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Visiting Churches

Discussion Questions for Church #54

I’ve read books about emergent churches, but I’ve never been to one. At this church, the church leaders want to serve this underserved neighborhood: the poorest and least safe, crime-laden and hopeless.

Consider these four discussion questions about Church 54.

They meet at 5:30 p.m. The plan is to share a meal, offer a brief teaching, and go for a prayer walk in the neighborhood. How open are we to go to church Sunday evening instead of Sunday morning?

My wife, Candy, asks what food to bring. As visitors, they’d forgive us if we showed up empty-handed, but during 52 Churches we did our share of mooching. How open are we to include people in our potluck who have nothing to contribute?

Our leader says that sharing a meal is Communion. As we eat and drink together, we do so to remember Jesus. How open are we to embrace Communion as a meal and a meal as Communion?

The sanctuary lights remain off, with mood lighting taking their place. It provides a peaceful, subdued setting. Some women dance in the back with graceful movement. What role can we let dance play in our worship experience?

May we remember Jesus in all that we do at church, at home, at work, with family, and throughout our lives.

[Read about Church 53, Church 55, or start at the beginning of our journey.]

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

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

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Bible Insights

How to Approach Holy Communion

In my prior post, entitled Cannibalism, Holy Communion (aka the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist) was seen as a spiritual invitation to salvation.

Communion is a symbolic rite reminding us of Jesus’ sacrificial death for us as the solution for the wrong things we have done.

This is all good.

Communion is a symbolic rite reminding us of Jesus’ sacrificial death for us as the solution for the wrong things we have done. Click To Tweet

However, Paul warns against the abuse of this important ritual. He is critical of those partaking in the practice of communion in “an unworthy manner” and “without discernment.”

The result of this mistaking is “judgment” and becoming “weak and sick,” even dying.

Paul advises the proper approach to Communion is via self-examination, the result of which will most likely be proceeding with reverence and humility.

Perhaps that’s why it is often called “Holy Communion.”

Learn more about Communion.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is 1 Corinthians 11-13 and today’s post is on 1 Corinthians 11:27-31.]

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

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

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Bible Insights

Do Our Meetings Do More Harm Than Good?

We Must Examine Our Church Meetings to Make Sure They Are Truly Beneficial

In Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth, he talks about worshiping God and then he talks about celebrating the Lord’s Supper. In between these two topics he slips in a condemning one-liner. He says that their meetings are more likely to cause harm than to do good.

Some Bibles attach a subheading just before this verse that references the Lord’s Supper. However, someone later inserted this information, and it wasn’t part of Paul’s original letter.

Disregarding this added text, leaves us to wonder if this condemning warning is a reference to worship or to the Lord’s Supper. It might apply to both.

Therefore, we should consider both our worship services and our communion practices. Do they do harm or do good?

Do Our Worship Services Cause Harm or Do Good?

Have you ever left a church service feeling empty, spiritually drained, or emotionally beat up? This could be the result of the Holy Spirit at work in your life, but it may be more likely that the church service itself caused you harm.

I’ve been to services like this.

Sometimes they are void of spiritual significance. They may have provided an entertaining concert or a saccharine lecture full of humorous one-liners or tweetable sound bites, but was God at work? Do we leave feeling rested and refreshed or bruised and broken?

Some church services mistake loud worship music for Holy Spirit power. I’m not against loud music. I grew up on rock and roll. Some music needs to be listened to loudly to appreciate it. But when the volume level detracts from our worship experience, something is wrong.

Despite having been to church services with music that was too loud, and painfully so, it’s never produced a headache in me. However, the volume level of some pulpit-pounding preachers has given me a headache, their content notwithstanding.

Other services come across as self-congratulatory, not celebrating what God has done but boasting about the accomplishments of the church and its leaders. And still other services have agendas that have little to do with God and much to do about some human objective.

And don’t get me started on pleas for money, with an offering or two; an altar call that drags on, even though no one responds, and everyone is bored; or announcements that take up time but offer no meaning.

What about long prayers that aren’t talking with God as much as trying to impress the congregation?

Some church services have sucked the life out of me. They have done more harm than good. My soul would have been better off had I stayed home.

Does How We Take the Lord’s Supper Cause Harm or Do Good?

Often, taking communion is part of a church service. The frequency may vary anywhere from weekly, to monthly, to quarterly. These are usually solemn affairs, steeped with reverence and ritual. There’s nothing wrong with this, but shouldn’t the Lord’s Supper be a celebration?

What is the purpose of the Lord’s Supper? It’s something we do out of obedience to remember what Jesus did for us. Yes, he died. But more importantly, he overcame death by rising from the grave. His victory can be our victory, and it’s worthy of a party.

Each Sunday when I go to church, may my involvement do good and not cause harm. Click To Tweet

When I take communion at church I try to focus on the why, but I often struggle. The process distracts me, especially if I’m visiting a church.

I become so focused on how that church practices communion and not embarrassing myself should I deviate from their tradition, that I often forget that Jesus is the reason we’re doing it in the first place.

Though I have expectations that celebrating the Lord’s Supper will produce a highly spiritual experience for me, I’m often disappointed. At most churches, most of the time, communion causes me more harm than good.

It’s not until I go home, that I can shake the negativity from my soul and rightly reorient my focus on God.

Make Our Meetings Do Good

Despite these many concerns, I still go to one of today’s church services every Sunday. I still partake in communion every chance I get. Some meetings are good, and I appreciate them.

Though I’m not currently in a leadership position at church and can’t influence the overall structure of the service, I can do my part to help make them be good and not cause harm.

This is through each interaction I have with people before the service, after the service, and to a lesser extent even during the service. I can offer encouragement. I can pray for them. I can listen to them. Sometimes merely acknowledging someone’s presence, produces a smile that the service failed to do.

Each Sunday when I go to church, may my involvement do good and not cause harm.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is 1 Corinthians 11-13, and today’s post is on 1 Corinthians 11:17.]

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

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

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Visiting Churches

Saturday Evening Mass

A few months ago, we went to church on Saturday morning. Now we head off for a Saturday evening mass.

Consider these four discussion questions about Church #50

1. The worship leader directs us to “page one in the white book,” but what we find doesn’t match what they say. We’re confused and can’t follow along. 

How can you make it easier for people to participate in your service?

2. For the Eucharist, the priest says nothing about nonmembers, though I know we’re excluded. Still, I can have the spiritual encounter of Holy Communion without physically taking part. 

How can you serve Communion in a way that includes everyone?

3. The tradition of sharing the chalice still disgusts us. Most participants receive the wafer and bypass the cup. I suppose some must avoid alcohol, while for others it’s a sanitary issue. 

What traditions should you change to address the concerns of today’s visitors?

4. Afterward I chat briefly with the priest. He knows we’re visiting but doesn’t ask our names. This might be because a member hovers about, anxious to talk to him. Though I don’t feel slighted, many people would. 

What behaviors do you need to change to be more visitor-focused?

[See the prior set of questions, the next set, or start at the beginning.]

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

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

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Visiting Churches

Significant Interactions

My pre-church prayer seems mired in the rut of routine. So it is when we pray this morning and head out for today’s church. Even so, I pray for significant interactions.

Consider these four discussion questions about Church #47

1. When my wife confirmed the time for this church, they invited us to arrive early for coffee. I would have stayed afterward, but to come early is more awkward than I’m willing to endure. 

How can you make sure your efforts at connection are easy for people to accept?

2. With everyone ignoring us when we arrive, we sit. A woman comes up and tells us what to expect during the service, including communion. No one in forty-six churches has done this. 

How can you help visitors feel at ease and know what to expect?

3. Today is the first time on our journey where I’m free to focus on the moment of Communion and not worry about the method. 

What can you do to help others better engage in your service and encounter God?

4. After the service a man greets us and asks how he can pray for us. This is another first on our journey. I so appreciate his offer. 

In what ways can you be available and ready to pray for others?

This Sunday was a day of significant interactions. If only we experienced this at more of the churches we visited.

[See the prior set of questions, the next set, or start at the beginning.]

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

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

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Visiting Churches

A Near Miss If Not for Their Church Sign

Discussing Church 19

With no website and a phone line that doesn’t work, we assume this church, listed only in a computer-compiled online directory, either no longer exists or never did. The church sign in front of their building is the only reason we know the service time.

Consider these four discussion questions about Church #19

1. When we arrive, a greeter welcomes us, but she’s surprised to see two new people. 

Are visitors the norm at your church or an exception? What needs to change?

2. At times their service seems evangelical and other times mainline, with hints of Charismatic. It’s an ideal blend. 

How can your church service better focus on Jesus instead of promoting a subset of Christianity or a denomination?

3. In the most insightful communion invitation I’ve ever heard, the pastor affirms that all who are in relationship with God are free to participate, regardless of church status or affiliation. 

How inclusive and accepting are your church’s practices?

4. Their mission is to help people on their faith journey, connecting them with other churches that match their needs and preferences. It’s okay if they happen to pick up members along the way, but it’s not their intent. 

What are your church’s growth goals?

[See the prior set of questions, the next set, or start at the beginning.]

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

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

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Visiting Churches

A Church Doubleheader

Discussing Church 17

This church has a contemporary service followed by a traditional one. It’s a church doubleheader. We’ll go to both.

Consider these four discussion questions about Church #17:

1. Their idea of contemporary is vastly different from mine, with this service being one of the more reserved ones we’ve attended. 

If you state a certain type of service, what do you need to do to better deliver on your promise?

2. They provide a sign language interpreter for the hearing impaired, who sit in the first three rows. It’s a treat to watch them sing with their hands and sign interactive portions of the service. 

What can your church do to help those with various limitations better engage in worship?

3. For communion, there’s no invitation for nonmembers to partake. We decide that we shouldn’t, but the usher motions us to go up. 

Do people know what to expect when you serve communion? What can you do to include visitors and welcome them to participate?

4. No one mentions it, but we find coffee and donuts in the fellowship area. Next to each is a donation basket. I feel guilty for grabbing a treat without feeding the fund. 

What practices in your church would seem odd or off-putting to outsiders?

[See the prior set of questions, the next set, or start at the beginning.]

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

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

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Visiting Churches

A Visitor Friendly Church

Discussing Church 12

Next up is another United Methodist Church. It’s a rural church and not on the way to anywhere we go, so we didn’t know it existed. They provide a lesson in what it means to be visitor friendly.

Consider these four discussion questions about Church #12:

1. Their website is the most visitor friendly site we’ve seen. Notably is a “what to expect” section, addressing the concerns a new person might have. 

Does your website tell people what they can expect? What do you need to add to make your outreach more effective?

2. We arrive to a full parking lot, as their website said might happen, but there are still a few spaces near the door, and we use one of them. 

Where do guests end up parking at your church? How can you make it easier for them?

3. Unlike our other church experiences, the minister clearly communicates their Communion procedure. I know what to expect. 

Do you explain your practice of Communion in a way that embraces newcomers? How can you make this better?

4. Several people invite us to stay for refreshments in the fellowship hall. We leave well-fed, both spiritually and physically. 

How well does your church do at feeding people physically and spiritually?

This church did a great job at being visitor friendly. They provide a great example to follow.

[See the prior set of questions, the next set, or start at the beginning.]

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

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

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Bible Insights

Discover What the Bible Says about Drinking Blood

Don’t Drink Blood versus Drink My Blood

Among the many “laws” (that is, rules and regulations for right behavior), that God—through Moses—gave the nation of Israel was an unconditional prohibition against drinking blood.

Every Hebrew would have been taught this from early childhood. Breaking this law would have been unthinkable to them, a repulsive act to even consider. Drinking blood was strictly verboten.

Then Jesus came along with his radical teaching that shocked many. He told his followers that they needed to drink his blood. His followers—all Hebrews—were appalled. Viewing his statement as heresy, many turned their backs on him and left (John 6:54-55).

The idea was so repulsive to them that they were unable to get past the shock of a literal interpretation to consider that it might just have a figurative meaning. Instead many of his followers saw this statement as an act of heresy, and they left him in a huff.

In making this bold statement, Jesus foreshadowed his sacrificial death. Succinctly, his blood would be spilt as a redeeming, life-restoring sacrifice.

Jesus wasn’t contradicting the laws of Moses. Instead, he voiced his intention to fulfill it.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Leviticus 16-18, and today’s post is on Leviticus 17:10-12.]

Read more in Peter’s new book, Living Water: 40 Reflections on Jesus’s Life and Love from the Gospel of John, available everywhere 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.

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Bible Insights

Is There Cannibalism in the Bible?

Jesus Shocks His Audience

Jesus said many things that surprised and even shocked his followers. One of his more appalling statements was that we needed to eat his body and drink his blood. That’s a hard thing to swallow—literally and figuratively. Gross.

He asserted that those who ate his body and drank his blood would have eternal life. Jesus’ followers had trouble dealing with this and many stopped following him because of that. I would have had second thoughts, too.

Of course, Jesus wasn’t issuing a call for cannibalism, he was speaking metaphorically. However, ascertaining precisely what he meant is a bit challenging.

Just as we need food and drink for physical life, we need Jesus’ body and blood (his death) for spiritual life.

Eating Jesus’s body and drinking his blood is a euphemism for accepting him and his death as the solution for the wrong things we have done. Click To Tweet

Eating his body and drinking his blood is a euphemism for accepting him and his death as the solution for the wrong things we have done.

Also, eating his body and drinking his blood foreshadows communion (aka the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist), which serves as a regular reminder of his sacrificial death for us.

Eating his body and drinking his blood was not a physical call to cannibalism, but a spiritual invitation to salvation.

[John 6:54-55, John 6:60 & 66]

Read more in Peter’s new book, Living Water: 40 Reflections on Jesus’s Life and Love from the Gospel of John, available everywhere 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.