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A Few Things I Wish Every Church Understood

May 26, 2009

Tuesday Re-mix – This is a popular post from last year, updated and resubmitted for your consideration and comments.

I found these comments at Len Hjalmarson’s blog, nextreformation.com.

The observations are insightful and should probably be required reading for every church leader. They’re short, simple, and easy to understand. But the ramifications of actually implementing them in your church would be enormous.

A couple of years back Mike Bishop asked some great questions:

“If you are reading this and have some vested interest in a community of faith – whatever your flavor, old-school or new-school, emerging or submerging – do yourself a favor and stop caring about the following things:

1. The number of people in your church. Really, it doesn’t matter.
2. The “relevancy” of your common worship.
3. How often or if ever a new person shows up at one of your common worship times.
4. The size of your church budget, building, or paid staff.
5. What any other church in the world is doing – good or bad or otherwise.

“And please start caring about the following things:

1. Actively looking for the evidence of God’s kingdom – where what he wants done is done – at work, at home, at Starbucks (heaven forbid), at the beach, and anywhere else you might find yourself in the course of living your normal life.
2. Simple, honest worship.
3. Having friends that don’t give a rip about your church. Maybe you might just rub off on them.
4. Giving away money to people who need it; using existing, familiar (and free) spaces for common worship such as homes, restaurants, parks, or community centers; flattening the organization’s need for paid leadership and support roles.
5. Go on a unique, unreproducible journey with a group of people and rejoice with

The Discipline of Living in the Spirit

May 19, 2009

Tuesday Re-mix – This is a popular post from last year, updated and resubmitted for your consideration and comments.

Dramatization. Not your author!

I have never actually sat down and watched What Not To Wear on TLC. It is, I believe, one of a hundred or so “fashion reality shows” which have captured the TV-watching world’s attention. My very limited understanding of it is that the hosts and fashion consultants on the show invade the home of a poor, unsuspecting person whose friends have sold him or her out and throw away all the old clothes in his or her closet which constitute clear fashion risks. When you think about it, it is a pretty humiliating process to have your friends hate your clothes so much that they put you on national television to get you to change. Come to think of it, I suspect my teenage daughters would love a shot at my own closet for this very purpose (dads can be so very uncool).

But the truth is, we all have worn things in the past which we would be thoroughly embarrassed to wear today (e.g., take a look at the wedding pictures of anyone married in the 70s or 80s). To put those things on today and be seen in them would be, well, pretty horrible. This, I believe, is a near-perfect illustration for the discipline of living “in the Spirit”.

But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Colossians 3:8-10

Paul talks about this discipline …

Maybe Worship Style Is Not the Issue

May 05, 2009

Tuesday Re-mix: This is a popular post from last year, updated and resubmitted for your consideration and comments.

Gathered worship is about approaching the throne of grace together. That’s what makes it a very different experience from personal worship. In gathered worship, the Spirit of the very God I come to worship lives in my co-worshiper. That makes relationships critical to gathered worship. When I look across the congregation and see my dear friend profoundly expressing his love for the Lord, it doesn’t matter so much whether I’m loving the music, because my dear friend clearly is. I worship because he is worshiping. All that matters at that point in time is how I feel about God and how I feel about my friend. That is enough.

So here is a bottom line: if relationships among worshipers are everything God wants them to be, worship style will not be an issue. If relationships among worshipers are broken or non-existent, it will not matter what worship style you choose. It will be wrong.

A word to my worship leader friends: spend less time worrying about whether to program hymns or choruses and more time invested in creating Biblical relationships among your worshipers.

© Blake Coffee

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Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: © Blake Coffee. Website: churchwhisperer.com

There’s a Difference Between Childlikeness and Childishness

April 21, 2009

Tuesday Re-mix – This is a popular post from last year, updated and resubmitted for your consideration and comments.

In the entire Bible, there is no chapter or passage which comes up more often in the midst of church fights than Matthew 18, particularly the passage in v. 15 and following which talks about how to confront a brother. Unfortunately, people abuse it more than they use it, and that is because they don’t really understand it. They don’t understand it because they read it out of context. But in context, read together as one huge lesson (the way Jesus taught it), it makes perfect sense. In fact, it shows Jesus’ utterly amazing insight into the church and how it would function over the centuries to follow.

angry-childIn my work with conflicted congregations, I lost count a long time ago of the number of times people did really hateful, humiliating things to each other all in the name of “confronting a brother” pursuant to Matthew 18:15-17. The truth is, people often (usually?) decide first what they want and then use scripture to help them get it. If you think about it, it is a pretty childish way to go about doing church. Then again, childish behavior in the church doesn’t surprise most church leaders any longer. It disappoints, yes, but it doesn’t surprise. Even Jesus’ own brother, James, wrote about it in his letter to the church:

“What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight.” James 4:1-2.

It is a vivid picture of childish behavior, as true today as it was in Pastor James’ church 2000 years ago. People …

With Apologies to Theologians Everywhere…I Loved “The Shack”

April 14, 2009

Tuesday Remix – This is a popular post from last year, updated and re-submitted for your consideration and comments.

Hello. My name is Blake (everyone yell altogether: “Hi, Blake!”), and I liked The Shack. Reading some of the theological reviews of the book, I feel like there must be something very wrong with me, that I would dare to favor a completely fictional story which contains some (allegedly) questionable theology. But I do like the story and found it quite helpful even in a Spiritual sense, which leaves me wondering if it is possible for God to use an allegedly theologically flawed story to draw me closer to Him in our relationship. Apparently it is possible, and judging from the many positive reviews from Christians around the country, I am not exactly out on a limb in this judgment.

Let’s first be clear about some things: (1) I am no theologian, at least not in the “seminary-trained, original Greek and Hebrew” way of talking about theology, and I have never held myself out to be so; (2) I suspect I can find some theological point on which to disagree with almost any author writing today, so I do not derive my understanding of God by trying to emulate any person’s theology; (3) take point number (2) and magnify it several times as it may relate to works of fiction.

So, with all those caveats firmly established, I recommend The Shack…as an allegory for the healing process and as a story that explores the question, “How can a loving God allow such unspeakable pain as our world sometimes experiences?” I like the book. As a person called to a ministry to hurting people and as a friend called to walk alongside those hurting people, I appreciate the …

Celebrate the Birth of a Revolution

April 10, 2009

The Revolution was not born when Christ was born.  The revolution we call Christianity was born when three world-changing events occurred within a couple of months.  We remember the first of those today: the crucifixion.  We remember the second one in a couple of days: the resurrection.  And the third is a day we remember as Pentecost.

And with these three events, the world would never be the same again.

cross

I’ll be taking some time this weekend to reflect on all of this.  Hope you will do the same.  See you on Tuesday.

He is risen.  He has risen indeed.…

Languages of Worship

April 07, 2009

Tuesday Re-mix – This is a popular post from last year, updated and rerun for your consideration and comments.

Imagine this: you feel inspired to adopt a few children. You’ve always wanted a larger family and your (and your spouse’s) heart is breaking for the children around the world who are in need of Godly parents. So, you adopt one Chinese child, one Russian child, and one child who is hearing impaired. For now, each of them only speaks their language (Chinese, Russian, and sign). It’s your first night all together at the dinner table. You, your spouse and your three new children are all seated, staring at one another over a pot roast lovingly prepared by you. Here is my question: what language(s) will you speak at the table?

Maybe the more important question, the one more pertinent for the purposes of this post, is this: will you love these children enough to learn some words in their respective language(s), or will you coldly refuse to learn a single word in their language and just wait for them to learn yours?

Worship styles are like that. They are learned languages. In many cases, they are the only “worship” language spoken by some individuals. Whether or not I am willing to learn the language spoken by my brother is really just a question of how badly I want to communicate with him. Do I love him enough to want to learn his language?

The world is becoming smaller, and there are literally thousands of “languages of worship” around the world. For a local body of worshipers who are at all open to new worshipers joining them, it is becoming more and more impossible to limit worship to only one language (i.e., only one style). As new church members color the …

Quit Griping and Just Worship. Seriously.

March 31, 2009

Tuesday Re-mix – This is a popular post from last year, updated and submitted for your consideration and comments.

I miss having children’s art on my refrigerator. I’m between seasons for that (kids are too old but no grandchildren yet). I always loved getting the artwork from them after they had spent hours creating them. I had a lot of responses when I got them, but here are some things I NEVER said: What, are you kidding? You call that a portrait? Can’t you even draw a face right? This doesn’t even remotely resemble our house. This is not a good tree at all.  This is not good enough. I don’t want this. Can you even imagine a parent responding that way?

I can’t either. Nor can I even imagine God looking down at the heart of one of his children and saying these same kinds of things about their worship efforts…not any longer, not under the new covenant where “true worshipers” worship “…in Spirit and in truth” as opposed to form and place.  I just don’t think God gets nearly as stressed about worship styles as we do.

As a church mediator, I have to tell you, I’ve just about had my fill of the fighting over worship styles. Contemporary versus traditional: which one is better? I think I have memorized every verse of each side’s battle hymn (or chorus). They’re too shallow. They aren’t genuine. They sing the same words over and over again. They’re too stale. They aren’t user-friendly. Their hands are in the air. Their hands are in their pockets.  They have frowns on their faces when they worship. They preach too long. They preach too short. They don’t do an altar call. They don’t take an offering. They take too many offerings. They stand too

I Think That I Shall Never See…

March 24, 2009

Tuesday Re-mix – this is a popular post from last year, updated and rerun for your consderation and comments.

I think that I shall never see…

…a Christian lovely as a tree (with apologies to Joyce Kilmer). The big, strong, deep rooted tree  is the image to which I am continuously drawn when I think of “growing” in a relationship with Christ. You know, the Psalm 1 “tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not whither.” It is the image of perfect health.

It is also the illustration we used  in our Sunday morning Bible Study (you can find us here) as we talked about the “Spiritual disciplines” of the Christian life.  One of the disciplines we studied was  the discipline of giving. Once again, just the preparation of the lesson alone brought me great conviction. Here is the passage that got me:

Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. II Corinthians 9:6-7

I was brought up in the church. I was taught about giving at a very early age. I have been a fairly faithful “giver” pretty much all of my adult life. I have done it in (very small) part as an act of worship, but much more so out of a sense of “it’s just the right thing to do”. I see it as a part of God’s economy. If God says it’s a good way to handle my finances, that’s enough for me. I saw Cecil B. DeMille’s Ten Commandments as a child, and God has had my attention ever since …

The Great Mystery of the Ages

March 17, 2009

I love a good mystery. I love trying to sort through all the clues and pieces of evidence in order to figure out the key, the central truth that explains everything. I guess that’s what intrigues me about Paul’s comment to the Colossian church in chapter 1 of that letter:

“…the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints. 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.” Col. 1:26-27.

I believe when God created man (and woman) in His own image, this mystery was more apparent to the angels looking on than to the created man. Being created in God’s image, whatever else that means, means being created with the capacity to be indwelled by the Holy Spirit. Man was created with a void in the shape of God’s spirit; a void that would not be filled on a large scale until a day we know as Pentecost. Everything changed at Pentecost. The answer to the mystery of what that void was all about was then revealed. For the first time (at least on a large scale) the Spirit of God completed what was God’s plan from the beginning, to indwell His creation. God, the Spirit…Christ in you, the hope of glory.

But isn’t it also the hope of unity among God’s people?

When we ponder the mess of broken relationships and bad behavior that seem to mark the church, and when we shake our fists at God demanding a way to “fix” the brokenness, to straighten out His people, hasn’t He already given us the fix? If the Spirit of God Himself really does live in every member of His …

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