Category Archives: Discerning God’s Will Together

Making Your Church’s Path Straight

In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.  Proverbs 3:6

My GPS and I have a tense relationship. I often don’t understand her directions. I can be traveling 70 mph down the highway, and she will tell me “in a quarter mile, stay straight on.” What does that even mean? And why does she say “In 200 feet, bear left…” when what she means is that I should take the turnaround under the next intersection and head back the opposite direction? Sometimes, I just would rather have my old, folded map! I just want to get to my destination with as few mistakes as possible!

So, God has my full attention when he makes promises in scripture about “making my path straight”. With promises like that, who needs maps or GPS? The promise in Proverbs 3:5-6 is not only true for the individual but for the church as well. It actually resolves quite a few problems for the local body of believers. Not all problems. But quite a few.

straight pathHere are some thoughts about what the promise of “straight paths” means for us as church leaders as we lead our churches forward:

Be willing to go beyond what you can understand. If you think trusting in the Lord and NOT on our own understanding is scary as an individual, you just try it as a church! With all the added pressures of “worldly wisdom” and fear-based group think, finding our way forward as a church body can be daunting. Learning as a church body to trust in the Lord’s direction, even when we cannot see all the dots connect ahead of time requires a huge cultural shift for most churches.

Acknowledge him in all your ways. Part of “doing church together” is the learned corporate …

Defiling the Church

Thursday Re-mix:

But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine…In every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king questioned them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom. Daniel 1:8, 20

Daniel was not a dietician.  He was no more prepared to offer a scientific explanation for his food choices than he was prepared to explain the theory of relativity.  All he knew was God’s Word and he was “resolved not to defile himself”, i.e., he was determined not to dirty his hands with the ways of the world.  He knew God’s law.  He trusted it.  And that was enough for him.

dirty handsIn my ministry of consulting with conflicted congregations, I have reached a conclusion about the church: it can be complicated.  This is true because people are complicated and because relationships are messy and the church, after all, is comprised fully of people and relationships.  It is not always easy to find our way forward through those complications.  It may be doctrinal issues or personality issues or governance issues or moral issues.  It may be generational issues or worship style issues or social issues.  Whatever the issues, the way forward can seem almost impossible to find, even for the most brilliant strategist.  I am reminded of that difficulty time and time again.

When we find ourselves in new, unchartered territory (like Daniel), it is always tempting to fall back on conventional wisdom of the world in which we live and work.   We want answers, and sometimes scripture does not offer us quite the full explanation we are hoping for, so we “defile ourselves” (and God’s church) by relying on strategies and processes from the world.

For example, we rely upon Robert’s Rules of Order …

Meanwhile, Until We are Truly “Abiding in Him”…

Tuesday Re-mix:

If you say, “The Lord is my refuge,”
    and you make the Most High your dwelling,
no harm will overtake you,
    no disaster will come near your tent.  Psalm 91:9-10

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”  John 15:5

Holy Scripture is filled with amazing promises.  But almost all of them come with conditions.  You know the formula…“IF my people…will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, THEN will I hear from Heaven and…” etc.  Or…“Trust in the Lord with all your heart…and He will make your path straight.”  Most of God’s awesome promises come with a condition of some kind or another, or at least an assumption or implication.  It seems to be one of His many wondrous ways.

I read all the wonderful promises of Psalm 91 in that same light. Those promises of God’s protection and provision all hinge upon the very first line (repeated in verse 9): If you make the Most High your dwelling.

baby feet in heartWhen I deal with conflicting parties within the church, I often hear both sides invoke the name of the Lord for their positions.  I hear both sides claiming that God is on their side, that He will prevail and that He will bring about what they want.  But I also hear both sides in very much a “win/lose” mindset, wherein they will not be satisfied unless they win AND the other side loses.  I recall working with a church some years ago wherein one group was very much wanting to get rid of the pastor.  They were acting as “God’s agents”.  Midway through the process, the pastor accepted …

Pursuing Peace

Tuesday Re-mix:

Turn from evil and do good;
    seek peace and pursue it.  Psalm 34:14

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.  Romans 12:18

dove

I am still thinking here about the very difficult debates raging through the church today over the same-sex issues and what scripture says (or what it does not say) about the issue. It occurs to me that seeking peace with each other around this issue has less to do with WHAT we have to say and much more to do with our HEARTS as we engage each other in this conversation.

Peace can be a tricky thing.  As high a value as scripture makes it, as many times as we are instructed to pursue it among God’s people, the way toward peace and the way toward conflict often move in the same direction.  That makes it tricky.

Peace, you see, is NOT necessarily just the absence of conflict.  As long as people are involved, there will be conflict…there will be disagreement…and there will be hurt feelings.  In the midst of those things, peace does NOT require moving away from each other.  Rather, peace requires moving toward each other.  It requires having difficult conversations…even painful conversations.  Avoiding those conversations may bring a temporary peace, at least it may feel more peaceful for a short season, but the long term result is just the opposite of peace…it is chaos and frustration and complication.

So, the first point here is that “pursuing peace” often requires moving toward the conflict rather than away from it…moving toward the difficult conversation rather than waiting in the wings and allowing the pain to fester over time.  The problem, then, is how to tell the difference between “pursuing peace” and fueling a fight.  Both are …

“The Lord Always Before Me”

Tuesday Re-mix:

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

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

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

Two observations here:

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

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

Don’t you think “I have set the Lord always before me” is a comment about focus?  I do.  I think it means always, always, always helping us stay focused on the Head of the church (Jesus) and what He desires and what Honors Him and what His kingdom requires.  I think it means, when the rest of the world is focused on …

Speaking Without Seeing

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

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

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

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

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

And isn’t that the church’s assignment as well? Are we …

God Uses Our Silence

When day came, the assembly of the elders of the people gathered together, both chief priests and scribes. And they led him away to their council, and they said, “If you are the Christ, tell us.” But he said to them, “If I tell you, you will not believe, and if I ask you, you will not answer. But from now on the Son of Man shall be seated at the right hand of the power of God.” So they all said, “Are you the Son of God, then?” And he said to them, “You say that I am.”  Luke 22:66-70

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. Romans 1:16

silenceWatching Jesus verbally spar with the teachers of the law all through the gospels just makes it harder for us to understand how he could be essentially silent during those last two days before Pilate and Herod and the chief priests.  There were so many things he could have said…so many ways he could have embarrassed them!

Doesn’t it seem to you that he had some moral and spiritual obligation to have said more to them?  Do you wonder whether any of his followers accused him of being ashamed of the gospel, because he wouldn’t speak up when he could have…when he should have?  I mean, he KNEW the truth! Is it ever wrong to just speak the truth?  Isn’t this the truth that sets men free?  These are the questions rattling around in my head as I read the accounts of Jesus in Court before his crucifixion.  And, of course, I ask them satirically, because these are all the same arguments I think we, the church, …

And We Wonder Why We’re Drifting

Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.” And while some were speaking of the temple, how it was adorned with noble stones and offerings, he said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”  Luke 21:1-6

What is it about this story that is sad and ridiculous and oh, so appropriate to us today?

While Jesus was watching the stuff of eternal significance, we were all watching the stuff that was just temporal and would be gone in the blink of an eye.

[sigh]

© Blake Coffee
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Walking Slowly Through the Crowd

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 …

Careful with Open Doors and Straight Paths

Tuesday Re-mix:

Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose.  Acts 16:26

I’m intrigued by this story in Acts 16, not only because Paul and Silas did not leave through the open door of their jail cell, but also because they were apparently able to convince all of the other prisoners to stay as well.  Just a few chapters earlier, Peter left jail under similar circumstances (I know, I know, he had an angel directing him to leave and that is definitely a distinguishing feature!), and I cannot help but wonder if I might not have interpreted an earthquake and chains miraculously falling off me as a sign from God that I should leave!

I think there is a lesson here for the church.  Discerning God’s direction for a church is never quite as simple as walking through every door that seems to miraculously open…never merely a matter of seeing God in isolated circumstances.  That is true because, as it turns out, there is usually more than one possible interpretation of circumstances!  The danger in discerning God’s will in that case is that we all tend to see what we want to see.

What about the scenario where a wealthy church member walks in and agrees to write a check to cover some dream the pastor has always had?  Is that necessarily God speaking?  What if your church has prayed and asked God to pave the way for a relocation and someone leaves the church a large tract of land in their estate?  Is that God saying “move”?  If the pastor has always dreamed of starting a half-way house ministry in the house the church owns, and the city planning …