Categories
Visiting Churches

Church #56: The Reboot

We planned to visit this congregation for 52 Churches but couldn’t—because they didn’t exist then. Back then, two churches—one we skipped and one we visited (Church #25, “Embarking on a Metamorphosis”)—planned to simultaneously shut down for a few months and then reopen as a new, merged entity.

It took more than a few months, and they didn’t start their services until after the original 52 Churches project ended. 

As they moved forward, the process went by various names, but for simplicity I’m calling it a reboot. Along the way, two other churches joined in, sending people and support. Today, we’ll see the results, eight months after their launch.

The large parking lot has ample room, but it also looks full. It’s a nice sight. A warm day, people mill about outside, including two greeters by the entrance, bantering with all who pass. One opens the door for us. 

Inside is a bustle of activity, almost chaotic—at least to the uninitiated. As our eyes transition from outdoor glare to indoor normal, we pause to take in everything. There’s a nursery check-in station, a table for missions, and another for visitors, but we don’t make it that far.

Nametags

A woman greets us. We connect with each other, but, as our conversation wanes, I wonder what to do next.

“Oh, nametags,” she says. “Do you want a nametag?”

“That’d be great.” But I’m not sure she hears me. 

“We all wear nametags here.” She gestures to her own and guides us to the nametag table. By the time we finish, she’s disappeared, and a line has formed behind us.

With no room in the lobby to mingle, we have two choices. We can turn right to the fellowship hall and socialize, or head into the sanctuary and sit. We didn’t arrive as early as I wanted. The service should start in a couple of minutes, so we walk straight ahead and choose our seats.

Waiting to Begin

The floorplan of the facility remains the same. However, the lobby received a makeover, and the sanctuary underwent a complete transformation.

Gone are the pews, organ, and more formal elements. In their place are padded chairs for a couple hundred, a stage for the musicians, and a contemporary altar. What once approached stodgy is now chic. Subdued lighting adds to the allure. I’m quite sure something special awaits us.

A countdown clock, displayed on dual screens, implies the service will begin in two minutes and thirty-two seconds. While some churches employ this as an absolute trigger to launch the service, for others it’s a mere guide. Based on how organized they are, I expect the first, and I’m correct.

With twenty seconds remaining, the worship team starts playing softly. There are two on guitars, one who’s also the lead vocalist, another patting the congas, and a fourth who sings backup vocals. Their sound is light contemporary.

When the singing starts, a few people stand but most don’t. Slowly, others rise to join them and by the end of the first verse, most are standing, including Candy and me.

Changing the order today, communion—something they do every Sunday—follows.

Celebrating Communion

The program—they’re careful to not call it a bulletin—says communion is open to “anyone who acknowledges Jesus Christ as the risen Savior.” Children are welcome to take part, too, as determined by their parents or caregivers. 

In the pre-communion teaching, the minister, a thirty-something hipster, talks about mercy and grace. Mercy is not receiving the punishment we deserve, while grace is receiving the good that we don’t deserve.

I like these simple explanations and use them often, but I’ve never contemplated them during communion. As I do, I realize how perfectly they fit. Jesus exemplifies both mercy and grace. Communion celebrates this.

There are two communion stations, one up front and one in back, to serve the 160 or so present. The method is to dip the bread in the juice and eat, either at the communion station or later in our seats. As the worship team plays, we may go up whenever we want, but for most that means right away.

Candy and I sit, conspicuous by our inaction, as the throng surges forward. I try to concentrate on what I’m about to do, but as the only people still sitting, most of my effort focuses on not fidgeting. I sense my bride is anxious too.

After most of the people finish, we get in line. When it’s her turn, Candy breaks off some bread, while the man holding the cup says something appropriate. 

Candy dips her bread and pauses. Normally, we celebrate communion as a couple, eating it together as I declare Jesus’s gift to her while she agrees. When it’s my turn, the man says something different to me. Perplexed, I mumble a disconnected response.

I dip my bread and Candy waits for me to say something. Today no words come, and I eat the bread without her. She follows. She seems disappointed over my break from our practice. She should be. I know I am. 

Once again, I fail to fully embrace the wonder of what Jesus did. I went through the motions of communion, but failed to commune with God or my wife. We were the last to take communion, and now I just want to sit as quickly as possible.

Mother’s Day and Children

I shake off my failure at communion as a children’s choir sings. There are twelve girls and one boy. Today is Mother’s Day, though the song doesn’t follow that theme, but I’m not really listening. I’m more taken in by the animated antics of their leader.

Bubbling with expression, she leads them well—and entertains me. Afterward, they distribute carnations to all females, “honoring all women.” This nicely avoids the risk of having a celebration of mothers that inadvertently disregards those who desperately long to be moms but aren’t.

Candy doesn’t like carnations, but she accepts a red one. 

Then all the children come forward for a blessing. The pastor says, “Let’s talk to Jesus.” I appreciate his simple, kid-appropriate reminder of what prayer is. Then the congregation sings “Jesus Loves Me” as the kids head off for their classes.

Giving as Worship

For the offering, the minister reminds us, “Giving is an act of worship.” This again strikes me as profound, just as it did the first time I heard it at Church #13 (“A Dedicated Pastor Team”).

Even so, every Sunday during my teens, I heard the phrase “Let us worship God with our tithes and offerings.” It meant nothing to me then. I assumed it was merely a polite euphemism for “give us your money.”

I understood the offering as merely a way to fund the church, and I missed it as worship.

The Importance of Rest

The church is in the middle of a series about the importance of rest. Today’s message is “Abide, Grow, Fruit, Prune,” based on John 15:1–8. The goal is to produce fruit: the fruit of the Spirit (see Galatians 5:22–23), good deeds, and transformation.

The minister asks, “Are you bearing fruit?” As the text reminds us, apart from God we can do nothing (John 15:5). Abiding will produce fruit. Rest will result in good works. We need to “find a place of rest,” says the pastor.

We will have “cycles of pruning and of growing.” He ends with the advice “to rest in Christ.”

The worship team plays softly as we exit the sanctuary. One man introduces us to some of his friends. He’s outgoing, with an engaging personality. We talk at length.

Connecting and Fellowship

He says sometimes he’s a greeter. Other times his role is to mingle and interact with visitors. Today he has the day off.

“You’re doing it anyway!”

He smiles. “Yes, I guess I am.” 

“When you’re serving where you should be, it comes naturally and gives life.”

He nods, and Candy adds, “But trying to serve in the wrong place is never good.” We acknowledge her wisdom.

Eventually our conversation wraps up. As I turn to leave, I spot the worship team at the communion table serving themselves communion. It’s beautiful.

Reflections

Despite the changes made in the facility’s appearance, the service unfolded like most others. They merely housed typical expectations in a new package, updating the form but not the format.

We exit the sanctuary and, once again in the lobby, we have two choices. Head to our car or veer into the fellowship hall for food and more conversation. We stay and enjoy both.

For an eight-month-old church, they have much to offer: many who are involved, several programs and areas to serve, and great community. May God continue to bless them on their reboot.

[Read about Church 55 or start at the beginning of our journey.]

Get your copy of More Than 52 Churches and The More Than 52 Churches Workbook 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

Discussion Questions for Church #55: A Time of Sharing

After 52 Churches ended, a new church launched in our area. Their primary marketing was yard signs, which promoted a fresh approach to church. With a last-minute opening in our schedule, we have an opportunity to visit and experience a great time of sharing. 

Consider these seven discussion questions about Church 55.

Their Facebook page contains recent updates, but they don’t mention service times or a schedule beyond their first two meetings several months ago. What can we do to make sure we provide potential visitors with up-to-date information?

They call themselves nondenominational, but their website—which Candy eventually finds—describes a church that sounds most evangelical. Why not just say they’re evangelical? Do the labels we use for our church accurately reflect who we are?

We’re the oldest people present, with kids, teens, and younger adults all represented. After visiting many churches with older congregations, this is a pleasant change. What age groups does our church cater to? What does this say about our focus and future?

They start fifteen minutes late. I’m not sure if this is their norm or because of harsh weather. When does our church service actually begin? What does this communicate to visitors?

At many churches a time of sharing approaches gossip or bragging. Not so here. The pain they share is not just a lament but also a testimony, teaching and encouraging others. How can we publicly share our needs and still edify the church?

They tell us many members have a charismatic background, but they’re careful to avoid excess, following Paul’s teaching (1 Corinthians 14:27–28). How can we better ground our church in what the Bible teaches?

Their leader follows Paul’s example of working his trade to provide for ministry (Acts 18:2–3). I like not expecting paid clergy to serve members but for members to minister to each other. How well do we do at ministering to one another?

Overall, we have a great time of sharing at this church.

[Read about Church 55 or start at the beginning of our journey.]

Get your copy of More Than 52 Churches and The More Than 52 Churches Workbook 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

Church #55: New and Small

One of our goals in 52 Churches was to visit all ten churches located in our local school district. After 52 Churches ended, that number increased to eleven.

The primary marketing for this new church is yard signs, spread throughout the area, suggesting a different kind of church. We make a mental note to visit.

With another last-minute opening in our schedule, we have an opportunity to go there, but we can’t remember their name—and the yard signs are gone.

Tracking Them Down

After some extensive online searching—investing much more time than any typical visitor would do—I stumble upon their name and find their Facebook page, but I can’t locate a website. 

Their Facebook page contains recent updates, but they don’t mention service times or a schedule beyond their first two meetings several months ago.

Now armed with their name, my wife, cyber sleuth Candy finds their website, which confirms their schedule and service time. They call themselves nondenominational, but their website describes a church that fits snugly within the evangelical stream of Christianity. 

As an aside, I suspect most nondenominational churches are evangelical in function, since I’ve never been to one that wasn’t. It’s possible, however, for a church to include all three streams of Christianity.

The service at Church #19 (“A Near Miss”) seemed to embrace equal parts of traditional, evangelical, and charismatic churches.

Even though they were part of a denomination (albeit a very loose one), their service felt the most nondenominational of any I’ve ever attended. They exemplified what I think nondenominational should be: open to anyone and everyone, without leaning toward a denomination or stream of Christianity. 

A Wintery Drive to Church

We head out early. A winter storm blankets everything with a layer of ice. Several churches cancelled services, but we don’t think to check if this one has.

I pick a route that will be more traveled and hopefully less treacherous. Even these roads are slippery, and we shouldn’t be out. Passing an accident confirms the folly of our adventure. The drive takes twice as long as normal. 

The church is in a small strip mall. With only a couple of cars in the parking lot, I wonder if they, too, cancelled services. Supporting my suspicion, I don’t see any lights or movement inside.

Our Welcome

The parking lot is even more icy than the roads. As we exit our car, a man calls out to be careful. With much concern, we inch our way toward him.

He introduces himself and doesn’t bother to ask if we’re visitors. He knows. With the weather, he expects low attendance and says they only have half of their worship team. Inwardly, I sigh. It seems that too often we show up when churches don’t have one of their typical services.

Encouraged by the engaging welcome, we head inside. A guy in the sound booth looks up and comes over to talk. He looks familiar and says the same to me. My bride notices he’s wearing a clip-on mic and asks if he’s the pastor. I wonder the same. He says, “Yes.”

We’ve been at a church service in this space before. A couple of years prior to 52 Churches, we visited Church #15 (“An Outlier Congregation”) here. They since moved and changed pastors, which resulted in a much different experience for our 52 Churches visit.

Today the room feels bigger than that visit several years ago. I suspect the prior church had one space in the mall, with the present configuration using two. They have 144 padded chairs, aligned in long rows.

With only twelve people present, the vastness of the space makes our numbers feel even less. We’re the oldest people there, with kids, teens, and younger adults all represented.

Even though we walked in two minutes late, we have time to talk with several people before the service. They finally start about fifteen minutes later. I’m not sure if beginning late is their norm or if they’re allowing more time for people to arrive.

As it turns out, it doesn’t matter. We are the last to show up.

The Service

Today’s worship leader normally plays drums, but today he fills in as worship leader for his older brother, who is working. He also plays guitar. Another guitarist and bassist join him. The drum kit sits idle. His leading is confident, though not polished.

I’ve been to services where the worship team is so rehearsed that I feel I’m at a concert and miss worshiping God. The opposite is well-intentioned people who shouldn’t be leading music. Their efforts unfold as a painful ordeal, repelling me from God.

Today, we hit that ideal place between the two extremes. At least it’s ideal for me. We sing several current worship songs, which draw me to God.

Then they have a time of sharing. When churches do this, I often wonder why. One of three patterns usually emerges: 

They call attention to the person sharing, as in “I just bought a new Lexis. Pray that my BMW sells so I can give money to the mission.”

Or it borders on gossip, as in “My brother-in-law didn’t come home again last night. My sister might file for divorce and seek full custody of the kids.”

Third is a wish list to God, as in “Pray for a new job, a good-paying job, one where the boss treats employees with respect, and a new car to get me to work, suitable work clothes, and money for . . . ” 

Yeah, I’m exaggerating a bit, but not too much. 

Not so at this church. They share well. My first hint of this is tissue boxes scattered throughout the room. Certainly, people shed tears here. My assumption proves correct. When the first two people share, both end up crying as they reveal the angst of their heart.

Their words are not just a lament but also a testimony, teaching and encouraging others. 

They remind me of Paul’s words to Jesus’s followers in Corinth, that each person should do their part in building up the church (1 Corinthians 14:26). Their time of sharing doesn’t fully match Paul’s instruction, but they come closer than I’ve ever seen before.

After several people share, the pastor asks for others to do the same. His words go beyond being polite. He’s almost imploring more people to participate.

I wonder if he’s leaving an opening for Candy or me to say something. At his second request, I squirm a bit, but he doesn’t prolong his plea. With no more takers, he moves on to his message.

The Message

It’s the Sunday before Christmas, and he reads about Jesus’s birth from Luke 2:8–14. The pastor has a gentle delivery, kind and accessible. Though it’s not his fault, I have trouble concentrating on his words.

I jot down a few verses and one sentence that strikes me: “God sent Jesus here so we could better understand his nature.” I ponder this, missing what comes next in the sermon. I don’t think of helping us understand his nature as one of Jesus’s goals, but I realize the pastor is correct.

How could I have missed this?

Fellowship Afterward

The service ends with more music, and then everyone hangs around to talk. Eventually, we interact with every adult present and several of the braver teens. We learn their leader is a tentmaker pastor, following Paul’s example of working his trade to provide for ministry (Acts 18:2–3). 

This, I feel, is how it should be, not expecting paid clergy to serve members but for members to minister to each other. If we rightly serve and minister to one another, as the Bible teaches, the role of pastors becomes much less demanding—almost unneeded.

With less demand on their time, pastors won’t need to work as much or receive compensation, with each paying their own way. We also learn many members have a charismatic background, but they’re careful to avoid excess, doing all things properly, as Paul taught in 1 Corinthians 14:27–28.

As we talk, the lead guitarist has a bit of a jam session. “I really enjoy your playing,” I tell him later, “but I suspect you were holding back!” 

He smiles. “I didn’t receive the set list until last night. Since I live in an apartment, I couldn’t practice.”

Having talked to everyone, we finally head out, the first to do so, glad for the experience. Most of the ice has melted, and the roads are now fine. Our church experience today was a good one.

This church does so many things right. I wish more people were part of it.

[See the discussion questions for Church 55, read about Church 54 or start at the beginning of our journey.]

Get your copy of More Than 52 Churches and The More Than 52 Churches Workbook 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

Don’t Let Our Labels Divide Us

May We Be One in Jesus and Ignore What Could Separate Us

We live in a divisive time, with one group opposing another, often in the most zealous of ways, sometimes even with violent outcomes. As a society, we’re quick to put people in a box and label them according to some aspect of their life.

Though these labels are sometimes convenient, and at times even appropriate, more often they divide us and cause unnecessary conflict and needless opposition.

These divisions, however, don’t just appear in secular spaces. They also appear in the religious realm. We put labels on people of faith and use these identifiers to decide who we align with and who we oppose. And to our discredit, we do this in the name of God.

Here are some ways that we let labels divide us as people of faith and followers of Jesus:

Divided by Denomination

First, we divide ourselves by denomination, in both a generic and a specific sense. First, we segregate Christianity into three primary streams: Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Protestant.

Each group knows little about the other, often denigrating them over wrong assumptions and misunderstandings. Yet we all have Jesus in common. This should be enough to unite us and be one in him.

Within Protestantism, we see many more divisions with 42,000 Protestant denominations who distrust each other, criticize one another, and resort to name-calling for no good reason other than to make us feel smugly superior.

This is to our discredit. These manmade divisions take us far from the unity that Jesus prayed for and marginalize our witness for Jesus.

Divided by Theology

Next, we use the labels of our theology to separate us. We elevate our point of view—which we think is correct—and diminish our fellow brothers and sisters—who we perceive as being in error.

With academic vigor, we pursue a right theology. In the process, we overlook the importance of having a right relationship with God. Our connection with the Almighty, through Jesus, is what matters most.

Our theological labels don’t matter. In most cases, our theology wrongly judges one another and causes needless division. It generates suspicion and breeds mistrust. Instead of formulating tenuous theological constructs, we should focus on placing our trust in Jesus.

Divided by Politics

We also let our political views, which carry their own set of labels, influence our theology.

In the United States—and perhaps in the rest of the world too—we see well-meaning followers of Jesus who align with one political party, vilifying their brothers and sisters in Christ who belong to the opposite party.

I’ve heard each side lambaste the other, saying how can someone be a (enter party affiliation) and be a Christian?

Divided by Church Practice

Making an even a finer distinction on our theology, we place labels on our church practices, too, often with fervent passion. Some churches are known as being high churches, which implies the rest are low churches.

There are liturgical churches and non-liturgical churches. Some church gatherings place their focus on the practice of Holy Communion and others emphasizethe sermon.

Then there are musical styles, ranging from traditional to contemporary. We also debate pews versus chairs, women in ministry, and the “proper” way too be saved through Jesus.

Divided by Membership

Beyond that, we divide ourselves by membership status. For some churches—perhaps most—this is an essential consideration. Members are in, and nonmembers are out, be it effectively or legalistically.

But membership in a denomination or local church isn’t biblical. It opposes the Scriptural teaching that as followers of Jesus we are members united in one body, which is the universal church.

The Solution to Labels

It’s time we end our categorization of each other and stop our needless squabbles over secondary issues and disputes that don’t matter to God. Instead it’s time we embrace one another and love one another, just as Jesus told us to do.

We need to live in unity.

It's time we embrace one another and love one another, just as Jesus told us to do. Click To Tweet

Then we can come closer to being united as one, just as Jesus and the Father are one.

It’s time we embrace one another and love one another, just as Jesus told us to do.

Read more about this in Peter’s new 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 a Sunday Morning Spectator or Performer?

Church Services Have become an Event, With Consumers Who Come to Watch a Show

Today’s churches contain two types of people. And each of us fits in one category or the other. We are either performers or spectators.

If this seems callous, consider that we live in an entertainment-centered society. We watch TV, go to movies, and attend performances. We go to the game, attend a concert, and watch videos online.

What do these have in common? Each example has performers to entertain us in one way or the other. The masses are spectators, mere consumers of the event. Though we may participate in a way, our involvement is limited to clapping, cheering, or fist-bumping the spectator next to us.

Church is no different. We are spectators there for entertainment, be it emotionally or intellectually, by the performers. The masses consume the church service.

Yes, we may sing along with a couple songs (though many people stand mute during the singing), mumble out a heartfelt “amen” upon occasion, or shake hands with our seatmate during the compulsory greeting time. But the service structure restricts our involvement.

We’re there for the sermon, that is, the lecture, and for the worship set, that is, the concert. And when it’s over we often critique the performance.

Performers

The performers at a church service are the people who stand in front of us, often on a stage. The elevation allows the spectators a better view.

The star of the show is the minister, who gives the lecture and may also serve as the event’s MC. The opening act is the worship team, consisting of singers and musicians.

If this description offends you, consider that most churches don’t select a senior minister or teaching pastor until after they have auditioned and delivered a stirring oratory.

People with spiritual insight but no speaking ability have no place in the modern church. And usually the worship team members must try out before they can sing or play. People with musical passion but not enough skill are turned away and relegated to spectator status.

Yes, we expect our performers to excel in presentation, and if they falter, they are replaced. After all, we don’t want a lack of excellence to mar the performance and drive away the spectators who have a plethora of other Sunday morning performances to select from.

Remember, we live in a consumeristic society.

Spectators

The majority of people at church services are spectators. We sit and passively watch the performance. Though we can view the elevated stage to witness the event, we may best see the back of the head of the person sitting in front of us.

We come. We watch. We leave.

Maybe we leave happy over a satisfactory performance, but maybe we leave unfulfilled, as empty as when we arrived. We wanted community but got a show.

We are church service spectators, watching a performance and consuming carefully presented spiritual content. At best we experience an event that may sustain us until we repeat it next week.

We are church service spectators, watching a performance and consuming spiritual content. Click To Tweet

Move from Spectate to Participate

The solution is to break down the wall between performer and spectator. Church shouldn’t focus on providing a performance but on offering community by letting everyone participate equally in the service.

We should all be able to share with others during our church services. Or at least have the opportunity to share. Paul tells us how. “When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation,” (1 Corinthians 14:26, NIV).

When we start doing this in our church services, we will eliminate both the performers and the spectators, turning us all into full-fledged participants. Then we will build a true community of Jesus followers.

It will change everything.

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

Read more in Peter’s book, Love is Patient (book 7 in the Dear Theophilus series).

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

Discussion Questions for Church #53

As a reference, I share attending our home church on Easter Sunday. This marks the end of 52 Churches and the start of More Than 52 Churches. Though I strive to remain objective in visiting churches, our home church forms the lens I look through.

Consider these seven discussion questions about Church #53.

I see value in worshiping God with family, and for Easter we go with our children and their spouses. What can we do to attend church and celebrate Jesus with our family?

The 150-year-old building, even with many improvements, still feels dated. What can we do to make our church facility as conducive to worship and community as possible? 

Though the shortcomings of a worship space shouldn’t block us from God, they can. How can we minimize the cumbersome facility elements we can’t change so they don’t get in the way of us encountering God?

There’s no plan for the service, only a general intent. The Holy Spirit will guide the leaders in what to do and for how long. How much of a role do we let the Holy Spirit play in our church services?

Though we were gone for a year, I listened to the messages online. In what ways can we extend the church worship experience and teaching to those who can’t attend in person?

Baptism at churches varies from a reserved rite, to a public declaration of faith, to an enthusiastic celebration. What can we do to better embrace baptism as the early church did in the Bible?

As we leave the building ninety minutes later, some are already arriving for the second service. Not looking at efficiency, but focusing on the human aspect, how can we foster a better transition between services?

Overall, it was a great Easter Sunday, worshiping God with family

[Read about Church 53, Church 54, or start at the beginning of our journey.]

Get your copy of More Than 52 Churches and The More Than 52 Churches Workbook 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

Church #53: Home for Easter Sunday

Our journey of visiting fifty-two churches in a year is over. I’m sad and excited at the same time. Our reunion with our home church community looms large. We will be home for Easter Sunday.

It’s Easter, and we’re returning to the people we love and have missed. I expect a joyful homecoming and a grand celebration: personally, corporately, and spiritually. 

We arrive early to meet our kids. While our daughter and her husband attend this church, our son and his wife make an hour drive to spend Easter with us, beginning our day together at church, home for Easter Sunday.

I hope for a discreet return, but friends spot me right away. They’re glad to see me but not sure if we’re back for good. I confirm our adventure wasn’t to find a new church. They’re relieved. 

Our reunion blocks the flow of people, so I excuse myself to find my family. Even arriving early, there aren’t many places left for six, but they did find a spot. I sit down and soak in the ambiance.

There’s nothing special about the building, except its age. Located in the heart of the downtown area, the sanctuary is over 150 years old, far from contemporary. Even with many enhancements, a dated feel pervades.

To start the service, our pastor welcomes everyone, telling visitors what the regulars already know: there’s no plan for the service today, only a general intent. Its length is unknown, so it will end when it ends.

He reiterates that we have freedom in worship: We may sit, or stand, or kneel. We may dance or move about—or not. As is our practice, children remain with their parents during the service, worshiping along with the adults, but often in their own way.

There will also be an open adult baptism later in the service. With the place packed, he asks the congregation to slide toward the center of the seating to make room on the ends for those still needing seats. 

The worship team starts the service with a prayer and then kicks off the first song. The energy level is high. After thirty minutes or more of singing we hear a brief message.

The church is in a yearlong series—I’ve kept up by listening online and apprised Candy on key announcements and teachings. Today, the lesson is about Abraham and Sarah, her scheme for her husband to produce a child through her servant, and his boneheaded acceptance of her misguided plan.

Our pastor ties this in with Easter: We all make mistakes, and we all need Jesus, who offers forgiveness and provides restoration. 

Next is baptism. Our pastor shares the basics of the tradition. The rite is the New Testament replacement for Old Testament circumcision, which he addressed in the message.

Baptism symbolizes the washing away of our sins, a ceremonial cleansing, which publicly identifies us with Jesus. Other creeds say baptism (by immersion) portrays the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Can’t it be both?

People desiring baptism may come forward as the worship team leads the congregation in more songs. Even before hearing the full invitation, one person walks forward and then another. A line forms. 

For many churches, baptism is a somber affair, conducted with reserved formality. Not so for us. We treat it as a celebration with unabashed enthusiasm.

Our church leader prefers baptism by immersion, but the floor of this 150-year-old building lacks the structural integrity to support the weight of a baptismal pool. Instead, we use a traditional baptismal font, with the goal to get as much water on the recipient as possible.

After an elder douses the first person with water, a raucous celebration erupts from the crowd. We cheer this woman’s public proclamation of faith. We baptize a dozen this morning, with more that will happen at the next service. What a glorious Easter.

With the baptisms complete, we resume singing. After a couple more songs, the worship leader concludes the service and the crowd slowly disperses. We eventually make our way out after ninety minutes. Some have already arrived for the next service, which starts in half an hour.

Today we returned home for Easter Sunday. It was an amazing reunion, a grand celebration, and a fitting conclusion to our yearlong pilgrimage.

[Read about Church 52, see the discussion questions for Church #53, or start at the beginning of our journey.]

Get your copy of More Than 52 Churches and The More Than 52 Churches Workbook 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

How Do We Worship God?

Discover How to Reframe Worship from a Biblical Perspective

What do you think of when you hear the word worship? How do we worship God? What does worshiping our Lord mean?

Worship Service

Many churches refer to their Sunday morning meeting time as “worship” or “worship service.” This is how they list it on their church calendar, online, and in their printed materials, such as a bulletin or newsletter.

This suggests that we go to church to worship God. We do it one hour each week. This implies the other 167 hours a week are non-worship time. We do other things the rest of the week, which implicitly emerges as the time when we’re not worshiping God.

Worship Set

Despite calling the entire service “worship,” most people dismiss the sermon as actual worship and focus on the other half of the service as worship. This is the time we hear music and sing to God. However, many of these songs aren’t in anthem to God, but for our benefit.

Since the worship set at most church services is a half-hour (or less), we effectively reduce our worship of God to a mere thirty minutes a week.

Worship Music

Some songs carry the title of worship music. Some radio stations focus on playing this format. And if we lack access to a station that plays worship songs, we can create our own worship music playlist. This means we can listen to worship music throughout the week.

But consider the lyrics of each song that we call worship music. Does it bring adoration to the Almighty? Or does it merely make us feel better? There’s nothing wrong with music that points us to God, but we need to guard against calling this worship music, because it doesn’t worship him.

Worship God by Giving Tithes and Offerings

Something I grew up hearing as a teenager in church, and which I still hear from time to time, is in the Sunday morning service when the minister says, “Now let us worship God by giving our tithes and offerings.”

Then they pass the offering plates to accept our donations. To me this had little to do with worship and much about paying the church’s bills.

Though I don’t see in the Bible any place that directly ties donating money with worship, we can embrace our financial support of the Lord’s work with worship, providing we do so with the right attitude (2 Corinthians 9:7).

These practices are good, but they fall short of answering the question, how do we worship God?

Biblical Answers to the Question of How Should We Worship God?

We’ve talked about the worship service, worship music, and giving as a form of worship. Is that all there is to worshiping God? No.

When it comes to the question “How do we worship God?” the Bible gives us much to consider:

Worship in Spirit and Truth

Jesus says that “true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth.” This is the kind of worship that God desires. Since he is a spirit, our best worship is in the Spirit—as in the Holy Spirit—and in truth (John 4:23-24, NIV).

I’m still working on unpacking this passage, but what I do know is that few church services promote true worship today.

Worship through Stillness

In the Bible, our Lord says to “be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10, NIV). He wants us to push away all else and to be still. He doesn’t want us to do anything.

Quiet. No music. No activity. No physical display of worship. Just the silent stillness of connecting with him in the spiritual sense.

This is a tangible way to worship God in Spirit and truth. In practice our stillness can focus on worshiping God by meditating on Scripture and listening to the Holy Spirit’s promptings.

Worship through Obedience

In contrast to stillness, doing what God says is also a form of worship, but in this case it’s physical. We obey what Jesus says in the Bible, and we obey what the Holy Spirit tells us to do. We don’t obey God to get his attention. Instead, our obedience is a response to what he’s already done for us.

We worship him through our obedience (consider Daniel 7:27).

Worship by Doing Good

Paul writes that women should worship God through their good deeds (1 Timothy 2:8-10). I see no reason why this just applies to ladies. We should all worship God by doing good and helping others in need.

Worship By Being a Living Sacrifice

In the Old Testament, Scripture connects offering animal sacrifices with worship. Since Jesus fulfills the Old Testament law with his once-and-forever sacrifice when he dies for us on the cross, the New Testament doesn’t connect sacrifice with worship going forward. Or does it?

Paul urges the church in Rome to offer their bodies as a living sacrifice. He calls this true and proper worship (Romans 12:1). This living sacrifice isn’t, however, to earn their salvation; they already have that. It’s more to confirm their right standing with God who saved them.

This idea of true worship, however, doesn’t start with Paul. Recall that Jesus mentions it first when he says that true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24).

How Do We Worship God?

Worship goes beyond the Sunday service, the music we sing, and the offering.

As we consider what the Bible says about worship, we see it as an all-encompassing mindset that could carry us throughout the week and that is not just an hour or so on Sunday mornings.

So then, how do we worship God?

  • We worship God in the Spirit and in truth.
  • We worship God through stillness.
  • We worship God through obedience.
  • We worship God by doing good.
  • We worship God by being a living sacrifice.
We can worship God in all things and at all times. Click To Tweet

In short, we can—and we should—worship God in all things and at all times.

Do you like this post? Want to read more? Check out Peter’s book, Bridging the Sacred-Secular Divide: Discovering the Spirituality of Every Day Life, available wherever books are sold.

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

When Visiting Churches We Must Keep Our Focus on God

For 52 Churches, my wife and I spent one year visiting a different Christian church every week. What we learned was amazing. Still, I knew the journey wasn’t over. We had more to do and visited more churches. I shared these new experiences in More Than 52 Churches.

Consider these three discussion questions as we dig deeper into visiting churches.

Visiting churches wore us down. Visitors to our churches may share a similar perspective. What can we do to help weary visitors experience God and enjoy community?

Each church’s worship practices varied, and their theology diverged, but the God behind them stands constant. How can we keep our focus on God and not on our church service and theology?

A slight majority of the population are introverts who may struggle more in visiting churches. Regardless of where we are on the introvert-extrovert scale, what can we do to personally embrace church visitors?

[Read more or start at the beginning of our journey.]

Get your copy of More Than 52 Churches and The More Than 52 Churches Workbook 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

Wasn’t 52 Churches Enough?

For 52 Churches, my wife and I spent one year visiting a different Christian church every Sunday. It was an amazing journey that allowed us to experience the vast scope of Jesus’s church.

52 Churches: A Yearlong Journey Encountering God, His Church, and Our Common Faith

The experience expanded our faith as we celebrated God in various local branches of his church. Yes, the worship practices varied and theology diverged, but the God behind these churches stood constant. It was good. So good.

We wrapped up the year in awe of God, appreciative of the diversity of his church, and grateful for the impact of the people we met along the way. We also felt relief (though mixed with a degree of sadness) as our journey concluded, and we celebrated a return to our home church on Easter.

In truth, visiting different churches week after week was exhausting. It wore us down. Even though our journey started as a fun adventure, toward the end it took more effort to walk into an unfamiliar church each Sunday with open eyes and fresh enthusiasm.

Yes, we learned so much and met so many amazing people, both leaders and laity, but it was good to reclaim the regular routine of going to our home church every Sunday.

Still, I knew the journey wasn’t over. We had more to do.

Yes, the fifty-two churches we visited were a diverse group. But by design, they were all within ten miles of our house. Expanding our journey will unveil greater diversity, new insights, and more to celebrate. Therefore, we’ll look for more churches to visit, but we can’t—we won’t—do this every Sunday.

Instead, we’ll plan our visits sporadically, as our schedule allows, while maintaining a firm connection with our home church. This time, however, instead of methodically selecting churches based on their distance from our house, we’ll strategically choose them to realize the greatest range of experiences. This will maximize the scope of our journey and magnify our lessons.

But first, I’d like to share a couple of personal notes. As I mentioned in 52 Churches, I’m an introvert—as is slightly more than half the population. Navigating new social settings challenges me. This includes visiting churches.

Even though I never got past my apprehension of walking into a new church each Sunday, it did become easier as the year progressed, since visiting churches became our new Sunday norm.

This time, I expect visiting to not be as easy. Since these church visits will unfold at irregular intervals, my Sunday norm will be going to our home church. Visiting a church will be an anomaly.

Therefore, despite having done so over fifty times, I anticipate walking into these churches to be more difficult, not less. I’ll simply be out of practice and will encounter more—not less—emotionally laden moments.

Also, I want to affirm Candy, my wife and accomplice, for these visits. I couldn’t have asked for more. Having her at my side for each of the first fifty-two churches made a huge difference. Throughout, she was a perfect partner on our journey.

Each week she would contact the church we planned to visit, verifying key details. And each week she went without complaint, offering her full support to me and our adventure. This became our normal Sunday practice for a whole year, and her support was essential.

This time, however, lacking a specific plan and schedule, we’ll need to discuss where we’re going and when. I anticipate some give-and-take that each marriage—each partnership of two people—encounters from time to time.

Nonetheless, I know her support will shine just as brightly this time as last. Having covered this, now I’m ready to start, but before we resume our church visitations, let’s revisit our return to our home church, Church #53. We’ll start with a condensed version of what I shared in 52 Churches.

Get your copy of More Than 52 Churches and The More Than 52 Churches Workbook 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.