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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 Laity Led Service

Discussing Church 29

As we pull into the church parking lot, we realize our daughter attended preschool here, many years ago. What we don’t know is that we will experience a laity led service.

Consider these four discussion questions about Church #29:

1. We amble in and one woman approaches us and mutters to herself, “Where’s the guest registry?” She moves toward an ornate wooden stand that holds nothing. As she searches for the missing book, I walk past her. 

How ready is your church to receive visitors?

2. The minister is gone, and a member fills in. Though not an accomplished speaker, I applaud what she’s doing. In fact, members lead the entire morning. It is a laity led service. 

Can your church hold a service without your minister or staff? If not, what should you do?

3. They invite kids to come forward for the children’s message as music plays. Though the song is appropriate for preschoolers, the five who come forward are much older: later elementary through high school. 

What traditions does your church persist in even though it no longer makes sense?

4. During the message, someone passes us a clipboard with a sign-in sheet. I watch the clipboard weave its way in the rows ahead of us. I’m so distracted that I never reconnect with our speaker. 

What church practices distract people from hearing the message and worshiping God?

[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

Church Happens Anyway (Visiting Church #36)

We arrive at church to find an empty lobby. Hearing an amplified voice, we head towards the sound. We find a large sanctuary with 162 chairs and 20 people. Like last week, we slink into a back row. A young woman turns around, smiles broadly, and mouths “hello.”

I assume Sunday school is running late, but if that’s the case, it’s lasted 90 minutes. The speaker makes a few concluding remarks and asks everyone to stand.

52 Churches, by Peter DeHaan

He publically acknowledges the presence of visitors and apologizes that there is no church service today, just Sunday school. Their minister had an emergency and they canceled church. He hopes we’ll visit another time.

After a short prayer, the people begin leaving. The young woman comes up and greets us, embarrassed for there being no service. With a late starting time of 11:30, there’s no opportunity to go elsewhere, so we linger to talk.

Our new friend shares her faith journey. Her testimony encourages me. Perhaps we’ll have church after all, unofficially so. She introduces others and we learn a bit about their history.

She asks if I know what an apostolic church is. We’ve been to several claiming that label but possessing little in common. “It seems apostolic means different things to different people,” I say. She nods and then explains their doctrine.

Then she shares God’s work in her life, including starting a youth program, leading worship, performing clerical tasks at church, and preparing for next week’s Christmas program. She smiles with joy as she speaks of her faith in action.

Though a formal church service did not occur, an informal fellowship did. We proclaimed Jesus, worshiped the Father, and celebrated the Holy Spirit—and it all happened without any music or sermon.

[Read about Church #35 and Church #37, start at the beginning of our journey, or learn more about Church #36.]

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 Laity Led Service (Visiting Church #29)

The lighting of three candles ceremonially begins today’s service. The pastor is gone and a lay speaker is filling in. She opens with announcements and some updates. Then we sing to organ accompaniment.

Another layperson leads us in a liturgical call to worship. We sing a second song and a bell choir follows, which is a first for our journey

52 Churches, by Peter DeHaan

Then is a time of greeting. Many people flash wide smiles and give warm handshakes. The scripture reading is next with two selections from today’s lectionary: Job 42:1-6, 10-17 and Mark 10:46-52. Prior to each reading, the leader explains the context of the passage.

Afterwards we sing a third song to welcome the children forward for their message, given by yet another member; it’s based on the reading from Mark. The chancel choir is next, with their song preceding the message.

Today’s speaker connects the two readings, which she ties in with a poignant personal story. She wrote out her presentation and reads most of it. Though she’s not an accomplished speaker, I commend her actions.

Afterwards, she reviews a list of prayer requests and joys, followed by her reading of a liturgical prayer. The bell choir returns to play during the offering.

The congregation responds with applause, which also happened for the chancel choir and our speaker. They’re an appreciative group, supporting one another.

To conclude our time together, we sing the doxology and recite a prayer of dedication. A hymn of commitment follows and then the benediction, both using the piano. Someone extinguishes the candles, ceremonially ending the service.

The entire service, led solely by church members, proceeds without the participation of clergy or a guest speaker. This, it seems, is how it should be.

[Read about Church #28 and Church #30, start at the beginning of our journey, or learn more about Church #29.]

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

More Youthful Worship (Visiting Church #27)

We arrive at church about ten minutes early, and after milling about for a while, we sit down.

A mostly youthful praise team assembles on the stage to worship God, which is a mere eight inches high; the low ceiling allows for little more. In addition to three who play guitar, there’s one on bass, a drummer, and two backup vocalists.

The lead vocalist is also one of the guitarists. They’re accomplished but without a showy polish. They play and sing with energy and are some of the best we’ve experienced.

52 Churches, by Peter DeHaan

Worship God

We’re encouraged to worship God any way we wish, be it to dance, raise our arms, kneel, or even prostrate ourselves. For the second time in the last two weeks, a young child sings loudly and off-key but with unabashed enthusiasm.

I love it and hope no one ever squashes his zeal of singing to God.

The three-song set lasts for about thirty minutes. Although lyrically repetitious, it’s also a visual worship experience. Many dance, some in the aisle and a few in front of the stage. Theirs is an exuberant expression of joy, which I vicariously experience.

One of the backup vocalist, perhaps in middle school, jumps and dances with abandon as she sings, full of energy and passion and joy. With an occasional arm raised heavenward and an effervescent smile of delight, she often looks up as she praises God.

It’s as if she sees Jesus and is smiling at him. Her angelic face ushers me into the presence of God. It’s a beautiful thing.

Following this is a time of testimony, prayer, and then preaching. The service ends and we head home, remembering this group of amazing young people who showed us how to worship God in spirit and in truth ( John 4:24).

[Read about Church #26 and Church #28, start at the beginning of our journey, or learn more about Church #27.]

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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Christian Living

Why Do We Listen to a Sunday Sermon at Church Each Week?

The Bible offers little support for a minister to preach a sermon to us at church

Many changes occurred in church practices because of the Protestant Reformation some 500 years ago. One of those changes adjusted the emphasis of the Sunday service.

The reformers had concern over the focus of Sunday gatherings being on the altar and the celebration of the Eucharist. They intentionally shifted the focus away from that and to the sermon. I understand why they did it, but I think they were wrong.

When Jesus said, “do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19, NIV), he provided the basis for us to celebrate communion. This gives biblical support for us to periodically observe the Lord’s Supper as part of our gatherings, be it on Sundays or at other times.

However, I don’t see any biblical command to have a paid minister preach a sermon to a local congregation each Sunday. In fact, I see little biblical support for this. Here’s what I do see in the Bible:

Preach to Those Outside the Church

Jesus told his followers to go around and tell others about him. He said to “preach the Gospel” (Mark 16:15, NIV). Here’s a direct command from Jesus to preach, but the setting isn’t inside the church walls, it’s outside the confines of the church, in the real world.

Although this gives a command to preach, we miss the point. The teaching Jesus talks about isn’t to those who are already on his team, it’s to those who aren’t.

Teach New Converts

In Acts we see the apostles holding regular classes to teach about what it means to follow Jesus (Acts 2:42). Since back then almost everyone was new to the faith, think of this as a new members class. Note that this is an example of what the church did, not a command to do it.

This teaching is optional, but if we do it the focus is likely on new converts.

Give Updates

Another example in the New Testament of people speaking to local congregations is when traveling missionaries or church delegations visited local churches. They spoke to the people to update them on what was happening elsewhere and to share stories of God at work.

The purpose of these talks seems to be to offer status reports and provide encouragement. Again we see this as an example of what the early church did, but there’s no command for us to do likewise.

In these three scenarios we see people speaking either in the church or outside it. But nowhere do we see a command for clergy to preach to a local congregation in church each Sunday. So why, then, do we have a weekly sermon?

The people in the church should minister to one another, not have paid clergy preach them a sermon. Click To Tweet

What should we do differently?

Paul answers this in his letter to the church in Corinth. He says when we gather together each person should be ready to share a song, teaching, revelation, tongue, or interpretation. The purpose of this is to build up the church (1 Corinthians 14:26).

Paul’s instruction, his command, is that the people in the church should minister to one another, not have paid clergy preach them a sermon. With such little biblical support to have a professional minister deliver a sermon on Sunday mornings, maybe it’s time for us to abandon the practice.

Instead let us begin ministering to one another as the Bible instructs.

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.