Bible Insights

Avoiding the Risk of Complacency

The Bible Addresses Complacency

Complacency. The word complacent means to be “pleased or satisfied” or especially, to be “extremely self-satisfied.”

This seems to describe many people that I know. They are complacent, perhaps not materially, but certainly spiritually. They are content to sit back, with no concern for their non-material well-being and little remorse for a lifestyle that is less than optimum.

These people have a spiritual complacency. They believe they’ll go to heaven when they die, and that’s good enough for them.

God doesn’t like spiritually complacent people.

Zephaniah Speaks against Complacency

Through the prophet Zephaniah, God says he will search out the complacent people and punish them. They are even complacent about his response to their complacency, for God specifically says that they assume he will do nothing to them, neither good nor bad.

They are truly complacent and God is ticked off.

Complacent People in Laodicea

Another group of people who suffer from a complacent attitude is the church in the city of Laodicea. They are neither hot or cold. To them, God simply says he will spit them out (Revelation 3:14-16).

What an apt image of disgust—and for one who wants to be close to God, what a frightening picture of separation and aloneness.

I hope that God never finds me complacent—the consequences are too great.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Zephaniah 1-3 and today’s post is on Zephaniah 1:12.]

Learn more about all twelve of the Bible’s Minor Prophets in Peter’s book, Return to Me: 40 Prophetic Teachings about Unfaithfulness, Punishment, and Hope from the Minor Prophets

Read more in Peter’s devotional Bible study, A New Heaven and a New Earth: 40 Practical Insights from John’s Book of Revelation.

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.

Christian Living

Seek First the Kingdom of God

Jesus Focused on the Kingdom of God, Not Church

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

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

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

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

Jesus’s Parables about His Kingdom

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

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

The Kingdom Is Here

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

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

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

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

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

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

Check out the next post in this series addressing seminary.

Read more about this in Peter’s 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.

Visiting Churches

Church #72: Respected and Esteemed

In addition to these three remaining churches on my spreadsheet is my mental list of four more. 

The first of these churches is the Salvation Army. Most people know the Salvation Army for their red donation kettles at Christmastime.

Beyond that, they focus on the needs of the homeless and provide disaster relief and humanitarian aid throughout the year. But they’re also a church. Few people know this. I’d like to experience one of their services. 

The Salvation Army is an organization I think highly of. I suspect everyone does.

Though I’ve heard people complain about various streams of Christianity and even more so Protestant denominations and specific churches, I’ve yet to hear any negativity about the Salvation Army.

The closest thing I’ve heard to a complaint is people who wish they wouldn’t ring their bells quite so much at their donation kettles during Christmas. But that’s hardly a criticism of their organization.

Instead, people respect the Salvation Army for the positive impact they make in their community and around the world. Their practical service to those in need earns the esteem of both the faithful and the faithless.

Helping one person at a time, they make a difference in our world, serving as the hands and feet of Jesus.

Someday I’ll visit this church. Their closest location is thirty minutes away, but for now I’ll put going there on hold.

[See the discussion questions for Church 72, read about Church 71 or start at the beginning of our journey.]

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

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

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

Christian Living

How Much Money Does the Church Need?

We Must Be Good Stewards of All That God Blesses Us With

The Old Testament church required a lot of financial support to keep it going. There was a tabernacle to build and transport. The temple later replaced the tabernacle, but it required regular maintenance. The priests and Levites received support too.

This huge need required the people to give their tithes and various offerings, some mandatory and others voluntary. In today’s church, facility costs and payroll expenses make up most of the church’s budget, sometimes all of it.

Yet if we were to do away with these two elements, there’s not so much need for money.

After building and staffing costs, what small amount remains in the budget falls into two categories. First is benevolence, that is, taking care of our own just like the early church did.

Second is outreach, sending missionaries out to tell others the good news about Jesus (Matthew 28:19–20, Mark 16:15–16, and Luke 14:23). Think of all the good a church could do with its money if it directed 100 percent of its funds on these two activities and not needing to pay for facility and staff.

New Testament Church Finances

In the New Testament church, people share what they have to help those within their spiritual community, that is, those within their church. They seldom take offerings and when they do it’s to help other Jesus followers who suffer in poverty.

The third thing they do with their money is to fund missionary efforts. Instead of building buildings and paying staff, they help people and tell others about Jesus. It’s that simple.

Rather than focusing on 10 percent as the Old Testament prescribes, we should reframe our thinking to embrace the reality that all we have, 100 percent, belongs to God.

We are to be his stewards to use the full amount wisely for his honor, his glory, and his kingdom—not our honor, glory, and kingdom.

Paul writes that the love of money is the source of all manner of evil. An unhealthy preoccupation with wealth is especially risky for followers of Jesus, as our pursuit of accumulating wealth can distract us from our faith and pile on all kinds of grief (1 Timothy 6:10).

Keep in mind that Paul is not condemning money. He warns against the love of money.

For anyone who has accumulated financial resources, this serves as a solemn warning to make sure we have a God-honoring understanding of wealth and what its purpose is.

When it comes to the pursuit of possessions—our love of money—we risk having it pull us away from God.

Three Uses of Money

We need money to live, but we shouldn’t live for the pursuit of wealth. We should use money to supply our needs, help others, and serve God. Consider these three areas:

First, we should use our financial resources to help fund the things that matter to God. This means we need to understand his perspective. With the wise use of our money, we can serve God and honor him. We must remember that we can’t serve two masters: God and money (Matthew 6:24).

Second, we need God’s provisions to take care of ourselves (2 Thessalonians 3:10). We must focus on what we need, not what we want.

Third we should consider the needs of others. What do they need? How can we help them? Again, as with our own balancing of needs versus wants, we must guard against supplying someone with what they want, instead of focusing on what they truly need.

God especially desires that we help widows and orphans (James 1:27). He also has a heart for us to help foreigners and the poor (Zechariah 7:10).

Therefore, we should give to God first (Exodus 23:19). Then we should concern ourselves with our needs and helping others with theirs. God wants our best, not what’s left over. This applies to our possessions and our actions.

Where Does Giving to the Church Fit In?

Does this mean we need to give to the local church? Maybe. But it’s much more than that. We must direct our money as wise stewards to where it can have the most kingdom impact.

I question if this means supporting an organization where most—or all—of its budget goes to paying for buildings and staff.

We must reform our perspective on money, realizing that 100 percent of it belongs to God, and we are merely stewards of his gifts. We must use God’s financial provisions wisely in a way that will honor him and have the greatest kingdom impact.

Check out the next post in this series addressing the fallacy of church membership.

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.

Christian Living

Exploring Church Staff from a Biblical Perspective

Stop Paying Clergy and Ministry Staff to Do What We’re Supposed to Do Ourselves

In part one of Embrace a Fresh Perspective about Church we looked at adopting a new, biblically enlightened view on the role that a church building should play for our spiritual community. Now we’ll continue that theme by looking at church staff, along with the related topics of missionaries, local ministers, and payroll.

Church Staff

In 7 Things the Church Is Not, we mentioned that the church should not be an institution. Yet most churches today move in that direction after about ten years of operation, and they become an institution a couple of decades after that.

For an institution to work, it needs paid church staff (and money). That’s why local pastors receive a salary: to keep the institution of church functioning and viable.

As we’ve already covered, this thinking follows the Old Testament model of church. But we don’t live in the Old Testament or under its covenant. We live in the New Testament and under its covenant—at least in theory. In the New Testament, we—that is, those who follow Jesus—are his church.

Each one of us is a priest—that is, a minister—to care for one another. We shouldn’t pay someone to do what we’re supposed to do. As part of the body of Christ, we each do our part to advance the kingdom of God and shouldn’t expect to receive payment for our labor.


There is, however, one exception to this idea of no compensation. In his letter to the people in Corinth, Paul builds a case to pay missionaries. This doesn’t apply to the folks who run local churches. Paul refers to those who go around telling others about Jesus.

Today, we might call these people evangelists. Based on Paul’s teaching it’s right to pay them.

Yet once Paul builds his case to appropriately pay missionaries, he points to an even better way: for missionaries to earn their own money and not require outside support. Paul often covers his expenses and those who travel with him by plying his trade. He works as a tentmaker.

Springing from this is the idea of a tentmaker-missionary, someone who pays their own way as they tell others about Jesus (1 Corinthians 9:7–18).

Local Ministers

But what about the local church? Shouldn’t we reward our clergy, out church staff, by paying them? Doesn’t the Bible say that workers deserve compensation (1 Timothy 5:18)? Not quite.

The context of this is for traveling missionaries to be content with the food and lodging provided to them as they journey about telling others about Jesus (Luke 10:5–7).

But don’t we need a minister to teach us about God each Sunday? No. The Bible expects us to feed ourselves spiritually. And we are to teach one another.

What about a clergy member to address our spiritual needs as they arise? No. We are to care for one another.

No Payroll

In short, through Jesus the institution of church is over—at least in theory. Without a physical building or an institution to maintain, there is no need to pay church staff to run the whole show.

So if you are part of an institution and want to perpetuate it, then buy a building, hire church staff, and pay them their due.

However, if you want to pursue a different path as seen in the New Testament, then take the church with you wherever you go and help others however you can, paying your own way as you do.

We must reform our thinking of paying church staff to do what the Bible calls us to do ourselves as priests who serve one another.

Next week we’ll look at the church and money.

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.

Christian Living

Embrace a Fresh Perspective about Having a Church Building

We Don’t Need a Church Building to Encounter God or Enjoy Spiritual Community

So far, we’ve looked at the Old Testament model for church—of building, paid clergy, and tithes—which we still follow today.

Then we considered how Jesus fulfills the Old Testament and looked at how the early church functions in the New Testament, considering their practices and detailing what church shouldn’t be today. Last, we looked at the essential components for a New Testament-style church.

Let’s now consider what must change in our churches today to better align with the New Testament narrative and early church practices.

We’ve already touched on this when we said that through Jesus, we have a new perspective on the temple (church building), priests (ministers and staff), and tithes and offerings (church finances).

Do We Need a Church Building?

Let’s look deeper into this idea of a church building.

Who needs a building? The early church met in people’s homes and public places. Why can’t we do the same today? Think of all the money we’d save and hassles we could avoid if we removed the shackles of owning and maintaining a church facility.

Not only are our church structures exorbitantly expensive, they’re also underutilized most of the time.

At best, one of today’s churches enjoys full usage for only two hours of each week. That’s 1.2 percent of the time. This means that for 98.8 percent of each week the building is underutilized.

Yes, the office staff uses a tiny part of the space during the workweek, and smaller meetings occur some evenings. But these activities occupy only a small portion of the church building. That’s a lot of wasted space.

The prime motivation for these large, but underused, facilities is for a one-hour church meeting each Sunday.

A Wrong Perspective

At one church I visited, the pastor in his pre-sermon prayer pleaded with God to supply a facility for them. “You know God, how much we need a building,” he begged. “Please provide it for us.”

Although their rented space offered what they needed on Sunday morning and other options provided office space and accommodated their weekly meetings, it appeared that his perspective was that to be a real church they had to have a building.

In a later discussion with one of their church elders I said, “You don’t need a building. You may want one, but you don’t have to have one.”

In most all cases, it costs a church much less to rent space than to own and maintain a building. But even better then renting space for Sunday morning service is to decentralize the church to meet in people’s homes.

Despite this, most every church thinks they need a building.

While owning a building may be convenient and may be a preference, it isn’t a necessity. And sinking mass quantities of money into a church building that goes unused most of the week certainly isn’t being good stewards of God’s resources.

In today’s developed countries churches routinely spend millions of dollars for worship space for people to go to on Sunday morning. The cost of the facility is disproportionately large in comparison to the lifestyle and homes of the congregation.

Building Campaigns

In another instance, a large, growing suburban church had frequent building fund drives to expand its facility. Though the people enthusiastically supported each expansion plan, one effort met with opposition.

They wanted to raise $1 million to build a ring road around the campus to ease the flow of traffic. One million dollars for a road. It was a hard ask for the people to accept.

Even in developing countries, where the expectations of the church edifice are much more modest, it’s still disproportionate to the lifestyle of the people who will go there. In one developing country, a church constructed the concrete shell for its church building and ran out of money.

For several years, they’ve worshiped in their half-finished space and continually asked for donations to complete its construction. Since the members are poor, they can’t finance the construction themselves.

They look to the generosity of those outside their community to complete the building.

Instead of focusing all his attention on his congregation and local community, the pastor diverts some of his time to solicit donations from those abroad.

Church Buildings are Expensive

Regardless of where we live in the world, our church buildings are expensive compared to the lifestyles of most of the people who go there. To have a building, we must either buy or build.

This often requires borrowing money and paying off a mortgage. And if a church falls behind in their monthly payments, the lender may have no choice but to foreclose on the facility. In this instance, no one wins, and the reputation of Jesus’s church is tarnished.

But expenses don’t stop with the acquisition of a building, whether bought or built. The ongoing costs add up. For starters, there are utilities, maintenance, and insurance. And we do all this so we can go to a place to have a one-hour encounter with God on Sunday morning.

Maintaining a church building is costly and does little to advance the kingdom of God. Remember, through Jesus, our bodies are God’s temple.

We don’t need to go to a building to go to church so we can connect with God. We take church with us wherever we go—or at least we should.

We must rethink the importance we put on our church buildings and replace it with a people-first perspective.

Next week we’ll look at church staff.

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.

Christian Living

7 Things Church Is Not

We Must Correct Some Wrong Perspectives about Our Religious Practices

We’ve looked at how Jesus fulfills the Old Testament to provide a new way for us and our churches to function, replacing the temple, paid clergy, and tithes. Then we explored ten New Testament practices and five New Testament examples to inform our church behavior.

Yet today’s church has characteristics that come from our culture and have no scriptural basis. We need to identify these unbiblical practices and remove them from our perspectives—and our churches. We need to pursue what Jesus wants.

1. Church Is Not About Membership

Membership in a business promotion or club implies privilege. There are qualification requirements to meet. Often there is a fee. Because not everyone can meet these barriers to entry, membership becomes a status symbol.

It separates those who are in from those who are out.

Church does the same thing when it touts membership. To become a church member, there are hoops to jump through: attend classes, agree to certain teachings, follow specific rules, or commit to give money, possibly even at a certain annual level.

Once we become a member, the church accepts us as one of its own. They fully embrace us, and we become one of them. We are elite, and, even if we won’t admit it, we swell with pride over our special status. Now the church and her paid staff will care for us.

To everyone else, they offer tolerance but withhold full acceptance. After all, church membership has its privileges.

There’s one problem.

Church membership is not biblical. We made it up.

Having members separates church attendees between those on the inside and everyone else. It pushes away spiritual seekers. Membership splits the church of Jesus, separating people into two groups, offering privileges to one and holding the other at a distance.

It is a most modern concept, consumerism at its finest. (More on this in the next section.)

Although perhaps well intended, membership divides the church that Jesus wants to function as one (John 17:21). Jesus accepts and loves everyone, not just those who follow him or give money.

Paul never gives instructions about church membership, Peter never commands we join a church, and John never holds a new membership class.

2. Church Is Not for Consumers

When we join a church by becoming a member, we expect something in return. In addition to acceptance, we seek benefits. That’s why we go church shopping, striving to find the church that offers us the most.

We look for the best preaching, the most exciting worship, and the widest array of programs to meet our needs.

This is consumerism—and it doesn’t belong in the church.

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.

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. (See Matthew 20:28 and Mark 10:45.)

This idea of receiving services influences our church selection process. Seldom do people look for a church that gives them the opportunity to serve. Instead they seek a church for the benefits it provides: the music, the message, and the ministries.

They’re church shoppers, pursuing church selection with a consumer mindset.

The result is a retail religion. These people shop for a church the same way they buy a car or look for a gym. They make a list—either literally or figuratively—of the things their new car, gym, or church must have.

Then they draft their wish list of what they hope their new car, gym, or church could have. And then they create a final list of deal breakers, detailing the things their new car, gym, or church can’t have.

Then they go shopping.

They tick off items on their list. With intention they test drive cars, check out gyms, or visit churches. In each case, they immediately reject some and consider others as possibilities.

Eventually they grow tired of shopping and make their selection from the top contenders, seeking a solution that provides them with the most value.

A better, and more God-honoring approach, is to seek a church community that provides opportunities for us to serve. We need to stop thinking of church for the things it will provide for us and instead consider the things we can do for it, that is, for the people who go there and the community surrounding it.

We should look for a church that provides opportunities for us to serve, according to how God has wired us, ways that make us come alive. This includes service within the church and to those people outside the church.

Service is not an isolated activity. As we serve, we do so as a group. Church service and community matter more than church programs and benefits.

3. Church Is Not about Division

We’ve talked about how church membership divides people. Some carry the special status of members, while others are relegated to second-class status as attendees. Membership segregates people into two groups. This divides Jesus’s church, the body of Christ.

Sadly, there are nuances within membership too.

There are those who serve on boards and committees and those who don’t function in a leadership capacity. There are those who teach classes and those who don’t. There are those who volunteer and those who don’t.

Each distinguishing characteristic elevates some and devalues others.

We also divide by race, ethnicity, and social economic status. More God-dishonoring segregation. Shame on us.

4. Church is Not About Theology

Another way we promote division is through our theology. Yes, theology divides us.

At its most basic level, theology is the study of God. But the modern idea of finding the right theology piles layers on top of this basic understanding, and the subject gets murky.

The result is too many multi-syllable words that few people can pronounce and even fewer can comprehend.

Turning God into an academic pursuit of the right theology pushes him away and keeps us from truly knowing him.

As people pursue theology, they amass information. Much of this forms a theoretical construct, turning God into an abstract spiritual entity. They gather knowledge at the risk of pushing the Almighty away.

This knowledge of who God is generates pride. It puffs up. Instead of knowledge, we should pursue love, which builds up (1 Corinthians 8:1).

The pursuit of theological learning is a noble task, but it’s not the goal. Chasing after a theology of God isn’t the end. It’s the means to the end: to know who God is in an intimate, personal way.

Instead we take our theologies and divide Jesus’s church. We cite certain beliefs as immutable. We fellowship with those who agree with us and disassociate from those who disagree. We dishonor Jesus in the process and serve as a poor witness as a result.

5. Church Is Not for Networking

Some people become part of a church to make marketing contacts or achieve status as a member of a high-profile congregation. Their goal in attending isn’t spiritual. It’s business. It’s closing sales.

Once they’ve sold all they can to those who attend that church, they move on to another one. For them attending church is a business strategy, and God takes a backseat.

6. Church Is Not a Business

A church is not a business, and we shouldn’t run it like one either. Many churches today, however, think like a business and operate like one. A church should not have a profit motive, that is, maximizing donations.

Nor should a church adapt current business world concepts such as having a CEO, a board, marketing strategies, customer experience, and incentive programs.

Yes, a church should be fiscally responsible and manage its money—God’s money— with the highest integrity. And a church needs some degree of leadership, but remember Jesus modeled the idea of servant leadership (Matthew 20:28 and Mark 10:45). So should today’s church leaders.

And we shouldn’t track the achievements of our church the same way a business would.

Today’s church measures success by attendance, offerings, and facility size. This is because the world values increased scope: the number of people, amount of money, and square footage of a building.

We’re more like the world than we care to admit. More people showing up for church each week is good. A larger campus impresses. Bigger offerings allow for more of the same. Churches with a sizeable attendance or grand edifice garner attention.

They receive media coverage. Books celebrate them and elevate their leaders to lofty pedestals. This is how the Western world defines success.

The church buys into it without hesitation. These measures of success become the focus. But this focus is off, even looking in the wrong direction.

The triple aim of most churches—attendance, offerings, and facility—doesn’t matter as much as most people think.

Said more bluntly, most church leaders today focus on the three B’s: butts (in the chair), bucks (in the offering), and buildings.

I doubt God cares about the size of our audience, offerings, or facility. Instead of an unhealthy, unbiblical focus on the three B’s, what if we and our churches looked to the three C’s of changed lives, community, and commitment?

Changed Lives: First, Jesus wants changed lives. He yearns for us to repent (Luke 13:3) and follow him (Luke 9:23). Then we can reorder our priorities. In fact, most all he says is about changing the way we live.

Community: Next, Jesus wants to build a community—to be one—just as he and Papa are one (John 17:21). He wants us to be part of the kingdom of God (John 3:3). Instead we have become a church.

Commitment: Last, Jesus expects our commitment. He desires people who will go all in. He wants us to follow him, to serve him, and to be with him (John 12:26).

We need to maintain our focus on Jesus and not look back to what we left behind (Luke 9:62). That’s commitment, and that’s what Jesus wants.

If Jesus focuses on changed lives, community, and commitment, so should we. Let’s push aside butts, bucks, and buildings, because these things get in the way of what Jesus wants for his followers.

7. Church Is Not an Institution

Most churches—and especially denominations—become institutions over time. As institutions they seek to perpetuate themselves regardless of the circumstances. In their struggle for survival, they lose sight of why they existed in the first place.

Instead of seeking to serve their community and share salvation through Jesus, their focus grows inward. Their priority is on self-preservation at all costs.

People expect a church—their church—will last forever. They forget that a church, which comprises people, is a living, breathing, and changing entity. It’s organic. That means a church is born, grows, thrives, and dies—just like the people who are in it.

The only way to avoid this is for a church to become an institution, but once it does it loses its original purpose. It’s no longer alive. It’s dead and can do little to advance the kingdom of God.

Church shouldn’t be a business, institution, or club. We must rescind membership, stop thinking like consumers, and start pursuing unity over segregation.

Finally, we need to stop dividing ourselves by our theology. Jesus has one church. We must start acting like it.

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.

Christian Living

5 New Testament Ideas for Church

Discover What the Bible Teaches About Meeting Together

While considering a better New Testament approach to church, we talked about the three key perspectives that Jesus changed: meeting in homes, serving as priests, and helping those in need.

Then we looked at ten more New Testament practices: relying on the Holy Spirit, worship, prayer, fasting, community, eating together, caring for our people, valuing one another, helping others, and informal leadership.

Now we’ll look at five more tangible ideas of church and meeting together from the pages of the New Testament.

1. The Acts 2 Church

Just days after Pentecost, the people who follow Jesus are hanging out. This is the first church. What do they do?

Luke records their activities:

  • They learn about Jesus. Think of this as a new believer’s class. Remember, they’re mostly all new to their faith in Jesus. This is teaching.
  • They spend time with each other. This is fellowship.
  • They share meals. This is community.
  • They pray. This is connecting with God.
  • They meet every day at the temple were people outside their group are. This is outreach.
  • They also meet in homes. This is fellowship.
  • They share all their possessions. This is generosity.
  • They praise God. This is worship.

As a result, more people join them every day. This is what the early church does and how God blesses them (Acts 2:42–47).

What significant is what they don’t do. There’s no mention of weekly meetings, sermons, music, or offerings. If we’re serious about church in its purest form, the early church in Acts 2 gives us much to contemplate when we consider how our church should function today.

2. The Acts 4 Example

As the book of Acts unfolds with its historical narrative of the early church, Luke notes two more characteristics of that church: unity and sharing everything (Acts 4:32).

First, the church is of one heart and mind, just as Jesus prayed (John 17:21). Their actions are consistent with his prayer that they would be one then, just as we would be one today. Jesus prayed it, and the early church does it.

Unity describes what everyone of us should pursue and what every church should be. Jesus yearns for us to be united. Over the centuries Jesus’s followers in his church have done a poor job living in unity, as one.

Second, no one claims their possessions as their own. This isn’t a mine-versus-yours mentality. Everything is ours. They have a group perspective and act in the community’s best interest. They do it out of love for each other. They share everything they have. Not some, not half, but all.

This example is hard for many in our first-world churches to follow today, though not as much for congregations in developing countries. Regardless, while we might do well to hold our possessions loosely, this isn’t a command. Later Peter confirms that sharing resources is optional (Acts 5:4).

From Acts 4 we see an example of unity and generosity. This complete generosity, however, is a practice that happens at this snapshot of time for the early church. We will do well to consider how we can apply it today.

3. Paul’s Perspective

Now let’s look at a third passage. In it, Paul instructs the church in Corinth of how their meetings should proceed (1 Corinthians 14:26–31). While Paul writes to the Corinthian church, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t follow his directives as well today.

Paul opens by saying “each of you.” This means everyone should participate. The idea of all those present taking part suggests an egalitarian community gathering, where everyone contributes, and everyone ministers to each other.

This removes the divide between leader and follower, which happens in today’s church services. During a typical church service today a few people lead, while most people watch.

This means that only some are active during the service, while most sit as passive observers, as if going to a concert or attending a lecture.

Instead Paul wants everyone involved, where each person can minister to one another. He lists five activities that should take place.

Sing a Song

First, when we meet, we should sing a hymn or share a song. This could mean playing a musical instrument so that others can sing along. For those who can’t play an instrument or lead others in singing, a modern-day option might be to play a recording of a song.

Anyone can do that. Our singing could also mean—it probably means—launching into a song or chorus a cappella as the Holy Spirit leads.

Teach a Lesson

Second, the same approach applies for giving a word of instruction. We don’t need to preach a half-hour to an hour-long sermon. In this case less is more.

We can often communicate much by speaking little. Saying something concisely in thirty seconds may be more meaningful than droning on for thirty minutes. Again, no preparation required. Everyone who’s present can do this.

All we need is a willingness to share something God taught us or that we learned through studying Scripture. In addition, we can rely on the Holy Spirit to tell us what to share during our meeting. It can build off what someone else has already said, or it may be a new topic.

Share a Revelation

Third, the idea of having a revelation to share will seem normal to some and mystical to others. Think of a revelation as special knowledge that God has given to us. He can do this through what we read or things we see. And it can be through Holy Spirit insight.

Regardless of the source of our revelation, Paul wants us to share our insights with those gathered.

Speak in Tongues

The last two items on the list may, or may not, be a comfortable activity. Speaking in tongues is the first of these two items. The Bible talks about speaking in tongues, and Paul instructs the people in Corinth how to do it. It’s biblical, and we should consider this for our church community.

But it may be optional, because Paul later says, if anyone speaks in tongues (1 Corinthians 14:27). This implies speaking in tongues is not a requirement. But he does give guidelines for when people do speak in tongues (1 Corinthians 14:27–30). We will do well to follow Paul’s words.

Interpret the Tongue

Fifth, after someone speaks in an unknown language, someone must interpret it. Implicitly, if no one can interpret the message, then the person shouldn’t share it (1 Corinthians 14:28). After all, how can words that no one understands build up the church? (1 Corinthians 14:8-9).

The Holy Spirit’s Role

These five items require no preparation, just a willingness to notice the direction of God’s Spirit. This means listening to the Holy Spirit and responding as he directs. Implicit in this, we will encounter times of silence as we wait and listen. Silence unnerves some people today. But listening to and obeying the Holy Spirit is central to the gatherings of the early church.

Paul says everything we do at our meetings must be for the purpose of building up the church, to strengthen the faith and community of those present. This means not doing or saying anything to elevate ourselves or draw attention to our abilities.

Instead we should humble ourselves and do things for the common good of Jesus’s church. This will best advance the kingdom of God and the good news of Jesus.

4. Don’t Forget Meeting Together

Note that Paul’s instructions to the Corinthian church, says when you come together, not if you come together. This reminds us that gathering with other followers of Jesus should be a regular occurrence, not optional (1 Corinthians 14:26).

The book of Hebrews confirms this idea of regular interaction when it warns to not give up meeting together. We do this to encourage others to better love and help each other (Hebrews 10:24–25).

This idea of coming together, of meeting with others, can occur on Sunday morning, or it can happen at any other day or time. The Bible doesn’t tell us when to meet. Gathering Sunday morning is merely a practice that developed over time.

Though many people interpret this instruction to not give up meeting together as a command to attend church, it isn’t. Not really. While meeting together can include going to church on Sunday, it should encompass much more.

It’s a call for intentional interaction with other followers of Jesus. Jesus says anywhere two or three people gather in his name—that is, they get together and place their focus on him—he will join them (Matthew 18:20).

Here are some ideas of how and where we can meet in Jesus’s name.


Most people enjoy meals with others, and most Christians pray before they eat. Isn’t this gathering in Jesus’s name? While we may eat some meals alone, we potentially have three times each day to connect with others and include Jesus when we eat. But do we make the most of these opportunities?

Coffee Shop

People often meet at coffee shops to hang out. If we include God in our meeting, either explicitly or implicitly, we assemble in his name.


Do you invite people into your home or see others in theirs? If we both love Jesus, doesn’t this become a get together which includes him? It should.


What about going on a picnic, to the game, the gym, or shopping? With intentionality, each of these can be another opportunity to meet with others in his name.

Small Groups

Many churches provide opportunities for attendees to form intentional gatherings with a small number of people. This facilitates connection and draws us to God. But this doesn’t need to be the result of a formal small group program in our church.

We can make our own small group whenever we wish, meeting in the name of Jesus.


Yes, church is on this list of places where we can gather in the name of Jesus. I list it last because it might be the least important. This is because when we go to church, we usually do it wrong. Consider the rest of the verse to find out why.

People tend to skip that part. The reason we are to meet is so that we may encourage one another. The Bible says so, but how often do we do this at 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 going to church, they’re quick to miss that the reason is to provide encouragement. If we’re not doing that, then we might as well stay home.

5. What Jesus Says

Let’s return our discussion to Jesus.

Recall that after Jesus rises from the dead, he tells his followers to stay in Jerusalem, waiting for a surprise Father God has planned for them: the gift of the Holy Spirit to come upon them and give them supernatural power (Acts 1:4–5).

They wait, and the Holy Spirit shows up (Acts 2:1–4). Amazing things happen, and the number of Jesus’s followers explodes (Acts 2:41).

They wait in Jerusalem as instructed, and they receive the gift of Holy Spirit power as promised. But after all that, they remain in Jerusalem.

Instead they’re supposed to spread out and share Jesus’s good news around the world. He told them to do that too (Matthew 28:19–20). But they don’t. They stay put.

They don’t realize that God’s instructions to wait in Jerusalem doesn’t mean they’re supposed to stay there forever. Sometimes what God tells us to do is only for a season.

Then there’s something else for us to do. But if we don’t make that transition, we end up being in the wrong place, doing the wrong thing.

Instead of staying in Jerusalem—something they’re used to and comfortable with—their mission is to go into the world and make disciples (Matthew 28:19–20).

How well are we doing at going into the world and making disciples today? Are we staying put in our church—what we’re used to doing and where we’re comfortable—or are we looking outside of our church to do what Jesus said to do?

I suspect you know the answer.

Make Disciples

Today’s church falls short of being witnesses and making disciples. To do so requires an outward perspective, yet most all churches have an inward focus. They care for their own to the peril of others. Many churches ignore outsiders completely, sometimes even shunning them.

Yes, God values community and wants us to meet (Hebrews 10:25). And the Bible is packed with commands and examples of worshiping God.

Most churches do the meeting together part, albeit with varying degrees of success. Many of those churches have a time of worship as they meet, though perhaps not always “in the Spirit” or “in truth” as Jesus said to do (John 4:23–24).

Yet few churches look outside their walls to go into their community—let alone the world—to witness and make disciples. Though Jesus said to wait for the Holy Spirit, he didn’t say to wait for people to come to us, to enter our churches so we could witness and disciple them.

No, we’re supposed to leave our Sunday sanctuary to take this Jesus-mandated work to them. We can’t do that in a church building on Sunday morning, safely snug behind closed doors.

If we want to make disciples, we need to go out and find them. This brings us to the second part.

Go into the World

There is a time to come together and a time to worship, but there is also a time to go. And we need to give more attention to the going part.

I know of two churches that sent their congregations out into their community on Sunday mornings, foregoing the church service so they can be a church that serves. One church did it a few times and stopped after they saw little results and received much grumbling.

The other church regularly plans this a few times each year and receives a positive reception from their community.

These were both service initiatives, not outright evangelism. But the best—and easiest—way to talk to people about Jesus is to first serve them in his name.

Every church should make a positive impact on their community. They do this best by entering it. Yet so few do. They’re too focused on meeting together and worshiping instead of going out into the world to make disciples.


We will do well to reform our church practices to conform to these five biblical concepts.

  1. Follow the early church’s example to learn about Jesus, pursue fellowship and community, pray and worship, meet daily in public and in homes, and practice kindness.
  2. Pursue unity and generosity.
  3. Be ready to rely on the Holy Spirit to sing, teach, share a revelation, speak in tongues, and interpret a tongue.
  4. Refresh our idea of what meeting together means.
  5. Balance our inward efforts on church meetings and worship with an outward focus on going into the world to make disciples.

Pick one change to make and then pursue it.

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.

Christian Living

The New Testament Approach to Church

Consider the Example of Jesus’s Followers in the Bible

The commands in the Old Testament about the tabernacle/temple, priesthood, and tithe are clear. The New Testament, however, lacks specific instructions for us to follow. But this doesn’t mean we should adhere to the Old Testament model as a default.

Instead we look at the practices of the early church to guide us in our interactions with God, to worship, serve, and tell the world about Jesus. We need to be a New Testament church.

Let’s start with Stephen. In his lengthy message before the Sanhedrin, he reminds those gathered that God does not live in the temple, in a house built by people (Acts 7:48-50).

But Stephen isn’t spouting a new idea. He quotes Isaiah (Isaiah 66:1-2). This verse finds support from other Old Testament passages (1 Kings 8:27 and 2 Chronicles 2:6).

Even in the Old Testament God is already countering his people’s idea that he lives in the temple, and that they must go there to engage with him.

Remember that God didn’t issue his commands about the temple, priests, and tithes until after the people refused to let him speak to them directly and insisted that Moses stand in for them (Exodus 19:6).

Could it be that God gave his people the temple, priests, and tithes as a concession to their desire to keep him at a distance?


Regardless, Jesus fulfills this Old Testament way to approach God.

What does this mean for us? What should change? Let’s look at the New Testament narrative to gather insight in how to adapt God’s Old Testament model of temple, priests, and tithes into a New Testament approach to church.

They Meet in Homes

The first place Jesus’s followers meet after he returns to heaven is in the upper room, a part of someone’s home (Acts 1:13).

They spend time at the temple (Acts 2:46, Acts 3:1, and Acts 5:20) and visit synagogues on the Sabbath (Acts 9:20, Acts 13:14, and Acts 14:1)—until they’re no longer welcome (Acts 18:7). They also meet in public spaces (Acts 16:13 and Acts 19:9).

Mostly they meet in people’s homes (Acts 2:46, Romans 16:5, 1 Corinthians 16:19, Colossians 4:15, and Philemon 1:2). But this isn’t a once-a-week occurrence. They meet daily to eat together (Acts 6:1) and encourage one another (Hebrews 3:13).

The early church continues in their practice of meeting in people’s homes for about three centuries.

At this time, Constantine legalizes Christianity and begins building churches. This starts a shift from gathering in people’s homes—as the early church practiced—back to going to dedicated worship spaces—as the Old Testament did.

The book of Hebrews confirms this transition. It states that the Old Testament tabernacle is an earthly, manmade sanctuary and part of the first covenant—the Old testament way (Hebrews 9:1-2). Whereas Jesus, as our high priest, gives us a more perfect tabernacle, one not manmade (Hebrews 9:11).

They Serve as Priests

We’ve already covered that as Jesus’s followers we are his holy and royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9). John also confirms that Jesus made us to be his priests (Revelation 1:6, Revelation 5:10, and Revelation 20:6).

In Hebrews we read that just as the priesthood changed—through Jesus—the law must change as well (Hebrews 7:12). In one grand stroke, God’s law of the Old Testament becomes Jesus’s love in the New Testament. (Not only does the priesthood change in this transition, but so do the accompanying practices of temple and tithe.)

The book of Hebrews reminds us that Jesus is our high priest (Hebrews 3:1). This makes him the ultimate priest, with us looking to him as an example of how to be priests serving under him.

As followers of Jesus we are his priests, a holy priesthood, a nation of priests. Are we doing this? No. Instead we hire clergy to work as our modern-day priests, serving as our intermediary between God and us.

We’re not functioning as we should as God’s priests. We delegate this holy responsibility to a select few who have put in their time at seminary and received their ordination papers.

Yet God expects us to obey his call to serve as his holy nation of priests. What are we waiting for? What must we do? There are three elements to address in serving our Lord as priests: minister to those in his church, tell others about him, and worship him.

1. Minister to Those in the Church: God intends all those in his family to serve as priests. We’re all priests. This means there are none in our group who aren’t. Within our church—where everyone is a priest—there’s no longer a role to represent God to his people.

As priests we can all approach him directly, without the need for an intermediary.

Within the church body, as priests we minister to each other. As Jesus’s priests we need to love one another and treat each other as the New Testament tells us to.

2. Tell Others about Jesus: In the Old Testament, the priests have an inward focus on God’s chosen people. They do little to reach out to those outside their group.

This is one of the things Jesus changes when he fulfills the Old Testament. No longer are we to have an inward focus as his followers, as his priests. Instead he wants us to look outward.

The resurrected Jesus makes this clear before he returns to heaven. He tells his disciples to go throughout the world and make disciples. This includes baptizing them and teaching them about him (Matthew 28:19-20).

Paul—who God sends to tell the Gentiles about Jesus—acknowledges this is his priestly duty (Romans 15:15-16). As Jesus’s priest, Paul tells the Gentiles—that is, non-Jews, which means the rest of the world—the good news of salvation. This is so they can be made right with God.

Peter also touches on this in his writing about us being Jesus’s priests. He says we are to declare our adoration of Jesus to others. Implicitly this is to address those living in darkness so we can bring them into his light (1 Peter 2:9).

Jesus instructs us to tell others about him. Paul and Peter say that we do so as his priests.

3. Worship Him: Much of what God establishes in the Old Testament about the tabernacle/temple, priest, and tithes relate to worshiping him. Does this Old Testament worship have a place in the New Testament church?


But whereas worship was the goal in the Old Testament, it might more so be the means to reach the goal in the New Testament. It is as Jesus’s church worships him and fasts that the Holy Spirit tells them what to do (Acts 13:2).

Note that they are doing two things when God speaks to them. It isn’t just worship. They also fast. Don’t lose sight of this.

Let’s consider some other mentions of worship in the New Testament.

We’ll start with Jesus and his conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well. She asks about the appropriate place to worship God. Jesus dismisses the discussion about location and says that his followers will worship Father God in the Spirit and in truth (John 4:20-24).

This means we can worship God anywhere and don’t need to go to a dedicated space. What matters is our attitude toward worship, to do so honestly under the direction of the Holy Spirit.

Just as Peter talks about us offering spiritual sacrifices as our worship (1 Peter 2:5), Paul uses the phrase living sacrifice. It’s holy and pleasing to our Lord, serving as honest and right worship (Romans 12:1).

Paul also testifies that as a part of his faith journey he continues to worship God (Acts 24:11 and 14). Furthermore, in his letter to the church in Corinth, Paul goes into much detail about having orderly worship (1 Corinthians 14).

The author of Hebrews talks about us being thankful for the eternal salvation we received as worshiping God in reverence and awe (Hebrews 12:28-29).

And remember that John’s Revelation overflows with worship. This suggests that not only is worshiping God a New Testament act, but it will also be an end times and everlasting practice (Revelation 4:10, 5:14, 7:11, 9:20, 11:16, 14:7, 15:4, 19:4, 19:10, and 22:8-9).

Yes, we will continue to worship God. But it should look much different than the Old Testament way.

They Give Generously

Not only do Jesus’s followers meet in homes and minister to one another, they also have a fresh perspective on giving. Instead of tithing, which isn’t a New Testament command, they practice generosity.

The New Testament doesn’t mention Jesus’s followers taking collections to support the church infrastructure. Instead they receive offerings to help other disciples in need (Acts 24:17, Romans 15:26, 1 Corinthians 16:1-2, and 2 Corinthians 8).

Notice that the focus of their generosity is to those within the church.

The only time the New Testament mentions a weekly collection (1 Corinthians 16:2) is simply to set aside money to help the struggling believers in Jerusalem, not to support a minister.

They also share what they have with one another (Acts 2:44-45 and Acts 4:32). This is significant, but it isn’t a command. Instead it’s an example.

In his letter to the church in Galatia, Paul confirms the importance of helping the poor. In this case, however, he seems to be talking about all who are poor, both those within the church and those outside (Galatians 2:10).

Jesus talks a lot about money and generosity. He says that there will always be poor people among us (Matthew 26:11, Mark 14:7, and John 12:8), but this isn’t a reason to not help them. On several occasions Jesus tells people to give money to the poor.

He says this to the rich man seeking eternal life (Matthew 19:21, Mark 10:21, and Luke 18:22), the Pharisees (Luke 11:41), and his disciples, which we can rightly apply to ourselves as his present-day disciples (Luke 12:33).

There is evidence in the New Testament that the church provides financial support to missionary efforts, though Paul holds up himself as an example of paying for his own expenses as the ideal. This happens even though he feels he has a right to receive financial support as God’s messenger (1 Corinthians 9:4-18).

Regardless, this financial support is for those who travel to tell the good news of Jesus to those who don’t know him, not for local ministers at various city churches.

The New Testament churches practice of generosity is to help the poor and support missionary efforts, not to pay the salaries of local ministers or build and maintain church buildings.

A New Testament Church

This is the New Testament model for church, Jesus’s church. We have much 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.

Bible Insights

Should Church Be a Safe Place, Like a City of Refuge, in the Bible?

If We Don’t Protect the Innocent from Retribution, Who Will?

God tells Joshua to establish cities of refuge, a safe place for people to seek sanctuary. The specific context is that a city of refuge is a place for people to go if they accidentally kill someone.

Once these people make it to the city of refuge, they are legally protected from retaliation sought by the avenging relatives of the person killed. As long as they stay in the city of refuge, they are safe.

We don’t have cities of refuge anymore, but sometimes people do seek sanctuary in churches. Though I’ve never personally seen this happen, I have heard stories of it occurring. I wonder if seeking sanctuary in church should happen more often?

Certainly churches shouldn’t harbor the guilty from receiving judgment, but what about protecting the innocent from injustice? What about offering a safe haven to those people wrongly pursued or protecting those folks pummeled by prejudice?

Sadly this may be too much of a stretch for many church attending people to bear. They want their churches as sanctuary for them—but not so much for those on society’s fringe; “let them fend for themselves,” they say (or think) or perhaps “your problem is not my problem.

However, this is selfish. The church needs to be a safe place for everybody, physically, emotionally, and even spiritually. It needs to be like a city of refuge. We have a long way to go to make this happen.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Joshua 19-21, and today’s post is on Joshua 20:2-3.]

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.