What’s More Important, Family or Church?

We need to order our priorities with intention and do what matters most

What’s More Important, Family or Church?Whether we realize it or not, we form priorities to order our lives. For most of my adult existence my number one priority has been God. Though I held this out as my ideal, sometimes, perhaps too often, my actions didn’t live up to this principle, but I did strive to reach it.

Many years ago, I mistakenly included church in the box that should have been reserved for God. As such, I elevated the importance of church to the level of God, effectively making church activity my highest priority. During that season of my life, whenever the church doors were open, I was there. In addition to attending twice on Sunday, I also served on committees and helped pretty much wherever and whenever someone asked. As a result I spent two, three, and sometimes even four evenings a week at church fulfilling various roles, commitments, and needs.

When I was busy at church doing these things, my young family was at home—functioning without me. I had mistaken the elevated church activity above family life. I have long since moved past that church, but my family is still here. They are my priority over church—any church.

If I ever need to choose between church and family, I now choose family.

As far as church activity, aside from the Sunday service, I limit myself to no more than one other commitment—if that. This helps me keep my actions aligned with my priorities.

Yes, God is still the number one priority in my life. But now family comes in second. And they have for a long time, too. Church, however, is further down my list.

God is number one, as he should be. Family comes second. After that is work, writing, and friends. I suppose church activity comes in next. That makes church number six on my priority list. And I think that’s the right place for it to be.Be intentional, and make a thoughtful determination about what your priorities should be. Click To Tweet

I can’t undo the mistake I made a couple decades ago when I placed church over my family, but I can make sure not to repeat that error again. Not with my wife, not with our children, and not with our grandchildren.

Just because this is how I order my life, doesn’t mean that’s how you need to prioritize yours. But I do encourage you to be intentional, and make a thoughtful determination about what your priorities should be. The next step is to make your actions align with your ideals.

How a Business Mindset Influences the Church

A church and its congregation shouldn’t let a corporate mentality infiltrate it’s thinking

How a Business Mindset Influences the ChurchIn “Why Business Practices Hurt the Church” we discussed how business thinking has improperly affected the big-picture perspectives of church. Yet the business mindset goes deeper than that, negatively influencing church practices and attendee attitudes.

Spiritual Outcomes Are Not Quantifiable: The business world measures everything, but when churches try to do that, they end up with a focus on finances and attendance.

Churches shouldn’t measure their success numerically. And when they do, they shift the focus from what matters to God to what matters to humans.

We can’t measure changed lives, but that’s precisely what matters most to God.

Measure What Matters: I once attended a church’s annual meeting. They spent much time talking about the 103 baptisms they did that year and the 103 people who joined their church. It was a grand celebration of their success and the marvelous manner of God at work.

However, as an addendum to the end of their meeting, they shared their beginning and ending membership numbers. The difference was not 103 but one! In a busy year with 103 baptisms and 103 new members, they had only grown by one person. That meant 102 people quit their church.

Don’t measure what makes you feel good, but count what matters.

Churn: The business world calls this loss of customers churn. If a business churns customers so fast that all their effort is spent trying to stay even, then something is wrong, seriously wrong. But this church wasn’t smart enough to realize that—or at least to admit it.

Some churches call this the back door. They grow when people come in the front door and shrink when these folks slip out the back door. Another apt term is leaking. Some churches leak people—a lot of people.

Churn is bad for both businesses and churches. It must be fixed, yet the approach to do so differs. Businesses address churn by looking at customer service and product offerings. Churches should not. Their problem goes much deeper than service and product, but until they realize this, they’ll never fix it.

The Consumer Mentality: When people feel free to leave a church, often over the smallest of slights, they view themselves as a customer shopping for the church that offers the most value. This is a consumer mindset, not a godly perspective.

We shouldn’t shop for a church that provides the services we want. Instead we should look for a faith community we can help.We shouldn’t shop for a church that provides the services we want. Click To Tweet

Consumerism Turns the Church into a Service Provider: When people go church shopping, the church becomes a service provider. Which church offers the best services? Then the focus shifts to programs, service styles, and preaching power.

Instead of asking, “What can the church do for me?” the better question becomes “What can I do for the church?” Don’t seek to be served but to serve.

Customer Complaints: The business that wants to improve, grow, and remain viable listens to its customers. While we all like to hear good news from happy people, the real value comes from the frustrated people who still care enough to share their opinion. So the wise business leader listens.

Yet when most people apply this attitude to their church and share their “concerns” with their pastor or church leaders, they do so with the wrong motives. In reality they want to turn the church into their vision of an ideal congregation that fits them perfectly. Their so-called concerns are little more than a selfish attempt to change the church into what they want for themselves.

Church is Not about the Customer Experience: Businesses talk much about the customer experience. They strive to make the experience of each customer the best they can in order to retain patrons who will continue to buy from them.

When church leaders apply this to their congregation, they begin pandering to the demands of members in order to maintain their attendance and receive their offerings each week. Yet each move in this direction is a step away from God.

Members Are Not Customers: Applying business practices to church implies that members are customers. This carries with it all sorts of negative connotations, such as a consumerism mindset and the need to maximize the lifetime value of members, that is their donations.

The best response is for churches to do away with membership. After all, it’s not biblical.

While modern business practices do much to advance the cause of capitalism and commerce, these same thoughts hurt the church. We must keep this from happening.

Does Dropping Out of Church Mean Turning Your Back on God?

Church attendance may relate to faith or the two may have no connection at all

Does Dropping Out of Church Mean Turning Your Back on God?It borders on gossip, but I occasionally hear a whispered concern about so-and-so not going to church anymore. They dropped out, which in the minds of some people means these nonchurch attenders have “fallen from their faith,” “have backslidden,” or are now “going to hell.”

On a broader scope, I keep hearing reports that Millennials (or some other demographic) have turned from God and left their faith. What is the reason for this conclusion?

It’s simple. They’ve dropped out of church.

Ergo they must have abandoned their faith. However, just as some people attend church and don’t really know God, others know God quite well but have given up on church.

We need to, once and for all, disconnect the assumption that church attendance equates to faith—and that regular attendance implies a vibrant faith. To the contrary, I’ve heard many people say they stopped going to church to preserve their faith in God, that church attendance damaged their state of spiritual being more than it helped.

Don’t take my assertion that church attendance is not an indicator of faith as an excused to stop going. However, if going to church presents an unhealthy burden for you or causes you more harm than good, then perhaps you need to find a different church.

And by different church, I don’t necessarily mean a different denomination or a different style of service, but to perhaps re-envision what church is

At the basic level church is where two or more people gather in Jesus’s name (Matthew 18:20). This might mean in a church building on Sunday morning. Or it may mean at a coffee shop Wednesday afternoon or a restaurant Friday evening. How about a sports event on Saturday or dinner on Sunday? What about a game night or movie outing?

Before you bristle at the implication that playing games or watching movies in Jesus’s name is on a par to Sunday morning church attendance, which one offers more Christian community? Which is the setting where serious faith conversations are more likely to occur?Bible warns us to not give up meeting together, but it's not a command to go to church. Click To Tweet

When the Bible warns us to not give up meeting together (Hebrews 10:25), it’s not talking about going to church. It’s really talking about meeting together. This may mean meeting at the coffee shop, restaurant, sports event, Sunday dinner, game night, or movies.

We are not to live our faith in isolation but in community. However, we must dissuade ourselves of the notion that this community should happen on Sunday morning.

If the traditional form of church has let you down, don’t give up on all forms of Christian community. Find one that works for you and pursue it at all costs. Your faith may depend on it.

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What Do We Do When We Get Together?

The Bible tells us to not give up meeting together, but we often miss the point

Don’t forget to encourage one another when we meet together.As we persevere in our faith, one aspect of this is to not give up meeting together (Hebrews 10:25). Many people interpret this verse as a command to attend church. It isn’t. Not really. While meeting together could include going to church, it should encompass much more.

Where We Meet: The phrase to not give up meeting together is a call for intentional interaction with other followers of Jesus. He says anywhere two or three people get together and place the focus on him, he will join them (Matthew 18:20).

  • Meals: Most people enjoy meals with others, and most Christians pray before they eat. Isn’t this gathering in Jesus’s name? I think so. While we may eat some meals alone, we potentially have three times each day to fellowship with others and include Jesus. But do we make the most of these opportunities?
  • Small Groups: Many churches provide opportunities for attendees to form intentional gatherings with a small number of people. This facilitates connection with each other and draws us to God. If we skip our small group, it’s as if we are giving up meeting together, which the Bible says not to do.
  • Coffee Shop: People often meet at coffee shops to spend time and hang out. If you include God in your meeting, either explicitly or implicitly, you assemble in his name.
  • Homes: Do you invite people into your home or see others in theirs? If you both love Jesus, doesn’t this become a get together where he is included? It should.
  • Outings: What about going on a picnic, to the game, the gym, or shopping? With intentionality, each of these can be another opportunity to meet together in his name.
  • Church: Yes, church is on this list of places where we can gather in the name of Jesus. But I list it last because I wonder if it isn’t the least important. Why do I suggest this? Because when we meet in this environment, we often (perhaps usually) do it wrong. Consider the rest of the verse to find out why.

The reason we meet together should be to encourage one another. Click To TweetWhen We Meet: The command to not give up meeting together goes on to explain why. People tend to skip this part. The reason we are to meet together is so that we may encourage one another. The Bible says so, but how often do we do this in our church meetings?

If we leave church discouraged or fail to encourage others while we’re there, then we’ve missed the point of meeting together. While some people make a big deal out of meeting together—that is, going to church—they’re quick to miss that the reason is to encourage each other. If we’re not going to do that, then we might as well stay home.

Do You Have These Misconceptions about Church?

Many people carry misconceptions about the purpose of church, and we need to set aside that thinking

Do You Have These Misconceptions about Church?Last Sunday in “What is Church,” I suggested we are the church. Church isn’t a place we go—not really. It’s who we are. As the church we should be about worship, community, and helping others.

There’s a lot I didn’t mention. That was intentional. Contrary to the actions and attitudes of many, here is what a church is not:

Church is Not an Obligation: We must never think of church as an obligation. Though most people, at one time or another, make a conscious decision to attend a Sunday morning gathering when they don’t feel like it, that falls under the category of being self-disciplined. But if the only reason we ever go is out of a sense of obligation, then our motivation is wrong. God is not impressed.

Yes, the Bible commands us to persist in meeting together (Hebrews 10:24-25), but that doesn’t necessarily mean a Sunday church service. I think it means hanging out with other believers. That should be fun, not an obligation to fulfill.

Church is Not a Means to Appease Guilt: Some people only attend a religious service on Sunday morning because they’d feel guilty if they stayed home. They were trained from an early age that church is what you did. If the church doors where open, they were there: Sunday morning, Sunday evening, Wednesday night prayer meeting, Thursday visitation . . .

Guilt is a powerful motivator. The avoidance of guilt can propel us to positive action, but it needs to have a benefit greater than appeasing a shame-filled conscience.

Church is Not a Routine: Many Sunday services proceed with a rote precision that attendees follow mindlessly. They come, they go through the motions, and they head home. For them the entire time holds no significance. While their body acts, their mind drifts, and their spirit remains untouched. Routine is the enemy of meaningful worship and true community.

An almost parallel aspect of routine exists, called ritual. Though the word ritual carries negative connotations, a positive aspect of ritual is one seeped in deep spiritual mystery. Some people are drawn to this type of almost-mystical ritual, a sacred practice that supernaturally connects them with the Almighty.There’s a distinction between meaningful church community and a social get together. Click To Tweet

Church is Not a Social Club: Some people pursue church meetings as nothing more than a social gathering, void of spiritual significance. They miss the true meaning of us meeting together. They dishonor God and marginalize his community of followers.

Though one of the characteristics of us as church is community, there’s a distinction between meaningful community and a social get together. Yes, community contains a significant social aspect, but more importantly it involves intentionality in how we treat one another. The New Testament gives us over thirty “one another” commands, which starts with the expectation that we love one another.

Church is Not a Business Promotion Vehicle: Some people become members of a local church as a means for commerce. They join so they can sell, not serve. They go through the motions of worship, and their engagement with community consists only of networking for business.

When my bride and I were first married, another couple from our local congregation invited us to their house. We were ecstatic. Then my mother-in-law shared that this couple had recently signed onto a large multi-level marketing company. When I asked them directly of their intention, they confirmed my fears that we would experience a sales pitch. We didn’t go, and they never talked to us again. That’s not church. That’s not even good business.

Church is Not a Place to Amass Knowledge: For much of my life I reasoned that the real purpose of a Sunday service was to learn about God. I dismissed the worship part because it bored me. I didn’t see community because it was all social. And, as an inward looking body, we didn’t do any service. That left the sermon.

But what happens when the sermon doesn’t provide any new information? Does that mean I wasted an hour, or more? But recall the verse that says, “Knowledge puffs up” (1 Corinthians 8:1). Amassing knowledge is not the reason we should go to church. That takes me back to worship, community, and serving others.

We are the church. We gather to worship God, live in community, and serve others.

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What is Church?

The church of Jesus needs to focus on three things and master them all

What is Church?In our normal usage, church is a building, a place we go to—often on Sunday mornings. I’ll be there later today. Other definitions for church include a religious service, organized religion, and professional clergy.

Yet a more correct understanding is that we are church, both individually and collectively. We, the church, are an organic body, not an institution, religious service, or profession. If we are the church, we can’t go there; we take church with us everywhere we go—or at least we should.

As the people who comprise the church of Jesus—his followers—I see three things we ought to be about, three things that warrant our focus:

Worship: Life isn’t about us; it’s all about him. Or at least it should be. As individuals and as a group we should worship him, our reason for being. Though God doesn’t need our praise and adoration, we should need to give it to him. We worship God by thanking him for who he is and what he does. We worship him by praising him for his omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent greatness. This can happen in word, in attitude, in action—and in song.

Singing to God about him is a common form of worship. Yet at too many church services this musical expression of faith has turned into a concert. While this is not necessarily bad if the concert connects us with God, it is bad if all it seeks to do is entertain us. By the way, when we say we don’t like the music at church, we’ve just turned the focus away from God and back to us, to our desire for entertainment over worship.

Beyond this we can also worship God in silence and through solitude, two pursuits that most people in our culture fail to comprehend. In fact, in our always on, always connected existence, even a few seconds of silence makes most people squirm, whereas solitude drives them crazy. Yet we can worship God in both.

In addition we also worship God by getting along with other believers and serving those outside our group.

Community: The church as a group of people should major on community, on getting along and experiencing life together. Community should happen during our Sunday gatherings, as well as before and after, just hanging out. Community is following all of the Bible’s one another commands, which teach us how to get along in a God-honoring way.

At some church services people scurry in at the exact starting time (or a few minutes late) and flee with intention at the final “amen.” They miss the community part of church; they miss a key reason for going. Remember, it’s not about us.

If we don’t like spending time with the people we see for an hour each Sunday morning, then something’s wrong: not with them, but with us. So, before we point fingers at others, we need to realize that the problem of why we shun spiritual community lies within.Worship is about God, and community is about our fellow believers. Click To Tweet

Helping Others: Worship is about God, and community is about our fellow believers. What about others? If we only focus on God and our local faith gathering, we stop too soon and fail to function as the church Jesus intended. Jesus served others, so should we. And we shouldn’t serve with any motives other than the pure intent to show them the love of Jesus. Loving others through our actions may be the most powerful witness we can offer. And history is full of examples where this indeed happened, when the world saw Jesus through the tangible love of his followers.

A church body that looks only to God and at each other is selfish. A church that only gazes heavenward or internally is a church that is dying. We need to let our light shine so that the world can see (Matthew 5:14-16 and Luke 11:33). The world watches us; they hope we’ll come through; they want to see Jesus in us.

That’s what church is. We worship and we build community so we can love others in his name.

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

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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.Mature Christians can feed themselves and don’t need a sermon every Sunday. Click To Tweet

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.Meaningful church community doesn’t take place during the service; it occurs after the amen. Click To Tweet

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.

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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.The one instance where men find a place is in church plants. Click To Tweet

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.God gave us Sunday to benefit us, not to shackle us. Click To Tweet

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?