Categories
Christian Living

What Should Our Pastors Expect from Us?

We Must Give Our Spiritual Leaders Our Support

The post “What Should We Expect from Our Pastors?” looks at the wrong expectations too many parishioners place on their ministers. Now let’s look at the ways we should support our spiritual leaders, the things our ministers deserve to receive from us.

Pray for Them

We should first support our pastors with our prayers. In many of his letters Paul asks his recipients to “pray for us” (Colossians 4:3, 1 Thessalonians 5:25, and 2 Thessalonians 3:1). So do the writers of Hebrews (Hebrews 13:18).

Another time, Paul confirms that the prayers of the people helped protect him and his team (2 Corinthians 1:10-11).

Paul says we’re to pray for our government officials (1 Timothy 2:1-2). Even more so we should pray for our spiritual leaders.

Though the first group primarily impacts the physical parts of our lives, the second group addresses the spiritual aspects. While our physical nature will end, our spiritual nature will continue forever. It matters most.

Encourage Them

We can support our pastors by encouraging them. We should encourage them just as we want to be encouraged (Matthew 7:12).

Scripture repeatedly instructs us to encourage one another (2 Corinthians 13:11, 1 Thessalonians 4:18, 1 Thessalonians 5:11, and Hebrews 3:13). This includes our ministers and those who guide us spiritually.

And not only should we encourage our ministers, but we should also extend this same support to their families. The command to encourage one another covers them too.

Praise Them

We may not think of praising our ministers, but the work they do to advance the Kingdom of God is praiseworthy.

Though we should guard against assuming they can do no wrong and placing them on a lofty pedestal no one deserves, we must avoid the opposite. But this is what happens when we criticize them.

Yet too often we view everything our pastors do with a critical eye, scrutinizing all they say and do, as well as whatever they don’t say and don’t do. We criticize them. This is the opposite of praising them.

If we share our criticism with others, this is akin to gossip. Many Christians excel in gossip. They claim sharing this information helps others to better pray.

In truth, they’re simply gossiping, something Paul decries (Romans 1:29 and 2 Corinthians 12:20).

Our ministers deserve a double honor (1 Timothy 5:17). We should, therefore, support our pastors by rightly praising them and withholding criticism and gossip.

Offer Them Grace

Next, we support our pastors when we offer them grace. And this extends to their spouses and their children—especially their spouses and their children.

In his great love for us, God extends us his grace (1 Corinthians 1:3-4). We should offer this same grace to others, especially our spiritual leaders.

Pay Them

Last, we also support our pastors in a tangible way when we pay them. Paul writes that a worker deserves his wages (1 Timothy 5:18). Though this is a good principle to apply to all workers, the context pertains to our spiritual leaders.

Too often I’ve heard of people who consciously withhold their tithes and offerings to show their displeasure over something their minister did or didn’t do, said or didn’t say. This shouldn’t be.

Yes, some pastors do fall short, just as we all do. But we shouldn’t use money as a punishment-and-reward system to manipulate our pastor’s behavior. Instead, we should trust them to follow God’s leading in how they lead us.

Support Our Pastors

We support our spiritual leaders when we pray for them, encourage them, praise them, offer them grace, and pay them. They deserve nothing less. They deserve all this and more.

Consider what changes you should make to better support your spiritual leaders.

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.

Bogged Down Reading the Bible?

10 Essential Bible Reading Tips, from Peter DeHaan

Get the Bible Reading Tip Sheet: “10 Tips to Turn Bible Reading from Drudgery to Delight.”

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Categories
Christian Living

What Should We Expect from Our Pastors?

People Too Often Make Unreasonable Demands of Their Church Leaders

Surveys confirm that many ministers are overwhelmed, burnt out, and unhappy with their work. Many of them think about leaving the ministry, and some do.

They reason that there are better ways to earn a living, and they’re probably right. A big reason for this is that parishioners expect too much from their spiritual leaders.

Here are some things we expect from our pastors, even though we should not:

Always Available

When we call, we expect our pastors to answer, and to do so with a smile. It doesn’t matter when. When we email, we expect them to reply. And when we text them, we expect a response.

When we request to meet with them over a “concern,” we assume they’ll schedule an appointment—and soon. When we have a crisis, we insist they be there to support us. They must always have time for us. And if they don’t, they must make time.

In short, when we say jump, we expect them to jump. We presume they’re our on-demand support person for any situation at any time.

Give Flawless Sermons

We also expect our pastors to deliver impeccable messages. Their sermons must be engaging, easy to follow, and make us feel good about ourselves, without confronting what we do or think. If they make us squirm, they’re to blame.

They must be articulate, never misspeak, and evoke appropriate emotion without being too passionate or too dry. Their delivery must be textbook perfect.

Agree with Our Views

We also assume our pastors will agree with us. This goes beyond biblical interpretation and theology. It extends into politics, finances, and family.

If they preach a sermon that doesn’t align with our understanding of Scripture or expresses a view we disagree with, we’re quick to take offense. The disconnect is their problem and not ours.

We forget there’s value in other perspectives aside from our own. We’ve lost the art of hearing what others say with an open mind. And we can no longer embrace counter opinions as having value.

Be Present at Every Event

We, of course, expect our ministers to officiate every wedding and every funeral. And we anticipate they will do their part flawlessly. Any deviation from perfection justifies us taking offense at their conduct.

Beyond that they must be present every time the church doors are open.

They must accept every invitation to our parties and celebrations. Once there, they must be ready to offer a public prayer at any moment.

And at each one of these events, we scrutinize everything they say and do. Even worse is when they don’t say or do what we expect them to.

Have Perfect Families

Not only do we scrutinize our ministers over every word and action, we do the same for their families.

Their spouses must be beyond reproach, conducting themselves with precision, exemplifying excellence in every way and situation.

Likewise, their children must be well behaved at all times. They must never act up, rebel, or fail to be a positive example for our children.

Though we’re quick to offer our own offspring grace when they fall short, we hold our pastors’ kids to a higher standard.

Final Thoughts about What We Expect from Our Pastors

Though these expectations exist at all churches, they may be more pronounced at smaller ones, especially when the minister is the only staff person. Even so, parishioners at larger congregations also carry unwarranted expectations for their ministers.

We should remember that our spiritual leaders are people just like us. The things we expect from our pastors should be no more than what we expect from ourselves and are willing to do for others.

We should offer our ministers the same grace that God offers us. We should love them as Jesus loves us.

Anything less is unacceptable.

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.

Bogged Down Reading the Bible?

10 Essential Bible Reading Tips, from Peter DeHaan

Get the Bible Reading Tip Sheet: “10 Tips to Turn Bible Reading from Drudgery to Delight.”

​Enter your info and receive the free Bible Reading Tip Sheet and be added to Peter’s email list.

Categories
Visiting Churches

The Church with a Fresh Spin

Breathing Life into Old Practices

The three churches nearest to us—The Closest Church, The Traditional Denominational Church, and The Church with the Fundamental Vibe—all have traditional-sounding names, meet in traditional-looking buildings, and have traditional-style services.

Shopping for Church: Searching for Christian Community, a Memoir

I want a church with a fresh spin.

A Denominational Connection

This church, only 1.8 miles away and just past The Fundamental Church, boasts a nontraditional name. Though their building still looks like a church, it’s not as typical. I wonder if their service will likewise break from status quo religion.

They are from the same denomination as The Outlier Congregation and The Traditional Denominational Church. I wonder which one they’ll be more like. At last, we can find out.

On a corner, I’m not sure where their drive is. Candy points straight ahead, but I turn the corner. Only then do we see a drive off each street. A small church bus drops off riders under the awning that shelters the main entrance.

I wheel around and park in a nearby space, eager to get inside. Candy is in less of a hurry.

A Warm Welcome

Greeted at the door, the man knows we’re visitors and welcomes us warmly. Inside, many more acknowledge our presence with a nod, a wave, or a handshake.

No one asks if we’re visiting. They all know. What several ask is if we’re new to the area, while a few cautiously inquire if we’re looking for a church.

We move into the sanctuary, which is the shape of a gymnasium.

A high open ceiling, painted black, and dark walls provide a spartan feel, while the well-lit, laid-back atmosphere draws me in. Round tables, circled with chairs, fill the back and partway up the sides, while rows of folding chairs line the front.

The pastor, in casual attire and with an unassuming persona, welcomes us. He shares his first name but doesn’t reveal his title. I’m so pleased to meet a minister who doesn’t need to tie his identity with what he does or his credentials. This is a fresh spin.

This man possesses both the confidence and the humility to be Gene, a person just like me, without any label to erect an unbiblical distinction between us. I immediately like him.

The tables are inviting, but I don’t want to sit on the periphery. I yearn to be closer to the action. We move toward the middle of the room, sliding into a center row.

As Candy reads the bulletin, I check out the space. It’s accessible and comfortable, feeling as much like a pleasant place to hang out as it does a church.

Unlike last week, with its predominance of seniors, there are few here today. What I see is a nice range of ages and many kids. Judging by their smiles and laughter, the congregation is excited to be here, eager for the service to begin.

Anticipation permeates the room.

Getting Started

The worship team gathers on stage, elevated by three short steps. Forming a tight circle, they bow their heads in a posture of intercession.

Their example reminds me of what I neglected to do. In anticipation of my visit, I forgot to pray on our way here. Candy didn’t suggest it either. I now bow my head.

The seven people on stage scatter to their positions. A tall man straps on a guitar and opens the service. Around him are a trumpet player, a keyboardist on an electric organ, a drummer, and three female vocalists.

Their sound is upbeat and inviting, something quite different from last week. They lead us in singing contemporary choruses and one updated hymn.

After the opening song set is the official greeting time. This is not the typical moment of rote interaction but an extended period that allows real connections to occur. Then we sing some more.

The Pastor’s Part

The pastor publicly appears for the first time, asking for people to come forward to pray for him and the service. Two people do. I’m pleased to see the laity pray for the congregation and their minister as part of the service. What a fine example they set.

Behind the stage hangs some remarkable artwork, which guides their Lenten services. Reminiscent of the “Stations of the Cross,” an eight-panel mosaic shows Jesus’s journey toward his sacrificial death and ultimate resurrection.

Today is panel four, “Gethsemane.” Referring to Mark 14:32–42, a three-part sermon emerges about reaffirmation, restoration, and revelation.

The pastor, we learn, meets each Thursday morning with a group of guys. There he previews the text for Sunday’s service. He goes there as a participant, not a leader or teacher.

His goal is to listen to their discussion. Some of the men’s insights end up in his message. This is yet another fresh spin on how they do things at this church.

This is just one of the many small tweaks this church makes from the norm of status quo Sunday services. Collectively, these changes add up to provide a fresh experience for me.

Open Mic Time

He ends his message with a prayer and what I think is the closing song. Then they take an offering, during which is an “open mic” time. I cringe a bit, as I’ve often seen these go terribly wrong.

Invariably someone, either well-intentioned or with an agenda, hijacks the mic and subjects the congregation to a barely coherent story or a passionate rant about something few others care about.

Still, I like their bravery to try it, knowing that when this works, it works extremely well. It’s just one more for their efforts to put a fresh spin on their practices.

A young man comes forward, sharing what turns out to be a lengthy set of announcements about the youth group, which seems connected with Young Life. I like them tapping an available resource and not trying to reproduce what already exists.

Another man follows him to talk about a recent short-term mission trip he was on, but I think his real goal is to recruit more people for future trips. Then the pastor prays for things mentioned by both people.

But the service isn’t over.

The minister asks for “prayer servants” to come forward. This may have been the same term he used when soliciting prayer before his message. Two people stand.

Two others rove the audience with handheld mics as people share their needs and joys. After each person speaks, one of the prayer servants intercedes.

As the people reveal what’s on their hearts, I pray silently for them too. Eight people seek prayer. This is a caring, praying congregation that puts biblical faith into action. I so like that.

More Interaction

Now the service is officially over, but the interaction isn’t. Although people prepare to leave, few hurry off. Many tarry to talk, some interacting with us. Most of these conversations are short, but a couple are more intentional, and one is in depth.

Though part of a traditional denomination, this congregation has made several intentional adjustments in their practices to put a fresh spin on old customs, departing from the status quo in enough areas to entice me.

Although I desire an experience that breaks completely with the routines of today’s church culture to reclaim the mindset of the early church, I realize I may not find such a group.

I want to come back.

My wife sees only this church’s connections with their stodgy denomination and can’t move past it. It could be her insight is more accurate than mine. Unlike me, she has no interest in returning. Once was enough.

She makes her pronouncement with enough finality that I know we won’t return.

Takeaway

Look for ways to put a fresh spin on old customs to be more relevant for today’s visitors.

[Read about the next church, or start at the beginning of Shopping for Church.]


Read the full story in Peter DeHaan’s new book Shopping for Church.

Travel along with Peter and his wife as they search for a new Christian community in his latest book, Shopping for Church, part of the Visiting Churches Series.

This book picks up the mantle from 52 Churches, their year-long sabbatical of visiting churches.

Here’s what happens:

My wife and I move. Now we need to find a new church. It’s not as easy as it sounds. She wants two things; I seek three others.

But this time the stakes are higher. I’ll write about the churches we visit, and my wife will pick which one we’ll call home. It sounds simple. What could possibly go wrong?

Categories
Visiting Churches

The Nonconventional Church

Locked Out

We head for a church that meets in an office complex, using space provided by an adoption agency. A former coworker of Candy’s is the teaching elder there. Another of her friends recently started attending this nonconventional church.

The thought of knowing someone at church is a powerful pull.

Shopping for Church: Searching for Christian Community, a Memoir

Lacking a website, they do have a Facebook page. However, aside from oodles of photos and a few dated reviews, there’s only one other thing I can learn about them. However, it’s monumental.

The words quicken my heart. A simple but laden question asks, “What does a church look like when you drop all the programs, masks, facades, and actually learn to love one another in participation of the Way of Christ?”

Sloppy writing aside, this nonconventional church is definitely one I want to check out. They may be the kindred spirits I seek. Dare I hope they’ll live up to the implied promise of their spiritually provocative statement?

Everything Goes Wrong

An early winter snow makes traveling slippery. Wet feathery flakes of white threaten to cover the road, obscuring our visibility. I wonder if we should even be out driving.

Through a mix of partial information and assumptions, we get lost, stumbling on the building by accident once we’ve given up any hope of finding it. We pull into the parking lot six minutes late.

Amid multiple buildings, with a slew of tenants, we spot the adoption agency, but their door is locked. An adjacent entry marked “employee entrance” is locked too.

After wandering around in the cold, wet snow, we finally spot a third entrance in another building that also lists their name. This one, with its double doors, is more promising, but it is likewise shut tight.

Fighting off the fluffy dampness of the falling snow, we walk around the complex, looking for hints of where to go or how to get in. Some sections of the walks are shoveled; most are not.

Random footprints in the snow reveal recent traffic, but they don’t converge on a common entrance or even hint at a way inside. Frustrated, we get back in our car and drive around the facility, looking for their church sign or another entrance to try.

When this yields no new clues, we return to the parking lot.

There are other cars there, so we know people are present. Having given up, I remain in the car.

Candy gets out and presses her ear against the glass in the double doors and hears music emanating from deep inside. She rattles the doors, and even pounds, but garners no response. After waiting in exasperation, she repeats her efforts, this time with more fervor and increased ire.

Flight or Fight?

She returns to the car, fuming. Now twenty-five minutes after the start of their service, my impulse is flight, while hers is to fight. At an impasse and not knowing what else to do, we drive home in silence, wondering how something so simple could go so wrong.

Though we encountered locked doors at some churches, we eventually found one that was open. This time we did not.

Later that day, my wife vents to the teaching elder in a private Facebook message. He apologizes but doesn’t explain the locked doors. He provides a vague description of which entrance we should have used, but if we understand correctly, we tried it.

We’ll attempt to visit them again, arriving early so we can be sure to get inside. This congregation claims to have a different approach to doing church, and I must learn more.

But I’m not sure if I can work past my frustration of being locked out in the cold while the faithful gathered in the warmth inside. I may have already decided against this church, and I haven’t even been to their service.

Part 1 Takeaway

Make sure visitors know where your church is located and what entrance to use.


A Second Chance to Make a First Impression

Try Again

Two weeks later we head back to The Nonconventional Church. The implication that this congregation does church in a different way intrigues me. However, I’m still harboring hurt from them effectively excluding us from their gathering on our first attempt to visit.

Praying for the Service

With two weeks to stew about this, I’m still peeved when we get in the car on Sunday morning. I don’t want to pray for a good attitude. I don’t want to pray for the church service we hope to encounter.

Praying about this, however—I realize too late—is what I should have been doing for the past fourteen days.

I ask Candy to pray. She declines. I grunt out a petition to the Almighty using phrases oft repeated when we head for church:

“May we receive what you would have us to receive. May we give to others what you would have us to give. And may we worship you today in spirit and in truth.” Then I add a begrudging afterthought. “Oh, and give me a good attitude. Yeah. Amen.”

Feeling guilty over my halfhearted prayer, I suspect God isn’t pleased either. I have little hope my pitiful plea, one offered more out of obligation than expectation, will gain much traction with the godhead. I sigh.

New Instructions

Once again Candy had some last-minute communication with her friend at this nonconventional church. Though their Facebook page says 9:30, he assures her it starts at 10 a.m.

Today he tells us to go through the door of a travel agency and not the adoption service. That would have been helpful information last time. At least today we know where the building is.

We also leave early to give us extra time. We hope to time our arrival with other attendees and follow them inside. Unfortunately, Candy’s friend will not be there to look for us. He had a bad encounter with a halibut at dinner last night and is home recovering from food poisoning.

We arrive about ten minutes early, not as early as Candy wanted. Again, there are cars in the parking lot, but we see no people. We sit for a while, waiting for others to arrive. They don’t. We scan the building, searching for the name of the travel agency. We don’t see it.

However, I spot a different travel agency. “Do you think he gave us the wrong name?”

Candy’s not sure, but I think he did. We double-check all the other signs. With no other travel agencies, I assume he misspoke.

We get out of the car and head in that direction. Only when we’re almost to the door do we spot a small, ground-level sign for the church. While most helpful to us now, we had to get out of our car to see it. We would’ve never noticed it from the parking lot.

Inside, to our right, is the inner door to the travel agency. It’s shut and the lights inside are off. To the left is a glow, emanating from a stairwell around the corner. We head toward the light.

Though wide, the stairway is otherwise unimpressive: dirty and well worn. At the bottom we see new construction injected into an old facility. Though the hallway is lit in both directions, we hear people to our left. We head toward the murmuring.

Finding Friends

We approach a hall with trepidation. However, before we make it to the doors, a woman I recently met while volunteering looks up in surprise to see us. She walks to us with intention, offering a hearty greeting. I’m pleased to see someone I know in this new area where I know so few.

As we talk, several of Candy’s friends spot her and come up to welcome us. None of them expected her, but all are pleased we’re visiting. As we talk, we learn more about their situation.

First, this church is about thirty years old and not the startup I assumed. My friend was one of the founding members. The fact that they meet in rented space after three decades encourages me, reinforcing their claim they’re committed to break from church conventions.

Without owning a building, they’re free from the financial burden it entails. The owner of the facility is indeed the adoption agency, so our initial information was correct, though misleading.

The basement recently flooded and is undergoing repairs. It will take a couple more weeks to finish.

The reason no people arrived with us is that they all came at 9 a.m. for Sunday school, with classes for all ages. Each class covers the same topic but with age-appropriate content.

I appreciate this twist, as it allows families to encounter the same curriculum but at accessible levels, providing the opportunity for further discussion at home.

At the same time, I wish they’d broken from the habit of Sunday school, as its original intent—to teach illiterate people how to read—no longer applies. Yet the expectation to provide Sunday school lives on.

A bit overwhelmed by all the attention, I sit down to wait for the service to start. I review the names of people I’ve met, jotting them in my notebook on the page reserved for today’s experience. I suspect I’ll see these folks again, so I work to remember names.

Aside from being in a meeting space in the basement of an office building, the room is configured as expected for a church service. About seventy chairs, set in three sections, are arced to face a podium centered in the front.

Time to Begin

The worship team assembles to the right of the lectern. An impressive drum kit sits in the other corner. Housed in a Plexiglas enclosure, it seems even grander. Couches fill the space behind us, with the soundboard in the back corner.

The service opens with a family reading three Scripture selections and lighting the first Advent candle. They give way to the worship team of nine, a mixture of teens and adults, sporting an eclectic mix of instruments: violin, saxophone, drums, keyboard, guitar, and bass guitar.

The song leader stands behind the podium, directing us with his strong, soothing voice as his arms sway to keep time. Two female backup vocalists stand between him and the instrumentalists. We sing for about thirty minutes, mostly Christmas songs, with a lively crowd-pleaser in the middle.

Part way through the song set is the offering. People walk forward to present their donations, while the rest of us sing. Throughout the singing, many people raise their arms in an act of physical worship.

Because of the flood, there is no children’s church today, and they expect a few more weeks before repairs are complete. The kids, who are many, remain with us for the message. I estimate fifty people present, including the worship team.

It’s a comfortable-sized gathering, with all age groups, though a slight majority are families with younger kids. There also appear to be a few three-generation family units sitting together. I enjoy seeing kids migrate to their grandparents’ laps as the service progresses.

A Last Minute Replacement

With their teaching elder at home recovering from his food poisoning, another member fills in to give today’s lesson. He’s comfortable in front of the group, and though he’s had little time to prepare, he ably fills in, speaking for an hour.

“Advent,” he says, “is a time of waiting.” We wait with hope, in anticipation, and full of excitement. Later he expounds on our time of waiting: “We don’t have what God wants to give us because we didn’t cry out for it.”

He cites a verse in Psalms, but I must have written it down wrong. Later I find nine verses in Psalms with the phrase “cry out,” and I’m not sure which one he cited. Still, his question of “What are we crying out for?” is a convicting one.

The last segment of the service is a time of prayer, with our leader opening it and members who take turns praying. Some come forward and use the mic, while others pray from where they sit—both adults and children.

They direct their words to God and not to impress others or to promote an agenda, which I’ve seen too often in group prayer. Unfortunately, during the periods of silence between the petitions, my mind drifts.

What time is it? How much longer will this last? What’s for lunch?

More Connections; More Community

Our leader offers a concluding prayer, and the service is over, but no one leaves.

Most of the people we talked to earlier come up again to thank us for visiting and invite us back. A few people mention the need for signs to guide visitors to the correct door.

Apparently, our inability to get inside two weeks ago has circulated. While no one mentions our dilemma directly or apologizes, they do acknowledge they’re working to address this problem.

My friend gives me a copy of The Story, which is the basis for their Sunday school lessons. I feel guilty in accepting the gift, but it would be rude to decline. I do, however, appreciate her gesture and sincerely thank her.

Some kids gather around a table in back, playing an intense game of cards. I smile. According to my wife’s fundamental upbringing, these “devil cards” are explicitly forbidden. It would be sacrilegious to play with them at church. Yet here they are.

Despite all the people who welcome us, it only comes from those our age.

None of the younger adults talk to us. While there may be many legitimate reasons for this—ranging from other people for them to greet, the reality we were already welcomed well, or of pressing issues with their children—I feel slighted.

Too many churches unofficially, yet effectively, segregate by age. Though it’s natural for people to gravitate toward those most like them—especially those their age—we have more to gain by interacting with people of different ages, at different life stages.

This is the hallmark of a truly multigenerational church, as this church hints at being.

Eventually we head out, the first to do so. I don’t know how long the others will linger in community. Though I long to do so, too, I don’t know anyone well enough for an in-depth conversation, and I have exhausted all my socially polite talk.

On our way home, we discuss our experience. Without asking her, I know Candy likes the church and wants to go back. While a return visit is in order, I don’t share her level of enthusiasm. Though they’re high on my list, they’re top on my bride’s.

My fear is she’s already decided where she wants to go, while I’m not so sure. Regardless, I know we’ll one day revisit this church.

Part 2 Takeaway

As far as Christian community is concerned, it’s what happens after the service that has the most impact.

[Read about the next church, or start at the beginning of Shopping for Church.]


Read the full story in Peter DeHaan’s new book Shopping for Church.

Travel along with Peter and his wife as they search for a new Christian community in his latest book, Shopping for Church, part of the Visiting Churches Series.

This book picks up the mantle from 52 Churches, their year-long sabbatical of visiting churches.

Here’s what happens:

My wife and I move. Now we need to find a new church. It’s not as easy as it sounds. She wants two things; I seek three others.

But this time the stakes are higher. I’ll write about the churches we visit, and my wife will pick which one we’ll call home. It sounds simple. What could possibly go wrong?

Categories
Christian Living

How Important Is Seminary for Today’s Church Leaders?

Knowing Jesus and Hearing the Holy Spirit Is Better Than Formal Education

Most all churches expect their clergy to have undergone formal, academic education. Many insist on a seminary degree, especially for their ordained ministers. From a worldly standpoint this makes sense. But from God’s perspective I can imagine him laughing.

Look at the credentials of Jesus’s twelve disciples. They were ordinary people, having received no higher education beyond that which all Hebrew children underwent. They had a relationship with Jesus. Their one essential qualification is that they spent time with Jesus.

Don’t miss that. Their one essential qualification is that they spent time with Jesus.

Though today’s leaders can’t spend physical time with Jesus, they can in the spiritual sense. They should. They must. Walking with Jesus in an intimate way and having his Holy Spirit lead them—just like in the Bible—is what we most need from our church leaders today.

If they don’t have a close relationship with Jesus, nothing else matters. Their credentials accomplish nothing.

A Personal Relationship with Jesus

Instead of emphasizing a personal relationship with Jesus, today’s seminaries focus on an academic deep dive into the Bible. This in-depth training ensures that graduates overflow with a substantial theological foundation, of which most church members care little about.

One common argument made in favor of seminary is that it’s a necessary protection against heresy. Yet, most all major heresies in the past two thousand years have come from trained clergy.

In truth, seminary best prepares graduates to teach other seminary students. But it falls short in equipping its students to provide the type of ministry functions that people at churches want.

Even worse, I fear formal religious education downplays having a relationship with Jesus and following the Holy Spirit, making these traits secondary in importance.

We need to select our clergy based on their godly character and not their seminary diploma. We must reorder our priorities away from man-made credentials and toward godly character.

Read the next post in this series about things we must change in our discussion about Sunday school.

Read more about this in Peter’s thought-provoking 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.

Categories
Christian Living

How Much Money Does the Church Need?

We Must Be Good Stewards of All That God Blesses Us With

The Old Testament church required a lot of financial support to keep it going. There was a tabernacle to build and transport. The temple later replaced the tabernacle, but it required regular maintenance. The priests and Levites received support too.

This huge need required the people to give their tithes and various offerings, some mandatory and others voluntary. In today’s church, facility costs and payroll expenses make up most of the church’s budget, sometimes all of it.

Yet if we were to do away with these two elements, there’s not so much need for money.

After building and staffing costs, what small amount remains in the budget falls into two categories. First is benevolence, that is, taking care of our own just like the early church did.

Second is outreach, sending missionaries out to tell others the good news about Jesus (Matthew 28:19–20, Mark 16:15–16, and Luke 14:23). Think of all the good a church could do with its money if it directed 100 percent of its funds on these two activities and not needing to pay for facility and staff.

New Testament Church Finances

In the New Testament church, people share what they have to help those within their spiritual community, that is, those within their church. They seldom take offerings and when they do it’s to help other Jesus followers who suffer in poverty.

The third thing they do with their money is to fund missionary efforts. Instead of building buildings and paying staff, they help people and tell others about Jesus. It’s that simple.

Rather than focusing on 10 percent as the Old Testament prescribes, we should reframe our thinking to embrace the reality that all we have, 100 percent, belongs to God.

We are to be his stewards to use the full amount wisely for his honor, his glory, and his kingdom—not our honor, glory, and kingdom.

Paul writes that the love of money is the source of all manner of evil. An unhealthy preoccupation with wealth is especially risky for followers of Jesus, as our pursuit of accumulating wealth can distract us from our faith and pile on all kinds of grief (1 Timothy 6:10).

Keep in mind that Paul is not condemning money. He warns against the love of money.

For anyone who has accumulated financial resources, this serves as a solemn warning to make sure we have a God-honoring understanding of wealth and what its purpose is.

When it comes to the pursuit of possessions—our love of money—we risk having it pull us away from God.

Three Uses of Money

We need money to live, but we shouldn’t live for the pursuit of wealth. We should use money to supply our needs, help others, and serve God. Consider these three areas:

First, we should use our financial resources to help fund the things that matter to God. This means we need to understand his perspective. With the wise use of our money, we can serve God and honor him. We must remember that we can’t serve two masters: God and money (Matthew 6:24).

Second, we need God’s provisions to take care of ourselves (2 Thessalonians 3:10). We must focus on what we need, not what we want.

Third we should consider the needs of others. What do they need? How can we help them? Again, as with our own balancing of needs versus wants, we must guard against supplying someone with what they want, instead of focusing on what they truly need.

God especially desires that we help widows and orphans (James 1:27). He also has a heart for us to help foreigners and the poor (Zechariah 7:10).

Therefore, we should give to God first (Exodus 23:19). Then we should concern ourselves with our needs and helping others with theirs. God wants our best, not what’s left over. This applies to our possessions and our actions.

Where Does Giving to the Church Fit In?

Does this mean we need to give to the local church? Maybe. But it’s much more than that. We must direct our money as wise stewards to where it can have the most kingdom impact.

I question if this means supporting an organization where most—or all—of its budget goes to paying for buildings and staff.

We must reform our perspective on money, realizing that 100 percent of it belongs to God, and we are merely stewards of his gifts. We must use God’s financial provisions wisely in a way that will honor him and have the greatest kingdom impact.

Check out the next post in this series addressing the fallacy of church membership.

Read more about this in Peter’s thought-provoking 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

Exploring Church Staff from a Biblical Perspective

Stop Paying Clergy and Ministry Staff to Do What We’re Supposed to Do Ourselves

In part one of Embrace a Fresh Perspective about Church we looked at adopting a new, biblically enlightened view on the role that a church building should play for our spiritual community. Now we’ll continue that theme by looking at church staff, along with the related topics of missionaries, local ministers, and payroll.

Church Staff

In 7 Things the Church Is Not, we mentioned that the church should not be an institution. Yet most churches today move in that direction after about ten years of operation, and they become an institution a couple of decades after that.

For an institution to work, it needs paid church staff (and money). That’s why local pastors receive a salary: to keep the institution of church functioning and viable.

As we’ve already covered, this thinking follows the Old Testament model of church. But we don’t live in the Old Testament or under its covenant. We live in the New Testament and under its covenant—at least in theory. In the New Testament, we—that is, those who follow Jesus—are his church.

Each one of us is a priest—that is, a minister—to care for one another. We shouldn’t pay someone to do what we’re supposed to do. As part of the body of Christ, we each do our part to advance the kingdom of God and shouldn’t expect to receive payment for our labor.

Missionaries

There is, however, one exception to this idea of no compensation. In his letter to the people in Corinth, Paul builds a case to pay missionaries. This doesn’t apply to the folks who run local churches. Paul refers to those who go around telling others about Jesus.

Today, we might call these people evangelists. Based on Paul’s teaching it’s right to pay them.

Yet once Paul builds his case to appropriately pay missionaries, he points to an even better way: for missionaries to earn their own money and not require outside support. Paul often covers his expenses and those who travel with him by plying his trade. He works as a tentmaker.

Springing from this is the idea of a tentmaker-missionary, someone who pays their own way as they tell others about Jesus (1 Corinthians 9:7–18).

Local Ministers

But what about the local church? Shouldn’t we reward our clergy, out church staff, by paying them? Doesn’t the Bible say that workers deserve compensation (1 Timothy 5:18)? Not quite.

The context of this is for traveling missionaries to be content with the food and lodging provided to them as they journey about telling others about Jesus (Luke 10:5–7).

But don’t we need a minister to teach us about God each Sunday? No. The Bible expects us to feed ourselves spiritually. And we are to teach one another.

What about a clergy member to address our spiritual needs as they arise? No. We are to care for one another.

No Payroll

In short, through Jesus the institution of church is over—at least in theory. Without a physical building or an institution to maintain, there is no need to pay church staff to run the whole show.

So if you are part of an institution and want to perpetuate it, then buy a building, hire church staff, and pay them their due.

However, if you want to pursue a different path as seen in the New Testament, then take the church with you wherever you go and help others however you can, paying your own way as you do.

We must reform our thinking of paying church staff to do what the Bible calls us to do ourselves as priests who serve one another.

Next week we’ll look at the church and money.

Read more about this in Peter’s thought-provoking 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

Today’s Church Follows an Old Testament Model

Moses Explained the Three Key Elements of Worship and We Still Follow Them

Our churches today function in much the same way as outlined in the Old Testament. We follow the Old Testament model for church. We pursue these same three key elements. We meet in a building, hire paid staff to represent God to us, and have an ongoing need for money to keep the institution afloat and moving forward.

Building

We often hear the question, “Where do you go to church?” This is an inquiry about location. In standard usage, the word church refers to a place not a people. It’s a structure more so than the community that meets there.

This mindset is pervasive within the church, but it’s universal outside it. In short, people go to a church building to experience God. The implication is that we can’t connect with him at other locations or through different situations. We want a Sunday morning service in a church building.

We go to church. We connect with God. Then we go home. Once we leave the parking lot, we revert to non-church mode and resume our everyday life.

Most people, both those with a religious background and those without it, view a church without their own facility as suspicious, as second rate, or even as somehow less than. People assume—both those inside the church community and those outside it—that this church without a building will one day mature to a point where she can have her own place to meet. Then she will be a real church.

In addition, for many churchgoers, the thought of attending in a non-typical space is an anathema to having a true worship experience. They feel that to truly connect with God they must travel to a dedicated church building.

This is part one of an Old Testament model for church.

Staff

The second element of today’s church is the staff. In most all cases they are paid employees. Yes, sometimes volunteers help, donating many hours of their time each week, but despite their generosity most churches rely on paid personnel to function.

For small churches, the paid staff is the pastor alone, while for larger congregations it’s a pastoral team, made up of full-time and part-time paid personnel.

A church-growth expert once advocated that a single pastor could sufficiently shepherd a congregation of up to 150 people. Beyond that level, the sole pastor requires help to address the needs of the congregation and deal with the details brought on by this expanded scope.

The expert had a formula for that too: each additional one hundred people in the church required one more staff person. This formula seems to track at the various churches I’ve been part of over the years.

In the same way that most people expect to go to a dedicated worship space on Sunday, they carry expectations of the paid staff who work there, especially the minister.

Just as the people in the Old Testament lined up each day to see Moses, overburdening him and keeping him busy from sunup to sunset (Exodus 18:13), we tend to do the same for our clergy today.

This is part two of an Old Testament model for church.

Collectively we insist that our ministers be available for us whenever we need them. This includes a crisis, such as a death, health scare, financial need, lost job, or wayward child. We also want them there for our celebrations. This means our family births (baptisms, christenings, or dedications) and our weddings (officiating), even milestone birthdays and anniversaries. We also presume their support for our own God-honoring initiatives. And we freely dump our burdens on them in the form of prayer requests. When we call, email, or text, we expect a quick response.

They’re here to serve us. That’s what we pay them for.

Then when they wisely refer us to another person who can help us, just as Moses’s father-in-law recommended him to do (Exodus 18:14), we react with indignation.

We withdraw our support for this leader who we feel slighted us (2 Corinthians 6:12). And we seldom do this silently, often resorting to gossip and even slander (3 John 1:9-11). Sometimes we launch a campaign to replace our once-esteemed leader.

To add weight to our hurt, we may threaten to withhold our support of the church. And to our shame, we sometimes follow through (Malachi 3:6-12).

Money

The third key element of today’s church is financial support. She needs money to function, lots of it. We often refer to this need for money as tithes and offerings. Some churches call for pledges and then urge people to meet their financial commitments each Sunday.

Over the years I’ve heard many ministers plead for money from their congregations, insisting that we must give 10 percent of our income to the local church.

I’m not sure if they’re merely parroting what they heard others say, don’t know their Scripture, or don’t care, but the Bible never says to give 10 percent to the local church. Remember, the Old Testament tithe went to fuel the national religion.

In a typical church most of their budget goes to cover facility costs and staffing. This often approaches 90 percent of the total budget and sometimes requires all of it, only to still fall short. This doesn’t leave too much money—if any—for ministry and outreach.

But lest we complain about the size of our church’s budget and our leader’s calls for financial generosity, remember that this is our own doing. We’ve brought this upon ourselves.

We expect to meet in our own dedicated worship space. And we hire staff to serve as our liaison between us and God. These things carry a price tag, and our church budget reflects it.

This is part three of an Old Testament model for church.

A Kingdom Focus

Though it’s true that some churches are exceptions to this—and take exception to what I’ve just written—they are the minority. To need less financial support usually stems from one of two things.

The first is having a non-typical meeting space. And the second is enjoying a lot of volunteers to do the work that normally falls to paid staff. In some cases, both elements are present, which allows for much more of the congregants’ giving to go to ministry and outreach, instead of buildings and payroll.

This allows them to move from an inward focus to an outward emphasis. Every church should strive to move toward this outcome. The kingdom of God will advance more powerfully when we do.

Read more about this in Peter’s thought-provoking 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

The Old Testament Approach to Church and Worshiping God

Moses Presents a Model for Connecting with God

When God gives Moses the Law, he sets three key expectations for worship, along with a lengthy set of mind-numbing details to guide the practices he wants his people to follow. God addresses this throughout Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.

These three main elements relate to the worship space, the worship team, and their financial support: tithes and offerings. Much of the Law of Moses relates directly to these trio of items.

The rest of God’s instructions support these three tenants indirectly by guiding the people into right living as a daily way of worshiping God through their personal practices and interpersonal interactions.

These prepare them to move into relationship with him and worship him more fully through their many annual feasts, festivals, and celebrations.

A Place

In the Old Testament God is most particular about the place where his people are to worship him. And he gives detailed instructions in how they are to do it.

First, God sets specific parameters for the tabernacle and surrounding worship space. He gives exact instructions for its size, materials, and construction methods. In some cases, he even specifies who is to oversee the work. (See Exodus 26-27 and 35-36.)

The tabernacle and adjacent area function as a home for the various objects used in the people’s religious practices. God gives detailed directions for these implements of worship too.

He specifies dimensions, base components, and fabrication instructions. Again, he sometimes names who is to head up the construction. (See Exodus 28-31, 33-34, and 37-40.)

Later the people get situated in the land God promised for them. In doing so they transition from a roaming people to a nation with borders. They no longer need a portable tabernacle that they can set up and tear down as they roam about the desert.

Years later King David has a God-approved inspiration to build a temple to honor him. Although prohibited from erecting this grand edifice himself—because he was a warring military leader with blood on his hands—the king sets aside provisions for its construction (2 Samuel 7:1-17). It’s David’s son Solomon who builds this permanent worship space for God’s people (1 Kings 6).

In doing so the tabernacle built by Moses transitions to the temple built by Solomon. The portable tabernacle of the desert as the focal point of worship shifts to the permanent temple in Jerusalem.

With little exception, the people must go to this house of worship, the tabernacle—and later the temple—to approach the Almighty. His people see the tabernacle/temple as God’s dwelling place here on earth. They must go there to experience a divine encounter with him.

Clergy

But the people won’t connect with God directly. They refuse. They’re afraid of him. Here’s what happened.

In the Old Testament we see Moses on Mount Sinai, hanging out with God. They’re having a spiritual confab of the highest order. God has some words—many words, in fact—for Moses to give to the people.

In one instance God says they will serve as his kingdom of priests, a holy nation (Exodus 19:6). Really? Did you catch that?

God intends for a whole nation of priests. And who will they be priests to? Implicitly other nations. But this doesn’t happen. I’ve not found any evidence in the Bible of them as a nation serving as priests. What happened? It could be the people were afraid of God.

Just one chapter later in the book of Exodus, the people see a display of God’s awe-inspiring power. They pull back in terror. They keep their distance. God’s magnificent display of power terrifies them.

Because of their immense fear, they don’t want to hear what he has to say. Instead they beg Moses to function as their intermediary between them and God.

They ask Moses to do what they’re afraid of doing: hear from God. Moses serves as their first liaison with God (Exodus 20:18-21). In effect this makes Moses the people’s first priest, though the duty officially goes to Moses’s brother, Aaron.

After this, God seems to switch to plan B.

Instead of his people being a kingdom of priests, he sets some of them aside—descendants of Aaron—to serve as ministers, functioning as the middleman between God and his people. This is something far different than what he originally wanted with everyone being a priest.

Recall that God talks with Adam in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:8-10). And after sin forces Adam and Eve’s exile from their paradise, God speaks directly to Cain, confronting him for his sinful murder of his brother, Abel (Genesis 4:6-9).

Then once sin fills God’s creation with evil, he approaches Noah with a solution (Genesis 6:11-22). Much later God has multiple interactions with Father Abraham (such as in Genesis 17:9), as well as his wife Sarah (Genesis 18:10-15).

God then meets Moses through the burning bush (Exodus 3) and later talks with him face to face (Exodus 33:11). And God speaks to many other people in the time between Adam and Moses.

This shows a consistent history of direct communication from God to his people. Now he wants to talk to his chosen tribe (Exodus 19:9), but they’re afraid of him and don’t want to listen.

They demand an intermediary, someone to reveal the Almighty to them. They want an ambassador to represent God to them. To address this, God sets up the priesthood. These priests will serve God in his temple and be his representatives to his people.

They’ll serve as the liaison between the people and God.

Though this begins with Moses, the religious infrastructure God sets up requires many people. We have the priests: Aaron and his descendants (who are Levites). And the entire tribe of Levi plays a supporting role in God’s plan to connect with his people.

Finances

Of course, this religious structure is vast. The priests lead the people in their worship of the Almighty God, and the entire Levite tribe supports this effort. Accomplishing this requires financial support.

To address this God institutes a temple tax of sorts: the annual tithe (Numbers 18:21). This is a mandated obligation to give 10 percent to support the maintenance of the tabernacle and the needs of the staff.

But it’s not just one annual tithe. There’s another one too (Deuteronomy 14:22-27). In addition, a third tithe for the poor occurs every three years (Deuteronomy 14:28-29).

This means that each year God’s people give between 20 and 30 percent to him in support of the tabernacle/temple, all the people who work there, and those in need. This averages out to 23.3%, approaching one quarter.

Take a moment to imagine giving one fourth.

In addition to the mandated tithes are various required offerings and sacrifices that relate to annual events (such as Exodus 12 and Exodus 30:10). God commands his people to adhere to all these obligations. On top of these are voluntary offerings and gifts (such as in Leviticus 22:21). God expects a lot financially from his people.

The Old Testament religious institution is expensive to sustain. And God expects each one of his people to do their part.

This is the Old Testament model for church: a place (tabernacle and then temple), clergy (priests and Levites), and financial support (tithes and offerings). We still follow this model today.

Read more about this in Peter’s thought-provoking 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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Visiting Churches

The Worship Team: Discussion Questions for Church #57

During our 52 Churches journey, many people suggested we visit today’s destination, but it was too far away. When the building’s former occupants became too few to carry on, another church took over the building and launched a new gathering.

Consider these seven discussion questions about Church 57.

1. A sign in the drive, too small to easily read, directs traffic in two directions. Unable to read it without stopping, I guess.

Do we need to rework our church signs so that they actually help?

2. After we enter, the worship team begins playing to start the service. This church has a reputation for its many talented musicians, and we’re seeing the results.

What is our church’s reputation? What do we need to improve?

3. A leader asks us to break into groups and discuss the purpose of church. We’re nicely started when she tells everyone to wrap things up.

What is the purpose of church? How should it function to meet this intent?

4. With their minister gone, the intern fills in. He shares a string of Bible verses and intriguing soundbites, but I fail to grasp their connection with the purpose of church.

What should we do when the message falls short?

5. The worship team plays softly to end the service, while the prayer team comes forward to pray for those who seek prayer.

How open are we to pray for others at church? And away from church?

6. When the music starts for the second service, we hustle out of the sanctuary and leave.

How can we allow more time for people to experience community after the service and not shoo them away?

7. Both before and after the service we had rich interaction with people we knew. But I wonder about our reception had no one known us.

How can we make our pre-church and post-church interaction more inclusive of people we don’t know?

[Read about Church 57 , Church 58, or start at the beginning of our journey.]

If you feel it’s time to move from the sidelines and get into the game, The More Than 52 Churches Workbook provides the plan to get you there.

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.