Letting Your People Mess Up

24 07 2014

Thursday Re-mix:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




Seeing Through the Flaws in Your Shepherd

17 07 2014

Thursday Re-mix:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




Corporate Prayer as a Means of Focus

15 07 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




The Church as the Sandwich Generation

10 07 2014

Thursday Re-mix:

When the time drew near for Israel to die, he called for his son Joseph and said to him, “If I have found favor in your eyes, put your hand under my thigh and promise that you will show me kindness and faithfulness. Do not bury me in Egypt, but when I rest with my fathers, carry me out of Egypt and bury me where they are buried.”

“I will do as you say,” he said.  Genesis 47:29-30

I believe it was Will Rogers who came up with these four stages of life: First we are our parents’ child, then we are our child’s parent, then we are our parents’ parent, then we are our child’s child.  Right in the middle of those stages, there is a life stage, a generation (if you will), referred to as the “sandwich generation”.  It is that life stage where you find yourself not only still parenting your children, but also being a  caregiver to aging parents.  That is where Joseph found himself in Genesis 47-50.  He was a father to two sons born to him in Egypt, while at the same time being called upon to honor his dying father’s heritage.  I am grateful to God that I have two healthy parents and have not quite arrived at that sandwich stage (and I’m not sure either of my parents would ever permit me to), but I can only imagine it is wrought with difficulties and tensions.

three generationsIt seems that having our focus divided between raising a new generation into adulthood and, at the same, honoring an older generation is a real challenge.  Then again, as a church leader you already know that.  The sandwich illustration, you see, is a perpetual life stage for every local church…always raising up new leaders and always loving well those leaders who are aging.

The challenge hits us at virtually every turn in the church.  The tension surfaces in worship, in communication patterns, in fiscal policies, in government issues, in missiology, in community ministry, and in leadership styles.  The demand for effective leadership development in the much-studied but rarely understood generations X, Y, and Millenials in the church has never been higher.  But at the same time, the need for elder care and learning to honor the numerous and now-aging baby boomer generation, looms large in almost every church today.  There simply are no shortcuts.  Just about every church must figure this out and must do the hard things necessary to nurture both ends of the generation spectrum.  In most cases, forsaking either end spells doom for that church.

In some cases, it may mean bringing in a staff member specifically for each end of the adult generation spectrum.  In other cases, it may mean being more assertive in creating community among the generations…genuine Spirit-filled relationships between them.  In still other cases, the real need might be a senior pastor who is adept at loving and shepherding across generational lines.  But in every case it takes intentionality.  It requires creativity and strategic thinking…a plan, if you will.  It will not happen naturally, not in this culture.  It takes thinking and effort and a commitment on the part of your leadership.

So, what about it?  What’s your plan?

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




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







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