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52 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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52 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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52 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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52 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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52 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, by Peter DeHaan

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.

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52 Churches

I Want to Learn More (Visiting Church #28)

Sunday we visit another small church. I expect a traditional, liturgical service. The sanctuary is simple, filled with color and symbolism. Several lit candles mesmerize as incense fills the air. A worshipful instrumental piece, courtesy of a CD, plays in the background.

The music stops and the opening liturgy begins. We hear the minister but don’t see him. He enters the sanctuary and performs a series of rituals, perhaps preparing the altar for worship. His actions produce a mystical aura, both comforting and confusing.

52 Churches, by Peter DeHaan

Ornately attired, he wears a combination of what I suspect a priest and a rabbi might wear for their respective services. The liturgy progresses and we follow along in the Book of Services: The Celtic Episcopal Church.

One member has already prepared us for the liturgy. Now, each time the service jumps to a new section in the book, she slides up behind us, whispering the page numbers. We appreciate her assistance.

To start his message, the minister looks at the congregation for the first time. He smiles, suddenly affable. The service, once solemn, now becomes casual. The sudden switch from the formal to informal confronts me with a contrast I can’t fully grasp.

His concise message lasts only ten minutes. Then we celebrate communion and with more liturgy, conclude the service in the original reserved manner. Without any singing, the meeting ends an hour after it started.

Although most foreign to me, this tiny church and their worship intrigues me. I want to learn the meaning behind their rituals, understand the history of their practices, and discover the rhythm of their liturgy. It’s there but will take repeated exposure for me to grasp and then to embrace it.

Though they worship God much differently than is my normal my practice, it’s no less viable and offers valuable illumination. I want to learn more.

[Read about Church #27 and Church #29, start at the beginning of our journey, or learn more about Church #28.]

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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52 Churches

A Time of Transition (Visiting Church #23)

We attend a contemporary service at a Presbyterian church. Their interim minister gives a message on “Listening to God”; today is his first official day on the job. Their former minister of twelve years left a few weeks ago and they are in a time of transition.

This interim cleric is their “in between pastor” and not a candidate to become their regular one.

His message from Matthew 43:1-17 (the parable of the sower) provides encouragement for this season in their church. He says this is not a time to coast until a replacement arrives. It must be “business as usual.”

52 Churches, by Peter DeHaan

While most “congregations are too pastor dependent,” this one is an exception, with their former leader training them to not rely on him or need him to function.

They are well prepared to make this transition. “The new pastor should find us fully engaged” when he arrives. “In the interim, we will listen to God.”

At the end of the service, they hold a brief congregational meeting to confirm the pastoral selection committee. Nonmembers may stay and observe. A team of ten, a nice cross-section of the congregation, is presented for approval.

Afterwards is a time of fellowship. We spend much of it talking with two longtime members. They confirm their former minister equipped them well for this time. They have great respect for him, as well as for their interim pastor. They expect to be just fine.

As we make our way to the door, we meet more people, who confirm what we’ve just learned: this congregation is ready to navigate their time between ministers.

I heartily agree and pray for God’s blessing on them.

[Read about Church #22 and Church #24, start at the beginning of our journey, or learn more about Church #23.]

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.