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Visiting Churches

No Language Barrier (Visiting Church #20)

There’s a Mandarin service followed by one in English;. We attend both. The worship team leads us. The words to the song are displayed in Mandarin and have the English translation underneath. They sing and I listen to voices of a different tongue. God’s presence engulfs me.

When others raise their hands, I wonder if I should too, even though I don’t understand the specific reason why. It’s a question I can’t answer.

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

A prayer follows. I comprehend not one word until “Amen.” Next is the scripture text, read in unison. The woman in front of me has a parallel bilingual Bible, so I know they’re reading Exodus 19 or 20.

Later, the projector displays “20:3-17” surrounded by Chinese characters. I turn to Exodus 20:3-17 and see the Ten Commandments.

The minister is a dynamic speaker, animated, and at times joking. I find myself laughing too, even though I don’t know what’s funny. Laughter is contagious, a universal language.

I don’t expect to understand the message, but I do expect the Holy Spirit to speak to me. He doesn’t—or perhaps he did and I missed it. I know the sermon is over when I hear “Amen.”

We sing the “Doxology.” The tune is familiar, but the words are Mandarin. I consider their English equivalents as others sing. The service concludes with the “Threefold Amen.” This time I can join in.

The second service uses a different song set, but the scripture and sermon are the same, albeit in English.

They invite us to stay for lunch, something they do every Sunday. “Sharing a meal is important to us,” one lady explains. We gratefully accept and sit down to eat, making new connections as we enjoy the food.

Today is a great day at church. Although our only language is not their primary one, we manage just fine.

[Read about Church #19 and Church #21, start at the beginning of our journey, or learn more about Church #20.]

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

Are You a Sunday Morning Spectator or Performer?

Church services have become an event, with consumers who come to watch a show

Today’s churches contain two types of people. And each of us fits in one category or the other. We are either performers or spectators.

If this seems callous, consider that we live in an entertainment-centered society. We watch TV, go to movies, and attend performances. We go to the game, attend a concert, and watch videos online.

What do these have in common? Each example has performers to entertain us in one way or the other. The masses are spectators, mere consumers of the event. Though we may participate in a way, our involvement is limited to clapping, cheering, or fist-bumping the spectator next to us.

Church is no different. We are spectators there for entertainment, be it emotionally or intellectually, by the performers. The masses consume the church service.

Yes, we may sing along with a couple songs (though many people stand mute during the singing), mumble out a heartfelt “amen” upon occasion, or shake hands with our seatmate during the compulsory greeting time. But the service structure restricts our involvement.

We’re there for the sermon, that is, the lecture, and for the worship set, that is, the concert. And when it’s over we often critique the performance.

Performers

The performers at a church service are the people who stand in front of us, often on a stage. The elevation allows the spectators a better view.

The star of the show is the minister, who gives the lecture and may also serve as the event’s MC. The opening act is the worship team, consisting of singers and musicians.

If this description offends you, consider that most churches don’t select a senior minister or teaching pastor until after they have auditioned and delivered a stirring oratory.

People with spiritual insight but no speaking ability have no place in the modern church. And usually the worship team members must try out before they can sing or play. People with musical passion but not enough skill are turned away and relegated to spectator status.

Yes, we expect our performers to excel in presentation, and if they falter, they are replaced. After all, we don’t want a lack of excellence to mar the performance and drive away the spectators who have a plethora of other Sunday morning performances to select from.

Remember, we live in a consumeristic society.

Spectators

The majority of people at church services are spectators. We sit and passively watch the performance. Though we can view the elevated stage to witness the event, we may best see the back of the head of the person sitting in front of us.

We come. We watch. We leave.

Maybe we leave happy over a satisfactory performance, but maybe we leave unfulfilled, as empty as when we arrived. We wanted community but got a show.

We are church service spectators, watching a performance and consuming carefully presented spiritual content. At best we experience an event that may sustain us until we repeat it next week.

We are church service spectators, watching a performance and consuming spiritual content. Click To Tweet

Instead Participate

The solution is to break down the wall between performer and spectator. Church shouldn’t focus on providing a performance but on offering community by letting everyone participate equally in the service.

We should all be able to share with others during our church services. Or at least have the opportunity to share. Paul tells us how. “When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation,” (1 Corinthians 14:26, NIV).

When we start doing this in our church services, we will eliminate both the performers and the spectators, turning us all into full-fledged participants. Then we will build a true community of Jesus followers.

It will change everything.

Read more in Peter’s book, Love is Patient (book 7 in the Dear Theophilus series).

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

3 Ways to Worship God

Worship means different things to different people, but what’s important is that we do it

Some churches call their Sunday meeting a worship service. This has always troubled me. Yes, I knew that singing to God was a form of worship, or at least it should be.

I understood the part about “worshiping God with our tithes and offerings,” even though I didn’t see God getting too much of what we dropped into the offering plate. But the sermon?

How could listening to a lecture, often a boring one, be a form of worshiping God? In truth, aside from a few songs and the collection, the bulk of most church services are either education or entertainment. Is that worship? I don’t think so. I hope not.

Here are three ways we can worship God. (And like a good three-point sermon, they all begin with the same letter.)

Singing

As I said, singing to God is a way to worship him. More broadly, music is a path to worship. That means we can sing or listen to music. Music can also involve movement, rather it be clapping our hands, raising our arms in praise, or dance (from rhythmic swaying to getting down like David, 2 Samuel 6:14).

Yes, singing can have a physical component. It can also involve senses.

Sight: seeing others sing and dance (or watching a light show).

Hearing: listening to those around us sing and hearing the instruments.

Smell: incense or a smoke machine.

Touch: holding hands with fellow worshipers as we sing.

Taste: singing while we take communion.

For the record, I’ve experienced each of these sensory elements in worship at various church services, though not often.

Unfortunately, I’m musically and rhythmically challenged, so I struggle to worship God through music and movement. But give me a strong beat with catchy lyrics behind it, and I can engage in song as a means of worship.

Serving

Helping others, both with our time and through our money, is a tangible form of worship. I enjoy the action of doing something for others, offering it as an act of service to them and as a form of worship to God.

Similarly I like being able to give money to causes I’m passionate about or to people in need as the Holy Spirit directs me. Both are ways to serve and both offer a path for worship. I relish the opportunity to worship God through these forms of service. 

Psalm 46:10 says to “be still and know that I am God.” This is a form of worship. Click To Tweet

Silence

In our multitasking, always-on society, the hush of stillness is an anachronism to most, one that causes many people to squirm. Few people can tolerate silence for more than a few seconds.

Yet in our silence—along with its partner, solitude—we can quiet our racing minds and still our thumping hearts in order to connect with God. Psalm 46:10 says to “be still and know that I am God.”

Yet, setting time aside to be still presents challenges. For most of us, meeting with God in silence doesn’t just happen; we must be intentional.

In my times of silence I connect more fully with God in worship, get deeper glimpses into his heart, and am best able to hear his gentle words of encouragement, correction, and mostly love. So good!

Just as I make it my practice to attend church, I have a parallel practice of giving to my community each week. I also (usually) block out one day out of seven to fast, and part of that time includes worshiping God through silence.

All three are forms of worship, though for me, helping others is more practical and resting in God’s presence is more meaningful.

God has uniquely made us and gives us different ways to worship him. When it comes to worship, one size does not fit all. Find the one that fits you.

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 Remember the Last Sermon You Heard?

I’ve heard several thousand sermons in my life. I can remember parts from about six of them. Not the whole thing, just parts. Seldom does the recollection of one message even make it to the next Sunday.

More likely I’ve forgotten it by the time I make it home—or even to the parking lot. That’s bad news for preachers.

I remember someone once asking, “What has God been teaching you lately?”

“Well,” I reply, “I heard a really great sermon on Sunday.”

“Cool! What was it about?”

I’m silent for a while. “Gee, I can’t remember—but I know it was good.”

I guess that’s why preachers often review last week’s sermon before they launch into a new one.

Some sermons are long and others are short. Some are shallow and others, deep. Some contain clever sound bites and others spew dry theology. Some preachers are accomplished communicators and others have trouble stringing two coherent thoughts together.

I don’t go to church to hear the sermon or even for the music. I go for the community. Click To Tweet

Their common trait is that the words are largely forgettable. Though I can usually walk out of church with one key thought, it is fleeting. I don’t gain new knowledge, no lasting change occurs, I don’t connect with God in a deeper way.

Even though the sermon is the focus at most all Protestant churches, it falls short of significance most every week—at least for me. That’s why I don’t go to church to hear the sermon or even for the music. I go for the community. That’s why I’m going today.

Why do you go to church? What’s your favorite part?

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

Be Careful What We Sing at Church

Be Careful What We Sing at Church

The tempo was upbeat and the song was inviting. Though new to me, I picked it up quickly. On the third time through the chorus, I started really contemplating the words—and I stopped singing.

Really, I did—right in midsentence. The words were wrong.

Though it’s technically illegal for me to quote song lyrics (and I don’t want to out an accomplished songwriter), the gist was that when things go bad, God will immediately rescue us.

I don’t see that happen very often in the Bible. Usually, God waits. I don’t often experience instant resolutions in my own life, either. Usually, he says to be patient.

Yes, God provides, and he does answer my prayers, but he does it in his own way and in his own time. Seldom are the heavy things resolved immediately.

The song paints the expectation of instant gratification. Though appealing to modern society, it’s a bad way to understand God. The song should have said that when things go bad, we need to be patient; in the end, God will come through. That’s good teaching.

My concern is for people who base their understanding of God from the songs we sing in church. If they believe he will always immediately rescue them, as the song says, will their faith suffer a crisis when their experience is different?

When God tarries, as he sometimes does, will they give up on God and walk away?

I hope not, but I fear so.

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 We Ever Lie to God?

Be Careful of the Word You Sing

The song said, “We lift up our hands.” Except for my wife, no one else in the church service moved, not even me. It seemed disingenuous to only raise my hands when the song told me to. Shouldn’t I have already been doing that?

We all sang the words, but we failed to do what our words declared. I wondered what God thought about our supposed worship. We said one thing but did another. We sang a lie to God.

I was still agitated by our disconnected praise to God when another song declared “down on my knees.” No one knelt. Why did we profess we were doing something we refused to do?

Raising our hands to God is a sign of adoration, while kneeling before him depicts reverence. Our worship of the Almighty was half-hearted, claiming one thing with our words but then denying them through inaction. We were lying to God.

Our third strike came at the end of the service when we sang, “I surrender all.” I thought I meant it but wondered if I really did. After all, I didn’t actually lift up my hands when I said I was or literally kneel when I claimed that in song, so was my surrender in words only?

Was I really surrendering all to God or was I holding back, only surrendering in part? Did I again lie to my Father in heaven?

May I be like David, who says he will “live what I sing every day.”

What about the other 200 people present? They lied to God about raising their hands and about genuflecting. Was there any reason to suspect their claim of surrender was genuine?

Even more convicting, did they bother to consider the words they sang? That might be a worse affront to God, to mouth the words with unthinking routine, to simulate worship when their mind was elsewhere.

That might be an even bigger lie and a rut I fall into too often.

God, forgive us for lying to you in song. Grant us focus when we sing.

[Psalm 61:8]

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

Make a Joyful Noise

On a recent trip I wound my way through the airport, seeking the hotel shuttle. Not transferring planes as I normally do at this hub, I navigated unfamiliar territory: traversing terminals, ascending stairs, snaking through corridors, and riding an elevator.

The sign lead me outside for a moment and then back in. Really? Next was another series of hallways.

Amid the cacophony of airport noises, I turned the corner as a faint sound reached my ears. It didn’t belong in an airport. Barely discernible, I strained to hear the improbable. Could it be? Several more steps confirmed my suspicion; a smile formed, subtle at first.

The grand tones of a trumpet bathed me. My smile broadened.

The pure sounds grew stronger as my path brought me closer. This was not the prerecorded variety, amplified and distorted over speakers, but live music. The beauty of the notes overwhelmed me.

Perfect in every way, it was an uplifting treat: a point of humanity overpowering the waves of inhumanity milling about me. I recognized the tune and continued moving towards it.

However, the louder it became, the more I realized it was not coming from an accomplished musician. The notes were actually sloppy and the timing, imprecise. Even so, I remained pleased for this musical reprieve.

It was also repetitious, bordering on tedium. Yet it surpassed the ever-flow of PA announcements, the beeps of vehicles trying to run me over, and the less-than-patient words of the people pressing about. Okay, so the music wasn’t perfect, but it was still nice to hear.

Another turn gave me a visual. Stationed at the intersection of corridors the musician stood, shabbily dressed, but whether out of necessity or plan, I know not. What I do know, he was playing his heart out, exuding passion.

Passersby dropped money into the cardboard box at his feet. I pulled a bill out of my wallet. Drawing close, I veered from my path to make my contribution to his art. He’d amassed a nice haul and I added to it, making eye contact as I did.

He winked and out of the corner of his mouth snuck a quick “thank you” as he sucked in another breath, while only slightly affecting his timing.

I continued on. His playing wasn’t good, yet I appreciated his initiative. Even more so, he brightened my day and filled me with joy, forming the highpoint of my trip.

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

Four Ways to Worship God

When I think about worshiping God, I first think of singing songs to him and about him. Yes, that’s a part of worship, but there’s more.

Next, I think about worshiping God by giving money to him and his causes. That’s another aspect of worship, but there’s more.

Third, I think about worshiping God by performing acts of service. There’s a myriad of ways for this to happen and each can be another facet of worship, but there’s more.

Fourth, I think about worshiping God by creating art. Sometimes art is about him and sometimes it’s for him, creating for the creator. After all, he is the ultimate creator and we are made in his image; therefore, we are made to create.

The problem is I’ve never considered myself a creative person. I’m an analytical guy, logic and structure is how I’m wired, not to create.

God began to change this perspective in me when I attended the Breathe Christian Writers Conference last year. Through the people there, he showed me writing is another way to create art.

Not only is writing a spiritual act for me, but now it’s becoming a creative act, too; one I use to worship God.

How do you worship 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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Visiting Churches

Why is Community Important at Church?

For the past 19 weeks, my bride and I have been visiting different churches to expand our understanding of how others worship and understand God. We call this initiative “52 Churches” and I blog about the experience each Monday morning.

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

However, friends frequently ask for more: “What are you learning,” “Is your journey changing,” or “Have you found any churches you want to revisit?” The short answers are

  1. We’re learning a great deal,
  2. the vision for our sojourn is unchanged, and
  3. there are several churches we’d like to revisit.

A key realization at this point is that it’s not about the teaching or the music; it’s about the community.

Community is church at its best. Click To Tweet

We’ve heard messages from gifted speakers and not so gifted. We’ve been taught by the formally trained and the self-trained. We’ve been presented with deep thoughts and entertaining anecdotes.

In all cases, we’ve received a worthwhile word from God. I suspect as long as we’re open to hear and expectantly pray for that to happen, it will.

Similarly, we’ve sung traditional hymns, contemporary songs, and modern praise choruses. We’ve been led by accomplished vocalists and struggling crooners. There have been worship bands, pipe organs, and pianos, accompaniment tracks, and even a capella.

In all cases, as long as we’re willing to focus on the words, God is there.

Message and music, I’m sad to report, are not important.

The big variable is the community. Community is that time of interaction with others (aside from that awkward official greeting time). This is when connections are made and God is shared.

God seems more present in these informal interactions before and after the service than in the planned and carefully prepped moments during the service.

In a few churches, there is no community. People come, people sit, and people leave, with nary a word exchanged.

Fortunately, most churches have community and some excel at it. These are the churches I want to return to; these are the experiences that excite me; these are the moments when God is most powerfully present.

Community is church at its best.

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.