Tag Archives: God’s will

A Peacemaker’s Advent: Mary and Joseph

Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.  But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”… When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.  Matthew 1:19-21, 23

 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.”  “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.  Luke 1:35-38

The Christmas story is filled with contrasts between those who rearranged their very lives in order to make room for the birth of the Messiah and those who either opposed His birth or were completely indifferent to it.  Mary and Joseph had their lives changed forever.  Their obedience and their ability to embrace a seemingly impossible circumstance set them apart.  Even more, it was their willingness to set aside their own pretty good plans in order to be obedient to God which makes them perfect …

God’s Will: Keeping the “What” and the “When” Together

Tuesday Re-mix –

Last Summer (2011) will go down forever in the scrapbook of the Coffee household.  It was crazy!  Between May 10 and May 28 (just 18 days), my older daughter graduated from ACU, my younger daughter graduated from MacArthur High School, and my older daughter got married!  That whole month is just a hazy flash in my memory.  But it was not over.  To top all of that off, my younger daughter was driving with a friend through our neighborhood in the middle of a weekday morning and got hit by a drunk driver.  Timing is everything.

The car accident happened at an intersection. My daughter was actually the second car to go through the intersection. The drunk driver blew through a red light and totalled my daughter’s car. My daughter and her friend were (thankfully) spared any serious injury. If the drunk driver had come a second or two sooner, she would have missed us altogether. If she had come a second later, she would have done serious (maybe fatal) damage to my daughter. We have all thanked God for his perfect timing. Timing is everything.

Sometimes it takes circumstances like this to help us appreciate just how important God’s timing is. That is particularly true in the church.

I have lost count of how many conflicted congregations with whom I have worked who struggled in one way or another with God’s timing. Here are some examples:

Moving forward on a narrow majority “vote”…

Paralyzed by caution and missing an important ministry opportunity…

Forging ahead with huge changes without building the necessary consensus…

Making the right decision in committee but fumbling the communication out to the rest of the church…

The pastor weighing in too soon on a controversial issue…

The pastor weighing in too late on …

The Multiple-Choice Pastor Search

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 …

The “Star-crossed Lovers” Pastor Search Process

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.…

Figuring it All Out…Together

Tuesday Re-mix –

Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. I Corinthians 13:12

Blind men and puzzleImagine being locked in a dark room with a bunch of other people with whom you must work together to find a way out.  There are obstacles and opportunities throughout the room, but they are difficult to see.  You truly must rely on each other to feel your way through the room, exploring every corner and piecing together the information accumulated by the group.  In such a scenario, your chances of figuring it out all by yourself without anyone else’s help are slim to none.  But together, it can be done.

That is very much like discerning the will of God together as a church body.  For now, when it comes to seeing Spiritual truths, we all see as through a glass dimly.  We are never so arrogant as when we proudly proclaim to the world that we have seen the will of God all by ourselves, and that we clearly understand it better than anyone else.  In this age of the church, that does not seem to be God’s desire.  Rather, He apparently intends that we would learn to come to Him together, seeking His truths together, and gently massaging those truths into one another.

But that process can be truly frustrating, especially in times of conflict.  Working with a conflicted congregation, I often wonder why God doesn’t just make an appearance  in their worship service one Sunday morning and tell them exactly what He is thinking about them and what He wants them to do.  Frankly, it would be a lot easier for them –if not a little …

What Constitutes “Consensus”?

Tuesday Re-mix –

I remember well the very first meeting of our last pastor search committee at my own church.  We prayed together and then we discussed process.  One thing we all agreed on was that we were trying to discern the will of a sovereign God, and that was no small task.  We agreed that we would not act on a simple majority vote.  Rather that we should act only upon “consensus”.  Then one of us (and I don’t recall who it was) asked a very natural question: if there are nine of us on this committee, what number constitutes consensus?  Great question.  I’m not sure we ever came to a  consensus about how to answer it.

Just as soon as your church purposes to find God’s will by a “consensus” process rather than a simple majority vote, that question immediately comes to the surface: how exactly do we define “consensus”? Is it necessarily the same as “unanimous” or is it something less than unanimous but more than a majority?

puzzle-consensus

This is another place where our puzzle metaphor is a bit enlightening.  It makes “consensus” easy to understand.  “Consensus” simply means that we have enough puzzle pieces in place to leave no doubt about what the picture is.  We can still work to add the other pieces, but it is crystal clear to everyone  (not just a few, but everyone) what the puzzle is showing us.  In that instance, then, it is not so much about a specific number of pieces, because the number will change, depending upon which pieces we have in place.  If we have a 56-piece puzzle (like the one pictured here), how many pieces do we need in place before everyone can see and understand the picture?  55?  50?  40?  Again, it depends.

Defining consensus …

I Do Believe in Pastoral Authority. Really.

Tuesday Re-mix-

I confess I am guilty of blurring the line between vocational ministers and laity (between those who are compensated for their ministry in a particular church and those who are not).  I also admit that I probably have a higher view of the roles and responsibilities of us average, non-professional Christians than most people have.  Finally, when you accuse me of believing and teaching that God’s call on the life of a layman is just as high and defining as His call on any professional minister, I am guilty as charged.

But none of that translates into a dim view of pastoral authority…recognizing, of course, that “dim” is a relative term.

I am always a little afraid of a pastor whose entire model of church leadership comes from the Old Testament.  When his (and I won’t add the normal “/her” because it’s pretty clear that no female leader in the church could derive her entire model for church leadership from the Old Testament) only illustrations for pastoral leadership are from characters such as Moses or David or Elijah, it tells me some scary things about that pastor.  You see, neither Moses nor David nor Elijah had any experience at all leading people who were indwelled by the Spirit of God Himself.  So, while those are important leadership (even pastoral) models, they are by no means complete illustrations for leadership in the Age of the Church.

What, then, is pastoral authority in this age?  Where does it come from and how does it inform the relationship between pastor and layman?

First, what it is and where it comes from…pastoral authority comes from speaking the Word of God exactly as God gives it to that pastor to speak.  When a pastor speaks exactly what God speaks, the authority is present. 

Genuine Pastoral Vision

Tuesday Re-mix:

Do you remember stereograms?  Google it, you’ll remember.  I can still recall walking through the mall and seeing people standing in groups staring at these posters and marveling.  I would go and stand with them and look at the poster, and all I could see was a bunch of squiggly lines.  They would keep talking about the picture that “jumps out at you” if you stare at it long enough.  I still didn’t get it.  Then they would give you these complicated instructions, trying to help you see it…something about relaxing your eyes and looking through the poster.  That only made me feel more incompetent.  After a while, the person selling the posters would console me by saying, “Well, some people just never see it.”  Oh, thank you.  Now I feel much better.

Apparently, it is a fact of life.  Some of us have brains designed to easily see the hidden pictures in stereograms, while others of us, well, cannot.  I am o.k. with that.

It is like that in the church as well.  Even after we get all of the pieces to to the puzzle that is God’s will put out on the table, and after we get them all connected as they should be, there are still plenty of us who look at the picture and say, “I don’t get it…what is it?”  This, I believe, is where true pastoral vision comes into play.  I believe God has gifted those He calls as pastors with the ability to cast their gaze across the landscape of a congregation and see God at work in the lives of its members.  Then, seeing God at work through its members, that vision enables the pastor to see the picture of what God desires and interpret it correctly.  For someone with …

The Frustration of Missing Pieces

Tuesday Re-mix

One of my “go away and do nothing” places is the beach near Port Aransas, Texas.  My in-laws own a condo down there and it has been my family’s tradition to go down there for a few days every Fall after the vacation season is over and it’s not quite so crowded.  The agenda for those few days is pretty simple: do nothing.  We go to the beach and do nothing, or we go to the pool and do nothing, or we sit in the room and do nothing.  It is wonderful.

Among the “nothingness” we do, there is always a jigsaw puzzle sitting on the coffee table, waiting to be put together.  We rarely get it all put together, but nobody seems to mind.  It is just something kind of mindless to do while we are doing nothing.  One of the challenges to putting together a puzzle is when there are missing pieces.  You don’t actually know there are missing pieces unless you get all the other pieces in place.  Otherwise, you just figure this one critical piece you’ve been looking for is just mixed in somewhere with all the other pieces.  It can be frustrating.

That can be frustrating in the church as well.  We cannot seem to find peace about this decision or that decision, we cannot seem to be in consensus about what God wants for us because we still do not have the entire picture.  There are pieces missing to the puzzle…people not here.  We may not even know there are missing pieces, but there are.

Actually, in most of our churches, we do know there are missing pieces.  Very few churches in America get more than 50%-60% involvement from their membership.  We may have 1000 names on our roles, but only 500 …

How the Puzzle Pieces of God’s Will Fit Together

Tuesday Re-mix:

(This is the next in a series of posts about discerning God’s will together as a church body.)

Nine blind men stand in a circle, with an elephant standing in the middle.  They are asked, “What is it that stands among you?”  The blind man who is in the front of the elephant reaches up and feels and says, “It is a large hose of some kind.”  The blind man standing behind the elephant reaches and feels and says, “No, it is more like a rope of some kind, attached to something very large.”  One of the blind men standing on one side reaches up and feels and says, “No, it is neither a hose nor a rope…it is a large wall, with hair on it.”  Which of them is right and which of them is wrong?  They are all right.  But they are all wrong. From ancient India, author unknown

If the key to building consensus in the church is to stay focused on God’s will (and not our will), then the biggest challenge becomes, well, the fact that we are talking about God’s will.  It is a challenge because we  are uncomfortable trying to reach agreement with each other about God’s will.  If I say God’s will for us is “ABC” and you say God’s will for us is “XYZ”, then we have conflict.  And in the worst of circumstances, we begin to question one another’s walk with the Lord.  So, rather than risk that kind of conflict, it is easier to just take a vote and let the majority rule.  That way, we can bypass God’s will all together and just follow the will of the people.

puzzle-pieces-fitting

But as our nine blind men from ancient India teach us, “ABC” and “XYZ” are not necessarily conflicting …