Tag Archives: church

Do You Want More From Life? Seeking a Spiritual More

Do You Want More From Life? A Spiritual More?

  • I’m not talking about more money, power, or prestige.
  • I’m not even talking about more love or respect.
  • I’m certainly not talking about the latest gadgets, a new car, a nicer home, tastier food, or better sex.Do You Want More From Life? Seeking a Spiritual More

I’m talking about more from a spiritual standpoint. I yearn for a “spiritual more.” I suspect—deep down—you do, too. Everything else is a hollow substitute for what God has to offer, not just any god but the God revealed in the Bible: biblical God.

But we don’t often find this “spiritual more” at church—at least not how today’s society practices church. We may not even find biblical God there. Most churches fall far short of what God intends for us to experience. We’re drinking Kool-Aid, and he’s offering us wine.

Though I do go to church, I often wonder why. The purpose of church isn’t the music or the message; it’s about community. True church is connecting with God and connecting with others. It’s an intimate spiritual community with true friends who matter, mean something, and stick around. This is where we find a “spiritual more,” as part of a community of like-minded Jesus followers who diligently pursue the God revealed in the Bible. I call this biblical spirituality. This is why I write and blog.

I’m not a guru and may not even be a worthy guide; I’m a fellow pilgrim. Let’s journey together as we pursue biblical God and seek to grasp this spiritual more. It starts when we follow Jesus—and if you’re not ready for that, come along anyway; it will be a great trip.

Let me know your email address, and I’ll send you a free e-book, How Big Is Your Tent?

The Latter Years of Martin Luther

Martin Luther wanted to work within the Church to bring about change but they kicked him out

Martin Luther intended to work out his ninety-five theses within the Church leadership. However, once the masses read and heard them in their own language—through no fault of Martin’s—an internal Church discussion became impossible. A revolution brewed. The people, poised for change, saw to that.

But the leaders of the Church had a different reaction. They saw Luther as a threat. His views opposed them, their power, and their profit motives.The Latter Years of Martin Luther

Yes, Martin wanted a reformation. But he wanted it to occur in an orderly fashion, to work within the Church and discuss his concerns with its leaders. He loved the Church and desired to remain part of her. He never planned to create a new church and certainly never wanted a Lutheran denomination named in his honor. To him there was one church, the church of Jesus, which Martin sought to fine-tune.

Later Luther would seek to reclaim key doctrines that had fallen away: biblical authority, justification by grace through faith alone, preaching the good news of Jesus, the true meaning of communion, the priesthood of believers, faith in Jesus, and the universal church, as well as others.

He also began to question the addition of new practices that lacked biblical support. These included papal infallibility, the practice of Mass, penance, and indulgences. In addition, he objected to the absolute authority accorded to the pope, along with the secularization and corruption of the Church’s upper leadership. To communicate his concerns, Martin spoke often and wrote volumes about these issues. Martin Luther didn’t desire to leave the Church, but to correct her errors. Click To Tweet

Work within the Church. Read more in 95 Tweets - Celebrating Martin Luther in the 21st Century, by Peter DeHaanLuther didn’t desire to leave the Church, but to correct her errors. For several years he and his followers toiled to do just that. They believed their efforts would restore a pure Christian community. He persisted despite the Church’s personal attacks on his character. Their opposition escalated to physical threats on his freedom and risks to his very life. Even after his church labeled him as a heretic and expelled him, he still hoped-for reconciliation.

This is from Peter DeHaan’s book 95 Tweets: Celebrating Martin Luther in the 21st Century. Buy it today to discover more about Martin Luther and his history-changing 95 theses.

What is Post-Denominational?

Dividing the church by forming denominations isn’t biblical, and it’s time to move past it

Jesus prayed for our unity, that we would be one—just as he and his father are one. He yearned that his followers would get along and live in harmony. Dividing into religious sects wasn’t his plan. Yet that’s exactly what we’ve done as we formed 43,000 Protestant denominations.Be one in Jesus.

Instead of focusing on our similarities, our common faith in Jesus, these denominations choose to make a big deal over the few things they disagree about. They should get along, but instead they develop their own narrow theology, which they use as a litmus test to see who they’ll accept and who they’ll reject.

How this must grieve Jesus.

While there has been some disagreement among the followers of Jesus almost from the beginning, the divisions started proliferating 500 years ago with the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. And since that time, it’s escalated out of control, with a reported 43,000 denominations today. This represents the most significant degree of Christian disunity ever.

The push for denominational division traces its beginning to the modern era. While the modern era assumed that reason would allow us to converge on a singular understanding of truth, the opposite occurred. Instead, the pursuit of logic resulted in wide-scale disagreement. And this is perhaps most manifest among the followers of Jesus, who love to argue over their individual understandings of theology.

Yet there’s a sense we’re moving away from denominations and the divisions they cause. The word to describe this is post-denominational. Just as we are moving from the modern era to the postmodern era, we are also moving from a time of denominational division to a time of post-denomination harmony.

In understanding postmodern, we don’t consider it as anti-modern but instead “beyond modern.” The same distinction rightly applies to post-denominational. Post-denominational is not anti-denomination, as much as it is “beyond denominations.”

So, what is post-denominational? Post-denominational moves beyond the Protestant divisions that proliferated in the last 500 years, during the modern era. Post-denominational sets aside the man-made religious sects that divide the church of Jesus. In its place, post-denominational advocates a basic theology to form agreement and foster harmony. This allows the followers of Jesus to live together in unity, which will amplify their impact on the world around them.

The people who follow Jesus are beginning to realize this. Many new churches label themselves as non-denominational. This reflects a general mistrust among today’s people for the brand-name Protestantism of yesteryear, that is, denominations. People are weary of the criticism, finger-pointing, and disunity that denominations have caused. Click To Tweet

They’re weary of the criticism, the finger-pointing, and the disunity that denominations have caused. That’s why the label of non-denominational is so attractive to many people. This includes those who go to church, those who dropped out, and those who have never been. They don’t want to align themselves with a denomination anymore. They want a spiritual experience in a loving Christian community, one without denominational division.

For the sake of Jesus and our witness of him to our world, can we set our denominations aside and agree to work together to move forward in unity?

It’s a lot to ask, and it seems humanly impossible. But Jesus already prayed for our success (see John 17:20-26.) May this generation be the answer to his prayer. May we be one.

What Is a Micro Church?

Bigger isn’t always better and the micro church proves this

Last week I wrote about the emergent church. Today we shift the discussion to micro church. Emergent church and micro church, are these alternate labels for the same thing or different? The answer is maybe.

The concept of a micro church can go by different labels. Other names, some of which might be more familiar, include simple church and organic church. Some micro churches are house churches, but not all of them. And some house churches are micro churches, but, again, not all.Micro Churches: A case when smaller is better

It’s easiest to describe a micro church by looking at its characteristics:

Streamlined Structure: Micro churches have only a minimal amount of structure and just enough to allow them to function. Their organization tends to be flat as opposed to hierarchical, with a more egalitarian operation.

No Paid Staff: At micro churches people minister to one another and serve as priests to each other, as we find described in the New Testament. They don’t have a need for paid clergy or to maintain anyone on a payroll.

Priesthood of all Believers: Since micro churches have no paid staff, they have no clergy. This isn’t a problem since they embrace the priesthood of all believers. This means that the people in the community minister to one another, teach one another, and help one another. They feel no need to subjugate this to professional ministers. Because of the nature of their faith they are automatically priests.

Deemphasized Sunday Service: The micro church doesn’t place as much emphasis on a Sunday morning service as traditional churches do. In fact, they may not meet on Sunday or even once a week. Their gatherings may not even resemble a church service.At micro churches, weekly church gatherings prepare people to go into their community and serve. Click To Tweet

Missional: The micro church has a vision to serve. They have a mission. This makes them missional. However, their mission is not inwardly focused but outwardly focused. Their internal gatherings, be it like a Sunday service or something else, are to encourage and prepare the people present to go out into their community and serve. Therefore, many micro churches have at its core one particular vision, a mission, around which people gather.

Focused on Multiplication: The micro church isn’t concerned with growing its numbers, but it’s vitally interested in growing influence. Micro churches seek to do this by helping others start their own micro churches to address other needs in the community. Their simple structure makes this easy and fast. This is why they view themselves as organic. They’re constantly growing, changing, and reproducing more of their kind.

Perhaps Emergent: Last week we defined the emergent church as an effort to reclaim church practices from a biblical perspective to reform them to be relevant in a postmodern culture. In considering this definition and the above characteristics, it’s easy to see a connection between the emergent church and the micro church. This doesn’t mean they’re the same, however. It just means they tap into a similar underlying angst of spiritual speakers to pursue community and help the world in new and unexpected ways, ways that the traditional church has missed.

I embrace both the emergent church and micro church concepts as practical and effective ways to be the hands and feet of Jesus to a world seeking relevance and purpose in a confusing existence.

What Happened to the Emergent Church?

The emergent church seeks to be biblically relevant for a postmodern people

Ten to fifteen years ago, it seemed that every time I turned around I heard something about the emergent church. I wrote about this in my dissertation, with one long chapter devoted to the topic. My thoughts on the emergent church were greatly influenced by Phyllis Tickle’s mind-blowing book The Great Emergence: How Christianity Is Changing and Why.What Happened to the Emergent Church?

What is the emergent church? The emergent church is an effort to reclaim church practices from a biblical perspective to reform them to be relevant in a postmodern culture. The emergence movement seeks to reimagine church in fresh, new ways to connect with a disenfranchised society that is open to spirituality, albeit apart from the traditional church.

At the time I speculated it was easier to find a book on the emergent church then to actually find an emergent church. Though I don’t think this was true, it certainly seemed that way. After all, the very nature of the emergent church shunned structure, organization, and hierarchical leadership. These traits made emergent churches hard to find.

When I write about the church in this blog, it’s usually from the perspective of emergence. I want to see our present-day church practices emerge from what they are to produce something more meaningful that abounds with relevance for today’s spiritual seekers.

When I talk this way, it often comes across as criticism, but I only want what’s best for the church—that is, for us as followers of Jesus—so that the church can become more than what she presently is. I write about the church because I love her and want to see her reach her potential. I want to see the church emerge to become something grander. I long to see the emergent church and wish to be part of one.

All this talk about the emergent church, however, was a decade ago. What about now? It’s been years since I’ve heard the phrase emergent church mentioned. Was the emergent church movement a fad that arrived for a moment and left just as quickly?

No. The impetus for the emergent church still exists. It’s just that we don’t hear that phrase anymore. Despite this, however, around the world people—who love Jesus but gave up on his church the way it’s currently practiced—are seeking out new expressions of faith community. They are emerging to do something new and something fresh. But by their very nature, we don’t hear about them. This is because the philosophy of the emergent church shuns self-promotion and distrusts marketing.

The interest in emergent churches is still there, even if the label has slipped away. Perhaps instead of looking for an emergent church, the better path might be to start one.Instead of looking for an emergent church, the better solution might be to start one. Click To Tweet

Watch Out For Churches That Behave Like Cults

Some people blindly accept church rhetoric, but they risk going down a dangerous path

We’ve all heard stories of people taken in and indoctrinated by cults. Though some stories end happily after they extricate themselves from the control the cult, too many situations end badly.

There are many common characteristics to help us identify cults and cult-like behavior. Here are some of the key things that reoccur on many of these lists.

  • Utopia: The community seems too good to be true. Everything is wonderful; there are no problems. Peace and harmony abounds. (And when a potential problem surfaces, it’s quickly squelched.)
  • Exclusive Leadership: One person, or a handful of people, exercises excessive control over the group and restricts other people from participating in leadership.
  • Absolute Beliefs: Their group has the only true understanding of truth. All other groups are false.
  • Loyalty: Devotion and submission to the group is expected.
  • Persecution Complex: Everyone else is against them. The group has an us-versus-them mentality.
  • Critical Thinking Opposed: Questions aren’t tolerated and are quickly repressed.
  • Isolation: Members are separated from family and friends.
  • Shunning: People are discouraged from leaving, with excessive penalties for those who try.
  • Dependence: The group creates an emotional dependence by offering excessive love, acceptance, and support.
  • Lack of Transparency: The group’s finances are hidden from members, and inappropriate behavior by its leaders is accepted without question.

When we read this list, we’re quick to agree these characteristics are both wrong and damaging. We would never want to be in a group that behaved this way.

Unfortunately, I’ve seen some churches whose behavior and attitudes parallel many of these characteristics of a cult. While I won’t label them a cult, the way they function fills me with apprehension.The behavior and attitudes at some churches parallel many characteristics of a cult. Click To Tweet

These churches have a dynamic, charismatic minister who people follow without question and accept every word he or she says. The church’s doctrine is presented as the only true understanding, with everyone else being an error. Members are encouraged to separate themselves from those who disagree with the church’s teaching, including their family and friends. The church envelops its members, providing a tight emotional bond and offering support to such an extent that members worry about what they will lose if they leave. Though threats aren’t given, the outcome is clear they risk being cut off from the community.

Am I claiming that some churches are cults? No. But I am suggesting that they’re veering too close. And from the outside it’s sometimes hard to see the difference.

What’s the solution?

Don’t allow one person to control or dominate the group. Share leadership broadly. Be transparent. Be egalitarian. Encourage questions. Seek diversity. Make Jesus the focus, and let the Bible guide.

When I read about the early church in the book of Acts I see this type of positive, open community demonstrated in how they function. We must consider their example carefully.

The challenge in this is to examine our own church’s practices in the light of these characteristics of a cult. Then take whatever steps are needed to avoid even the appearance of cult-like activity.

With so much at stake, we can’t risk even the appearance of impropriety.

What Does the New Testament Say About Temples and Priests?

Through Jesus we become his priests and his temple, which should change everything

In the Old Testament the people go to the temple to encounter God. The priests help them in this; they act as a liaison between them and God.

In many ways we still do this today. We go to church to encounter God. We look for our ministers to help us in our quest, to act as a liaison between us and God.Jesus makes us his priests and his temple.

But this is a wrong perspective. We cling to the Old Testament practice and largely forget how Jesus fulfilled it. Peter helps us understand this in his first letter. He says we are living stones built into a spiritual temple, prepared for a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices to God through Jesus (1 Peter 2:5).

Yet from our perspective of going to church to encounter God, this verse is confounding. It turns what we do upside down, and that’s the point. Jesus came to turn the old ways upside down and make something new for us.

We need to embrace this. We need to change our perspectives.

Living Stones: As living stones our actions matter. We live for Jesus. We live to honor him, praise him, and glorify him. We live to tell others about him through our actions and even through our words. Our faith is alive, and our actions must show it.

Spiritual Temple: As living stones we become part of the construction of his spiritual temple. And if we are part of his temple, we don’t need to go to church to meet him because, as his temple, we are already there and can experience him at any time.

Holy Priesthood: As living stones we are being made into a holy priesthood. If we are truly priests through what Jesus did for us, then we don’t need ministers to point us to God, explain him to us, and assist us in encountering him. God is preparing us to do that for ourselves as his holy priests.

Spiritual Sacrifices: As living stones and holy priests, serving God in his spiritual temple, we offer to him a spiritual sacrifice. This spiritual sacrifice negates the need for many of the animal sacrifices and offerings we read about in the Old Testament.Through Jesus we do things in a new way. Click To Tweet

This thinking is so countercultural to the way most Christians live today that it bears careful contemplation. Through Jesus we do things in a new way. We are living stones built into a spiritual temple, being prepared for a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices.

This can change everything—and it should.

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible this year. Today’s reading is 1 Peter 2, and today’s post is on 1 Peter 2:5.]

What’s More Important, Family or Church?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Three Priorities of a Church: Butts, Bucks, and Buildings

The things religious leaders focus on may not matter to God at all

The modern church measures success by attendance, offerings, and facility size. Perhaps this is because the world measures success by the number of people, amount of money, and size of buildings. 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. After all, churches with a sizeable attendance garner attention. They receive media coverage. Books celebrate them and elevate their leaders to lofty pedestals.The Three Priorities of a Church

This is how the Western world defines success. And 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 size—doesn’t matter nearly as much as most people think.

Said more bluntly, most church leaders focus on the three B’s: butts, bucks, and buildings.

Butts: The greater the attendance, the more popular the church and, most assuredly, the more God has blessed it. Really?

Look at Jesus. After performing a miracle to feed over five thousand people, the multitude want to make him their king, by force if needed (John 6:10-15). Jesus could let them, but he doesn’t. Instead of playing to the masses to further his ministry and advance an agenda, he launches into a hard teaching that offends them, and most turn away (John 6:60-66). It seems Jesus is more concerned with the quality of his followers then the quantity. Maybe we should follow his example.

Bucks: The church institution needs money to operate. Ministers need their paycheck. Mortgage payments have monthly due dates. If the offering sags, the church leadership panics. Boards instruct their teaching pastor to preach more about money. Yes, it happens. I’ve seen it.

Yet Jesus says not to worry about the future (Matthew 6:34). This includes money. Although Jesus had people who financially supported him, he never took an offering. He never gave a plea for money. He trusted his Father to provide. So should we.

Buildings: Churches need a lot of people to give a lot of money to pay for staff, which is well over half of most churches budgets. Next up is their buildings, which is their second greatest expense. Together, salaries and facilities account for 80 to 90 percent of most church expenses, sometimes up to 100 percent. Imagine using all that money instead to help people and address both their spiritual and physical needs.

When Jesus said, “I will build my church (Matthew 16:18), he wasn’t talking about a building but a following. Jesus never said, “Go build me a grand building for worship, a multimillion dollar monument.” But he did say, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel” (Mark 16:15). That’s hard to do if we’re stuck inside a church building.The church of Jesus should be about changed lives, community, and commitment. Click To Tweet

The Right Priorities: Instead of an unhealthy, unbiblical focus on the three B’s, what if we and our churches instead looked to the three C’s of changed lives, community, and commitment?

  • Jesus wants changed lives. He says, “Repent and follow me,” so that he can reorder our priorities. In fact, most all he says is about changing our perspectives of how we live.
  • Jesus wants to build a community. He calls it the kingdom of God, but we made it into a church. Shame on us.
  • Jesus expects our commitment. He desires people who are all in. He wants us to follow him, to serve him, and to be with him (John 12:26). 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 just get in the way of what Jesus wants for his followers.

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

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How Can You Shrink Your Church?

We live in a world that thinks bigger is better, but that’s not always true

How Can You Shrink Your Church?Our modern-day society evaluates things based on size. We celebrate magnitude, with bigger being better.

This includes church. We often assume that bigger churches, in terms of both facility and attendance, equates to God’s sure blessing and his implicit approval. But we are wrong to do so.

I once attended a conference where many of the attendees were ministers. Invariably every conversation I had with a pastor included a mention of or a question about church size. I expected this and resolved not to play their game.

Some wanted admiration, but I refused to stroke their narcissism. Other pursued affirmation, and I determined not to falsely feed into their insecurities. This happened with every conversation. The social time at this conference drained me.

No one was content with the size of their church. Everyone wanted to lead a big (or bigger) congregation—or at least head a fast-growing church. It seemed these pastors’ esteem or paycheck was at stake. This doesn’t seem God-honoring.

Though businesses talk about rightsizing and downsizing, I never hear of churches thinking that way. And while businesses often divest themselves of assets and product lines that don’t align with their goals, and thereby lose customers in the process, churches seldom do. Though we shouldn’t run a church like a business, perhaps this is one lesson we should learn from corporate America.

Instead of pursuing church growth strategies, maybe we should look for ways to shrink our churches. Might we experience greater spiritual success if our gatherings were smaller?

Here are some ways to shrink our churches:

Think Small: Large churches, as well as some medium-sized churches, struggle in helping people form connections and build community. This is the impetus behind the small group concept. What a large Sunday gathering can’t provide to attendees, small groups can—assuming they’re run right. But a small church doesn’t need small groups because their small size facilitates connections and community.

Jesus focused on twelve people and gave special attention to three. His actions should guide our desire to think small and to then act that way.

Have an External Focus: Most churches have an inward focus. They give their attention to the needs (demands) of their members to the exclusion of their surrounding community. At best a church may allocate 10 percent of its budget and time to people outside their group. What if we made it 100 percent?

Eliminate Paid Staff: A church with a payroll has skewed perceptions and priorities. Members insist on being served and employees react to keep their paychecks coming. What would a church look like with no paid staff? It would be simpler for sure. More people would be involved. And it would be smaller. This would be a good thing.A small church doesn’t need a building. Click To Tweet

Sell Your Building: Owning a facility is a burden. It costs money, demands time, and sucks the attention away from people. People matter; a building doesn’t. So go ahead and sell it. It will free you. Besides, a small church doesn’t need a building anyway.

Send People Away: When a congregation grows too large, get rid of some of the people. But first empower them. Equip them to go out and start something new: a house church, a community outreach, or a service endeavor. Send them out and don’t expect them to come back. That will keep your church small and advance God’s kingdom, too.

Pursue Spiritual Depth: Many have said that most churches are a mile wide and an inch deep. They have no spiritual depth. They perpetuate a superficial community, functioning as little more than a Christian social club. Instead, seek spiritual intensity over trivial pleasantries. This will push away the noncommitted consumers and feed those with a true spiritual hunger.

Stop Counting: In the spiritual realm, numbers don’t really matter. So stop tracking them. Don’t fixate on attendance and offering. Forget quantity. Dump the bigger-is-better mentality. Instead, think less is more. Because it is.

This vision to shrink our church is not hyperbole. These recommendations are a serious challenge and aren’t intended as an intellectually provocative treatise.

Yes, this is counter cultural to our celebration of size. This turns conventional thinking upside down. It will be difficult to pursue and offend many in the process. They’ll reject us and retreat to church as usual.

Does this sound familiar?

Jesus was counter cultural and eschewed conventional wisdom. His way was difficult, but only because it was so different. He offended many with what he said and did. They rejected him and returned to their religious status quo.

Don’t expect many followers if you shrink your church and pursue a small church mindset. That’s okay because smaller is the goal.