Don’t Be a Baby Christian

Learn how to eat spiritual food and feed yourself

Don’t Be a Baby ChristianThe author of Hebrews (who I suspect was Paul) warns the young church, the followers of Jesus, that they need to grow up. Though many of them should be mature enough to teach others, they still haven’t grasped the basics themselves. They persist in drinking spiritual milk when they should have graduated to solid food.

When most people hear about this passage, they assume the baby Christians, those subsisting on milk, are other people. They reason that this verse couldn’t be a reflection on their own spiritual status – or lack thereof. The truth is that I fear the church of Jesus is comprised of too many spiritual infants.

If you don’t believe me, let’s unpack this analogy. In the physical sense, babies drink milk and are wholly dependent on others to feed them. As babies grow they graduate to solid food and begin to feed themselves, first with help and then alone. This is how things function with our physical bodies and how things should function with our spiritual selves.

So when people go to church on Sunday to hear a sermon, they expect their pastor to feed them. They subsist on spiritual milk. Instead they should feed themselves and don’t need to hear a sermon every week in order to obtain their spiritual sustenance.

When pastors feed their congregation each Sunday, they keep their people in an immature state (albeit with more head knowledge) and help justify their continued employment. Instead pastors should teach their church attendees how to feed themselves, to not need a pastor to teach them. If ministers do this, they could work themselves out of a job. But that’s okay, because there are plenty of other churches in need of this same teaching.

Some might infer this means that the mature Christians, those who can feed themselves, don’t need to go to church. This is only half correct. Mature Christians can feed themselves and don’t need a sermon every Sunday, but they do need to meet together and be in community with other believers.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Hebrews 5-7, and today’s post is on Hebrews 5:12-14.]

[This is from Peter DeHaan‘s August newsletter, “Spiritually Speaking.”  Receive the complete newsletter each month.]

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Church Community is Key: Seek Connection At All Costs

If the church service you attend doesn’t provide meaningful connection, then you need to fix it or find a different church

Church Community is Key: Seek Connection At All CostsDespite being the most connected generation, Millennials are also reportedly the loneliest. It seems their massive number of online friends and followers offer them only superficial relationships that lack meaningful interaction. They crave connections with others that touches them at a significant level, but social media falls short in accomplishing this deep heartfelt need.

That’s why “hanging out with friends” seems to be their favorite, most desired activity.

I think that’s what church is all about. Or at least that’s what it should be all about.

The early church spent time together. We need to reclaim this, not just for the Millennials, but for our own wellbeing, too.

But hanging out doesn’t mean passive pew sitting, staring at the back of people’s heads for an hour. True community can’t occur when listening to the Sunday lecture that we call a sermon. Meaningful connection with each other doesn’t happen during the concert-like atmosphere we label as worship, where a couple of skilled musicians attempt to lead a largely unresponsive throng in singing. And don’t get me started on the disingenuous greeting time wedged into the middle of a service: it is too long for the socially challenged and too short for meaningful interaction.

This opportunity for true, meaningful community does not take place during the church service; it occurs after the benediction. When the final “amen” is uttered the clock-watchers flee, and a few people hang out to talk. Every church has a few of these folks. Though they may be the social butterflies, they may also be the ones who understand why we are supposed to not give up meeting together (Hebrews 10:25). They seek profound community.

Although this time of hanging out could reside on the surface, talking about safe (and meaningless) topics, such as the weather, the game, or the Sunday dinner menu, the wise people focus on discussions that matter. We listen to each other on the heart level. We minister to and serve one another, we pray and are prayed for, and we encourage and are encouraged. When we do this, we prepare ourselves and our church community for the week ahead so that we can go out into our greater community and be Jesus to them.

True church community is the key to make this happen. Don’t let the official church service get in the way.

Church Is For Girls

The modern church is geared toward women and men don’t fit

Church Is For GirlsI have known the title for this post for a long time. In my heart I knew it was true, but I struggled to articulate why. Now I can.

I read David Murrow’s book Why Men Hate Going to Church hoping to understand why I struggle so with church attendance. Though it’s no one’s fault (and yet we are all complicit), the Christian church is a place where women thrive and men die. In most all that it does – from décor, to language, to programs, to music, to sermons – today’s church provides what women crave, while offering little that appeals to men. Guys: check your testosterone at the door.

This explains why women make up the majority of church attendees. In going to more than one hundred churches, I’ve never been to one with more males than females. That’s because church is for girls. It really is. If you don’t believe me read Why Men Hate Going to Church. (The book also explains how to fix it.)

Clearly, the church repels the Wild at Heart guys. Yet, I’m not a wild at heart kind of guy, at least not in a conventional sense. I assert my masculinity in non-stereotypical ways. I see myself as a spiritually militant misfit:

  • I am an advocate who pushes the envelope for change, yet the church is adverse to change. There is no place for my voice.
  • I am a thought leader who pursues innovation, yet the church wants lay leaders it can control. It doesn’t want me.
  • I am a person who challenges the status quo, yet the church institution exists to maintain the status quo and suppress dissension. It fears what I represent.
  • I am a spiritual seeker who probes issues that most don’t consider, yet the church hates questions that lack pat answers. It shuns me because I am spiritually impertinent.
  • I am a follower of Jesus who yearns to take spiritual risks, yet the church wants to be a safe place that doesn’t confront anyone’s unexamined theology. My risk-taking perspective isn’t wanted.

I once actually found a church that encouraged me in these things. It was a church plant. We made change normal, pursued innovation, constantly challenged the status quo, encouraged questions, and embraced risk. In many ways we followed The Barbarian Way, and I thrived.

Incidentally, David Murrow says the one instance where men find a place is in church plants. I get that. I was alive at this new church.

Yet over time, decision by decision, the church became civilized. It instituted structure and limited me. It became more and more like the thing it sought to break free from. I no longer fit. I slowly withered. I didn’t want to go to church there anymore.

“The church has emasculated me,” I told my wife. (That hurt me to say.)

“But you let it,” she answered. (That hurt me to hear.)

“It’s only because I so badly wanted to fit in and be accepted.” (That hurt me to admit.)

But in the end, I don’t so much like this person I’ve become, and the church still doesn’t want me.

After all, church is geared for girls and I’m a guy.

[This is from Peter DeHaan‘s July newsletter, “Spiritually Speaking.”  Receive the complete newsletter each month.]

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Sunday is a Great Day For Some Recreation

Having a regular Sabbath provides an opportunity to rest and recharge

Sunday is a Great Day For Some RecreationThe dictionary defines recreation as a time of refreshment for our mind or body through the use of an activity that amuses or stimulates; an activity that provides refreshment. More simply, recreation is to play. After working hard for the workweek, people seek recreation on the weekend, and with Saturday often packed with more work, that leaves Sunday as the only day left for recreation. Many people pack Sunday full of recreation, so much that they return to work on Monday exhausted. Doesn’t that defeat the goal of recreation?

Or consider recreation another way. Synonyms for recreation include regeneration, rebirth, restoration, and leisure. Does that provide a bit more insight into what our Sunday recreation might look like?

What if we insert a hyphen into the word to get re-creation? Then we can see our Sundays as a day to re-create ourselves. We do this by resting, refocusing, and recharging.

Yet none of these things happen when I go to church on Sunday. In fact, I view my chance for much needed Sunday recreation as what happens after I go to church. I delay my weekly recreation until after I fulfill my weekly obligation to attend a worship service. Thankfully our practices have changed from two Sunday services down to one, leaving only one requirement to interrupt my recreation.

I can envision Jesus shaking his head in dismay, wondering if I’ve forgotten his words: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath,” Mark 2:27, NIV.

Indeed I have forgotten, or at least I need frequent reminders.

We need to stop pursuing our Sunday church attendance with legalistic furor and start re-envisioning our worship services as a time of holy recreation. God does not expect us to serve the Sabbath but for the Sabbath to serve us.

Now we just need to figure out how to do that.

May today be a day of holy recreation for you.

Do you think Sunday is a time for holy recreation? How can you change your Sunday so that it better fits Jesus’s teaching?

Church is a Verb – or at Least it Should Be

Stop thinking of church as a place you attend but as actions to pursue

Church is a Verb – or at Least it Should BeYes, I know that linguistically church is not a verb. A verb indicates action; it shows movement. Church falls in the noun category, specifically a place. Places don’t move. They have no action. They don’t do anything.

Most places, in and of themselves, are boring. It’s what we do there that makes it interesting – or not. Likewise when we attend church, it’s what we do there that makes it interesting – or not. So when we sit passively in our pews, sans action, church becomes a rather uninteresting place. The operative word is boring.

As a kid I often complained that church was boring, but I thought I would one day move past that – when I grew up. I guess I never grew up because I still think church is boring. So church, at least the church service, becomes something I strive to endure.

It’s not that I don’t like God. I do. It’s the church service I don’t care for – or at least what we’ve wrongly turned church into.

To fix this we need to start thinking and acting as if church is a verb:

Go to Church: Going to church is an action, but sitting down once we get there prepares us for inaction. Something’s wrong. I go to church to spend time engaged with others, not staring at the back of their heads or expecting a select few to entertain me from the stage. I want to interact with other followers of Jesus: talking, listening, praying, and caring.

This is true community. When I go to church I seek meaningful community. If not I might as well stay home, where I can at least access better sermons and music online.

We go to church to be part of an active community.

Do Church: A popular sentiment among many forward-thinking believers is “doing church.” I get that. They desire to move past passive sitting and replace it with active engagement. Though we can sometimes do this, at least a bit, when we sing to God, it’s quite challenging to accomplish during the lecture part of the service. Instead of passive inaction when we attend church, we need to do things. We need activity to chase away the boring and make church worthwhile.

We do church to interact with other followers of Jesus.

Be Church: The third church action is being, as in to be the face and hands of Jesus to others. Jesus said he didn’t come to be served but to serve (Matthew 20:28). We should do the same. We help, we reach out, and we love – just as Jesus modeled for us to do.

When we become the church we serve others, just like Jesus.

While “go to church” and “do church” have an inward focus, “be church” has an outward emphasis. It suggests giving to others outside of our community. We give our money to the world around us; we use our time to help the people near us. This is how we best model what Jesus did – and we don’t even need to attend a church service to do it.

Church is a verb.

Why do you attend church? What changes should you make? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Should You Go to Church Today?

Despite the rain on Halloween we had a steady flow of trick-or-treaters. The next day, Sunday, the rain stopped and the sun shone in the cloudless sky. Unseasonably warm, it promised to be a nice day. With a few extra minutes before church, I when to retrieve the weekly paper in our paper box.

A neighbor girl was out riding her bike. She’s about four and likes to ride. She’s also a talkative tyke and not at all shy around adults.

We see each other, and I wave. “Good morning.”

Should You Go to Church Today?She smiles. “Hi!”

“It’s a really nice day for a bike ride.”

“We haven’t gone to church in a long time.” She says this matter-of-factly without any prompting on my part. Although we’ve talked many times, we don’t often have a dialogue.

“Maybe you can go next week.” I try to sound hopeful.

She cuts me off. “I like to go to church.”

I start to repeat myself, but she interrupts me at “Maybe.”

“We’re just too busy on the weekends.” These are not the words of a four-year old. She’s surely repeating one of her parent’s explanations, complete with voice inflections on the right words for emphasis.

I nod. Should I try to say my line one more time? I inhale but don’t get any further.

She perks up a bit. “This afternoon we’re going to a birthday party!”

“That sounds like fun.”

“Yesterday we went to a pumpkin party; we got lost in the corn.”

“Wow!” I try to be animated. “Was it fun?” Our conversation goes downhill from there. She continues jabbering as I retrieve the paper. “Have a great day,” I say with a wave and a smile as I head back to the house.

“Okay.” With a big grin, she turns and rides away.

I pray she’ll get to go to church again soon.

I understand busy weekends. I can appreciate the pressure of continuous action and ongoing opportunities that our society throws at us with relentless persistence. And I can comprehend that many church services pale when compared to the allure of parties or dim next to the demand of house and yardwork. Sometimes a couple extra hours of sleep seems like the best choice for a Sunday morning.

I also know it won’t be long before she doesn’t want to go to church anymore or concludes it’s not important. She’s at a prime age to learn about God and be enthralled by stories from the Bible. Soon she won’t care. Before her parents know what happens there will be boys and boyfriends, a part time job, and the mobility of a driver’s license. She’ll forget about God and stop thinking about church. Her parents will shake their heads over her lack of faith and wonder what went wrong.

Maybe I just have an overactive imagination. In this case, I hope so. Maybe she will grow up to believe in God anyway. I pray that she will.

[This is from Peter DeHaan‘s November newsletter, “Spiritually Speaking.” Do you want to receive his complete newsletter each month?]

Is Going to Church a Spiritual Discipline?

Two weeks ago I wrote that a spiritual discipline is something we do to draw closer to God or to honor him. To be of value we need to do this willingly with joy and in anticipation. I gave 17 possible disciplines to consider. Going to church wasn’t on the list.

Is Going to Church a Spiritual Discipline?Should going to church be included as a spiritual discipline? Reflect on three spiritual disciplines that touch on the practice of church attendance:

1) Community: This is simply spending time with other people who follow Jesus in order to form meaningful spiritual connections. This can happen at church on Sundays; at least it should. Yet at too many churches community doesn’t happen at all, and for other churches the community is superficial. Plus true community can happen at times other than Sunday morning. And that community is often richer.

2) Sabbath: We treat one day a week differently than the other six. I’ve been looking at the Old Testament Law about the Sabbath. I keep reading that it’s a day of rest; I also see that we are to keep it holy, but so far I’ve not read that we are supposed to go to church on the Sabbath. Besides sometimes we pack our Sabbaths so full with well-meaning spiritual activity that we end the day exhausted, not rested. I doubt this pleases God.

3) Worship: A third spiritual discipline that could relate to Sunday morning church attendance is worship. Yes, we can worship God at church on Sunday mornings; we should worship him there. But we can also worship him on other days, at other times, and in other places.

I go to church on Sundays in expectation of community, and sometimes I worship God while I’m there, but I don’t find it restful. I do go in hopes of drawing closer to God and to honor him, so I meet the first two parts of this being a church discipline, but the willingness factor is often missing, while the attitudes of joy and anticipation are things I must strive to conjure up. I pray for all three of these mindsets each Sunday morning.

I suppose that going to church on Sunday mornings emerges as a spiritual discipline for some people. That might explain why I attend, but as spiritual disciplines go, I do a poor job at it.

Why do you go to church? Is church attendance a spiritual discipline for you? Do you go willingly with joy and anticipation? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Why Do I Love God and Hate Theology?

A simple definition of theology is studying God. Since I love God so much and love reading about him in the Bible you’d think I’d love theology, too. Right? Well I don’t.

Why Do I Love God and Hate Theology?Learning about God and contemplating him through his word excites me. I look forward to it every day. Yet theology leaves me cold. Start explaining the essential elements of a particular theological perspective and my eyes will glaze over. I’ll either get angry or yawn. Why is this?

Theologians make God boring.

It’s understandable. Theologians are academics, and if anyone can squeeze the life out of something it’s academia.

While working on my PhD I took a class on C. S. Lewis. I was so excited – until I read the syllabus. Though we would read one book Lewis wrote, the majority of the class would focus on books other people wrote about Lewis. Instead of reading Lewis we would read people who had read Lewis. While we could have studied Lewis firsthand, the professor inserted a degree of separation, and we studied Lewis secondhand.

Theologians do the same thing. They insert a degree of separation between us and God. While we can read God’s word directly, they effectively insert a middleman who interprets the Bible for us.

This made sense 500 years ago when no one had a copy of the Bible and most people couldn’t read anyway. But now we have our own copies of the Bible, and we can read it ourselves. So why do we need someone else to explain it? We don’t.

Yet I will go to church today and listen to someone explain the Bible.

Something’s wrong with this. It dates back to the middle ages when illiterate, uneducated people filled the pews. Things are different today. We can read and think for ourselves. We don’t need someone else to do it for us.

Why can’t we cut out the middleman and learn about God through his word, without a theologian or preacher who forces the Bible’s words to fit into a particular theological package?

I love God. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t stick my neck out to encourage everyone to remove all human filters and read about him firsthand.

Read the Bible. Cut out the middleman. Let’s start a revolution.

What are your thoughts on theology? Do you study the Bible or let others teach you? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

3 Things We Need to Do: A Call to Persevere in Our Faith

Because of our standing with God the Father, as a result of Jesus, the author of Hebrews tells us to do three things:

1) Draw Near to God: God wants a relationship with us and we should want one with him. We need to seek him with all diligence to deepen our connection, to increase our spiritual intimacy.

2) Hold on to Our Hope: We acknowledge we have confidence in Jesus and know that God will do what he promised. We must never forget that.

3) Encourage Each Other to Love and Do Good: We are to spur one another on. To do so we must hang out with them. We must be in each other’s lives if we are to encourage one another. The Bible says, “…not giving up meeting together.”

3 Things We Need to Do: A Call to Persevere in Our FaithMany people see this as a command to go to church on Sunday. Many preachers claim that is what this verse means, but it does not. It simply says we need to regularly get together with the goal of mutual encouragement. This can be in our homes, at a coffee shop, in a park, at the mall, going out to eat, and possibly even at church on Sunday morning. But before we jump to that conclusion, we need to ask ourselves how much encouraging we offer one another on Sunday at church.

Who do we encourage? Who encourages us? If the answer is no one, then I wonder if our Sunday morning meetings are in vain, missing what God has told us to do when we get together.

When do people encourage you? When do you encourage them? If this doesn’t happen at church, what needs to change? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

[Hebrews 10:19-25]

Who Teaches You? Do Sermons Belong in Church?

We go to church to learn about God, right?

Who told you that? It was likely the minister at your local church. That’s who I’ve heard it from, and church is always the place where I heard it.

Isn’t that self-serving?

Think about it. A church hires a preacher. The church pays the preacher. The preacher tells us we need to be in church every Sunday to learn about God and that he is the one to teach us. One of the things he teaches us is to give money to the local church, often 10 percent of our income. Why does the local church need money so badly? In large part, it’s to pay the preacher. The greatest expense at almost all churches is payroll, usually over half of their total budget, sometimes much more.

So we hire someone who tells us we need him and then asks for money so he can stick around. If we didn’t revere our preachers so much and cling to our sacrosanct practices, I’d call this a racket.

As I read about the church in the New Testament, there is plenty of preaching. But the preaching is always directed at those who are not following Jesus, the folks outside the church. Yes, there is teaching inside the church, but I’ve not yet found any passage that says it happens every Sunday or is given by paid staff. In the examples I see, missionaries do the teaching when they come to visit or the congregation instructs one another as they share with each other.

John writes to the church and tells them plainly: “You do not need anyone to teach you.” Then he clarifies: “His anointing teaches you about all things.”

So it is God’s anointing, the Holy Spirit, who reveals truth to us. Therefore, we don’t need anyone to teach us, especially a paid preacher. John says so.

I suppose, then, if we go to church to learn, what the preacher should be telling us is how to listen to the Holy Spirit. Once we’ve learned that, the preacher’s job is done; we don’t need him to teach us anymore; God’s anointed one will teach us and reveal truth to us. Then we can spend Sunday mornings sharing with each other what we’ve learned through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

But that will never happen. Preachers need to be needed, and they need us to pay them. They would never say anything to work themselves out of a job. They want their paychecks too badly to tell us plainly what John said and what his words truly mean for the church of Jesus: We don’t need preachers to teach us; that’s the Holy Spirit’s job.

[1 John 2:27]