The Medium is the Message

19 08 2014

Tuesday Re-mix:

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son… Hebrews 1:1-2

God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.  Hebrews 2:4

JesusMarshall McLuhan was the first to coin the phrase, “the medium is the message”.  In his instance, he was referring to the ushering in of the information age (specifically, television) back in 1964.  He noted that television (and other similar media) were more than just conduits of information, they were actually shaping and reshaping the message and were as much a part of the message as the message itself.  I suppose we could make the same observation today about social media.  Twitter and YouTube and SnapChat are literally reshaping how (and what) we communicate.  It just seems that, from time to time, a medium comes along that changes everything we thought we knew about messaging and communication.  When that happens, “the medium becomes the message.”

Never in the history of the world has this notion been truer than with Christianity.  In ancient days, God spoke His message through angels, He spoke His message through the prophets, He spoke His message through the law, and He spoke His message through miraculous signs and wonders.  But never was the message so clear and so divisive and so disturbing as when God spoke His message through  Jesus.  The very embodiment of God, representative of all His glory and power and authority, Jesus is “the Word become flesh.”  He is BOTH the medium AND the message.

For Christ-followers (for His church), we have a contemporary medium through the gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed among us.  For us, this is a visual representation of God at work among us.  But for the watching world, it is gibberish.  For that world, there simply is no clearer image of God than Jesus Christ.  His life is a canvass upon which God’s Word is painted vividly in living color.

There is a great deal of talk in the church today about messaging.  It is good talk.  Important talk.  Using all the media available to us to tell the Gospel story is, I believe, important.  But even as we discuss websites and Twitter and blogs and videos…even as we consider signage and platforms and lighting and projections…we must keep one medium ever before us: Jesus.  In the midst of all our new languages and vehicles, we must show the world Jesus.  Because, in the end, He is the medium which really matters.

Show them Jesus.  And let all the other messaging flow from 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 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




Walking Slowly Through the Crowd

7 01 2014

Tuesday Re-mix:

A large crowd followed and pressed around him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering. At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?” “You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask,‘Who touched me?’ ” Mark 5:25-31


I have listened to so many John Maxwell talks and have read so many of his books, I do not even remember now where I heard or read some of the best leadership advice I’ve ever heard/read from him: “walk slowly through the crowds”.  It is outstanding leadership counsel because genuine leadership is, after all, entirely dependent upon relationships and people skills.  It is perfect for ME, because I get so narrowly focused sometimes (maybe especially on Sunday mornings) that I can walk right past hundreds of friends without even smiling or acknowledging them!  I am still working on this.  :)

It is a challenge, isn’t it?  It is especially challenging when we get focused on the task at hand, on the ministry ahead, even on the relationships in front of us…but there are still people all around us who are hoping for our attention as well.  It is a delicate balance between competency for the task at hand and caring for everyone else in the meantime.  In this passage from Mark 5, Jesus demonstrated just how extreme that balance can become.  I have never raised anyone from the dead, so I have no experience with what kind of focus it requires, but I am going to take a stab in the dark here and surmise that it requires some extraordinary single-mindedness.  That is the focus Jesus surely had as he walked through the crowd toward Jairus’ house.  And yet, he walked slowly enough to have permitted and felt the touch by one woman in the crowd.  Unbelievable balance, wouldn’t you say?  Even the disciples who were with him thought so.

So there is a great lesson here for each of us as leaders.  But I wonder if there is an even more important lesson here for the church corporately?  What does this balance teach us about being the Body of Christ in the communities our churches serve?  How can a church “walk slowly through the crowd” so that it doesn’t miss important ministry assignments?  Here are some ideas…

First, it’s regular weekly rhythm should include a vibrant corporate prayer time.  That gathered prayer, after all, is how a church develops the kind of extraordinary focus Jesus showed.  There are lots of promises in God’s word for a people who pray…but none for a people who do not pray.

Second, it can develop a regular, systematic approach to strategic planning.  Keeping God-ordained mission and vision ever before us, and practical, measurable objectives always on our radar screen will help keep us from getting “lost” in the busy-ness of church.  On this note, evaluation and assessment becomes a critical skill.  We need processes to help us know when a program or ministry is succeeding and when it is not.  Andy Stanley calls this “clearly defining the win”.  By the way, it is just as important to know why something succeeds as it is to know why something fails.

Third, we can be ever watching and paying close attention to whom God is bringing us in our newest attenders.  One of the easiest ways of knowing what God is doing in a church is to understand whom he has brought to us recently…what is their background and their passion?  What are their gifts and their abilities?

Fourth (and I realize I am meddling with this one), a church can unify its small group curriculum, so that the entire church is studying the same Biblical passages at that same time all year long.  I cannot even begin to tell you how much that has helped my own church in getting us on the same page on various issues.  Such a benefit!

These are just a few ways a church can “walk slowly through the crowd”.  I’d be interested in hearing any additional ideas you might have.

© 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




…and We’ve Never Been the Same Since

17 09 2013

Tuesday Re-mix -

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.  Acts 2:1-4

To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Colossians 1:27

pentecost-fireOf all the miracles referenced in the Bible, the Pentecost miracle in Acts 2 may be at the top of my list of moments I would love to have seen.  The tongues of fire ushering down the Spirit to indwell God’s people…wow!

In terms of their impact on this world and the ushering in of a completely new chapter in God’s story, I tend to think of the crucifixion, the resurrection and Pentecost as three aspects of a single, “this changes everything” moment in history.  All are significant in themselves, but all are necessary to bring about the age of the church.  It is a little like a three-legged stool in that regard.  Take any one of the legs away and you have an entirely different situation.

These three events (which all happened within just a few weeks of each other), taken together, changed forever the way God would relate to his creation…AND the way we, His children, would relate to each other.

Follow the history with me through the Bible…

In the garden, God related to Adam and Even through an interpersonal relationship (yes, I am quite the literalist in my interpretation of scripture). After their “fall”, God found other ways of relating to us, first through the Mosaic law and then through the prophets.  Want to “hear” from God?  Look it up in the law or hear it through Samuel or Elijah or some other “man of God”.  Then we had 400 (or so) years of “silence” from God between the accounts of the Old Testament and the New Testament.  Then, Jesus came, and God would then relate to us through the man, Jesus.  Want to hear a fresh word from the Lord?  Go and sit at the feet of Jesus, and be amazed.  Then came the crucifixion and the resurrection and Jesus’ ascension into Heaven…and the promise that everything was about to change.  And it did.

The Spirit of God came and, for the first time, began to indwell God’s people on a mass scale.  And the Spirit has been doing that ever since.  The Spirit of God Himself indwells every believer…you, me, that person in our church with whom we disagree so vehemently, that preacher whose theology is so messed up, that arrogant fundamentalist, that liberal pro-choice Christian, that Calvinist, that Armenian, that contemporary worshiper, that traditional worshiper, etc.  You get my drift.

Ever since Pentecost, God has related to us differently.  Now, in addition to the letter of the law, we have direct access to the very Spirit of God’s law.  Ever since Pentecost, we must relate to each other differently, because God’s Spirit indwells each of us.  You and I can disagree, we can argue, we can even part company and go our separate ways…but I do so knowing that my Savior lives in you, and yours in me.  That matters, doesn’t it?  That changes everything.

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




The Truth About Andrew’s Birthday Gift

27 08 2013

Tuesday Re-mix -

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.  1 Corinthians 12:7

Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. 1 Peter 4:10

I think the trick to understanding Spiritual Gifts is remembering their purpose…remembering for whose benefit they are intended.

Have you ever been so pleased with a gift you found for someone that you decided to get the same thing for yourself as well?  Should we feel guilty about that?  Do we have to tell the person that we did that, or can we just give them the gift and keep the rest of the story to ourselves?  Is that deceptive?  Does that break any gift-giving rules?  Can we please get a ruling on this?

One of my two team members (Andrew) on last year’s South Africa trip had a birthday while we were traveling.  I happened to be walking through the Waterfront at Cape Town a day or two before and saw the coolest little key chain.  It was African art, a symbol for unity (it shows two crossed crocodiles).  I thought it would be a perfect and simple little birthday gift for Andrew.  I bought it.  But I was so excited about it, I decided I wanted one for myself too!  And then I decided I wanted one for Kelley too, so that our whole Unity Ministries team could have this as a memory from this trip.  And, alas, Andrew’s birthday gift became a team gift for all of us!  I suppose the original purpose of the gift got a little blurred in the process…Very sorry, Andrew!

I think that can happen with Spiritual Gifts as well.  When the Spirit manifests Himself through you in a clear and powerful way, it draws attention…and often praise.  It makes you feel important.  Other Christians notice it and often say lots of very nice things about it and about you.  It feels like a very special gift…for you.  But it is not for you.  It is for everyone but you.  It is intended for the benefit of the church…the body of believers around you.  Specifically, according to Paul, it is intended “…to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”

You probably do not feel convicted about this, as I do…because you probably have never been tempted to receive and embrace the glory for your own spiritual gift.  :)  But perhaps you have seen someone else do that.  Perhaps you have seen somebody who was particularly gifted in one way or another by the Spirit and he/she was pleased to accept all the praise and the glory for it.  Rather than being humbled by the fact that God would use such a broken vessel as him/her to accomplish His work, he/she wraps up in the glory of it all and demonstrates a sickening sense of entitlement to the praise of others.  It is ugly.  Do not be that person.

When the Spirit manifests Himself through you and causes all the believers around you to be lifted up toward God and toward each other in a grand and glorious fashion…when you (with all your flaws and faults) are used by God to grow others up into Christ…just stop and praise God along with everyone else, and remember His intended purpose for that gift.  It is not for you.  It is for them.

Oh, and I did keep my very cool “unity” key ring for myself…as a perfect reminder of this lesson.  :)

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




Every Day is a Church Start!

2 07 2013

Tuesday Re-mix -

All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.
Acts 2:44-45

All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.  Acts 4:32-35

Here’s a test question for you as a church leader: which is more “successful”…ministering to the needs of 50,000 people by mobilizing 5 people…or ministering to the needs of only 500 people by mobilizing 500 people?

Some 15 to 20 years ago (suddenly feeling great surprise that it’s been that long now) my wife, our two little girls and I joined a small team of about 5 other families, all spending our Spring Break on mission in Ciudad Acuna, Mexico, doing Vacation Bible School at a small church there.  Over the ensuing 8 years, that same trip grew to become a church-wide Spring Break family mission trip of some 100-150 “missionaries” ranging in age from 6-months to 80-years.  We had medical mission teams, construction teams, music teams, drama groups, VBS on multiple sites, sports evangelism teams and even pastoral care teams.  We gathered everyone together at our campsite every night for worship and reporting.  As you might imagine, it was chaotic and fantastic all at the same time.  There was no childcare ministry…we all took care of everyone’s children.  There was no “poverty” ministry…everywhere we worked, lived and slept was impoverished, so all of us ministered all the time.  We had assignments, to be sure, but there was very much a spirit of everyone pitching in and doing whatever he/she needed to do to minister.  It was an amazing experience for those of us who had grown a bit calloused and ingrained in an otherwise “institutional church” experience.

That was the closest I have ever come to being a part of a “church start” experience.  For that growing group of families, we were “church” together for a week every year.  We definitely made an impact there in Mexico, but the overwhelming testimony of all of us was that the larger impact was on each of us.  That experience changed how we “did church” when we returned each year.  We all recognized that it was much closer to the “church start” experience described in Acts.  If you have ever been a part of a church start or perhaps of a similar mission experience, then you know exactly what I am describing.

Reading the two passages from Acts 2 and 4 above, there are a lot of numbers that might jump out to you.  And there are a lot of concepts that might grab you.  But I think we make a mistake in what application we draw from these passages if we focus in on the wrong numbers and the wrong concepts.  To me, it is the very first word in each passage that merits our most attention: All.  That, it seems to me, is what these passages teach us about the genuine New Testament church.  How many “members” were mobilized into ministry?  What percentage of them were finding a way to contribute…to make a difference in someone’s life?  All of them.  That, my church leader friend, is what success looks like.

I admit that kind of success is easier to achieve in a church start than in a well-established institutional church.  Once we get very, very efficient with our ministries, we start missing the wild-eyed, “just do whatever it takes” attitude of a people who are running around meeting needs and plugging holes…like in a church start.  And therein lies one solution: we really should be starting more churches.  That is where we are the most like the New Testament church.

But don’t we also have to develop some strategies for the institutional church?  Isn’t it possible…no, isn’t it CRITICAL to find ways to jump-start the hearts of our people into a bit more of that wild-eyed, “just do whatever it takes”, everyone-is-a-minister mindset?  Here’s a challenge: stop measuring your success in gross numbers…and start measuring your church’s success in terms of percentages, i.e., the percentage of your people who are meaningfully engaged in ministry.  That might just change everything!

© 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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