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Visiting Churches

Church #55: New and Small

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

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

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

Tracking Them Down

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Wintery Drive to Church

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

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

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

Our Welcome

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Message

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

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

How could I have missed this?

Fellowship Afterward

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Visiting Churches

Church #54: Emergent Church, Maybe

Someone once quipped, “There are more books about emergent churches than there are emergent churches.” That seems like hyperbole, but my experience confirms it.

I’ve read several books about the emergent church, but I’ve never actually been to one. Tonight’s experience may change that, but I’m not sure.

My wife, Candy, and I have an opening in our normal Sunday evening plans. This is an opportunity to visit a site plant of our home church (Church #53, “Home for Easter Sunday”). They meet at 5:30 for a community meal and then have a service afterward—more or less. 

For the past couple of weeks, we’ve discussed going. I’m in favor of it, but my bride is reluctant. It’s not that she fears adventure, but she fears the neighborhood. I offer the suggestion, but I don’t push it, hoping she’ll agree to go, without me having to talk her into it.

Talking with the Pastor

Sunday morning, I’m still waiting. The decision happens as Candy talks with one of the site plant leaders. He’s a friend and fellow writer. We hang out a couple times a month. 

His plans for tonight are to share a meal, offer a brief teaching, and then go for a prayer walk in the neighborhood. I’m sure his intent to wander the streets surrounding the church building will discourage Candy from going.

It’s one thing to drive to a semi-safe area and scurry inside a building, but it’s another to traipse around the neighborhood. (In all honesty, I’m apprehensive of the semi-safe prayer walk, too, but I’m willing to push through.)

His words don’t offer the assurance Candy seeks, but she asks what food to bring.

A Shared Meal

As visitors, they’d forgive us if we showed up empty-handed, but during our year of visiting fifty-two churches, we did our share of mooching, and I don’t want to do so again.

Vegetables, we learn, are typically lacking at their weekly potluck, so on our way home from the morning service, we stop by the store to pick up our contribution for the evening meal. 

The building is familiar to us. It’s the one our church first used until outgrowing the facility and moving. At first, a contingent of people remained, but our church leaders did poorly at managing multiple locations and eventually shut the site down.

Now—wiser, better equipped, and armed with a new plan—a cadre has returned, intent on serving this underserved neighborhood: the area’s poorest and least safe, crime-ridden and void of hope.

Arriving at Church

After a minor detour, because I made a wrong turn, we arrive right at 5:30. My all-too-familiar anxiety about confronting the unknown rumbles in my gut. My pulse quickens as we pull into the small, but mostly filled, parking lot.

I want to make a U-turn and race home, but the likelihood of my wife laughing at my panic steels my resolve enough to park our car. Another family exits their minivan, with kids in tow and food in hand.

Feeling a bit assured, we follow them through the back door that leads directly to the lower level.

With only a handful of people present, there’s even less food, mostly desserts. Round tables fill the basement. The one nearest us holds the food while one further away accommodates some people awaiting the meal.

Between the two is a room of empty spaces, except for a solitary woman sitting at her own table. Pleasant-looking and approachable, my instincts are to talk to her, while mindful that she could misunderstand my efforts or feel uncomfortable.

If I can get Candy’s attention, we can go together, but she’s at the food table, talking with someone who just emerged from the kitchen. To my relief, someone eventually joins the woman so she’s no longer alone.

Seeing Friends—and a Dog Named Beau

I scan the room, expecting to see friends who are part of this adventure, but I don’t see them. From upstairs come sounds of the worship team practicing. Surely, some of my friends are there.

Although I see a few familiar faces, I don’t recall any names. While I survey the situation, one of the familiar faces comes up to talk. We have a friendly, yet awkward, exchange that lasts too long. 

A small white dog meanders over to welcome me. I squat, offering my hand for him to smell. All he does is sniff and tremble. He doesn’t withdraw, yet he’s not advancing for me to pet him either. He’s apprehensive and has found a kindred soul in me.

I later learn his name is Beau, nicknamed Bobo. He serves as the church’s unofficial mascot, esteemed by all, and cared for by many. He belongs to our friends: the site pastor and his wife.

They welcomed Beau into their home and later adopted him. This is poetic preparation, for they will soon welcome a foster child into their home with the intent to adopt him too.

Eventually, the site pastor descends the stairs. Dismayed with the low turnout, he concedes we should not wait any longer for more to arrive. We gather in a circle and hold hands while he prays. He reminds us that sharing a meal is communion.

As we eat and drink together, we do so to remember Jesus. With the Amen said, people surge toward the food table. 

We’ve now grown in number to about thirty, yet the food hasn’t kept pace, and it’s still half desserts. Some people bought prepared food at the store, others share leftovers, and one person made some stew.

It smells tasty but is gone before I get to it. I hold back, as do a few others. Some people may depend on this for their evening meal. If I don’t have enough to eat, there’s more awaiting me at home. Others may not have that luxury.

Fellowship

Candy and I sit at a nearby table with our food, and others join us. We get to know them, making connections as we eat. As a bonus, today is the birthday of one of our leaders. We sing to her and share cake.

My focus is more on the fellowship than the food. But I reckon they cut both short when they urge us upstairs. As we do, more friends show up.

With four young children, it’s too much work to get their brood’s tiny mouths all fed before the worship time starts, so they eat at home and show up a bit later.

The Worship Space

The sanctuary is different from the last time we were here some five years ago. The antiquated pews are gone, replaced with comfortable, padded chairs. The ambiance of the coffee house next to the sanctuary is gone with its accessories stripped away to provide only the most basic options.

In the back, areas are set up for kids to play, with plenty of open floor space for physical worship. The overhead lights remain off, with mood lighting taking their place. The result is a peaceful, subdued setting.

There’s a short teaching, though our leader misses his goal of keeping it under ten minutes. He references Exodus 14:19–22, speaking about slavery, drawing present-day parallels for us to contemplate.

He wraps up about fifteen minutes later. With the planned prayer walk canceled due to a light rain, a time of worship starts, now an hour into the evening.

A few of the people from the meal are missing, but several more have arrived, swelling our group to over forty. Candy and I are at the upper end of the age spectrum. Most are in their mid-twenties and thirties, with a good number of children present.

The other site leader—the birthday girl—sits at the keyboard and leads us in song. A skillful and spirit-filled leader, she moves us forward with music. For some people the songs are the focus, while for others the sounds become reverent background music.

Candy soon wearies of the repetition, repetition, repetition of the choruses. For me it’s not the words that matter but the atmosphere: a worship space where we encounter God in multiple ways, according to each person’s preference.

Some people stand as they feel led, raising their arms, swaying, and reverently dancing. Others sit, bow, or kneel. 

Some kids wave worship flags, praising God through solemn movement. A few adults join them. Other kids play quiet games, build with foam blocks, or create art on a wall-sized chalkboard. A couple of women dance in the back with graceful movement.

I want to watch, worshiping God through the beauty of their motions, but I fear that in doing so I may intrude on a private moment between them and the Almighty. 

The teaching pastor stands again, signaling his wife to pause her playing. He offers a bit of encouragement and instruction. We sing a final song, and he dismisses us with a traditional benediction.

More Fellowship

The planned service is over, but no one leaves. Everyone tarries. We chat with several friends, offering prayers and blessings as needed. We say our goodbyes to the new friends we’ve made, thanking them for the opportunity to get to know them and wishing them well.

Many people attempt to leave, but they’re unsuccessful. There are simply too many conversations to have. Among the first to exit, we leave at 8:00 p.m., two and a half hours after we arrived.

The time passed quickly for me, as it does when I’m in the company of winsome Jesus followers. I relish the experience, suspecting this group is approaching a truer meaning of church than I’ve ever experienced on a Sunday morning. 

Candy has a different assessment, saying that had she not already gone to church today, this would have left her wanting. This must be one reason why there are so many types of churches.

Regardless of our differing perspectives, I think we just had our first emergent church experience.

[See the discussion questions for Church 54, read about Church 53, or start at the beginning of our journey.]

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

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

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Visiting Churches

Prayers for the People

The church’s pastor is out of town, and the laity leads the entire service. One thing they do is “prayers for the people.”

Consider these four discussion questions about Church #48

1. Someone asks us to sign their guestbook but then scrambles to find a pen. Though once common, guestbooks now seem archaic and carry privacy concerns. 

What practices do you need to change because they no longer fit today’s culture?

2. A friend invites us to sit with her and her husband. The leader gives some announcements and then asks for more. After others share, our friend stands and introduces us to the crowd. It’s a nice gesture. 

How can you introduce new people to others and thereby reduce their discomfort?

3. After a song they offer “prayers for the people.” The leader opens and then pauses. After a bit of silence, someone else prays, and a few more follow. I like their approach, effectively sharing with each other as they talk to God. 

How can you make group prayer more meaningful and less awkward?

4. Afterward we stay for coffee and cookies. We linger for forty-five minutes before heading home, happy for our time at church today. 

What should you change so that people want to tarry and enjoy Christian community?

[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 Refreshing Church Service

The church meets in a middle school’s all-purpose room. Large portable signs direct us to the entrance. We enjoy a refreshing church service.

Consider these four discussion questions about Church #38: 

1. People mill about: talking, sipping coffee, or munching snacks. They represent all age groups, with many kids. 

Younger people are the future of our church. What can you do to attract and connect with them?

2. A team of four leads worship, with optimally adjusted audio. The ideal sound tech is the one you’re unaware of. It’s only because of mistakes that anyone usually notices. This one is good. 

What should you do to make sure your audiovisual team supports your service and doesn’t distract?

3. As a special treat, three ladies from a local ballet company worship with us in dance. Ballet and guitars are an odd pairing, but the result is worshiping God through sound and movement. 

What fresh worship experiences can you add to your service?

4. Our leader gives us the freedom to dance—or not. I don’t have a danceable bone in my body, so I appreciate the permission to stay still, yet I’m disappointed because only a few join in. 

Worshipful dance occurs in the Bible. How can you incorporate dance into your church service?

Overall, we enjoyed a most refreshing church service, connecting with others who pointed us to God. We left in awe of God and his community.

[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

The Surprise

We walk inside to an empty lobby and head toward an amplified sound. We slink into a back row. Sunday school must be running late, but we find out that they cancelled church.

Consider these four discussion questions about Church #36

1. The speaker acknowledges the presence of visitors. He apologizes that there will be no service today. Their minister had an emergency, and they cancelled church. 

If you cancel your service, how can you accommodate the people who show up?

2. Sunday school ends, and the people leave. A woman apologizes for their cancelled service. She shares her faith journey. Her pilgrimage encourages me. 

How ready are you to share your spiritual journey? What can you do to be better prepared?

3. This is an apostolic church, with Spirit-filled members. I wonder why they didn’t rely on the Holy Spirit to help them hold their service. 

What would you need to do to have church without your minister? 

4. Though a typical church service didn’t occur, fellowship did. We proclaimed Jesus, worshiped the Father, and celebrated the Holy Spirit—all without music or message. Today may be one of our best Sundays yet even though they cancelled church. 

What elements must exist for church to happen? How can you provide them when the unexpected occurs?

[See the prior set of questions, the next post, 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

What Did the First Church Do?

Four Keys from the Early Church

Just days after Pentecost, the people who follow Jesus begin to hang out. This is the first church. What did they do?

In the book of Acts, Doctor Luke records four key things:

  1. They learn about Jesus (think of this as a new believer’s class; after all, they were mostly all new believers).
  2. They spend time with each other (that’s what fellowship means).
  3. They share meals.
  4. They pray.

In addition, they meet every day at the temple (outreach) and in homes (fellowship). They share all their possessions. They praise God – and every day more people join them. This is what the early church did.

There’s no mention of weekly meetings, sermons, music, worship, or offerings. If we’re serious about church in its purest form, the actions of the early church give us much to consider.

Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Acts 1-4, and today’s post is on Acts 2:42-47.]

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

Read more about the book of Acts in Tongues of Fire: 40 Devotional Insights for Today’s Church from the Book of Acts, available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover. [Originally published as Dear Theophilus Acts.]

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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Christian Living

What Is a Christian Cohort?

Align with Other Believers to Build Ourselves Up and Serve Others

In my post about spiritual mastermind groups I talked about the benefit of aligning ourselves with other like-minded followers of Jesus to walk with on our spiritual journey. Now I’d like to look at the word cohort and apply that too. Let’s call this a Christian cohort.

What a Cohort Is

A cohort is a group or band of people. Though a secondary application refers to a single companion or associate, the more widely used understanding refers to many. Though we could intentionally form a Christian cohort, just as we might a spiritual mastermind group, I think of most cohorts as being informal.

If we view a Christian cohort as a naturally developing assemblage of people in our church or parachurch organization, then most of us have a cohort, possibly several of them, which vary with the setting.

We can also be more intentional about forming a Christian cohort. Though this could take many forms, with varying functions, it could also approach being a spiritual mastermind group.

For our Christian cohort to be effective and reach its highest potential, however, it shouldn’t have only an internal focus, but an outward one as well. Though there is a time to build each other up, there is also a time to go out into our community and help others. Forming a Christian cohort to serve is a great application of this concept.

What a Christian Cohort Isn’t

A secondary definition of the word cohort is with the military. This first started in the Roman Empire, where it identified a group of 300 to 600 soldiers. But a cohort can more generically refer to any group of combatants.

However, let us not apply this military understanding of cohort to our theology. We are not Christian soldiers marching off to war. God forbid! May we never have a repeat of the Crusades.

Though the idea of a battle applies to our journey with Jesus, this is a spiritual one—warring against spiritual forces of evil (Ephesians 6:12)—not a physical one fighting other people we may disagree with.

What a Cohort Shouldn’t Be

Though the idea of a Christian cohort is appealing, it also carries a huge risk. This is that our cohort could easily become a click, a Christian click. These clicks have existed in every church I’ve been part of. I suspect all churches suffer from Christian clicks.

These clicks are groups of friends, cronies if you will, who informally, yet effectively, form an inner circle within the Christian fellowship that excludes all others, essentially relegating them to a second-class status in the church.

Though I’m not aware of it, I suspect I’ve been part of these a time or two. But what I do realize—most painfully—is the many times I’ve been on the outside looking in. It’s a lonely place to be. May our Christian cohort never become a click.

A Christian cohort can produce an encouraging peer group to move us into a closer, more effective relationship with God and each other. Click To Tweet

Cohort Conclusion

When done rightly, a Christian cohort can produce an encouraging peer group to move us into a closer, more effective relationship with God—and each other. When done wrongly, our cohort becomes a click that serves as a barrier to Christian community.

May we embrace the positive side of Christian cohort and guard against its wrong use.

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

Making Personal Connections (Visiting Church #41)

“Hi, are you the DeHaans?” The usher’s question surprises me.

“Yes, we are.” I nod, a bit confused, but pleased at his acknowledgment.

“I’m Greg.” Then gesturing towards Candy, he explains, “I answered your email.”

I nod again, this time with a smile. “Thank you so much. It’s nice to meet you, Greg.” We shake hands. Either he took time to Google my wife’s picture or they have few visitors and he assumed the new people matched the name in the email. Regardless, his extra effort honors me.

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

We exchange some quick pleasantries and then head into the sanctuary. With few people milling about and most sitting, we do the same.

The service leans towards formality but in a casual way. We sing hymns with organ accompaniment. Brief bits of liturgy occur throughout. There’s an upbeat song by the choir, followed by a children’s message, prayers, and a sermon.

The minister concludes the service with a blessing as he dismisses us.

We exit the sanctuary, making our way into the fellowship hall for refreshments. We pick up a beverage and snacks; then we look for a place to sit. Many of the tables are full, with the rest hosting people engaged in closed conversations.

I pick an empty table. After a few minutes a woman asks to join us. We gladly welcome her, enjoying a meaningful dialogue as we share our faith journeys.

Our conversation warms my heart. She readily understands our sojourn and is able to engage in discussing the vast variations we’ve encountered along the way.

Just as with our fellowship experience two weeks ago, one person makes the difference between us feeling welcomed and ignored.

Today marks another memorable Sunday at church, celebrating God in community.

[Read about Church #40 and Church #42, start at the beginning of our journey, or learn more about Church #41.]

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

May We Receive the Right Hand of Fellowship

We talked about the four times Paul said to “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” In another curious reference, mentioned only once, he mentions receiving “the right hand of fellowship.”

In modern day context, this phrase seems like a euphemism for a handshake, but I doubt they did that two thousand years ago. With a little imagination I could assume it is a sideways hug of affection using the right hand and arm, but then I have an active imagination.

Several years ago a church we attended used this phrase whenever members joined our assembly. Another use, though my wife disagrees, ties this line to the ritual passing of the fellowship pads during the church service.

Each person, member and visitor alike, was expected to enter his or her name, contact info, and any special needs. Presumably, someone reviewed and compiled all the data each week.

Yet in the Bible context given, “the right hand of fellowship” emerges as more than a greeting, recognition, or formality, but as an honor or affirmation, a spiritual one at that.

While we may not have a good understanding of what it is to extend the right hand of fellowship, I’m quite sure it wasn’t a trivial or rote experience but one of significance. The Bible only notes two people who received it: Paul and Barnabas.

May we follow their example and then perhaps one day we might also receive the right hand of fellowship.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Galatians 1-3, and today’s post is on Galatians 2:9]

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.