Categories
Bible Insights

A Call to Persevere in Our Faith

Three Things We Need to Do

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.”

Many 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.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Hebrews 8-10, and today’s post is on Hebrews 10:19-25.]

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

Categories
Visiting Churches

The Outlier Congregation

New Approaches for an Old Denomination

It’s a holiday weekend. Our son and daughter-in-law are out of town, so we’re free agents. A return trip to the Megachurch is in order, but our daughter invites us to go to a church she and her husband have visited the past couple of weeks. A friend from college invited her.

The Megachurch can wait.

Shopping for Church: Searching for Christian Community, a Memoir

This church, part of an old traditional denomination, has two services: 9:15 and 11:00. We’ll go to the first one. I check their website and am encouraged to read the bold proclamation: “Making passionate followers of Jesus.” This must be their vision.

Their mission statement likewise impresses me, using the phrases “community of faith,” “renewed by the Holy Spirit,” “transformation of lives and community,” and “for God’s glory.”

Besides typical church components such as student ministries and community service opportunities, they also offer Alpha classes and small groups.

What’s unusual is they have a recovery program for people struggling with life issues. From what I see online, this is a big emphasis of this church.

I learn that the church is 7.2 miles away and the drive will take eleven minutes. We plan to leave twenty-five minutes early, but it ends up being more like fifteen. As I drive, my wife, Candy, prays for our time there.

Along the way, we pass several churches. As we wonder about them, the names become jumbled, and we forget the name of where we’re headed. I should have written it down, along with the address.

All I remember is the cross streets it’s near. I hope there’s only one church at that intersection.

But we find the church easily enough.

Larger Than Expected

The facility is much larger than I expect. As we head toward the entrance, our daughter texts us they’re running late.

A young couple notices us, and the wife greets us. It’s our daughter’s friend from college. I’ve only seen her twice, with the last time being about three years ago, but she recognizes us right away.

We chat as we stroll into the building. They invite us to sit with them—if we’d like. We appreciate this friendly gesture and gladly accept, as they find seats for us and two more for the rest of our family.

I estimate the sanctuary—which is a newer building with a trendy minimalist church design—seats four to five hundred. It’s over half full, which isn’t bad for a Labor Day weekend.

The service starts a few minutes late, but not before our kids arrive and slide in next to Candy. Soon the worship team—consisting of guitars, drums, and keyboard—plays an instrumental piece to signal that the service is about to begin.

Their style is smartly contemporary, without being edgy. I assume Candy will appreciate their professional sound, while I’d prefer a bit more edge. We stand to sing for the opening set.

Afterward is a series of announcements, previewing the fall kickoff of various programs and reviewing the upcoming schedule.

With all age groups present, we learn the average age at the church is twenty-seven. However, this isn’t a church dominated by millennials, but more so one with a slew of kids and their Gen X parents.

They have a typical time for greeting. Though the people are nice as we shake hands, it’s cursory, consisting of pleasant smiles and lacking connection. Aside from our family and hosts, this is the only time all morning we interact with anyone else.

A clipboard moves down the row for us to leave our contact information. Candy enters our data, and I pass it to our friends.

An Outlier Church for Their Denomination

For this denomination, this one is quite progressive, an outlier congregation. But based on my overall church experiences it’s more middle-of-the-road. It’s certainly not traditional, but it still retains hints of traditional elements.

Today is the final message of the sermon series, “Letters to the Angels,” taken from Revelation 2 and 3. But before that, we’re treated to a skit, a takeoff on Jimmy Fallon’s thank-you notes routine, performed by their worship leader.

It’s done well, with relevant church humor, such as “Thank you, small group leaders, for doing work the staff doesn’t want to do” and “Thank you, church volunteers, for essentially being unpaid employees.”

In handing the service to the minister, the worship leader jokes that he’s thankful for only working one day a week.

The Church in Laodicea

The seventh letter, written to the angel of the church in Laodicea, is in Revelation 3:14–22. Whenever I’ve studied this passage, I’ve focused on the church being lukewarm and God’s rejection of them as a result.

Though the minister addresses this, his focus is on their smug self-complacency, which is also a pervasive issue in society today. We, like the church in Laodicea, need to “repent of being in control.”

Their problem—as with today’s culture, says the pastor—is their greed. “It’s not all about me,” he quips, decrying their self-focus. To their shame, they act as they do, relying on God’s grace to get them into heaven.

“He who has ears,” concludes the pastor, as he quotes from the text, “let him hear.”

When the service ends, most people head out, but we linger to talk with our family and friends. Though I thought the service was well attended, they say it was far below normal. I wonder about attendance at the second service.

I notice a Celtic cross on the side of the sanctuary and ask about its significance, but no one knows. As I recall, the circle that surrounds the intersection of the cross’s two arms represents unity or eternity, two concepts I embrace: unity while on earth, followed by eternity in heaven.

Different Perspectives

Later, I talk with my son-in-law about the church. He likes it but wants something more contemporary, more like the church we went to before we moved. I agree with him and then wonder aloud if this might be the closest we’ll find in this more traditional area.

Based on my experiences with this denomination, they’re contemporary compared to others in their denomination, an outlier. But they fall short of that compared to other churches.

The next day we talk about our experience when our son and daughter-in-law return home. They visited this church once and liked it but aren’t sure why they never went back.

When I say, “No one else talked to us,” they recall the same experience.

I tell Candy I could see myself going back.

She doesn’t. “I have no interest in returning.”

“We’ll see,” I say. “This may be the closest match we’ll find in the area.”

She snorts. “I sure hope not.”

Takeaway

Invite visitors to sit with you. And if you see someone you don’t know, reach out to them. You might be the only person to talk to them.

[Read about the next church, or start at the beginning of Shopping for Church.]


Read the full story in Peter DeHaan’s new book Shopping for Church.

Travel along with Peter and his wife as they search for a new Christian community in his latest book, Shopping for Church, part of the Visiting Churches Series.

This book picks up the mantle from 52 Churches, their year-long sabbatical of visiting churches.

Here’s what happens:

My wife and I move. Now we need to find a new church. It’s not as easy as it sounds. She wants two things; I seek three others.

But this time the stakes are higher. I’ll write about the churches we visit, and my wife will pick which one we’ll call home. It sounds simple. What could possibly go wrong?

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

Categories
Visiting Churches

5 Discussion Questions about How to Go to Church

For both visitors and regular attendees, three keys exist to having a successful, meaningful, and Spirit-filled church experience: attitude, prayer, and expectation. Following these steps can make most any church experience—despite its shortcomings—a positive one. 

Consider these five discussion questions about How to Go to Church.

1. In going to church I’ve experienced both positive and negative outcomes, which often hinged on my attitude, prayer, and expectations—or the lack thereof.

Which of these three keys should we focus on to realize a more positive outcome at church?

Tip 1: Attitude is Everything

If we approach church with a bad attitude, we shouldn’t expect to enjoy our time there. It’s foolish to assume a positive outcome if we hold a surly disposition.

2. When we approach church positively, our optimism will direct our attention to celebrate the noteworthy and give us the grace to overlook the not-so-great.

What can we do to go to church with an eager attitude? How can we encourage others to do the same?

Tip 2: Prayer Is Essential

When Candy and I started visiting churches, we committed ourselves to a pre-church prayer each week. So significant were the benefits of these prayers that we continued the practice when we returned to our home church. 

3. After several weeks, however, our pre-church prayer slipped into a rut, with us repeating the same tired phrases each time.

Are we willing to pray before church every Sunday? How can we avoid our prayers becoming routine?

Tip 3: Expectations Form Experience

The foundation formed by prayer prepares us for the church service. It serves to shape expectations, which drives experience. Most of the time, positive expectations result in positive outcomes, while negative thinking produces negative experiences.

4. We say our pre-church prayer in faith, and we prove it from the activities that spring forth from our expectations. This is how we put faith into action.

If we don’t like church, who’s to blame: church, God, or us?

Go to Church Summary

Whether visiting a new church or attending our home church, we should follow a wise strategy, remembering that attitude is everything, prayer is essential, and expectations form experience. Then we’ll be ready to worship God and serve others.

5. When we go to church properly prepared, we can receive God’s blessing and be a blessing to others.

What must we change to ensure we go to church with the right attitude, covered with prayer, and with godly expectations?

[Read about How to Go to Church or start at the beginning of our journey.]

Get your copy of More Than 52 Churches today, available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

Categories
Visiting Churches

How to Go to Church

3 Tips to Have a Positive Experience

When going to church—whether as a visitor or a regular attendee—there are three keys to having a successful, meaningful, and spirit-filled experience. These are attitude, prayer, and expectation. 

Without addressing these critical elements, many church services will fall short of expectations. Following these three essential steps, however, can make most any church experience—despite its shortcomings—positive, even beneficial, and, dare I say, memorable.

Yes, it is true. In visiting all these churches, I’ve experienced both positive and negative outcomes. And most of these outcomes hinged on attitude, prayer, and expectation.

1. Attitude is Everything

If we go to church with a bad attitude, we shouldn’t expect to enjoy our time there. It’s foolish to assume a positive outcome from church if we go there with a surly disposition.

When we approach church with positive anticipation of what will occur, our attention will focus on the positive elements of the service and give us the ability to extend grace to the negative aspects.

Our attention will celebrate the noteworthy and give us the ability to overlook the not-so-great. 

And remember, every church, congregation, and service will possess both positive and negative elements. No church is perfect in every way, just as no church is completely flawed. Our attitude determines which of those two aspects we focus on.

I approached most all the churches we visited with a positive perspective. Most of the time this came naturally. A few times, however, I needed to work on adjusting my attitude. Seeking a positive attitude means my overall approach to the church was positive.

Even so, that doesn’t mean I noted only positive elements. In visiting churches, I sought to share both positive and negative, celebrating the good that I witnessed and attempting to learn from the not-so-good that I encountered.

This is the reason I opted not to visit Church #69 (“Suffering from a Bad Rap”). From what people told me about their experience with this church and how the people who went there treated them, I formed a highly negative impression.

Based completely on this secondhand information, I developed a bad attitude about this church and suspected my experience would confirm what I anticipated. 

Since I had such a bad perspective, I saw no point in visiting them until I could turn my mindset from negative to positive. I tried unsuccessfully for a couple of years to adjust my attitude, but I never could.

Therefore, I felt a visit would unfold as a futile encounter and produce no valuable insight or significant spiritual interaction.

I now realize—albeit too late—that I never prayed about this. I never sought the Holy Spirit’s intervention to correct my flagging attitude.

Through prayer, I’m quite confident God would have turned my attitude around. Unfortunately, I didn’t think to seek him in this.

This brings us to the next point: prayer.

2. Prayer Is Essential

When Candy and I embarked on our 52 Churches adventure, we committed ourselves to a pre-church prayer each week. Initially this was before we left our house, but later it occurred during our drive to church.

Our intent was to seek God’s blessing for our time with that church and to request a positive outcome. We only forgot to do this a couple of times, with our lack of prayer serving to diminish what we encountered at those churches.

So significant were the benefits of our pre-church prayer that we continued this practice when we weren’t visiting a new church but instead were attending our home church.

Most of the time I would pray, and Candy would add her addendum as she felt led. Other times I asked her to pray.

After a few weeks, I realized our pre-church prayer could easily slip into a rut, with us repeating the same phrases week after week.

To avoid falling into a vain repetition (see Matthew 6:7 in the KJV), I would seek Holy Spirit insight on what specific things to pray for during our drive to church each Sunday.

As a way of example, and not to imply something for you to copy, here are parts of some of our pre-church prayers:

  • “Thank you, God, for the opportunity to go to church today. Please teach us what you would have us learn.”
  • “Papa, at church today may we receive what you want us to receive and give to others what you want us to give.”
  • “May we worship you today in spirit and truth” (see John 4:23–24).
  • “Holy Spirit, direct us to divine encounters with the people at this church so that we may encourage them, and they may encourage us, as needed.”
  • “Please give us positive attitudes so that we may see what you want us to see.” (I prayed this prayer a few times, but Candy clarified that she already had a good attitude. It was mine that needed adjustment. She was right.)
  • “We thank you, Jesus, for who you are and what you’ve done for us. May we celebrate you today at church.”
  • “God, please speak to us through the sermon today.”

As we returned to our home church, these types of prayers continued, though some new ones were a bit more pointed, as in:

  • “Please direct us, Holy Spirit, to someone to minister to today at church.”
  • “May you give us opportunities to pray for others before and after the church service.”
  • “Father, today at church, may we see others through your eyes and encourage them in Jesus’s name.”

Use these examples to form your own pre-church prayers. But regardless of the words you say, know that prayer is essential when you head off to church. These prayers don’t need to be fancy, but they should be heartfelt and Holy Spirit driven.

Prayer establishes the groundwork for what happens next. 

3. Expectations Form Experience

The foundation formed by prayer prepares us for the church service. It serves to shape our expectations, which will drive our experience. Most of the time, positive expectations result in positive outcomes, while negative expectations prompt negative results.

With prayer establishing the basis to move forward, we should easily slide into a mindset of positive expectation. This is how we put our faith into action. We say our pre-church prayer in faith, and we prove it from the actions that spring forth from our expectations.

When we expect great things to happen at church, we will see the positive most every time. If we expect disappointment, we will surely encounter it.

As I said before, we will never experience a 100 percent perfect service, nor will we ever experience a 100 percent horrible one.

Church experiences exist on a continuum from good to bad, positive to negative. And yet, when we walk in with positive expectations, our experience will skew toward the positive.

For most Sundays, our pre-church prayer did exactly that. Yet, on a few occasions, I needed to breathe a booster prayer as we pulled into the church parking lot, walked through the doors, or encountered some initial disappointment.

These prayers sometimes came forth as little more than a groan, but God granted my plea every time.

Summary

Whether visiting a new church or attending our home church, we should follow a wise strategy, remembering that attitude is everything, prayer is essential, and expectations form experience.

May we receive God’s blessing when we go to church, and while we’re there, may we be a blessing to others.

May it be so.

[See the discussion questions for this post, the prior post about How to Be an Engaging Church, or start at the beginning of our journey.]

Get your copy of More Than 52 Churches today, available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

Categories
Christian Living

Seek First the Kingdom of God

Jesus Focused on the Kingdom of God, Not Church

Jesus talked about the kingdom of God, but we made a church instead. What if he never intended us to form a church? After all, Jesus did tell his followers to “seek first the kingdom of God,” (Matthew 6:33, ESV).

Let’s look at where else the Bible talks about the kingdom of God/kingdom of heaven and where it talks about church. (Mark and Luke write the kingdom of God, whereas Matthew prefers kingdom of heaven. The phrases are synonymous.)

Kingdom of God, kingdom of Heaven, and church are New Testament concepts. These terms don’t occur anywhere in the Old Testament. Jesus talks much about the kingdom of God/heaven and little about church: eighty-five times versus three (and then only in Matthew).

Clearly Jesus focuses his teaching on the kingdom of God. Since Jesus comes to fulfill the Law (Matthew 5:17), the kingdom of God must be how he intends to do so. If the call to seek first the kingdom of God is so important to Jesus, it should be important to us too.

Jesus’s Parables about His Kingdom

Today’s church should push aside her traditions and practices to replace them with what Jesus teaches about the kingdom of God. Jesus explains the Kingdom of God through parables:

We should use these parables to inform our view of God and grow our relationship with him and others.

The Kingdom Is Here

In addition, when Jesus talks about the kingdom of God, he mentions how close it is, saying that it’s near (Luke 10:9 and others). It’s within his disciple’s lifetimes (Mark 9:1), even present (Luke 17:21).

How do we understand this immediacy of the kingdom of God? Isn’t kingdom of God a euphemism for heaven? Doesn’t it mean eternal life? If so, how could it have been near 2,000 years ago but now something we anticipate in our future?

Though an aspect of the kingdom of God looks forward to our eternity with Jesus in heaven, there’s more to it. We must view the kingdom of God as both a present reality and a future promise.

Yes, the kingdom of God is about our hope for heaven when we die, but it’s also about our time on earth now. The kingdom of God is about Jesus and his salvation, along with the life we lead in response to his gift to us. The kingdom of God is about eternal life and that eternal life begins today.

Heaven is just phase two. We’re living in phase one—at least we should be.

We’ll do well to embrace Jesus’s teaching about the Kingdom of God to how we should act today. We should seek first the kingdom of God.

Check out the next post in this series addressing seminary.

Read more about this in Peter’s thought-provoking book, Jesus’s Broken Church, available in e-book, audiobook, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

Categories
Christian Living

The Fallacy of Church Membership

Segregating Attendees into Members and Nonmembers Divides Jesus’s Church

In our look at things the church must change, we’ve already considered our buildings and facility, our paid clergy and staff, and our tithes and offerings, that is our charitable giving. Now we’ll turn our attention to some secondary issues, starting with church membership.

Membership is something that most everyone in church accepts without question. But we should question it.

Church membership is not biblical. Nowhere does Jesus tell us to go out and find members, make members, or sign up members. Increasing membership is simply not a biblical mandate. Jesus doesn’t command this, and biblical writers don’t order it.

In fact, the word membership doesn’t even occur in the Bible. It’s something well-meaning religious leaders made up. It may seem like a wise idea, but it’s not.

Membership establishes two levels within Jesus’s church. We must repent of making this distinction. Membership causes division among Jesus’s followers, segregating attendees into two classes of people, the insiders who are members from those on the periphery, the nonmembers.

Alternatives to Church Membership?

Some churches, attempting to correct the fallacy of membership, have come up with new labels. I’ve heard them use the term missionaries, and I’ve also heard of partners. I’m sure there are more.

But these perspectives, though well intended, are merely different names for the same membership problem. The result is that church membership still creates two classes of people in Jesus’s church: insiders and outsiders.

At some churches, baptism makes this membership distinction, as in a baptized member. Once a person undergoes the rite, or sacrament, of baptism—often by emersion—they automatically become a member. Though if they are underage at the time, they might not become a voting member until they reach adulthood.

This makes a third class of attendees, a third division in Jesus’s church: nonvoting members.

Instead, Jesus welcomes all (Romans 15:7, Galatians 3:28, and James 2:1–4). We should do the same, ditching membership as an ill-conceived, manmade tradition that has no scriptural basis.

We must resist the human tendency toward membership, which segregates people, and instead embrace God’s perspective of inclusion. Instead of encouraging church membership, we should promote Christian unity.

Check out the next post in this series addressing the Kingdom of God.

Read more about this in Peter’s thought-provoking book, Jesus’s Broken Church, available in e-book, audiobook, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

Categories
Visiting Churches

Suffering from a Bad Reputation: Church #69

First on our list is a church from a small conservative denomination. Their denomination website says they have thirty-three churches in North America, eleven of which are within driving distance from our house.

The closest one is five miles away. In contrast, they have five more international locations.

A Bad Reputation

I’ve never met anyone who currently goes to one of this denomination’s churches. In the past few years, however, I’ve met several people who used to go there. Their stories are similar and worrisome.

They left this church bruised and bloodied, rejected by the people they used to worship with. Sometimes they’re spurned by their family and friends who continue to go to these churches.

Although there are two sides to every story, their accounts of what happened breaks my heart. That’s because their perspective of what caused their separation seems to be over trivial matters.

Every church has people who think poorly of it. As long as we’re frail humans with a nature to sin, this will occur. Sometimes the reasons for these low opinions are justified and other times they’re self-inflicted.

However, to only meet people who harbor hurts from this denomination is troublesome. It has a bad reputation.

A Negative Mindset

I want to visit one of these churches to learn more about them. But because of their bad reputation, I already know too much and couldn’t go with an open mind. I would look for the negative, hunting for areas to criticize so I can justify the depths of my friends’ pain.

Surely, I would find the validation I seek. I fear I wouldn’t have eyes to see the good in their practices, truly worship God with them, or celebrate meaningful community while I was there.

Until I can properly adjust my perspective, I need to hold off visiting them. Unfortunately, after a couple of years of trying, I’m no closer to being successful. For this reason, their church keeps moving down my list as we visit other congregations.

[See the discussion questions for Church 69, read about Church 68, or start at the beginning of our journey.]

Get your copy of More Than 52 Churches today, available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

Categories
Christian Living

Today’s Church Follows an Old Testament Model

Moses Explained the Three Key Elements of Worship and We Still Follow Them

Our churches today function in much the same way as outlined in the Old Testament. We follow the Old Testament model for church. We pursue these same three key elements. We meet in a building, hire paid staff to represent God to us, and have an ongoing need for money to keep the institution afloat and moving forward.

Building

We often hear the question, “Where do you go to church?” This is an inquiry about location. In standard usage, the word church refers to a place not a people. It’s a structure more so than the community that meets there.

This mindset is pervasive within the church, but it’s universal outside it. In short, people go to a church building to experience God. The implication is that we can’t connect with him at other locations or through different situations. We want a Sunday morning service in a church building.

We go to church. We connect with God. Then we go home. Once we leave the parking lot, we revert to non-church mode and resume our everyday life.

Most people, both those with a religious background and those without it, view a church without their own facility as suspicious, as second rate, or even as somehow less than. People assume—both those inside the church community and those outside it—that this church without a building will one day mature to a point where she can have her own place to meet. Then she will be a real church.

In addition, for many churchgoers, the thought of attending in a non-typical space is an anathema to having a true worship experience. They feel that to truly connect with God they must travel to a dedicated church building.

This is part one of an Old Testament model for church.

Staff

The second element of today’s church is the staff. In most all cases they are paid employees. Yes, sometimes volunteers help, donating many hours of their time each week, but despite their generosity most churches rely on paid personnel to function.

For small churches, the paid staff is the pastor alone, while for larger congregations it’s a pastoral team, made up of full-time and part-time paid personnel.

A church-growth expert once advocated that a single pastor could sufficiently shepherd a congregation of up to 150 people. Beyond that level, the sole pastor requires help to address the needs of the congregation and deal with the details brought on by this expanded scope.

The expert had a formula for that too: each additional one hundred people in the church required one more staff person. This formula seems to track at the various churches I’ve been part of over the years.

In the same way that most people expect to go to a dedicated worship space on Sunday, they carry expectations of the paid staff who work there, especially the minister.

Just as the people in the Old Testament lined up each day to see Moses, overburdening him and keeping him busy from sunup to sunset (Exodus 18:13), we tend to do the same for our clergy today.

This is part two of an Old Testament model for church.

Collectively we insist that our ministers be available for us whenever we need them. This includes a crisis, such as a death, health scare, financial need, lost job, or wayward child. We also want them there for our celebrations. This means our family births (baptisms, christenings, or dedications) and our weddings (officiating), even milestone birthdays and anniversaries. We also presume their support for our own God-honoring initiatives. And we freely dump our burdens on them in the form of prayer requests. When we call, email, or text, we expect a quick response.

They’re here to serve us. That’s what we pay them for.

Then when they wisely refer us to another person who can help us, just as Moses’s father-in-law recommended him to do (Exodus 18:14), we react with indignation.

We withdraw our support for this leader who we feel slighted us (2 Corinthians 6:12). And we seldom do this silently, often resorting to gossip and even slander (3 John 1:9-11). Sometimes we launch a campaign to replace our once-esteemed leader.

To add weight to our hurt, we may threaten to withhold our support of the church. And to our shame, we sometimes follow through (Malachi 3:6-12).

Money

The third key element of today’s church is financial support. She needs money to function, lots of it. We often refer to this need for money as tithes and offerings. Some churches call for pledges and then urge people to meet their financial commitments each Sunday.

Over the years I’ve heard many ministers plead for money from their congregations, insisting that we must give 10 percent of our income to the local church.

I’m not sure if they’re merely parroting what they heard others say, don’t know their Scripture, or don’t care, but the Bible never says to give 10 percent to the local church. Remember, the Old Testament tithe went to fuel the national religion.

In a typical church most of their budget goes to cover facility costs and staffing. This often approaches 90 percent of the total budget and sometimes requires all of it, only to still fall short. This doesn’t leave too much money—if any—for ministry and outreach.

But lest we complain about the size of our church’s budget and our leader’s calls for financial generosity, remember that this is our own doing. We’ve brought this upon ourselves.

We expect to meet in our own dedicated worship space. And we hire staff to serve as our liaison between us and God. These things carry a price tag, and our church budget reflects it.

This is part three of an Old Testament model for church.

A Kingdom Focus

Though it’s true that some churches are exceptions to this—and take exception to what I’ve just written—they are the minority. To need less financial support usually stems from one of two things.

The first is having a non-typical meeting space. And the second is enjoying a lot of volunteers to do the work that normally falls to paid staff. In some cases, both elements are present, which allows for much more of the congregants’ giving to go to ministry and outreach, instead of buildings and payroll.

This allows them to move from an inward focus to an outward emphasis. Every church should strive to move toward this outcome. The kingdom of God will advance more powerfully when we do.

Read more about this in Peter’s thought-provoking book, Jesus’s Broken Church, available in e-book, audiobook, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

Categories
Christian Living

Are You Zealous about Church?

We Must Do Better at Our Religious Meetings

“Why do you so hate the church?”

Shocked, I furrow my eyes and scowl at my friend. “I don’t hate church.”

“But you’re always criticizing it in your blog.”

This gives me pause. True, much of my writing about church doesn’t celebrate what she does well but rebukes her for what she does poorly or doesn’t do at all.

“I don’t hate the church,” I say again, as if trying to convince myself. “I love the church, really I do. I write to challenge her to do better because I know she can.”

My friend nods, but I’m not sure I convinced her.

In truth I’m zealous about church.

Zealous about Church

Over the centuries the church has done much to advance the cause of Jesus, help people find their way to eternal life, and perform acts of generosity that point an unbelieving world to Jesus. Today’s church continues to do that. And I hope church has done that for you.

But lest we feel smug about the church’s achievements, today’s church does only a small fraction of what she could be doing, of what she should be doing. I’m sad to say that the church has lost her way.

She’s off track and has missed the mark for much of her existence. This pains me as much as a spike driven into my heart, into my very soul, the core of my being. I mourn what the church is because she’s falling far short of her potential, of her calling.

Hypothetically Speaking

It’s like being a parent of a brilliant, gifted child who muddles her way through school and gets C’s, even though she’s capable of getting A’s in advanced classes.

As a loving parent, I would do whatever I could to shake the apathetic inertia out of my child and get her to live up to her potential. But since she won’t, I prod her to do better. I do this through the words I write. It’s the best way I know to help.

Just as I would do this for my child, I do this for my church with the same imperative passion. I metaphorically shake her in hopes that she’ll do better—because she can.

At this point, some of you may be saying “Amen, preach it!,” but others of you—most of you, I suspect—have raised your hackles at my insulting, impertinent words. You’re angry and thinking about clicking the close button.

If I were with you in person, you might yell. It might be that you’re screaming right now. That’s okay. I get it. But before you bail on me, I challenge you to stick with me a little bit longer. Give me a chance to explain.

Biblical Church

If asked, most people would say the practices of their church are biblical. They’d say that about every church I’ve been part of. They’d even say this for every church I visited in my book 52 Churches and its sequels.

Let’s run through a typical church service. There’s preaching. That’s in the Bible. Check. There’s singing. Also in the Bible. Check. There’s praying, an offering (or two), and a concluding blessing. All biblical. Check, check, check.

We meet every Sunday, just like the Bible says. (More on that later.) Check. We may volunteer, tithe, and respect our pastor. More checkmarks. Yes, today’s church services are biblical—or so they seem.

Yet, we read the Bible through the lens of our experience. The things we do in church, we find them mentioned in the Bible. This confirms we’re doing things the biblical way, God’s way. Yet we may be connecting dots we shouldn’t connect.

For example, the Bible tells us to not give up meeting together (Hebrews 10:24-25). This is a command to go to church every Sunday. Not really—despite what many preachers claim.

We take our church experiences, then we find justification for them in the Bible, even if this isn’t what the Bible says. This is confirmation bias. We do it all the time. You, me, everyone. But we must stop.

Meeting Together

Back to Hebrews. This passage doesn’t mention church. It says, “meeting together,” hanging out. If you came to my house—which would be way cool and more personal than reading this post—we’d be meeting together, just as the Bible commands.

If we go out to eat each Sunday, that’s meeting together. If we do game night once a month, that’s meeting together. So would be movie night, hanging out at the coffee shop, and working together on a service project.

These are all examples of us meeting together. Going to church is just one possibility. But let’s be clear, this passage doesn’t command us to go to church. It merely tells us to meet together. How we meet is up for us to determine. Sort of. (Read more in Why Sunday?)

However—here I go ruffling some more feathers—going to one of today’s churches on Sunday morning may be one of the least significant ways we can meet.

At most churches today, we spend the better part of an hour staring at the back of someone’s head as others entertain us. Yes, today’s church is more about a chosen few performing than about the majority present taking part.

Then we go home. This is scarcely a prime example of meeting together. If our church service—even the best ones I’ve ever been to—is us meeting together as the Bible commands, we’re doing a poor job of it.

We’re getting C’s (or D’s or even F’s) when we should be getting A’s in advanced classes.

That’s why I mourn for the church I love so much. That’s why I write. I write because I know she’s capable of so much more. I’m zealous about church.

Read more about this in Peter’s thought-provoking book, Jesus’s Broken Church, available in e-book, audiobook, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

Categories
Visiting Churches

The Church’s Vision Changes: Discussion Questions for Church #60

I meet a pastor launching a church in an underserved urban area. Her dream is a church for people of all ages, races, and backgrounds—a colorful mosaic of folks seeking to grow together in Jesus under Holy Spirit power

Consider these three discussion questions about Church 60.

1. Her vision draws me in. Being part of this church is not inconceivable, even though it’s thirty minutes away.

How open are we to be part of God’s great adventure when it’s not convenient?

2. Months later their website still casts a vision for a downtown church, but details appear for a suburban service, without mentioning one downtown. Did their vision change?

How can we keep our plans and vision aligned with God’s leading?

3. I assume they’ve given up on reaching the downtown urban area. Just like many other well-intentioned folks, they seem content in the suburbs. Most people are.

Are we content to remain where we’re comfortable and with those we know?

[Read about Church 60 or start at the beginning of our journey.]

If you feel it’s time to move from the sidelines and get into the game, The More Than 52 Churches Workbook provides the plan to get you there.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.