it, but it is truth.  And eventually, it is a truth with which we simply must deal.

abandoned churchBut have you ever thought about it as it relates to churches (i.e., to local bodies of believers)?  Have you stopped to realize that there is not a single “local church” which has been around from the very beginning?  All those “churches” mentioned in Revelation 2 and 3? Gone.  Even the good ones.  And the church you serve right now will die one day as well.  It is the natural order of things.

Churches are, metaphorically speaking, living organisms.  They breathe, they multiply, they regenerate, they get sick, and eventually, they die.  They exhibit all the same signs of life (and of death) as any other living organism.  My perception of “church” changed pretty significantly once I began to consider the implications of this.

In the first place, churches need nourishment and exercise in order to be healthy.  The nourishment is the Word of God.  The exercise is the stretching and bending and reshaping that Word constantly calls us toward.  And it also is the challenges (even the persecution) which God permits us to experience.  Exercise only makes us stronger.

Second, this concept made me look at missions and church starts differently. Reproduction is just a natural function of churches.  Starting new churches is something every church should be a part of doing in one way or another.  It is the natural spread and propagation of the gospel…of making disciples.

But the most disturbing way churches are like living organism is that they die.  It is a part of the natural order of things for them to do so.  Neighborhoods change or go away altogether.  Ministry opportunities likewise shift underneath us.  Key leadership families leave or die off.  Congregations age.  Churches sometimes grow less and less relevant to the rapidly changing communities they serve.  Churches grow older and tired and unable to meet the vast needs around them.  Rather than growing and becoming more and more vibrant, they shrink and wither and find themselves having to make horrendous decisions about personnel and ministries alike.  The difficult truth is, there are churches all around us who, frankly, just need to be given permission to die, to shut their doors and fade away.  There is no shame in that…not after a church has long since fulfilled its purpose for being.

When a church recognizes these signs and decides to wind down, and leaves its resources (its buildings, its assets, maybe even a few of its people) to a new work…one more able and willing to meet the needs of the community it serves, one with youthful vitality and passionate people longing to love and to be loved…when a church is willing to face that music and give birth to something new, even in its death, then its legacy lives on even after it is gone.  That is what dying well looks like for a church.

Maybe you know a church which is just waiting for someone to love them enough to give them permission to enter into rest.  Maybe you’re in a church like that.  No shame in that.  Nothing to hide from.  Embrace death.  It is part of life.  Find a way to create a legacy.  Die well.

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




X-Men Origins: Joseph, the Dreamer

26 06 2014

Thursday Re-mix:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




The Truth About Andrew’s Birthday Gift

27 08 2013

Tuesday Re-mix -

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.  1 Corinthians 12:7

Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. 1 Peter 4:10

I think the trick to understanding Spiritual Gifts is remembering their purpose…remembering for whose benefit they are intended.

Have you ever been so pleased with a gift you found for someone that you decided to get the same thing for yourself as well?  Should we feel guilty about that?  Do we have to tell the person that we did that, or can we just give them the gift and keep the rest of the story to ourselves?  Is that deceptive?  Does that break any gift-giving rules?  Can we please get a ruling on this?

One of my two team members (Andrew) on last year’s South Africa trip had a birthday while we were traveling.  I happened to be walking through the Waterfront at Cape Town a day or two before and saw the coolest little key chain.  It was African art, a symbol for unity (it shows two crossed crocodiles).  I thought it would be a perfect and simple little birthday gift for Andrew.  I bought it.  But I was so excited about it, I decided I wanted one for myself too!  And then I decided I wanted one for Kelley too, so that our whole Unity Ministries team could have this as a memory from this trip.  And, alas, Andrew’s birthday gift became a team gift for all of us!  I suppose the original purpose of the gift got a little blurred in the process…Very sorry, Andrew!

I think that can happen with Spiritual Gifts as well.  When the Spirit manifests Himself through you in a clear and powerful way, it draws attention…and often praise.  It makes you feel important.  Other Christians notice it and often say lots of very nice things about it and about you.  It feels like a very special gift…for you.  But it is not for you.  It is for everyone but you.  It is intended for the benefit of the church…the body of believers around you.  Specifically, according to Paul, it is intended “…to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”

You probably do not feel convicted about this, as I do…because you probably have never been tempted to receive and embrace the glory for your own spiritual gift.  :)  But perhaps you have seen someone else do that.  Perhaps you have seen somebody who was particularly gifted in one way or another by the Spirit and he/she was pleased to accept all the praise and the glory for it.  Rather than being humbled by the fact that God would use such a broken vessel as him/her to accomplish His work, he/she wraps up in the glory of it all and demonstrates a sickening sense of entitlement to the praise of others.  It is ugly.  Do not be that person.

When the Spirit manifests Himself through you and causes all the believers around you to be lifted up toward God and toward each other in a grand and glorious fashion…when you (with all your flaws and faults) are used by God to grow others up into Christ…just stop and praise God along with everyone else, and remember His intended purpose for that gift.  It is not for you.  It is for them.

Oh, and I did keep my very cool “unity” key ring for myself…as a perfect reminder of this 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




Preparing for the Wind

16 07 2013

Tuesday Re-mix -

Now about the collection for the Lord’s people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made.  1 Corinthians 16:1-2

wind-in-the-sailsI am not a sailor.  Maybe you are.  So, forgive my ignorance of the whole experience, and please forgive my stealing of this illustration…but it seems to me that sailing involves a whole lot of hard work and attention to details, on the one hand, and a lot of being still and waiting on the wind to blow, on the other hand.  In that way, it is a lot like the church.

I once heard one of the important spiritual mentors in my life say: “I don’t like 5-year strategic plans for the church…I am always afraid we will reach the 5-year goal and have missed out on what God wanted for us.”  When I was a young leader in the church, that truly spoke to me.  It pretty much rocked my world.  I learned that God  does want God-sized things for His people.  He does want to show us great and amazing things of which we cannot even conceive.  We really do get so wrapped up in our planning and our business-like approach to spiritual things that we end up missing God completely…sometimes.  I think those were valuable lessons for me to learn as a young leader.  I definitely needed to expand my vision of God and of His sovereignty.

But there is another side to scripture.  There is a very practical side to it.  There is Jesus asking the question, “What kind of man sets out to build a building without first counting the costs?”  There are the apostle-fishermen who were asked to do the very practical part of tossing their nets onto the other side of the boat before they would experience the impractical, God-sized results.  And there is Paul’s instruction above to the Corinthian church about systematically and methodically implementing a savings plan in order to join God in His work in Jerusalem.  Being a “more seasoned” leader in the church now (at least more so than I was 20 years ago), I am quickly developing an appreciation for the balance between the hard work of planning and detailed implementation and the important vision for what God is doing.

It seems to me to be a lot like sailing a ship.  There is so very much planning to do and so very much hard work to do…so much cleaning and scrubbing and trimming and tying and storing and lots and lots of communication all along the way.  We all have important jobs to do, important tasks to fulfill.  But in the end, what we are really doing is just preparing to wait…for the wind to blow.  You see, once the wind of the Spirit begins to blow through our church, it is too late to do all that planning and that work.  The wind blows and it is wasted on us, because we have not planned for it.  We are not ready for it.  But, by the same token, we can work and work and work and plan and plan and plan…but until the wind blows, none of it amounts to much.  “Apart from Me, you can do nothing.”  John 15:5  There are points in time, seasons in the church, when we really are just making preparations without any real knowledge of when God will show up or even how He will show, for that matter.  We toil away with great faith that His winds will blow…and then we be still and listen and wait.  And maybe we work some more and then wait some more.  Both “modes” are important…the working and the waiting.  Never grow weary of either.

When the wind does eventually blow, it is a life-changing, unforgettable experience.  But if we have not planned and worked and prepared, it is an experience we miss completely…we are not ready for the wind.

Which mode is your church in today?  Feeling the rush of the wind or doing the hard work to prepare?

© 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




No More Excuses

8 01 2013

Tuesday Re-mix -

And they exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us.  2 Cor. 8:5

I think we, as church leaders, are guilty of making excuses for our people and their occasional luke-warm commitment to kingdom activity.

I did a radio interview last year about Trusting God’s People…Again, the book I co-authored with Debbie Williams.  The interview request kind of caught me by surprise, since it had been a few years since we launched that book.  I was grateful for the opportunity to do it, because that is still very much a topic about which I am passionate (people wounded by the church).  Thanks, Shane Finch, for that fun opportunity!

Pick an excuse

It was one of the more interesting radio interviews I’ve done.  Shane asked me a few questions I was not at all ready for (I’m hoping he had the mercy not to run my answer to, “What song do you wish you had written?”–wow, how embarrassing was THAT answer!).  But one question really brought me under conviction: “What do you see the Lord doing through you in the year 2020?”  I knew what my answer SHOULD be.  It should be, “Whatever He wants to be doing through me.”  That should be how all of us answer that question, because, as Christ-followers, we should all be do totally given to Him that He is doing absolutely everything and anything He desires to do through us.

That, I believe, is what Paul meant in his letter to the Corinthians about the Macedonian believers who had given so very much out of their poverty and persecution.  They gave themselves first of all to the Lord…  I think I have a pretty fair understanding of what it means to be busily invested in church.   But I am not altogether certain I have a grasp of what it feels like to give myself to the Lord…not completely.  I know I should want that…but I’m not sure I’m there yet.

But shouldn’t that be my goal?  In fact, shouldn’t that be every Christ-follower’s goal?  If I give myself fully to the Lord, then every waking hour is devoted to being used by Him…at work, at school, at home and at church.  In short, I should have an expectation of being used in every circumstance and in every setting.

That was Paul’s expectation of the Corinthian church.  “I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others.”  In other words, the Macedonians have given themselves, now you guys do the same!  I love Paul’s exhortation that these dear church members step up and deliver.  He wasn’t shy.  He didn’t make excuses for them.  You would never have heard Paul saying, “We really shouldn’t expect quite so much from our laymen in the church…after all, they have full time jobs all week long and families, etc.”

There is joy and fulfillment and satisfaction in giving ourselves to the Lord.  As church leaders, why wouldn’t we want every layman to feel that sense of fulfillment?  It is time, I believe, for us to stop making excuses for one another and to start pressing one another toward giving ourselves first of all to the Lord.  I want that for me, and I want it for you too.  And I want it for every member of my church.  Will you make this pledge with me?  No more excuses!

© 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




Help for the Hypocrites

18 12 2012

Tuesday Re-mix -

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation:  that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.  2 Corinthians 5:18-19

People who do not want anything to do with the church often accuse it of being “full of hypocrites”.  I have a theory about why they say that…

…because we, the church, are in fact full of hypocrites.  We are bad about that.

I am certain you can fill in some of your own favorite examples of this.  Paul’s remarks to the Corinthian church above point out one of my favorite examples.

Paul reminds us in the church that we have been given BOTH the message of reconciliation AND the ministry of reconciliation.  They go hand-in-hand.  The message is shallow and powerless without the ministry.  The message (i.e., that God loves you and forgives you) requires the ministry (i.e., that we love and forgive each other as well) in order to have any power, any credibility at all.  Otherwise, it is just…hypocritical.

It makes complete sense if you think about it.  It requires us to practice what we preach.  Those of us in the Christian church have preached the message well for a long, long time.  “No matter where you have come from, no matter what you have done, God loves you and forgives you.”  But if we are not, at the same time, willing to act out the ministry of reconciliation, i.e., “…and I love you and forgive you as well…” then the message rings shallow no matter how eloquently we speak it.  All the cool videos and all the polished Power Point presentations, all the great books and all the amazing sermons, all the wonderfully conceived lessons and all the powerful tracts…none of these masterful presentations of the message mean anything at all…they are all just the height of hypocrisy without on-going living and demonstrating of heart-felt forgiveness.

I have said it here before, but it bears repeating: for the Christ-follower, forgiveness is like breathing.  It is something we do all day, every day, as often as we have opportunity to do it.  It is our ministry.

The good news is this: there are Christians and groups of Christians all over the world who understand this and who really have been good stewards of both the message of reconciliation and the ministry of reconciliation.  There are probably even groups of them near you.  Maybe you are one of them.  Maybe you will rub off on the rest of us as you continue breathing out forgiveness day in and day out.  In the end, after all, none us of really wants to remain a hypocrite.  We want to get this right.  And with a little help, maybe we will.

© 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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