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Christian Living

Who Goes to Your Church?

The Number of First-Time Church Attendees Says Much about Your Congregation

Consider the people who go to your church. They fall into three categories. The first group are those who came to your church from another church. The second constituency consists of people who’ve gone there their entire life. The final type are first-time church attendees.

The second and third categories are small at many churches, with most of the people who go there coming from other churches. Most every church I been part of or have visited fits this pattern.

The result is that churches are largely—sometimes exclusively—comprised of people who came from other churches.

Church Shuffling

The result of this isn’t overall church growth but a migration of believers. It’s church shuffling. Yes, some churches grow because of shuffling people, while others shrink for the same reason. Yet the net result is overall zero church growth.

As a result, most churches gain attendance and members at the expense of other churches, which means that those churches lose attendees and members. This isn’t growing the kingdom of God but merely reshuffling it.

This shuffling of church members doesn’t accomplish anything to grow the kingdom of God or honor him in the process. These churches aren’t growing because of conversions; they’re not attracting first-time attenders.

Growth through First-Time Church Attendees

God-honoring growth comes not at the expense of other congregations, but when someone who doesn’t go to church starts attending.

Though some may have had a pre-existing relationship with Jesus but weren’t part of a faith community, most of these people have either just begun to follow Jesus or are checking him out.

They represent true church growth. And it’s absent at most gatherings. These churches have few converts. Instead, they have a different purpose in mind for church.

Meeting Needs

Churches that experience growth at the expense of other churches may justify this with the argument that “we’re just meeting people’s needs” or “we’re simply providing them what they want—and their old church didn’t.”

There is a bit of truth to this, but it’s a marketing mentality. This approach targets people using a consumer mindset and not a kingdom perspective.

Do you want to build a church dependent on marketing strategies or one that specializes on making Jesus-following disciples? Click To Tweet

Do you want to build a church dependent on marketing strategies or one that specializes on making Jesus-following disciples?

Don’t pursue church growth by shuffling members. Instead seek to grow with first-time church attendees and truly expand the kingdom of God.

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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Christian Living

Who Says We Should Give 10 Percent to the Local Church?

Fundamentalist preachers twist what the Bible says and misapply it for their own benefit

I was taught to give 10 percent of my money to church. I’ve heard many evangelical preachers assert that their followers had to give 10 percent to the local church. It was a tithe, an obligation. You could, of course, give more.

That was a voluntary offering, but the 10 percent baseline was a requirement. If you failed to do so, it was a sin.

Says who?

It turns out the preachers who proclaim the 10-percent-to-the-local-church rule made it up. They want to fund their operation and ensure their paycheck.

Seriously, it’s not in the Bible.

The Bible never says to give 10 percent of our money to the local church. It’s not a command or even a guideline. Any place the New Testament mentions a tithe it’s in reference to the Old Testament Law, which Jesus fulfilled.

And don’t forget that the Old Testament tithe was from the harvest, not a paycheck. It was to the national temple, not a local assembly. Besides that, how many of the other 613 Old Testament Laws do you follow? Not many, I suspect.

So if you want to re-interpret the Old Testament and forget that Jesus fulfilled it, go ahead and tithe as a legalistic requirement. Just don’t act like it is an obligation or command others to do so.

The New Testament never says to give 10 percent to the local church. Click To Tweet

Here’s what the New Testament has to say:

In the New Testament we see a principle of stewardship, of carefully using what God blesses us with to help those around us. If you feel God calling you to give 10 percent to your local church, than go ahead and do it. But know that the Bible doesn’t command it. (It doesn’t prohibit it either.)

What I see in the Bible is a clear principle to help the poor and assist those who go outside the church to tell others about Jesus.

May our focus be on advancing the kingdom of God more so than on perpetuating the manmade institution of what many today call church.

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

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

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Christian Living

Do You Go to a Missional Church? Are You Missional?

Make Sure That What You Do Advances the Kingdom of God

Many people talk about being a missional church (and a missional follower of Jesus). This is an ideal goal, yet people have different understandings about what it means to be missional. Before giving a holistic definition of this often-misunderstood word, let’s first look what it is not.

Missional Is Not a Mission Statement

Too many churches think that having a mission statement automatically means they’re a missional church. But there’s seldom a connection between their formal declaration of intent and its effective outcome.

Even including the word missional in a mission statement doesn’t count. Claiming to be missional falls far short of producing true missional results.

Missional Is Not Merely an Attitude

Beyond mission statements, having an attitude of mission is a good start, but thinking falls far short from doing. Being mission minded is an essential foundation to launch from, but we must put our faith into action to help others.

Missional Is Not Providing Financial Support to Missionaries

Giving money to support missionaries to go throughout the world and proclaim Jesus is an ideal use of funds. It is not, however, missional. Instead, it’s paying someone else to be missional in your place.

Yes, missionaries need money so they can focus on telling others about Jesus and advance his kingdom. (Notice I didn’t say grow a church.) Both we and our churches will do well to support missionaries, but don’t for a minute think this gets us off the hook for being missional ourselves.

Remember, Scripture says that faith without deeds is dead (James 2:14-26). Don’t have an ineffective, unproductive faith.

Missional Is Not Internal Programs

Another common fallacy is thinking that having internal church programs qualifies as being a missional church. Yes, some churches have their doors open every day of the week for some program, initiative, or gathering. But with rare exception, each one of these programs has an internal focus, seeking to serve church members and attendees, while doing nothing to benefit the surrounding community.

These programs are inward focused, self-serving, and selfish.

Consider your church budget. After removing salaries and facility expenses, look at what’s left—if anything. How much of this remaining sliver of donations goes to internal needs versus how much goes to outward-facing, community initiatives? For most churches, the answer is zero.

God-honoring mission is outward focused, serves others, and gives without expectation. This is what it means to be a missional church. Click To Tweet

Missional Church Is Outward Facing Action

True kingdom-growing mission is the opposite of internal programs geared toward the flock. God-honoring mission is outward focused, serves others, and gives without expectation. This is what it means to be a missional church.

Do your part to advance the kingdom of God. Pursue this missional mindset individually and as a group. This is necessary because a missional church is comprised of missional people.

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 You Think Like an Exile? Do You Act Like a Foreigner?

If You Are a Citizen of the Kingdom of God, Then You Live Here as an Alien

Peter writes his first letter to Christians scattered about in pagan cities. He first calls them exiles (1 Peter 1:1). He also refers to them as foreigners (1 Peter 2:11). Though foreigner is accurate, I prefer the label of alien. It has an otherworldly connotation.

The point is that they don’t fit in where they are. They are outsiders subsisting in a society that doesn’t understand their thinking and their way of life. They live in a culture that is opposed to Jesus.

Peter doesn’t tell them they need to adapt and settle down. Instead he tells them to live careful lives, hold onto their awe of God, and refrain from immorality. They are to persist as foreigners, as if they are just passing through—because they are.

If you are a citizen of the kingdom of God, then you live here as a foreigner. Click To Tweet

Foreigner or Citizen?

They are citizens of the Kingdom of God, children of the King of kings. Their allegiance is to God. Their real domicile, their eternal home, is in heaven. Holding onto this perspective, they realize they are here for the short-term.

With eyes fixed on Jesus, they maintain their earthly status as foreigners, as exiles, and as aliens—both in an actual physical sense and with a faith-filled, future-focused, spiritual expectation.

I wonder how well I do to live like that.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is 1 Peter 1-3, and today’s post is on 1 Peter 1:17.]

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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Christian Living

Jesus Talked about the Kingdom of God and We Made a Church

What if Jesus Never Intended His Followers to Form a Church as we Know it Today?

I looked at where the Bible talks about the kingdom of God and where it talks about church. What I learned is shocking. Jesus teaches about the kingdom of God, not church.

These are New Testament Considerations

Both the church and the kingdom of God (along with the kingdom of Heaven) are New Testament concepts. None of these terms occur in the Old Testament. Since Jesus comes to fulfill the Law (Matthew 5:17), the kingdom of God must be one way he intends to do so.

Jesus Teaches about the Kingdom of God, not Church

Jesus talks much about the kingdom of God (Heaven) and little about the church: fifty-four times versus three. Clearly Jesus focuses his teaching on the kingdom of God. If the kingdom of God is so important to Jesus, it should be important to us as well.

If the kingdom of God was so important to Jesus, it should be important to us, too. Click To Tweet

A Change Occurs in Acts

A transition of emphasis happens in the book of Acts, with twenty-one mentions of church and only six mentions of the kingdom of God. Early on Jesus’s followers shift their focus from the kingdom of God to the church.

This is logical because a church is a tangible result while the kingdom of God is a more ethereal concept. But just because this is a logical shift, that doesn’t make it right.

Jesus’s Followers Focus on Church

The rest of the New Testament (Romans through Revelation) emphasizes church over the kingdom of God: ninety times versus eight.

Even though the early followers of Jesus favor the practice of church over the concept of the kingdom of God, the fact remains that their practice of church then is far different from ours today.

Today’s church should push aside her traditions and practices to replace them with what Jesus teaches about the kingdom of God. It will change everything.

(Here’s the background:

The word church occurs 114 times in the Bible, all in the New Testament. Of the four accounts of Jesus, church only occurs in Matthew and then just three times. Acts, the book about the early church, mentions church twenty-one times.

The word church occurs in the majority of the rest of the New Testament books (fifteen of them).

Instead of church, Jesus talks about the kingdom of God. The phrase, kingdom of God, occurs sixty-eight times in the Bible, again, all in the New Testament.

The majority of occurrences are in the four biographies of Jesus, accounting for fifty-four of its sixty-eight appearances. Acts mentions the kingdom of God six times, with only eight occurrences popping up in the rest of the New Testament.

Matthew generally writes using the kingdom of Heaven instead of the kingdom of God. He uses kingdom of Heaven thirty-one times and is the only writer in the Bible to use this phrase.

By comparing parallel passages in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, we see the same account with the only difference being that Matthew writes kingdom of Heaven whereas Mark and Luke use kingdom of God.

Clearly Matthew, the only biblical writer to use kingdom of Heaven, equates it to kingdom of God. Additionally Matthew uses the kingdom of God five times.

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

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

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.

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Bible Insights

The Kingdom of Heaven or the Kingdom of God?

Kingdom of Heaven versus Kingdom of God

The phrase “the Kingdom of God” is synonymous with “the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Some writers in the Bible simply prefer one over the other; it is not meant to designate two different concepts or kingdoms.  (Mark and Luke used “Kingdom of God,” whereas Matthew used “Kingdom of heaven.”)

Jesus explains about the Kingdom of God/Heaven through parables. Click To Tweet

These phrases can perhaps be best understood by considering that Jesus desires to brings heaven’s rule to earth. Under his rule, there are benefits and responsibilities to his subjects—the church.

Jesus explains about the Kingdom of God/Heaven through parables:

Consider how do these parables can change our view of God and our relationship to him.

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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Christian Living

What is the Kingdom of God?

Eternal Life Begins Today (Not When We Die)

Jesus often talks about the kingdom of God (the kingdom of heaven). He talks about how close the kingdom of God is, saying that it’s near and even that it’s here. How do we understand this immediacy of the kingdom of God in our life today? Is this just a euphemism for heaven? Does it mean eternal life?

If so, how could it have been near 2,000 years ago but now something we anticipate for our future?

The Kingdom of God is More Than Heaven

Though an aspect of the kingdom of God looks forward to our eternity with Jesus in heaven, there’s more to it than that. For those of us who follow Jesus, we must view eternal life as both a present and a future reality. But this is just the beginning.

The Kingdom of God is Jesus

When Jesus tells his disciples that the kingdom of God is nearby and even that it has arrived, he could have been talking about himself. After all, if Jesus personifies the kingdom of God, then he is in fact close by and present.

We will do well to consider Jesus as the kingdom of God, but we limit our understanding if we don’t expand our comprehension of it.

The Kingdom of God is Salvation

Jesus’s arrival on earth is good news. It’s still good news today. If we follow Jesus as his disciples, this good news is ours. It’s our salvation, both present and future. The kingdom of God is about Jesus and the salvation he provides, but there’s more.

The Kingdom of God is a Lifestyle

The kingdom of God is also about us. Just as Jesus and the salvation he offers is part of the kingdom of God, so too are we. However, this isn’t an intellectual standing for us to enjoy, it’s a lifestyle. To be part of the kingdom of God means living a life for Jesus, to honor him, glorify him, and point people to him.

The kingdom of God is about eternal life and that eternal life begins today, not when we die and go to heaven. Click To Tweet

Embracing Eternal Life

Yes, the kingdom of God is about our eternity in heaven, but it’s also about our present reality on earth. The kingdom of God is about Jesus and his salvation, along with a life we lead in response to his free gift to us.

The kingdom of God is about eternal life and that eternal life begins today, not when we die and go to heaven. Heaven is just phase two of eternal life.

We’re living in phase one today—at least we should be. Are you?

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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Christian Living

How to Discover Your Spiritual Gifts

God Gives Us Special Abilities to Advance His Kingdom

The topic of spiritual gifts confuses many people and perplexes others. It’s easy to understand a physical present, something we can put in a box, wrap, and put a bow on. Giving tangible objects as gifts is easy to comprehend—and to receive.

The disconnect comes as we move from the physical to the spiritual. God gives us spiritual gifts. These are significantly more important than a physical present anyone could ever offer. But these presents don’t come in a nicely gift-wrapped package, presented to us on a special occasion.

In the post What Are Spiritual Gifts? I offer a basic framework. God provides us with special abilities to grow his kingdom. These come from the Holy Spirit and are for our common good, divinely allocated as needed.

In each local church, we are one body made up of various parts. God equips each of us to do our part for his church. One way he does this is by supernaturally giving us special abilities.

To assist us in comprehending these spiritual presents, some examples will help us better understand. Bible scholars list spiritual gifts. Based on Scripture, they come up with between nine and twenty-three divine gifts, sometimes more.

Though this finite catalog of spiritual gifts is a smart place to begin, I don’t view any list as absolute. If it were, Paul would certainly have given them all in one place. He records thirteen for the church in Corinth and them tacks on four more.

He adds another quartet of gifts in his letter to the church in Rome and two more to the church in Ephesus. We can also find additional gifts in other New Testament books, as well as in the Old Testament.

We should view any list, regardless of its length, as the starting point and not the end. The basic truth about spiritual gifts is that the Holy Spirit will provide Jesus’s followers with special abilities to advance the kingdom of God.

May God lead you into discovering and using your spiritual gifts. Click To Tweet

How to Learn Your God-Given Gifts

If you want to discover what your gifts are, one option is to do a spiritual gifts assessment. There are both online resources and books that can help you determine your special abilities. One such book is Discover Your Spiritual Gifts by C. Peter Wagner, as well as many others.

Another discovery option is to ask close friends what areas of giftedness they see in you. Even better, ask the Holy Spirit to reveal this to you.

Whichever path you take, may God lead you into discovering and using the gifts God has given you.

Regardless of what our spiritual gifts are, our job becomes to receive these divine presents and use them for their intended purpose.

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

Demas, the Deserter

Learn More about Demas

Whereas John-Mark had an early collapse and then made a comeback, Demas started strong but ended in failure.

He began well. In Paul’s letter to Philemon, Demas is called a co-worker and in Paul’s letter to the Colossians, Demas sends his greetings. Clearly he was involved with Paul’s ministry in a helpful and supportive role.

However, in one of Paul’s darker moments, he sadly laments that Demas “loved the world” and “deserted me.” Despite his one-time standing as a co-laborer of Paul, the man did not finish well.

Jesus said, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” Demas first looked back and then he went back, turning his back on Paul, on ministry, and on God.

Looking to our past, we see both successes and failures. Today we stand at a crossroads. What will our future look like? Click To Tweet

Unlike John/Mark who started poorly and finished strong, Demas started well and finished poorly.

Looking on our past, we see both successes and failures. Today we stand at a crossroads. What will our future look like? Will we turn our back on our faith like Demas or finish well like John-Mark?

May it not be said of use that we loved the world more than God or that we deserted our friends and colaborers when they needed us the most.

[References: Philemon 1:24, Colossians 4:14, 2 Timothy 4:10, Luke 9:62.]

Read about more biblical characters in The Friends and Foes of Jesus, now 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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Christian Living

9 Perspectives That We Must Change about Church

Re-examine Our Church Practices from a Biblical Viewpoint

Over the past few months, I published a series of posts about assumptions we should change about church.

Here is a list of all nine:

9 perspectives to change about church. Click To Tweet
  1. We Don’t Need a Church Building
  2. Exploring Church Staff from a Biblical Perspective
  3. How Much Money Does the Church Need?
  4. The Fallacy of Church Membership
  5. Seek First the Kingdom of God
  6. How Important Is Seminary for Today’s Church Leaders?
  7. We Must Rethink Sunday School
  8. Love God and Love Others: A Call to Christian Unity
  9. Make Disciples Not Converts

What perspectives should you change about your view of church? Pick the assumption that most convicts you and work to reform it, first in your mind and then in your practice.

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

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

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