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




Being the Orange

24 06 2014

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect… Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Romans 12:2, 9-13

Apples and OrangePaul seems clear enough in his letters to the churches…the community of believers (Christ-followers) should look different from the other communities in our world. We should not conform to their ways. Rather, our community should stand out in several ways. The church should stand out in several ways. Here’s a partial list. See how we’re doing…

Our love should be genuine. I read that as real. Not fake. Not conditional in any respect. It is true agape. I do not love you because of what you do or don’t do…nor because of who you are or are not. My love for you does not depend in any way on you or on circumstances surrounding you. I love you for one very simple reason: because Christ lives in me. And as long as that is true, I will keep loving you. Period.

Abhor what is evil…cling to what is good. This is much more than just a moral compass. Morality, in fact, just scratches the surface of this calling. This is about recognizing the work and influence of our one and only spiritual enemy among us and standing against it. And it is about recognizing the work and influence of God’s Spirit among us and standing with it, no matter the cost. This requires a level of discernment, doesn’t it?

Love one another with brotherly affection. The thing about real brothers is that, no matter how annoying and irritating they might be, they’re still your brother. My South African friends would call this concept “ubuntu”…that deep most, fundamental, irreducible bond which cannot be broken. It is the bond which holds us together after all other bonds have broken. It is family. Maybe that metaphor works for you…maybe it doesn’t. Maybe your actual family is not nearly as unbroken as this implies, and the whole illustration falls a little short for you because of that. But you get the picture. Even if this calling is not what your actual family has, it is what you have always wished your actual family had. In that regard, it is a high standard.

Outdo one another in showing honor. Honoring others above myself, always. Jesus was a masterful example of this. Whether it was a Samaritan woman or a lame man…a high ranking city official or the lowest of street beggars…he always related to others as being more important than Himself. It is the “mind of Christ” of which Paul speaks in Philippians 2:5-8.

Be zealous and fervent in our service to the Lord. Zeal, I believe, is a character trait with which many of us struggle. After all, we do not want to be viewed as too radical, i.e., too “out there” in our faith…unless, of course, we want to actually become the person Christ calls us to become! This thing we call Christianity is a revolution, my friend. We are about changing the world. That is not something that can be done nonchalantly. We can be one of the cool kids, or we can be radical followers of Christ. But we cannot be both.

Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. In short, see the world through God’s eyes and respond accordingly. We can never, ever be without hope. Not in the church. We will always have trials and difficulties and we must show the world patience in the face of them. And we must be a people of prayer. Always.

Generous giving and hospitality. Giving in a way that makes no sense at all to the world. Giving beyond expectations. Giving unreasonably. Caring for each other’s needs without ever growing tired of doing it. This is a lifestyle which will totally separate us from the world, who gives strictly out of surplus, if it gives at all. Being outrageously generous is the calling. It makes us different.

I believe scripture is serious about the church looking different from the world’s communities in all of these respects (and more). The question is, how are we doing?

© 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




Flying by Instruments

12 06 2014

Thursday Re-mix:

…and I bowed down and worshiped the Lord. I praised the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who had led me on the right road to get the granddaughter of my master’s brother for his son.  Genesis 24:48

Therefore, holy brothers and sisters, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, whom we acknowledge as our apostle and high priest. Hebrews 3:1

cockpit instrumentsFor pilots, learning to fly by instruments is an important skill.  It is what a pilot must do when all the other more conventional ways of “getting your bearings” fall by the wayside.  When darkness and weather and confusion and chaos make it difficult to figure out which way is up and which way is down, all a pilot has left is the cockpit instruments.

I was reminded of that when I found myself preparing a lesson from the story of Isaac and Rebekah.  It is a story chock full of ancient culture about betrothal and marriage and what seems to our modern world to be a horribly flawed and archaic and unromantic matrimonial system.  At first glance, it is not an easy task pulling relevant truths out of this story…truths which we can apply to our lives today.  It would be easy to read this unusual story about marriage and lose your bearings trying to find a lesson.

For example, Abraham sent his servant off to a faraway land to find a wife for his (Abraham’s) son.  O.K., not gonna learn from that…for so many reasons.  The servant chose a blood cousin of the groom to be the bride…this would become a pattern for this family.  Not gonna use that lesson either.  The bride’s family blessed her, saying, “May your offspring possess the cities of their enemies!”  Um…no.  Then there is the nose ring for the bride.  Not even gonna touch that one!

But what if the eternal truths from this story do not have anything at all to do with the culture or the traditions or anything the people in the story did or did not do?  What if the real lesson here has little to do with the people at all?  What if the lesson is all about what God did?

It occurs to me that, if we are looking for eternal truth in God’s story, we need to pay close attention to the things God does and says, and not nearly so much to the things men do or say.  This God, after all, is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, from everlasting to everlasting.  He does not change.  The same God whose story is told in the Bible, who was at work in the ancient world, is at work in our lives today.  Isn’t that where the lesson is?

It is like that in the church as well.  When issues begin to cloud our perspective, when relationships get messy and complicated, it can be difficult (as leaders) to see our way forward.  That is a good time to remember this lesson.  That is the time to pay particular attention to what God is doing and saying and not get too distracted by what flawed church members (or leaders) are doing or saying.  For God’s people, the way forward is rarely as easy as just the cultural norms or traditions or trappings of this world.  Those things are relevant, to be sure.  But the way forward has much more to do with what God is doing and saying.

So, whether you find yourself digging for lessons in stories of ancient matrimony or perhaps staying up at night worrying about some more pressing chaos currently in your church, the most important questions are the same:  What do your instruments tell you?  What is God doing?  What is God saying?  Are there any questions more important than these?

© 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




Making Your Church’s Path Straight

10 06 2014

In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.  Proverbs 3:6

My GPS and I have a tense relationship. I often don’t understand her directions. I can be traveling 70 mph down the highway, and she will tell me “in a quarter mile, stay straight on.” What does that even mean? And why does she say “In 200 feet, bear left…” when what she means is that I should take the turnaround under the next intersection and head back the opposite direction? Sometimes, I just would rather have my old, folded map! I just want to get to my destination with as few mistakes as possible!

So, God has my full attention when he makes promises in scripture about “making my path straight”. With promises like that, who needs maps or GPS? The promise in Proverbs 3:5-6 is not only true for the individual but for the church as well. It actually resolves quite a few problems for the local body of believers. Not all problems. But quite a few.

straight pathHere are some thoughts about what the promise of “straight paths” means for us as church leaders as we lead our churches forward:

Be willing to go beyond what you can understand. If you think trusting in the Lord and NOT on our own understanding is scary as an individual, you just try it as a church! With all the added pressures of “worldly wisdom” and fear-based group think, finding our way forward as a church body can be daunting. Learning as a church body to trust in the Lord’s direction, even when we cannot see all the dots connect ahead of time requires a huge cultural shift for most churches.

Acknowledge him in all your ways. Part of “doing church together” is the learned corporate skill of discerning between that which is God and that which is flesh. Too often, I think, we celebrate human achievement by calling it an act of God…and on other occasions we take credit for something God actually did among us. Both set a dangerous precedent and make for a rough and winding path rather than a straight one.

The path may be straight, but it still requires a journey. It seems that, in this “instant gratification” culture, even the churches (who are supposed to be distributors of wisdom and perspective) grow impatient with the journey. We want it all and we want it now. Our preferred reading of Proverbs 3:6 is In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will transport you directly to your destination without any journey at all. In the body of Christ, it is really not about the destination at all…it is all about the journey. The real joy is in the journey.

Moreover, the journey will take effort on our part. It will be hard work. That effort, in fact, is part of what makes the journey so worthwhile. Having a “straight path” does not mean everything about is easy and is handed to us. Not by any means.

The way forward is clear enough. Isn’t that the point of “making the path straight”? It is removing the forks in the road along the way, and making it easy to see next steps. It is taking away the guesswork of turning right or turning left and helping us know–really know–the way forward. For the church who truly trusts the Lord even more than it trusts its own understanding, and works to rightly discern the work of the Spirit in its midst, and is willing to patiently stay on the journey God has for it, the way forward will be clear enough. Always.

You know what churches really need? A spiritual GPS! They need a voice that knows the way and will communicate spiritual wisdom and God’s perspective to them all along their journey, so that they really can learn to trust in the Lord and not on their own understanding. And all that wisdom should be written down, maybe into a book form…or maybe even an app on our smartphones. And it should be translated into every language and put into the hands of all our people and studied together! 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




Defiling the Church

22 05 2014

Thursday Re-mix:

But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine…In every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king questioned them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom. Daniel 1:8, 20

Daniel was not a dietician.  He was no more prepared to offer a scientific explanation for his food choices than he was prepared to explain the theory of relativity.  All he knew was God’s Word and he was “resolved not to defile himself”, i.e., he was determined not to dirty his hands with the ways of the world.  He knew God’s law.  He trusted it.  And that was enough for him.

dirty handsIn my ministry of consulting with conflicted congregations, I have reached a conclusion about the church: it can be complicated.  This is true because people are complicated and because relationships are messy and the church, after all, is comprised fully of people and relationships.  It is not always easy to find our way forward through those complications.  It may be doctrinal issues or personality issues or governance issues or moral issues.  It may be generational issues or worship style issues or social issues.  Whatever the issues, the way forward can seem almost impossible to find, even for the most brilliant strategist.  I am reminded of that difficulty time and time again.

When we find ourselves in new, unchartered territory (like Daniel), it is always tempting to fall back on conventional wisdom of the world in which we live and work.   We want answers, and sometimes scripture does not offer us quite the full explanation we are hoping for, so we “defile ourselves” (and God’s church) by relying on strategies and processes from the world.

For example, we rely upon Robert’s Rules of Order and procedural trickery when we should be calling our people to prayer and to oneness in Christ.  In other instances, we fall back on secular human resources processes of talking about a problem employee, when scriptural models tell us we should be talking to that employee.  Even in matters of theology, our tendency is to navigate through suspected false teaching by bringing in the resident “expert” and leaving him/her to sort it out, rather than trusting Paul’s counsel in Ephesians 4 that the best defense against false teaching is NOT our theological prowess, but our unity and our corporate spiritual maturity.

As with Daniel, there are times (more than we can imagine) in the church where we may not necessarily be able to explain why Biblical processes and God’s wisdom works.  There are times when the Bible flies in the face of conventional worldly wisdom.  Those are the times which truly test our resolve, our faith in God’s Word.  We can enter the difficult waters with clean hands or we can dirty our hands with the ways of the world.  The choice is always 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




Meanwhile, Until We are Truly “Abiding in Him”…

29 04 2014

Tuesday Re-mix:

If you say, “The Lord is my refuge,”
    and you make the Most High your dwelling,
no harm will overtake you,
    no disaster will come near your tent.  Psalm 91:9-10

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”  John 15:5

Holy Scripture is filled with amazing promises.  But almost all of them come with conditions.  You know the formula…“IF my people…will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, THEN will I hear from Heaven and…” etc.  Or…“Trust in the Lord with all your heart…and He will make your path straight.”  Most of God’s awesome promises come with a condition of some kind or another, or at least an assumption or implication.  It seems to be one of His many wondrous ways.

I read all the wonderful promises of Psalm 91 in that same light. Those promises of God’s protection and provision all hinge upon the very first line (repeated in verse 9): If you make the Most High your dwelling.

baby feet in heartWhen I deal with conflicting parties within the church, I often hear both sides invoke the name of the Lord for their positions.  I hear both sides claiming that God is on their side, that He will prevail and that He will bring about what they want.  But I also hear both sides in very much a “win/lose” mindset, wherein they will not be satisfied unless they win AND the other side loses.  I recall working with a church some years ago wherein one group was very much wanting to get rid of the pastor.  They were acting as “God’s agents”.  Midway through the process, the pastor accepted a call to another church and resigned, whereupon that group became  angry!  They had won…but they also wanted him to lose, and he did not.  At that point, I’m afraid their true motives, their true hearts, became crystal clear.

Meeting God’s criteria for enjoying His promises is never as simple as merely doing something for God.  It will never be enough to say, “I have prayed about this” and therefore expect God’s armies to go before you and to smite anyone who gets in your way.  The criteria for God’s promises, more often than not, have something to do with abiding in Him…DWELLING in Him.  You cannot hold a handful of prayer meetings with those who all agree with your position and come away claiming God’s anointing and a superior handle on God’s will.

If you have never read Andrew Murray’s devotional book, Abide in Christ, you really must. It should be a part of every Christian leader’s library.  He does such a masterful job of exploring just what it means to “abide in Him”.  It is a mindset…a condition of the heart…a way of being…a lifestyle…and so much more.  I believe a person who is truly “abiding in Christ” actually does have a leg up in terms of wisdom and understanding God’s heart and God’s desires.  I know a few people whom I believe fit that description.  I trust them implicitly in matters of discernment.  But the rest of us will just have to continue doing our best to seek God’s will together and will continue to see “as through a glass dimly”.  We will just have to continue to rely on the cumulative effect of hearing God speak through his Word, through prayer, through His people and through the church.  And it will NOT be an nice, easy process.  It will take time…more time than we want to take.  It will require uncommon humility and extraordinary patience.

And when it is all said and done, you and I will both be better for having waited on the Lord and for having walked through the process together.  And if we step carefully and prayerfully, at the end of the discernment process, we may well find ourselves one step closer to truly “dwelling in Him.”

© 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




Pursuing Peace

8 04 2014

Tuesday Re-mix:

Turn from evil and do good;
    seek peace and pursue it.  Psalm 34:14

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.  Romans 12:18

dove

I am still thinking here about the very difficult debates raging through the church today over the same-sex issues and what scripture says (or what it does not say) about the issue. It occurs to me that seeking peace with each other around this issue has less to do with WHAT we have to say and much more to do with our HEARTS as we engage each other in this conversation.

Peace can be a tricky thing.  As high a value as scripture makes it, as many times as we are instructed to pursue it among God’s people, the way toward peace and the way toward conflict often move in the same direction.  That makes it tricky.

Peace, you see, is NOT necessarily just the absence of conflict.  As long as people are involved, there will be conflict…there will be disagreement…and there will be hurt feelings.  In the midst of those things, peace does NOT require moving away from each other.  Rather, peace requires moving toward each other.  It requires having difficult conversations…even painful conversations.  Avoiding those conversations may bring a temporary peace, at least it may feel more peaceful for a short season, but the long term result is just the opposite of peace…it is chaos and frustration and complication.

So, the first point here is that “pursuing peace” often requires moving toward the conflict rather than away from it…moving toward the difficult conversation rather than waiting in the wings and allowing the pain to fester over time.  The problem, then, is how to tell the difference between “pursuing peace” and fueling a fight.  Both are moving toward the conflict, both involve a confrontation.  How do we distinguish between them?  How do I make sure I am on the right track and not a harmful track?  That brings us to our second point.

It is a question of the heart.  The Arbinger Institute, in The Anatomy of Peace: Resolving the Heart of Conflict describes the distinction between a “heart at peace” and a “heart at war”.  The former is relating to the other person as a human being with needs and with fears and with pains.  The latter has “otherized” the other person and treats them as an object rather than a human being…an object to be pushed away, to be disregarded, even hated.

Jesus describes the distinction in terms of our ability to see clearly.  He says,

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”  Matt. 7:3-5

Seeing clearly, as it turns out, is the difference between a heart at peace and a heart at war.  Having that difficult conversation with the person who has hurt you requires that you have prayerfully sought the Lord’s perspective on that person, so that you can see him/her as God sees him/her…you can see him/her as a child of God, with fears and insecurities and needs.  Your desire is not to push him/her away, as some undesirable object; rather, it is to pull them forward with you toward peace.  It is to pursue peace together.

If you are thinking, “Well, that seems awfully difficult,” then congratulations…now you are seeing the truth.  Genuine Christian community, our life together as the body of Christ, was never intended to be easy.  It was intended to be peaceful.

© 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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