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




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




The Missing Piece in Gathered Worship

7 02 2012

Tuesday Re-mix – 

Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.  1 Corinthians 12:27

If the goal of worship is to connect with God, then there are only two “grades” you can give a gathered worship experience: “A” or “F”.  It is pretty much a pass/fail thing.  That is because there is no such thing as connecting with God and it being anything other than amazing and wonderful…and if you are in a worship experience and you are NOT connecting with God, then, well…fail.  I had to get all that said before I take up today’s topic, just so you know that I know…because today I am giving our culture’s gathered worship experiences a grade somewhere between pass and fail.

Last year, I attended a corporate worship experience at a church in the town where my daughter goes to school.  It was well produced, but lacking in one way.  Other than my family, I did not know a single person around me.  Sadly, that was still true even as we were leaving.  That just seems wrong to me.

The truth is, it was an amazing worship atmosphere.  Very contemporary in style (I am blessed to be comfortable worshiping in almost any “style”), with a casual feel and lots of technology to help the worshiper stay focused on the message and on the theme for the day…great, introspective music, wonderful sermon, innovative communion.  To their credit, I thought the worship leaders did a fairly good job of keeping the focus OFF of them on ON the Lord.  That’s not easy to do in this consumer-oriented culture.  But there was one element missing for me…and frankly, it is missing in the vast majority of corporate worship experiences I’ve ever seen or heard about.  So much so, in fact, that I often wonder if I am the only one who misses it.

But before I identify it, allow me one digression.

In my own church, our worship service is televised…live, every Sunday.  It is a great deal for those of us who worship there.  If you cannot be there for some reason on any given Sunday, you can catch the service on television.  God has done some amazing things over the years through that television ministry, and I am truly grateful for it.  But I do wonder if watching our services on television is any different than worshiping there in person.  Because our services, like just about everyone else’s, call your attention to the front of the auditorium the entire service.  What you are watching in person is no different than what you would be watching on television.  When we worship, we all come in and sit down and turn our attention to the front of the sanctuary for the entire hour.  It is very much like going into a movie theater and watching a movie.

And now I will digress even further.

My wife and I stopped going to movies on our “date nights” a long time ago, because, as entertaining as they might be, they do not provide any opportunity for us to “connect” with each other.  We go and sit and watch and leave without ever connecting with one another.  Not exactly good “date night” quality time.

End of digression.  Bringing it all back around now.

The same is true in most of our gathered worship experiences.  We come, we sit, we stand, we listen, we pray, we sing…all without any “connection” to our co-worshipers except for the token 90 seconds when we “turn and greet one another”.  And for me, this is the missing piece: truly connecting with my co-worshiper. I know, I know…our worship is all about Him, not about us…we are supposed to be focused on Him.  I get that.  But I can do that at home, all by myself.  I can turn on my radio or my computer monitor and watch or listen to outstanding leaders “prompt” me to turn my heart toward the Lord.  I do not need a live gathered worship experience for that.  Shouldn’t the live experience lead me to do something which only it can do, i.e., experience the body of Christ?  Shouldn’t corporate worship afford me the opportunity to do something I CANNOT DO AT HOME?  Shouldn’t it offer me the opportunity to connect with the Spirit of Christ living in my brother/sister?

I long for that in worship.  I have no idea how to accomplish it, how to structure it.  But I do long for it.

What about you?  If you have been a part of a worship experience which really gave co-worshipers the opportunity to connect with one another, i.e., to find Christ in one another, I would love to hear from you.  What did it look like?  How did it work?  I’m looking for ideas!  I’m looking for the missing piece.

© 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 Parable of the Bricks

8 12 2009

 

Tuesday Re-mix – This is a popular post from last year, updated and resubmitted for your consideration and comments.

By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. I Corinthians 3:10

But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. I Corinthians 12:18

Building a body of believers is like the man who set out to build a house. He had seen some beautiful houses made of brick, and determined that his house would also be made of bricks. He began searching for the strongest and most beautiful bricks, because he wanted his house to be both strong and beautiful. He took great care in his search for bricks. He read books on how to find lots and lots of great bricks. He spent long hours perfecting his strategic plan for collecting more and more bricks. He became an expert at finding and collecting bricks. He wrote books and taught seminars on the subject. His brick collection was one of the largest the world had ever seen—piles and piles of bricks covering acres and acres of land. Nobody knew more than he knew about how to collect bricks. The entire world recognized him as a wildly successful expert when it came to finding and collecting bricks.

He never built the house.

Another man set out to build a house. He too would build with bricks. When he had found his first two bricks, he began to examine them closely to determine how they might fit together. They were not particularly beautiful bricks nor were they all that strong, but he knew he could use them.  When he had determined how they would best fit together, he used mortar to join them together. In this bond, the two bricks supported one another and made each other stronger. Then the man found a third brick and, again, took great care to figure out how it would best fit with the first two. And then there was another and another. Some were strong, some were beautiful, and some were neither strong nor beautiful.  But with each new brick, great care was taken to examine it and place it just perfectly along with the others, and then bond them together. With the mortar, the bricks supported each other and made each other stronger. Before long, the man had a house. It was much smaller than the pile of bricks the first man had collected. And it didn’t necessarily grab the attention of the world with its size or beauty. But it was a good house, useful to the man for many purposes.

And he was a good builder.

How about the church you are building?  How is it coming along?

© 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 Blah, Blah, Blah

17 11 2009

Tuesday Re-mix – This is a popular post from last year, updated and resubmitted for your consideration and comments.

If I speak in the tonguesof men and of angels, but have not 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 have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. I Corinthians 13:1-3

You really cannot have a complete discussion about unity in the church without talking about Spiritual gifts.  They are, after all, an essential piece to the puzzle.  The Spirit of God Himself, manifesting Himself through the believer, is a huge promise from Him…a promise upon which unity rests.  Without the Spirit of God working in and through us, there would be no hope for unity because there is no other provision for unity other than the Spirit.  How He chooses to manifest Himself, then, through believers (i.e., what we call Spiritual gifts) is a critical cog in the machinery of the church.

Paul begins his discussion of Spiritual gifts in I Corinthians 12 with these words: “Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant.” He then teaches the concept of Spiritual gifts wonderfully, including the whole metaphor of the church as a body.  But then at the end of that chapter, he segues from that discussion with these words: “And now I will show you the most excellent way.” In other words, now he is going to paint a picture of how it all looks in a very practical, understandable way.  And with that introduction, he teaches us the most important lesson there is about Spiritual gifts: that they can be amazingly helpful or utterly useless.  It is up to us.

Your Spiritual gifts, it seems, are always going to be perceived by the church through the lens of interpersonal relationships.  Where relationships are good (i.e., where love abounds) the gifts are helpful and fulfill their intended purpose.  But where relationships are bad (i.e., where there is no love), even something as powerful as the Spirit of God Himself will not be received when He manifests Himself through a believer.  That activity (gifts without love) is described as just a bunch of noise: a “resounding gong” or a “clanging cymbal”. Kids today would describe it this way: blah, blah, blah. Meaningless.  Worthless.  Under those circumstances, your Spiritual gift of teaching becomes the spiritual gift of blah, blah, blah.

Can you imagine such a plan on God’s part?  I’m going to do my work in the church through the people of the church.  If their relationships with one another are not right, then they will not benefit from my work.  It will all be dependent upon their love for each other.  No love, no power. I don’t know about you, but I probably would not have planned it that way.  That is an absolutely astounding move on God’s part.

So here is the question it begs: how is the “lens” between you and the others in your church?  Is it such that the church is able to receive God’s “gift” through you?  Have you maintained such loving relationships with your church that your Spiritual gift actually has meaning in their lives?  Or is time to pull out the glass cleaner and get to work on that lens…

© 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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