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




The Pastor Your People Love

18 06 2013

Tuesday Re-mix -

One thing I ask from the Lord,
this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord
and to seek him in his temple.  
Psalm 27:4

gaze-upon-the-lordI think I am a pretty good supporter of my pastor…I try to do the things he asks and I try not to do things I know he would frown upon…but he is going to HATE this post.  And that makes me happy.   I have learned a great deal about “shepherding” from watching my pastor.  In fact, in my work with conflicted congregations, there have been many times when I wished young pastors could just sit with my pastor for a few days and learn the balance between humility and authority, between assertive and quiet, between empowering and disciplining.  My pastor has shaped how I see many of the difficult issues pastors face today.

I am meditating this week on the 27th Psalm, and it made me consider what kind of leader David must have been in order to say these things.  Amazing and gifted in so many ways, but at the end of the day, he just loved God and wanted to spend “all the days of his life…gazing upon the beauty of the Lord.”  Those “mighty men” of his probably followed him for lots of reasons, but surely none more compelling than this.  He was a mighty warrior, a passionate leader, a visionary King, a loyal friend, and the quintessential complicated, flawed hero…lovable for so many reasons.  But all those qualities and characteristics of David boiled down to a shepherd boy who loved God above all else…”this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord…“.

That desire (and the disciplines which reflect it) is at the very core of every great pastor.  It is absolutely at the very core of my pastor.  Yes, we all want to be loved well by our pastor, yes we all want to be spiritually nurtured and fed and cared for, and yes we all want to follow visionary leaders who push us to accomplish things well beyond our imaginations.  But more than any of that, beyond our own selfish needs and desires, we need a pastor who adores the Lord and craves His presence above all else.  A few times a year, no matter what else may be going on at the church, my pastor pulls away for a few quiet days with the Lord.  I have watched in times of enormous stress as he maintains his disciplined prayer life.  I have walked with him through his own terminal illness and seen a peace that surpasses all understanding.  As with King David, at the end of the day, it is not the giftedness nor the charisma nor the huge pastoral skills…it is a solid, time-tested near-desperate thirst for the Lord.

Pastors and church leaders, do not be fooled by the cultural press to be awesome visionaries filled with charisma above all else.  Rather, make sure your disciplines reflect nothing short of this attitude…”this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord…“.  I will follow that all day long.

© 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 Multiple-Choice Pastor Search

29 11 2011

Tuesday Re-mix -

I always preferred essay tests when I was in school (duh, I became a writer).  I didn’t like the “objective” tests, because I felt like they weren’t as accurate in measuring how well I knew the material, at least for material that is thick in concepts and not-so-thick in memorizable facts.  In law school, I became even more opposed to objective tests…we called them “multiple guess” tests…it seemed always about finding the “least wrong answer”.  Give me an essay test, please!

I feel that same way when it comes to eliciting information from a person or a group of people.  If learning what is on their minds is important to me, I would much rather sit down and have a conversation with them than give them an objective survey.  And I especially feel that same way when it comes to discerning God’s will as a church…my concept of God’s will just does not lend itself to a series of multiple-choice questions.

And yet, the conventional wisdom (and literature) for Pastor Search efforts is to do just such a written survey to your church in order to develop a profile for your pastoral candidates.  The problem with asking your church objective, demographic questions like “Place a check next to the age range you think our next pastor should be?” is that, invariably, once all the results are tabulated, what your church ends up telling you is that they want a 40-year-old pastor with 30 years of pastoral experience…and a big, red “S” on his chest would be nice as well!  Good luck with that.

Objective surveys may be mildly effective (not greatly effective, but mildly so) at figuring out what the people wantbut not so much at figuring out what God wants. For that, if you don’t have the time and resources to personally interview every church member, then I suggest an essay survey.  Because when it comes right down to it, there are only a couple of questions which matter:

1.  Describe how you believe God has been working in recent years in this church, and how you see Him working right now in the life of our church?

2.  In light of how you answered question #1, describe some qualities or characteristics of the person you believe God would have pastor this church?

When we used this simple, two-question survey with my own church body 16 years ago for our last pastor search effort, we got hundreds of responses, ranging from one paragraph to multiple pages.  It was a lot to assimilate!  But as we began poring over the responses, we began to see certain words and phrases and concepts over and over again.  We began to see a few characteristics which had the consensus of the congregation…five characteristics, to be exact.  These are not the five most important characteristics for any other church’s pastor.  But they became the defining characteristics of our own search committee’s profile:

1.  Humility

2.  A man of prayer

3.  Impartial; not a “respecter of titles or positions”

4. Good communicator

5.  Not political (this was a reference to denominational politics)

Those characteristics may seem broad and vague to you, but that would only be because they aren’t intended to describe your pastor.  They represent God’s will for my pastor, and anyone who knows my pastor even moderately well would immediately put his picture next to this profile.  Before we ever knew him, we knew his profile.  But most importantly, it was NOT because we asked our congregation to fill out an objective survey.  It was because we asked them to help us discern God’s will.  This profile helped us sift through scores of resumes and candidates.  It literally eventually took us right to our pastor, because it was a right reflection of what God wanted for us.

So, as your church works to discern God’s will together, may I suggest that you not try to relegate that process to an objective, multiple-choice test?  Give them the opportunity to share testimony of what they see God doing among you.  You may just be surprised at what God does with 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




The “Star-crossed Lovers” Pastor Search Process

1 11 2011

Tuesday Re-mix -

One of the early parenting skills I learned was how to appreciate the works of art my girls brought me.  There were plenty of times I looked at their drawings with no clue at all what they were supposed to portray.  I learned to say things like, “Wow, that is beautiful!  Tell me about it, please!”  That way, I could find out what it was supposed to be before I got myself in trouble.  But no matter what, there would never be a time or circumstance where I would ever communicate to them, “I just don’t care.”  That, for me, would be the exact opposite of love.  Of course I cared!  Any loving father would.

I believe this about God as well.  I believe that, in every difficult decision we make, in every season of searching for answers, God cares enough to guide us and direct us to specific outcomes.  I just cannot get my heart wrapped around a god who says, “I just don’t care…decide for yourself…it doesn’t matter to me.”

One of the privileges God has given our ministry is training Pastor Search teams.  Training those teams to use a prayerful process for searching for a shepherd for their congregation is one of my favorite ways to help churches.  It gives me an opportunity to draw from and reflect on my own experience serving on the pastor search committee of my home church…easily one of the spiritual highlights of my life.  For me it was 18 months of weekly praying and meeting together with eight of the most spiritually mature Christians I have ever known.  It was at times emotionally grueling and at times spiritually invigorating.  It was an intensive season of discerning the hand of God as a group.  In short, it was amazing.

It was a spiritual blessing for all of us because, from the outset, we all agreed on our task.  We all believed that there was one person somewhere out there who God had in mind for our church and that we had the daunting task of hearing God’s heart and following God’s direction to find that one person.  Even as we first began meeting and praying, we all firmly believed that God was already working in the heart of a person somewhere in the world, creating unrest and discontent in that person’s heart, making a future relocation emotionally possible.  Finding this “needle in a haystack” seemed like an impossible task to us, so we spent our first three months of meetings doing nothing but praying together and leaning on each other and on the Lord.  To us, it was a process doomed to fail without intensive prayer on our part.

That was 17 years ago.  As I have met with scores of other search committees since then, I have learned how blessed my committee was to have everyone on the same page in this perspective…because not everyone sees God’s will in this same way.  There are plenty of people who would disagree with a perspective on God’s will that says God has only one person in mind to shepherd your church.  I have heard them refer to that notion as the “star-crossed lovers” theory of God’s will, implying that God does not work that way.

But doesn’t He?  Isn’t the God of the Bible one who involves Himself in the day-to-day details of his people?  And when it comes to the spiritual leadership of His people, do we really believe God simply does not care enough to have a best, perfect will in mind?  If I am wrong about this, then a pastor search is little more than a personnel/human resources, secular process…just figure out what YOU want, and go find someone to fit that desire.  But if I am right, and God does have a perfect and specific will for who pastors your church, then shouldn’t the process be one filled with prayerful discernment?  Shouldn’t that process be something MORE than just an employee search?

I am curious what you think about this.  When it comes to finding a shepherd for a church, does God have a specific will?

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




Dinner with You? It Depends…What are We Having?

24 08 2010

Tuesday Re-mix:

We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. Hebrews 5:11-14

I suppose the age (i.e., level of maturity) varies from one person to the next on this issue, but all of us eventually grow up enough to learn how to respond to a dinner invitation with something other than, “It depends…what are we having?” I am right about that, am I not?  I mean, what kind of insensitive, childish, self-centered adult would respond that way?  Granted, we all might think it to ourselves, but we don’t say it out loud.  After all, what would our dinner host think?

In short, there is a time when it is acceptable to play the role of the consumer and there is a time when it is not.  There are moments in life when it really is all about me and my needs, and there are moments when that attitude is just childish.

As a church leader, I have a growing fear that the church in America (and surely in other parts of the world as well, but the American church is the one with whom I am most familiar) is irreparably consumer-minded and is becoming shameless in our response to God’s invitations.  To call us childish or Spiritually immature would be an understatement.  Somehow, somewhere along the way, I stopped asking whether God has an assignment for me at this church or that church and I started asking whether this church or that church has “what I am looking for in a church.”  In other words, does this church meet my preferences?  Do I like the music?  Do my kids like the  social environment?  Do I “feel fed” when I worship there?  This is a troubling trend.

I once heard a farmer friend talking about his experience feeding his cows in the pasture.  “After I put the feed out for them, I never have stopped to wonder if any of them are walking away disappointed about not ‘feeling fed’.  They either eat or they don’t.  It’s their call.”  That farmer friend needs a blog.  Because that’s a message we in the church need to hear.

I think our consumer-orientation has gotten in the way of our ability to rightly discern God’s will in our lives.  What’s more, I think church leaders have fostered this dysfunction by working harder and harder to meet the needs we tell them we have.  We are supposedly grown, Spiritually maturing Christians, but we look like new-born baby birds sitting in the nest with our beaks wide open screaming “feed me, feed me!”  The whole picture is a bit embarrassing.

Listen, friend.  As a follower of Christ, next time you are making a decision about this church or that church, or this ministry or that ministry, or this pastor or that pastor, may I make a suggestion?  That decision is not about you and your preferences.  It is not about making your life easier or more convenient.  It is about a job for you to do, an assignment from God.  For you.  Go where He is calling you to WORK and do what He is calling you to DO.  Please stop using your preferences and comfort to guide you.  You are missing the point.  More importantly, you are missing what God has for you.

And the next time you leave worship or ministry or any other Spiritual dining experience and you don’t “feel fed”…ask yourself if it is because you did not act grown up enough to eat.

© 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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