Being the Anti-Worshipper

8 05 2014

Thursday Re-mix:

Come, let us bow down in worship,
    let us kneel before the Lord our Maker;
for he is our God
    and we are the people of his pasture,
    the flock under his care.

Today, if only you would hear his voice,
“Do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah,
    as you did that day at Massah in the wilderness,
where your ancestors tested me... Psalm 95:6-9

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Romans 12:1


??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????There are some of you reading this post who cannot believe there are still churches struggling with the “worship wars” of music and style and diverse forms of gathered worship.  You fought those battles years ago and have enjoyed a long time now of unity on that subject.  There are others of you who, frankly, cannot even imagine what it feels like to have that conflict in your rear-view mirror, because you are right in the middle of it now, with little hope for a friendly resolution.  Either way, whether those struggles are fresh for your church or long since forgotten, we all could use a gentle reminder about worship and what, exactly, are our objectives as we plan corporate worship.

The Psalmist from Psalm 95 does us a great favor, not only reminding us of the object of our worship, but also reminding us of what is NOT worship.  The references to “Meribah” and “Massah” in Psalm 95 relate to an ugly moment in Israel’s history documented in Exodus 17.  The people were complaining to Moses because they were uncomfortable…because they were not getting what they wanted.  There was a sense of entitlement in them…exactly the opposite from the contrite hearts which true worship demands.

True worship, you see, is about sacrifice.  This is true in the Old Testament and the New Testament alike.  Paul’s words to the Romans clarify this: offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.  Worship has always been about sacrificing what we want in order to acknowledge God.  The hearts of the Hebrew people at Meribah (i.e., the insistence that they get what they want) is, according to the Psalmist, exactly the opposite of worship…it is anti-worship.

Isn’t that the irony, then, of the worship wars?  At the very heart of that conflict is people clinging to what they want, to what they are comfortable with.  Just like at Meribah.  It is that very act of personal insistence about a style of worship which makes me an anti-worshipper.  When I hold fast to what I want in the music or the preaching or the other forms of worship, when I make worship all about my leanings and my preferences, I become the very antithesis of true worship.  It’s not about sacrifice at all.  It’s about me.

I’ve been speaking into this “worship wars” issue for some years now, but for some reason, I had missed this painful bit of irony.  Shame on me.  And shame on us.

© Blake Coffee
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The Problem with Sundays

6 03 2014

Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place. Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.’ “For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another, if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own harm, then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers forever. Jeremiah 7:4-7

Gathered WorshipThe people of Judah in Jeremiah’s time and so many of us in the church today have all suffered from the same delusion…that genuine change begins in gathered worship. But, just like a genuine dating relationship doesn’t really begin until the SECOND date, genuine change in a Christ-follower’s heart doesn’t begin on Sunday. The real change begins on Monday.  The people of Judah discovered that too late.

Young King Josiah had good intentions and a good heart. He had “rediscovered” God’s instructions about worship and about Holy holidays and festivals. He had even made great strides in destroying the idols and instruments of worshipping those idols. He had restored the people’s respect and reverence for the temple. All of that was good. But it was not enough.

And gathered worship is definitely good for the church today as well. Please don’t hear anything in this post saying otherwise.  I believe we as Christ-followers should be participating in Spirit-filled worship as often as possible.  It is where we celebrate together God’s activity in our lives. It is also where we get our engines “recharged” for the week. And it is where we PREPARE our hearts for the changes and course corrections they need. But, like the people of Judah, as soon as we begin measuring the real “change” in our lives primarily by what happens on Sunday, we have set up an embarrassingly wrong metric.

It is easy, isn’t it, to attend church every week, to serve on committees, councils and leadership teams, to read our Bible every day and thereby tell ourselves that we are in a right relationship with God…that we are right on track in our Christian walk.  But do you see that none of those things necessarily demonstrate any change of the heart at all? Our actions and attitudes toward others on Monday through Saturday are the things which show real heart change. Without that proof, our gathered worship is, well, shallow…even empty. It will not please God. Not without an active faith to go with it.

Our liturgies, hymns, praises and prayers on Sunday are supposed to be reflections of hearts and lives turned toward God all week long. Otherwise, they become meaningless…even hypocritical.  And that is the problem with measuring our faith by our Sunday activities.  Moreover, as leaders, doesn’t this mean we must admit that Sunday-oriented goals, while certainly informative on some level, are not our most important goals?  In preparing our Sunday lessons, maybe the question is NOT “what do I want them to KNOW at the end of my lesson on Sunday?” Maybe the right question is, “What do I want them to DO on Monday?”

© 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




True Worshipers and their Scoffers

11 02 2014

Tuesday Re-mix:

Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly. “Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me.  Mark 14:4-6

Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”  John 4:23-24

You and I can take solace in the fact that we would never do what “some of those present” did to poor Mary of Bethany in Mark 14.  You and I are way, way too spiritual to ever do such a thing!  Truly, all Mary was doing was loving Jesus with extravagance…pouring her very heart out with every ounce of perfume which left that container.  She was oblivious to the awkwardness or to the social or political “incorrectness” of her actions…her heart was 100% for Jesus in that moment.  That, my friends, was the very picture of “true worship”.

So, to scoff or to rebuke her for it…well, wow, that is just embarrassing.  I’m just glad you and I would never do that.

There are actually a few other places I can think of in the Bible where people scoffed at or made fun of someone’s worship of God.  None of those stories ended well for those scoffers.  It seems that  God really does frown on such scoffers.  Worship, after all, is not for their benefit at all; rather, it is aimed only at God.  What business is it of others to “judge” someone’s worship as being “unfit” or “undignified” or “uninspired”?  Only God can make that judgment…because only God can read a man’s heart.

Oh, sure I may snicker and snort a time or two at the lady up in the front of the worship service waving her hands in the air, or at the old guy standing in the back with his hands in his pockets and staring down at the floor.  I suppose I may make a little fun of the decision to sing the same chorus over and over and over and over  and over again, or I may chortle a bit at that last hymn we sang, which sounded like something out of a funeral…in the deep woods of Kentucky…in  1940.  Sure I have probably commented now and again on the disrespectful, sloppy attire of kids in worship these days, or of the HUGE waste of money on big, fancy buildings when we could be feeding hungry people with that money.  I am certain I have walked away from certain pastors’ sermons and from certain teachers’ lessons thinking to myself, “Wow, he/she is a really horrible communicator…God deserves better than that.”

I’m sure you and I have done all those things.

But that’s not the same as scoffing at someone’s worship.  Right?  I mean, that is different.  Right?

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




Relevance and Fruitfulness

14 11 2013

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.  Galatians 5:22-23

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.   2 Peter 1:5-8

spoiled bananasIt is an important question to ask ourselves as church leaders…is our church being effective?  I do not mean that in terms of numbers.  I think numbers of baptisms and numbers of people in worship and numbers of dollars in the budget are all important metrics for us…but nothing matters more than the question of whether lives are really being changed as a result of our efforts.  That, after all, is what we are supposed to be accomplishing as a church: changed lives.  And if we are NOT being effective, if we are rather unproductive and irrelevant, then what can be done about it?

As it turns out, for God’s people, making “relevance” all about music and worship styles and the latest trends in children’s ministry is a lot like making “quality” of a book all about its cover…it’s not that those things are not important, it is that they barely scratch the surface of quality, relevance and effectiveness.  That is probably why, when Holy Scripture addresses genuine effectiveness and productivity of our faith, it doesn’t talk much about forms of worship, musical styles, youth curriculums or cool murals on the walls of our preschool space.  Rather, scripture ties the effectiveness of the church to the growth and the bearing out (i.e., the preservation) of certain personal characteristics in God’s people.

It is an interesting study in their respective personalities, comparing how Paul and Peter each discuss this issue of “effectiveness” in ministry.  Paul chooses a metaphor about fruit.  He would say that true effectiveness in ministry is about the Spirit of God being set free to live through the lives of His people, producing qualities and characteristics in them which only He could produce.  That metaphor leans more toward getting self out of the way, and letting the Spirit work through you.  Paul, you see, was an intellectual, a thinker and a teacher of thinkers. “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind…” he would say to the Roman church.  For Paul, it all starts with how we think about things.  Peter, on the other hand, was all about action and doing.  Both, the Peter of the gospels (“ready, fire, aim”) and the powerfully transformed Peter of Acts, were about doing.  Peter would have said, “You claim to follow Christ? Show me.”  His instructions about how to stay relevant and effective in ministry were about our actions.  He would say, “ADD these things to your belief…be good, be kind, exercise self-control, persevere through difficulties and, above all, love each other well.”

Their respective counsel goes together like nuts and bolts.  Paul encourages us to allow the Spirit of God within us to incline our hearts as only He will.  Peter then encourages us to act on those spiritual inclinations.  For example, the Spirit produces “kindness” as a fruit in us…He inclines our heart toward helping that homeless person on the sidewalk outside the church.  But we must then act on that inclination if we are to be effective as a church.  It will never be enough to just feel the inclination, or to just see the world around us as God sees it.  We must actually do something about it.  If not, we become useless, ineffective, irrelevant and fruitless.  We must have fruit AND we must do something to preserve that fruit.

Yes, it is about personal characteristics (“fruit”) which only the Spirit can produce in us, and yes, it is about actually doing something with those inclinations (acting to preserve that fruit).  It is about both.

Seems to me this would be a good thing to be teaching our people.

© 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




Bridging the Generation Gap in the Church

6 03 2012

Tuesday Re-mix – 

So much of the conflict I see in churches today falls into a general category I call “Generational Issues”.  I don’t hold myself out as an expert in the social changes ushered in by each of the last few generations, but I think any of you would agree that the various generations represented in the American church today are radically different from one to the next in terms of how they communicate, how they form and maintain relationships, and how they worship.  Obviously, there are no clear, bright lines of division.  Moreover, there are plenty of obvious exceptions to the prevailing preferences of generations (i.e., not all senior citizens prefer traditional church music to contemporary, etc.).  But the youngest adult generations in the church are approaching God and the church so very differently than their grandparents did that it is bound to raise some difficult issues for us all to work through.

But the problem is never as simple as sitting down and figuring out who is right and who is wrong.  Oh how much easier my job would be if it were that simple!  No, the bigger challenge by far is getting each side of a generational issue to even care much about the other side.  The problem in many (most?) of our churches, it seems to me, is the lack of relationship between and among the generations.

I see it often.  A church begins to have serious worship style conflict, so they call someone (me) in to help them work through it.  When I ask one side to articulate the fears and motives of the other side, they cannot even come close.  They cannot do that, because they are not even trying to understand the fears and motives of the other side.  All they can see is the conduct, and they interpret that as “they just don’t care about us”.  But if I were to ask them if they are a friendly church, they would all agree, “Oh yes!  It’s nothing like that!  Of course we are friendly.  We don’t have any problems like that around here!”

You can see that, where there are no genuine relationships between generations in a church, as soon as an issue comes along that has generational overtones (like worship music), the lines will draw quickly and clearly.  It is not because the relationships are broken.  It is because the relationships were not there in the first place!

So, the challenge is this: how do we in the church create friendships across generational lines?  How can we be more intentional about service projects and ministry opportunities that have multiple generations working side by side?  How can we strategically structure opportunities for mentoring relationships between our older folks and our younger folks?  How can we create an environment where generations are taking the time to learn one another’s “languages” and games and stories and struggles?

These are serious questions.  I would love to hear from you on this subject!  Would you use the comment feature below and tell me some creative ways your church has found to forge better relationships between generations?   Please!

© 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 Missing Piece in Gathered Worship

7 02 2012

Tuesday Re-mix – 

Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.  1 Corinthians 12:27

If the goal of worship is to connect with God, then there are only two “grades” you can give a gathered worship experience: “A” or “F”.  It is pretty much a pass/fail thing.  That is because there is no such thing as connecting with God and it being anything other than amazing and wonderful…and if you are in a worship experience and you are NOT connecting with God, then, well…fail.  I had to get all that said before I take up today’s topic, just so you know that I know…because today I am giving our culture’s gathered worship experiences a grade somewhere between pass and fail.

Last year, I attended a corporate worship experience at a church in the town where my daughter goes to school.  It was well produced, but lacking in one way.  Other than my family, I did not know a single person around me.  Sadly, that was still true even as we were leaving.  That just seems wrong to me.

The truth is, it was an amazing worship atmosphere.  Very contemporary in style (I am blessed to be comfortable worshiping in almost any “style”), with a casual feel and lots of technology to help the worshiper stay focused on the message and on the theme for the day…great, introspective music, wonderful sermon, innovative communion.  To their credit, I thought the worship leaders did a fairly good job of keeping the focus OFF of them on ON the Lord.  That’s not easy to do in this consumer-oriented culture.  But there was one element missing for me…and frankly, it is missing in the vast majority of corporate worship experiences I’ve ever seen or heard about.  So much so, in fact, that I often wonder if I am the only one who misses it.

But before I identify it, allow me one digression.

In my own church, our worship service is televised…live, every Sunday.  It is a great deal for those of us who worship there.  If you cannot be there for some reason on any given Sunday, you can catch the service on television.  God has done some amazing things over the years through that television ministry, and I am truly grateful for it.  But I do wonder if watching our services on television is any different than worshiping there in person.  Because our services, like just about everyone else’s, call your attention to the front of the auditorium the entire service.  What you are watching in person is no different than what you would be watching on television.  When we worship, we all come in and sit down and turn our attention to the front of the sanctuary for the entire hour.  It is very much like going into a movie theater and watching a movie.

And now I will digress even further.

My wife and I stopped going to movies on our “date nights” a long time ago, because, as entertaining as they might be, they do not provide any opportunity for us to “connect” with each other.  We go and sit and watch and leave without ever connecting with one another.  Not exactly good “date night” quality time.

End of digression.  Bringing it all back around now.

The same is true in most of our gathered worship experiences.  We come, we sit, we stand, we listen, we pray, we sing…all without any “connection” to our co-worshipers except for the token 90 seconds when we “turn and greet one another”.  And for me, this is the missing piece: truly connecting with my co-worshiper. I know, I know…our worship is all about Him, not about us…we are supposed to be focused on Him.  I get that.  But I can do that at home, all by myself.  I can turn on my radio or my computer monitor and watch or listen to outstanding leaders “prompt” me to turn my heart toward the Lord.  I do not need a live gathered worship experience for that.  Shouldn’t the live experience lead me to do something which only it can do, i.e., experience the body of Christ?  Shouldn’t corporate worship afford me the opportunity to do something I CANNOT DO AT HOME?  Shouldn’t it offer me the opportunity to connect with the Spirit of Christ living in my brother/sister?

I long for that in worship.  I have no idea how to accomplish it, how to structure it.  But I do long for it.

What about you?  If you have been a part of a worship experience which really gave co-worshipers the opportunity to connect with one another, i.e., to find Christ in one another, I would love to hear from you.  What did it look like?  How did it work?  I’m looking for ideas!  I’m looking for the missing piece.

© 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 Fabric of Your Church

19 04 2011

Tuesday Re-mix -

Your church is not just comprised of people.  It is comprised of relationships among those people.  That’s an important distinction.  It is the difference between a pile of bricks and a building made with those bricks.  It is the difference between a jumbled wad of thread and a fabric woven with that thread.  It is not just the people who make up the church…it is the specific ways in which those people relate to one another that either make them a New Testament church or not.  More specifically, it is the Spirit of God living in those people and moving them into relationships with each other which make them a church.

I often describe the church as a fabric.  Each of us is a single thread in that fabric.  Every place my “thread” touches another “thread” is a relationship.  And all of those relationships, together, form my local congregation.

There are always things putting pressure on that fabric…weighty objects (“issues”) which God permits to fall into the fabric of your church.  Some of those issues are heavy and others are pretty light.  But when one of those issues tears the fabric, it is not just a function of the weight of the issue.  It is a function of the strength of the fabric. Churches which teach and practice Biblical interpersonal relationships constitute strong fabrics.  They can handle lots of challenges.  But churches who do not teach good relationships will eventually become littered with broken or damaged relationships, i.e., weak fabric.  And where the fabric is weak enough, it doesn’t take much to tear it wide open.

Another metaphor that works here is thinking of your “fabric” as a latex balloon.  When you inflate it and then hold it up to the light, you can actually see where the latex is thicker in some places and thinner in others.  As you begin to put more and more air into the balloon, you can actually predict where it will most likely burst first, because the latex is thin in those places.  Churches are the same.  Where there are no relationships in place (or where there are damaged relationships), that is where the break will happen first, just as soon as there is an issue to put pressure on those places.

For example, if there are no relationships between generations in your church (i.e., the older generation and the younger generation don’t mix much), then a generation-oriented issue (such as music in worship) could easily divide that church.  On the other hand, where those relationships are in place and are strong, that church will not be bothered much by that kind of issue.

My co-teacher in this ministry, Dr. Ann Farris, has a slightly different take on this “fabric of the church” metaphor.  She thinks of the church as a patchwork quilt, a “mosaic” of sorts, with each of us representing a unique element in that quilt but one which is necessarily connected to all the others.  Again, without the relationships, i.e., the connections between us, we are little more than a pile of cloth squares.  But as the Spirit of God joins us together and we learn our relationships with one another, we become a church.  I like this metaphor, because it reminds us that we each bring something unique to the table in the way of Spiritual gifts and preferences.  We each have a certain beauty which we add to the larger work, but we still must have strong relationships, strong connections to the others for all the reasons I mentioned above.

With either illustration, the point is clear.  The church is much more than just a collection of people.  It is the relationships among those people.  Those relationships will dictate the effectiveness of that church and its mission.  Is it any wonder, then, that Jesus’ prayer for us in John 17 was not just that many people would come to believe, but that those people would have unity with each other?

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”  John 13:34-35

© 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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