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.

When 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

Christians Need to Gather Together..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.

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

We are the church: Working God, Get along, and Help OthersIn 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.

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.

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.