The Shrewd Servant Church

5 08 2014

But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. Matthew 25:26-27

Honestly, I have always felt a little sorry for the poor servant who did not invest his master’s money wisely. It seems to me there is at least a little wisdom in putting the money away and making sure it doesn’t get lost or otherwise wasted away. I can still remember the first time I ever studied this parable (I was a teenager) and being shocked at the harshness of this master. “Wicked” and “slothful” just seemed a little over the top to me, especially for a servant who kept all of his master’s money intact and did not lose any of it.

human resourcesBut, alas, the economy of God’s kingdom does not favor the radical fiscal conservatives like me. In God’s eyes, simply hiding the resources under my mattress and saving them for a rainy day is just poor stewardship. I should rather be investing those resources and growing them. I should be risking them a little (every investment is a risk) and putting them to work.

The same is true for the church. And not just with finances or material resources, but maybe even more importantly, with the human resources God has given us in our congregants…the spiritual gifts, talents, abilities, learned skills, work backgrounds, and emotional strengths in the people God has brought us. Our master has placed all those resources into our hands as the church and, shrewd stewards that we are, we are to put them to work…risk them…use them to produce kingdom growth.  What we are NOT to do is sit on them or ignore them or stick them under a mattress…that would be wicked and slothful on our part. Moreover, part of shepherding these very people is helping them identify those gifts and learn for themselves how they can be invested in kingdom growth. In the church, you see, every member is a minister; everyone has an assignment. We need systems in place designed to figure out what those assignments are.

As Andy Stanley is prone to pointing out: the system you have in place right now for this purpose is perfectly designed to bring about the results you are getting. So, if you don’t like the results you are getting, it is your system (your approach to the problem) which needs tweaking. There are a multitude of vehicles out there today to assist. Rick Warren’s S.H.A.P.E. profile is one. The Enneagram Institute is another. Group Publishing continues to publish outstanding resources for mobilizing ministry volunteers. There is a host of personality inventories and spiritual gift inventories out there for use. There are nominating committee systems and even “drafts” for ministry leaders. I have seen and heard about some pretty creative approaches to mobilizing laity for ministry. Use any of them. Use all of them. Make up your own. The point is, be a shrewd steward of all that God has brought your church. Have a system in place for learning about all your people have to offer and have a system in place for then mobilizing them into ministry assignments.

Has your church figured it out? Do you have a system that is working well for you, making your church a shrewd servant? I would love to hear about it in the comments!

© 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




Pastor Sisyphus’ Bad Day

20 03 2014

“If you have raced with men on foot, and they have wearied you,
    how will you compete with horses?
And if in a safe land you are so trusting,
    what will you do in the thicket of the Jordan?  Jeremiah 12:5

sisyphus

Church leadership, especially the pastorate, can feel a little like the plight of Sisyphus…forever pushing that boulder up the hill with little or no results to show for it.  They won’t pray…they won’t listen…they won’t volunteer or help…they won’t commit.  But, oh, how they will complain! Sometimes you just feel like giving up.

I think every pastor who feels oppressed and burdened and stressed to the point of giving up should take a break and study Jeremiah’s ministry…really try to crawl around in Jeremiah’s skin. I promise, you will feel much better about your own circumstances!

Jeremiah spent 40 years obediently delivering a message nobody wanted to hear. Nobody. At all. He pushed and he pressed. He obediently spoke, again and again. He was ridiculed, beaten, imprisoned, and his own family scoffed at him. And through it all, to the very end, he was so very, very alone. And at the end of 40 years of these tireless efforts, he had not a single conversion to show for it. None. Jeremiah prayed and he begged God to change his assignment. He cried and he pled. He wished he had never even been born. And at one particularly low point of his depression, God’s response to him was something along the lines of “You think this is bad? The hard part hasn’t even started yet!”

But Jeremiah’s plight teaches us something important about how we measure our “success” in answering God’s call (and, just as importantly, how we should NOT measure our success). Maybe there will be amazing results to our ministry…and maybe there will not. Maybe my flock will be shaped and molded by my every word, and maybe they won’t hear a word I say. But Jeremiah’s story illustrates one inescapable truth: at the end of the day, the only real measure of my success is whether I have correctly understood God’s message, and whether I have obediently conveyed it.

That was Jeremiah’s success…his obedience. Without it, all the results are in vain. Think about it. If you do NOT correctly understand God’s will, and you are “successful” in getting the congregation to mobilize and follow your misguided misunderstanding, what have you gained? Or if you do understand what God has given you to say or to do, but you lack the courage to say it or do it, how can you ever celebrate that? No, Jeremiah’s story focuses like a laser on that one question of obedience. Have you correctly understood? Will you be obedient to that understanding? Answer those questions the right way, and leave the results up to the Lord. And rest well tonight. And get up tomorrow and do it all again.

© 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




Getting Outside Myself

18 03 2014

Tuesday Re-mix:

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
    Why are you so far from saving me,
    so far from my cries of anguish?
My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
    by night, but I find no rest.  Psalm 22:1-2

I will declare your name to my people;
    in the assembly I will praise you.
You who fear the Lord, praise him!
    All you descendants of Jacob, honor him!
    Revere him, all you descendants of Israel!  Psalm 22:22-23

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I spent Spring Break in Orlando, doing the theme park thing. Universal, Disney…and roller coasters. Sometimes I don’t do so well on roller coasters.  It’s not the huge lifts. It’s not the plunging drops. It’s not the twisting turns. What gets to me is the cumulative effect of all of them…again and again and again. I feel sick just remembering.

David, the writer of poetry and shepherd of sheep and singer of songs and dancer of dances and slayer of giants and armies…David, the writer of so many of the Psalms…exhausts me!  He is just so very dramatic, don’t you think?  His “highs” are so much higher than I can even imagine and his lows are so much lower than I can connect with.  He is an emotional roller coaster!

Me?  Not so much, really.  I am pretty even-keeled.  But I do know the feeling of being “lost” in myself…of feeling so sorry for myself that I lose sight of anyone else around me.  My emotional roller coaster may not have the neck-breaking turns and heart-stopping plunges which David’s had…but I can at least connect with the desire to stop the ride so I can get off!

Here is an important thing about David: as emotionally unpredictable as he appears to be, his ongoing walk with the Lord was rock solid.  There was no unpredictability there.  When he was high, he danced for the  Lord.  When he was low, he cried out to the Lord.  He illustrates this beautifully in Psalm 22.  There, he spends 21 verses downright dark and depressed.  Sitting squarely in the middle of his own circumstances and being completely “within” himself, he is gloomy and hurting and desperate.  He cannot seem to see outside of those circumstances.  They consume him.  He sees no options, no alternative routes.  And he is very much alone in that painful place…”Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help.”  He was at that place of just wanting the roller coaster to stop so he could get off.  And then, he shows us how to do that.

With a brilliant and healthy turn, verse 22 and following show an entirely different emotion.  David is (quite suddenly) outwardly focused…on God and on others.  He is prayerful for others.  He is praising God.  He is no longer all wrapped up in his own misery, nor is he any longer consumed by his own circumstances.  He is now outwardly focused.  In pretty short order, he has gotten outside of himself.

It is the kind of spiritual wisdom I want to have.  I want to learn to catch myself completely drowning in stress and darkness and circumstances beyond my control, and to then turn outward and praise God and pour into others.  Isn’t that what we do as ministers?  I’m not talking about pretense here…I do not mean “pretending” the circumstances do not exist.  I just mean fixing my focus on something healthy and healing and bigger than my circumstances.

I want to be more like David…minus the roller coaster.  :)

© 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 Lord Always Before Me”

11 03 2014

Tuesday Re-mix:

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

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

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

Two observations here:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




In Way Over Our Heads

4 03 2014

Tuesday Re-mix:

What is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?

You have made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor.  Psalm 8:4-5

Back in 1985, when I came out of law school and started work as a very wet-behind-the-ears lawyer, I expected to be stuck in the back of a law library for at least a year or two before I would be entrusted with anything which actually required much judgment on my part.  I fully expected I would be researching and reading and gathering documents and other such tasks which were reasonably “safe” for a baby lawyer to handle.  Imagine my surprise, then, in my FIRST WEEK ON THE JOB, when one partner handed me a file to take before a jury in just 3 short months and another partner handed me an appellate brief to prepare and argue before the Texas Court of Appeals in just 6 short months.  I was scared to death!  I was in pretty far over my head.  I would not have done it that way.  I thought to myself…they must really trust me!

http://www.dreamstime.com/-image24263066I say it often about God and the church…I would not have done it this way.  If I were God, I would not have chosen this strategy to reach this lost and broken world.  To be blunt, I would never have entrusted my name and my reputation into the hands of a bunch of broken, flawed people like you and me.  What an enormous risk!

In my work as a peacemaker in the church, I get the privilege of seeing the church often at its very worst behavior.  I am reminded over and over again just how flawed we are…how very capable we are of letting emotions get the best of us and of “losing it” in front of a watching world.  We certainly have not “earned” God’s trust in any way, shape or form.  And yet, God’s plan from the very beginning was to use us, with all our flaws, to be His spokespersons to the world.  Having created us “a little lower than the angels”, He knows our potential…better than we know ourselves.  He has crowned his church with honor and glory…made us His bride.

Do you feel like we’re in way over our heads?  I do!  All the time!  What a responsibility He has given us to carry His name through this world…to wear that name proudly, for all the world to see and to associate us with Him and Him with us.  What an awesome and amazing privilege and honor!

I would not have done it this way.  I would not have crowned us with anything but a good, strong thump on the back of the head!  But He crowned us with honor and glory.  And He still does.  He must really trust us!

© 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




Speaking Without Seeing

27 02 2014

The word of the Lord came to me: “What do you see, Jeremiah?” “I see the branch of an almond tree,” I replied. Jeremiah 1:11

“Learn that simple lesson well, O you who try to speak for God! You must be seers before you can be speakers.” Charles Spurgeon

It’s the first rule of communication: know what you want to say before you start saying it.  Few things are more frustrating than trying to listen to someone who is trampling on this rule…their mouth is moving and the words are flowing and they have no idea where they are trying to go.  That, I believe, is where the prophets of the ancient days set themselves apart.  They were called “seers”…because they could see what was unseen by all the rest of us.  It was not so much a gift of SPEAKING, as much as it was a gift of SEEING and then simply speaking the truth about what they saw.  That calling was made so very clear in Jeremiah’s case.

?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????I do not study scripture in the original Hebrew. But Charles Spurgeon did. And he notes that the Hebrew word for “almond” actually comes from a root word that means “awake” or, more specifically, “wakeful”.  That is because the almond tree started to blossom very early in the Spring (even late Winter), while all the other trees were still sleeping.  So, in the Hebrew language, this tree was known as the “wakeful tree”.

The imagery would have been clear to Jeremiah.  His assignment was to see, first and foremost. If Jeremiah will remain wakeful to see, God will remain wakeful to perform His word just as Jeremiah sees it. God’s assignment came with a promise. It always does, doesn’t it?

And isn’t that the church’s assignment as well? Are we not called by God (even set apart) to see the world through the lens of His Word, and then to speak in love about what we see?  Doesn’t the church have that responsibility to see and understand God’s Word and God’s ways and then to speak those truths as a God-honoring interpretation of what is going on in the world around us?

Our ability to speak the truth…our credibility as stewards of that truth…all depends upon our wakeful watching and seeing.  It means seeing God’s Word, seeing what God is doing in the world in which we live, and understanding the unseen world around us as well. It means being genuinely guided by the Spirit of God to see what we otherwise would not have seen and to understand otherwise incomprehensible truths.

Pondering this responsibility, I suppose I am feeling a little panicked.  It just seems to me that, over the centuries and perhaps much more so in my lifetime, the church has been caught a little too often speaking without seeing…sometimes it is not all that clear just how “wakeful” we are being.  Just spend a little time perusing your social media streams today and ask yourself whether “the church” is really seeing or not.  And then join me in praying for forgiveness for when we speak before we see.

© 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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