From Blake Coffee

forest-for-the-trees “Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him,“You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions. Mark 12:32-34

I believe the church has more than its share of leaders who cannot see the forest for the trees. They get so distracted by the minutia, the petty, the theological fine points, they lose sight of the main thing. I suspect you know a leader or two like that. You may even BE a leader like that…but, if you are, you probably do not know it. After all, what kind of leader would knowingly be like that?

The Pharisees and other teachers of the law in Jesus’ day were often that way. They were so distracted by the complexities of their traditions and the fine points of the Mosaic law, they had virtually lost sight of the Spirit behind those laws. Questions like, “What’s most important?” were particularly troublesome for them.

Jesus, on the other hand, seems to me to be a “big picture” kind of leader…at least in matters of theology. He always had an eye on the things which matter most, and he had a way of embarrassing the institutional religious thinkers of his day in this regard. He valued a theology which kept the main thing as the main thing. I think that is what he saw in this particular teacher of the law in Mark 12. This was a rare moment when Jesus actually commended one of those teachers, and it seems to me to be because this teacher was actually able to keep the details in perspective and to see the forest for the trees.

When I work with congregational conflict, I am never particularly surprised at how out of focus we church people are capable of becoming, how tunnel-visioned we get, particularly in matters of doctrine and theology. We can get so zoomed in on the differences among us that we completely lose sight of the major worldview we have in common. But I get particularly disappointed in shepherds among us who lose their focus on what is important, because they are who set the focus for the rest of us. Show me a church which is overly focused on money and material possessions, and I will show you church leadership who is out of focus that way. Show me a church who is overly focused on politics and I will show you church leadership who is leaning out of bounds in that same way. In matters of focus, we truly are a “follow the leader” kind of people.

Leadership vision which allows discussion on the finer points but which maintains its focus on the larger points is a vision Jesus commends. He saw it in this teacher of the law. He will acknowledge it in you as well. Keep your eyes on the forest, pastor. Always remind us and help us to see it. There will always be plenty of people around to point out the individual trees. You keep us focused on the major stuff. Jesus will be pleased.
© Blake Coffee
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From Charles Stone, these insights on the hidden factors that you must deal with when managing change in a church.change_bulldozer

 Why does it seem so hard to bring change in a church?

by Charles Stone

In my 30 plus years in ministry, change management has been one of the most challenging tasks I’ve faced. Most pastors would probably agree. Recently I learned an insight about how people’s brains work that helped me see what I may have unintentionally overlooked when I initiated a change.

Our brains are wired for us to want certainty in our lives. When something feels ambiguous or uncertain, we subconsciously feel threatened. When we feel threatened, it creates an away response, rather than a toward response. In the case of church change, an away response might be negativity, fear, passive resistance, or complaining from people. On the other hand, a toward response could be excitement, support, and good gossip, how we hope the church would respond. The more uncertain and ambiguous church change appears, the less support we’ll get and the more difficult the change will become.

So how we can we make church change less ambiguous and easier to bring about? I’ve listed some pointers below based on some recent findings in neuroscience.

Stay close to your key influencers during the entire change process. Remember, the more threatened someone feels, the more they will resist change. Learn their unique personalities because some personalities respond better to change than others. (Brin Jr. & Hoff, 1957).
Remain sensitive to characteristics that impact a person’s feeling of threat caused by the uncertainty change brings.
The more politically conservative they are, the more they may feel threatened by change (Jost et al., 2008).
The more personal anxiety they’re experiencing, the more threatened they may feel from change (Bishop, 2007).
The lower a person’s self esteem, the more resistant they can be to change (Ford & Collins, 2010).
Keep people informed with timely reports on how the change is progressing (helps minimize uncertainty).
Cast a compelling vision on how the new change can make things better (a form of reframing current reality).
Teach about characters in the bible who created certainty through faith, believing God was in control despite difficult circumstances and uncertain futures.
Teach about how to keep a healthy Christ centered self-esteem.
Teach on how to biblically manage anxiety—see blog

What are some tips you’ve learned that have helped bring change?

Related Posts:

6 Keys to Managing Church Change
The Brain and Successful Church Change


Bishop, S. (2007) Neurocognitive Mechanisms of Anxiety: and Integrative Account. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, xxx (x), pp.1–10.

Brin Jr., O. & Hoff, D. (1957) Individual and Situational Differences in Desire for Certainty. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 54(2), pp.225–229.

Ford, M.B. & Collins, N.L. (2010) Self-esteem Moderates Neuroendoctrine and Psychological Responses to Interpersonal Rejection. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 98 (3), pp.405–419.

Jost, J.T., Nosek, B.A. & Gosling, S.D. (2008) Ideology: Its Resurgence in Social, Personality, and Political Psychology. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 3 (2), pp.126–136.

Published on Wednesday, December 19, 2012 @ 8:43 AM CDT


by Sharon Hodde Miller

She Worships

We sat in the car together, her in the driver’s seat and me in the passenger, as she recounted the disintegration of her marriage. Years ago she had watched as her husband slowly succumbed to alcoholism, dragging the family down with him. She fought hard for her marriage and begged him to quit, but nothing ever changed.

Both the husband and wife were active members in their church, so she sought her pastor for help. She hoped the church community would intervene and stand beside her. On behalf of her marriage and her children, she hoped her Christian friends would speak up. Do something. Do anything.

But they were silent.

Eventually, her marriage could not withstand the heavy burden of addiction, and it collapsed.

Over the years, I’ve encountered a lot of stories like this one. More recently, Ike and I desperately tried to help a friend as his marriage unraveled. Located on the opposite side of the country we did our best to counsel him over the phone, all the while praying that his local church would come around him. After all, they had presided over his wedding and vowed to support his marriage. Surely they would come forward.

But they were silent.

A short time later, his wife left him and our friend was left shattered.

Then there was the time my friend’s teenage daughter was suicidal. My friend tried in vain to solicit the help of her church’s youth minister. It was a large church and he did not respond to her calls, so I pulled some strings since I had personal ties to the church–the head pastor was a friend of a friend. Once I was put in touch with the church leadership, I received the following response:

“We are aware of the situation.”

But they never did a thing.

And finally, there was the woman going through a divorce because of her husband’s infidelity. The couple had children and the whole situation was a mess. The couple was involved in a local church, but when I asked what the pastors had done to intervene, I was informed, “Our church tends to stay out of people’s personal lives.”

Four instances when church members were in dire need of support from their Christian community. They needed the loving arms of Christ’s Body to come around them and lift them up. These were not prodigal members who had stopped attending years ago, nor had they strategically ducked under the radar. These individuals had sought out help from their church leadership, but no help was to be found.

Mega churches take a lot of flak for this kind of thing. With so many church members to wrangle, critics wonder how mega churches can attend to the pastoral needs of their flock.

However, only two of the above four stories involved a mega church. One was in a small country parish, and another in a wealthy, urban mainline church. To be sure, large numbers can be an obstacle to intimacy, but in some of our churches the obstacle lies elsewhere: in the church’s culture.

Christians have a reputation for being too involved in other people’s business, for being too judgmental, too self-righteous. And there certainly are Christians like that. I’ve heard my fair share of stories about young women being ambushed by random church ladies who thought their was outfit too immodest, or church discipline techniques that were executed too severely.

When a rebuke is outside the context of a loving, trusting, and sacrificial relationship, and without an aim toward restoration, then “accountability” is indeed problematic. But the antidote to this mistaken practice is not silence. We aren’t helping one another, or the church’s reputation, by staying out of one another’s lives.

Consider the Apostle Paul, who is a wonderful example of accountability done right. He rebuked the Corinthians harshly in his first letter to them, but this was not a random stone cast from afar, outside the context of a relationship. He knew them, loved them, had labored with them. He had established a relational climate defined by love and commitment to Christ.

And because of that climate, Paul was able to speak sternly when the time called for it. He did not consider it loving to watch in silence as the Corinthian Christians engaged in an immorality that was worse than their surrounding culture. Instead he spoke up, intervened, and gave specific instructions for change.

In many churches, there is a culture of love that isn’t very loving. While some Christians simply don’t want to be inconvenienced by the messiness of broken families and lives, others are hesitant to step on toes, or they’re afraid of losing a friend. To those who don’t want to be inconvenienced, it’s time for a gut check. Christ suffered pain and humiliation on the cross for your salvation. Becoming a Christian means following Jesus’ path. If you can’t be bothered to give your time to a brother or sister who needs you, then you need to reevaluate what it means to follow Christ.

For those who don’t want to lose friends or have an awkward conversation, think about it this way: In the opening story, the husband’s friends may have spared their relationship by avoiding an awkward conversation about his alcoholism. But the price of their friendship was the destruction of his family. They kept their friend, but his children lost their father; he eventually drank himself to death.

To be fair, his friends may not have been able to save him. Even if they had spoken up or condemned his actions, he may not have changed. The story may have had the same ending. But there would have been one key difference: the message conveyed to his wife and children would have been one of support. The community could have come around them as a buffer, but instead the wife felt abandoned and helpless.

Part of the church’s witness involves constructing a community so loving, so close, so connected to God that non-believers yearn to be a part. But as long as we are marked by either harsh judgmentalism or silence in the face of sin and hardship, this holy reputation will elude us. So speak up, friends, and get your hands dirty in the messy lives of the people around you. Don’t be so afraid of being a nosy church person; I suspect we need much more of them.


This is a great post by Todd Rhoades with some questions worth asking. = Steve

Poking the Sacred Cow in your church… what should you be asking?
Posted by Todd Rhoades in Leadership on Nov 26th, 2012 | 4 comments

I read an interesting article over at FastCompany this morning about an Australian hotel company that is changing the 11AM checkout rule.You can check out their unbelievably annoying promo for what they are calling the “Overstay Checkout” here:

According to the article, the hotel company started first by looking at their guests biggest gripes: having to check out early (by 11AM).

The truth is… when the hotel was asked why someone HAD to absolutely check out at 11AM if no one else had booked the room the next night, the hotel did not have a good answer.

It appeared to be a sacred cow — something you do but don’t know why.

That got me thinking.

What ‘sacred cow’ questions are we afraid to ask in the church.

Let’s take Sunday’s for example:

1. Why do we HAVE meet on Sundays?

2. Why do we HAVE to meet on Sunday MORNINGS?

3. Why are our services 60 minutes long?

4. Why do we do 30 minutes of music/announcements and 30 minutes of preaching?

5. Why do we use an offering PLATE?

6. Why do we do everything the way we do it?

What is YOUR church’s sacred cow question?

What should you think about changing that would really shake things up?

What groaning/griping to you hear the most from your people? Is this tied in any way, shape, or form to some type of sacred cow question you should be re-asking and re-answering?

Something to think about…

// Read more here…



Musician, worship leader and recording artist Todd Agnew offers these eight tips for music leaders. See if you can apply some of these ideas in your ministry.

1) Get to know God in a deeper way.

Studying your Bible, prayer, everything you can do in your relationship with God will have a greater impact on your worship leading than the things you work on musically. As a worship leader, you are leading people to love God. So, the better you know Him, the easier it is for you to help them.

2) Remember that you cannot force anyone to worship.

I used to try to coerce, to mock, to drag people into the presence of God. That doesn’t work. In its simplest form, worship is loving God. You can’t force someone to fall in love. The most you can do is introduce them. So, in leading, we must lift up the Person of Jesus and let Him woo His beloved into worship.
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3) Don’t ramble.

In this current worship culture, worship leaders feel the need to talk, oftentime a lot; but remember, the pastor is about to preach a sermon that he/she has spent hours and hours preparing. He or she studied, edited and crafted a message for their people. So don’t just talk for five minutes because a thought jumped into your brain. Your people were just singing a song, focused on the presence, might, mercy and majesty of their Redeemer, and you are now distracting them from that. So you better have a really good reason for doing so.

4) Prepare…and be flexible.

Spend time studying the Scripture passage. Pray about the service. Search your song database for the right songs. Don’t just play songs you like or only those your people like. Plan your whole service to the best of your ability; but when it’s time to go, listen. Listen to your congregation, to your band and most importantly to the Spirit. Following the Spirit requires knowing His voice. You’ll find that most of the time, the Spirit will have been with you in every stage of the planning.

5) Practice.

Being spiritual shouldn’t mean being mediocre. Strive for excellence in what you do. Show grace to yourself and to others, but work hard.

6) Remember you are a servant, not a star.

As worship leaders, we serve. We serve God as worshippers. We serve others as a leader. We are not intended to receive attention or glory. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be gracious when people are complimentary. It just should not be your goal. God’s plan is for Him to be glorified, not you. We can be a part of that as worshipers ourselves and by helping others in their worship journeys.

7) Worship is a part of every moment, not just Sunday morning.

You probably know this already. We’ve taught about it a lot for the last few years, but I find it much easier to follow leaders who I have seen love God off the stage, as well.

8) This is just the beginning.

You never know everything. This list is not comprehensive but is just few ideas I’ve found helpful. Hopefully you will, too. Every one of you could teach me something about worship, because your journey has been different than mine. Every worshiper you encounter has a valid and valuable opinion. You can learn from everyone. Sometimes he or she may share that opinion in an unkind way, but you can receive it graciously.




Prayer is a vital component of small-group life. It sets up and maintains the health and vibrancy of your group. Sound prayer practices can affect your group in the following ways:

Positively influence how your small-group participants interact and minister to one another

Empower and mobilize your small group to reach out and incorporate spiritually unconvinced people into the body of Christ

Open the hearts of the hurting to God’s healing power

Open the ears of those who do not have a relationship with Jesus Christ to the gospel message

For these reasons, you should incorporate prayer throughout your small-group meeting. While each meeting should include prayer, you can keep things fresh by changing how you pray.

Prayer Ideas

Ask a small-group participant to open your gathering in prayer.

If you begin your meeting with a meal, pray for your small-group meeting when you pray for the food.

When you welcome the last person, officially open the meeting with a brief prayer.

Begin your study and discussion time with prayers of thanksgiving and praise.

Pray through your church’s weekly bulletin.

Pray immediately after a concern is raised—don’t wait for the official prayer time.

Be as specific as possible when you pray. Say the names of those you’re praying for.

Regularly pray for one another with the laying on of hands, especially when someone is ill (Luke 4:40; Acts 8:17, 28:8b).

Integrate prayer into your worship time. Spend time in thanksgiving, intercession, adoration, and confession.

Designate prayer partners. One way to do this is to have each participant pray for the person on his or her right throughout the week. Ask everyone to touch base with the person he or she is praying for before the next meeting.

11. Share answers to prayer with your small group. This encourages those praying to continue to pray (Acts 4:23-31).

Pray Scripture over a person or the entire small group. You could use Colossians 1:9-14 or Ephesians 3:14-19.

Pray a psalm over a person or the small group. Commit an entire meeting to reading Psalm 119 together.

Designate someone to be the prayer coordinator for your small group. As this person records requests and tracks answers, he or she will be empowered to lead and use his or her gifts to build up the body of Christ. The record of prayer requests will also be an encouragement to small-group participants as they see how God has been working in and through the group.

Set aside a gathering to do a Bible study focused on prayer. Consider using Ephesians 6:10-20 or Colossians 1:9-14.

Confess your shortcomings and pray for one another (1 John 1:9).

Have each person write his or her prayer request on an index card. Then exchange cards. Each participant should pray for the person on the card he or she has.

Fast and pray together. You could set aside a day to do this together, or you could choose to do this separately but at the same time. For instance, small-group members could agree to fast and pray over the lunch hour on Tuesday, wherever they’re at.

Encourage group participants to pray with their bodies. Have them stand with arms raised for praises and kneel for requests.

Close each meeting in prayer.

—Reid Smith is the Community Life Pastor of Christ Fellowship Church in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, and the founder of the 2orMore small-group leadership training and resource ministry. Copyright by the author. Used with permission.

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This is a great post by Michael Kelley on the blog Forward Progress:

“I wish there were no rules.”

That’s what my 7-year-old said at dinner the other night when he was confronted (again) with the answer of “no” for something he wanted to do (I think it involved eating peas). He’s living under the mindset right now that the rules are there to cramp his style. They deny him freedom to do what he really wants to do and if all these restraints were lifted, his life would be much happier.

This is a lie ingrained into our hearts.

“I love the rules.”

That’s what the 4-year-old sitting across from him said with a glint of pride in her eye. She lives to please authority right now, and does not think of herself as sinful in any way, shape or form. Obeying fills her with pride, and she can’t imagine that anything in her heart might need to be changed because she is very proficient at following the rules. If, in fact, there were more and more rules she would be much happier because she would know exactly what the minimum was expected of her and she could perform accordingly.

This is a lie ingrained into our hearts.

Licentiousness and legalism sitting there together at the kitchen table, one believing that the rules deny him happiness and one believing that the rules justify her.

And the gospel is for both.

Thank God the gospel frees us from the lie that sin is freedom and happiness and moves us toward the joy of obedience and intimacy. And thank God the gospel frees us from the lie that we are “okay” and makes us into the humble people that are “okay” because of Christ alone.

And thank God that the gospel is still for a dad who from one day to another needs grace to love both of these kids in good – and hard – ways.