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Christian Living

Three Church Priorities: Butts, Bucks, and Buildings

The Things Religious Leaders Focus on May Not Matter to God at All

Modern church priorities look at attendance, offerings, and facility size. Perhaps this is because the world measures success by the number of people, amount of money, and size of buildings. We’re more like the world than we care to admit.

More people showing up for church each week is good. A larger campus impresses. Bigger offerings allow for more of the same. After all, churches with a sizeable attendance garner attention. They receive media coverage. Books celebrate them and elevate their leaders to lofty pedestals.

This is how the Western world defines success. And the church buys into it without hesitation. These measures of success become the focus. But this focus is off, even looking in the wrong direction.

The triple aim of most churches—attendance, offerings, and facility size—doesn’t matter nearly as much as most people think.

Said more bluntly, most church leaders focus on the three B’s: butts, bucks, and buildings. These become their church priorities.

Butts

The greater the attendance, the more popular the church and, most assuredly, the more God has blessed it. Really?

Look at Jesus. After performing a miracle to feed over five thousand people, the multitude want to make him their king, by force if needed (John 6:10-15). Jesus could let them, but he doesn’t.

Instead of playing to the masses to further his ministry and advance an agenda, he launches into a hard teaching that offends them, and most turn away (John 6:60-66). It seems Jesus is more concerned with the quality of his followers then the quantity. Maybe we should follow his example.

Bucks

The church institution needs money to operate. Ministers need their paycheck. Mortgage payments have monthly due dates. If the offering sags, the church leadership panics. Boards instruct their teaching pastor to preach more about money. Yes, it happens. I’ve seen it.

Yet Jesus says not to worry about the future (Matthew 6:34). This includes money. Although Jesus had people who financially supported him, he never took an offering. He never gave a plea for money. He trusted his Father to provide. So should we.

The church of Jesus should be about changed lives, community, and commitment. Click To Tweet

Buildings

Churches need a lot of people to give a lot of money to pay for staff, which is well over half of most churches budgets. Next up is their buildings, which is their second greatest expense.

Together, salaries and facilities account for 80 to 90 percent of most church expenses, sometimes up to 100 percent. Imagine using all that money instead to help people and address both their spiritual and physical needs.

When Jesus said, “I will build my church (Matthew 16:18), he wasn’t talking about a building but a following.

Jesus never said, “Go build me a grand building for worship, a multimillion dollar monument.” But he did say, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel” (Mark 16:15). That’s hard to do if we’re stuck inside a church building.

The Right Church Priorities

Instead of an unhealthy, unbiblical focus on the three B’s, what if we and our churches instead looked to the three C’s of changed lives, community, and commitment?

  • Jesus wants changed lives. He says, “Repent and follow me,” so that he can reorder our priorities. In fact, most all he says is about changing our perspectives of how we live.
  • Jesus wants to build a community. He calls it the kingdom of God, but we made it into a church. Shame on us.
  • Jesus expects our commitment. He desires people who are all in. He wants us to follow him, to serve him, and to be with him (John 12:26). That’s commitment, and that’s what Jesus wants.

If Jesus focuses on changed lives, community, and commitment, so should we. These should be our church priorities. Let’s push aside butts, bucks, and buildings, because these things just get in the way of what Jesus wants for his followers.

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

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

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Christian Living

How Much of a Priority Do You Place on What the Bible Says?

Most Christians Don’t Let Scripture Get in the Way of What They Believe

I recently shared with some friends that “Most Christians won’t let the Bible get in the way of what they believe.” It’s a shocking statement—one that no doubt offends some—but the attitudes of many people about what the Bible says prove that I am right.

In truth, most people base their beliefs on multiple sources, such as what others teach them, what society thinks, and what the Bible says—usually in that order. (I’m not including those people who just make up their own religion and do whatever seems right to them. They may be sincere about their beliefs, but they are sincerely wrong.)

What Others Teach Them

Many people give a lot of credence to what their ministers and spiritual gurus teach. Though often a worthy source, some are in error. They could lead us astray if we don’t scrutinize what they teach with Scripture (consider Acts 17:11).

As a basic example, most children are taught to bow their head, fold their hands, and close their eyes when they pray. Guess what? I’ve not found that in the Bible. Yet we cling to this practice with religious fervor as if a failure to follow these three basic instructions will render our prayers ineffective. Instead, we should pray like Jesus teaches in the Bible (Matthew 6:5-8).

In a much weightier instance, a common instruction is that we must ask Jesus into our hearts to be saved. Yet I’ve not found this in the Bible either. What Scripture says is to believe in Jesus (Acts 16:31 and many other places).

Yet when our preachers tell us something that’s not in Scripture, we accept their words anyway. Even worse is when these words contradict what’s in the Bible. We believe them and dismiss God’s word. Shame on us.

What Society Thinks

Many people believe that if their life is mostly good, or if they do more good things than bad, then God will welcome them into heaven when they die. Not so fast. The Bible says that in this rule-based approach, one mistake condemns us (James 2:10).

Or what about, “God helps them who helps themselves.” Often attributed to Benjamin Franklin, and reinforced by pop-culture, the original source is not the Bible. It may sound spiritual, but it lacks a biblical foundation.

Another common view is that God and Satan are equals, battling each other as evenly matched contenders in the fight of good versus evil. Not true. Satan is a fallen angel. God created angels, just as he created us. The creator is greater than the created. Therefore, God is greater than Satan. Consider Romans 16:20. In the end, God wins (Revelation 12:7–10).

When the Bible doesn’t align with our opinion, do we dismiss the Bible or our opinion? Click To Tweet

What the Bible Says

We’ve already covered that the Bible says to believe in Jesus and be saved (Acts 16:31). It’s a perfect place to start. But there’s more.

Consider Jesus’s promise that we will do everything he did and even more (John 14:12). Scripture proclaims it, so I believe it, even though some ministers dismiss it, and society deems it as foolish.

Another promising passage is that when we align our will with his, God hears and answers our prayers. All of them (1 John 5:14-15).

There are hundreds of more examples, of course, but these three are an ideal place to start. Read the Bible to find more.

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

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Bible Insights

Why Does God Sometimes Withhold His Blessings from Us?

We Must Put God First Before Worrying about Ourselves

In the short book of Haggai, the prophet has a message for the people and an application for us today. God, through Haggai, chastises his people. They live in nice homes, while God’s home—the temple—sits in shambles.

It isn’t that God wants us to build great monuments for him as much as he wants us to put him first. It’s an issue about our priorities.

God has attempted to get his people’s attention for years, but they miss it. “Consider your situation,” God says. Then he reels off a list of realities for them:

  • Each year you plant much but harvest little.
  • You eat but are never full.
  • You drink but are still thirsty.
  • You put on clothes but remain cold.
  • You earn money, but it doesn’t last until your next paycheck.

“Contemplate this,” he says. God wants his people to put him first and think about their own needs second. When they do this, he will give them plenty.

Specifically, God wants them to rebuild his temple. Though we could assume this means he wants us to embark on a building project for our church—making it our number one priority—this misses the modern-day application.

Remember, Jesus came to fulfill the Old Testament, so the need for a physical temple ended because we became his temple (1 Corinthians 6:19-20 and 1 Peter 2:4-5).

God wanted his people to put him first and think about their own needs second. When they do this, he will give them plenty. Click To Tweet

It May Be About Our Priorities

Instead, we can receive this Old Testament prophecy as a call to put Jesus first. That’s an easy enough lesson for us.

However, it gets a bit dicey when we dig into this. Based on the lesson from Haggai, we can assume that if things aren’t going our way and we aren’t receiving God’s blessings, it’s because we have our priorities out of whack, and we aren’t putting him first in all that we do.

Though sometimes this may be the case, other times we may struggle and suffer because God is using our circumstances to grow us into the person he wants us to become. In this situation, we may very well have our priorities correct and, for a season, still not enjoy his blessing.

If we feel we aren’t receiving God’s blessings, it’s up to us to determine why. Do we need to reorder our priorities, or do we need to allow him to grow himself in us, preparing us for the future?

May we wisely discern the reason why.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Haggai 1-2, and today’s post is on Haggai 1:2-11.]

Learn more about all twelve of the Bible’s Minor Prophets in Peter’s new book, Dear Theophilus, Minor Prophets: 40 Prophetic Teachings about Unfaithfulness, Punishment, and Hope

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

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Bible Insights

From Haggai: Lessons about Priority

Discover More About Haggai

In the short book of Haggai, the central theme is that God’s house (the temple) needs to be rebuilt. It lay in ruins. But the people have not done so because they are focused on their own houses and comfort.

As far as God is concerned, their priorities are wrong. They’re putting themselves first and not concerned about him.

Three times God points this out, asking them to consider the quality of their lives. Things aren’t going well for them. Their efforts fail to produce the results they want, their plans don’t work out the way they expect, and they lack what they need.

After Haggai delivers God’s message to the leaders and the people, their response is to rebuild the temple. Then God promises to bless them.

When their priorities were wrong, things went wrong. When their priorities became right, God’s blessings resulted.

Although the conclusion isn’t absolute, it’s worth considering that when things are going wrong, it might be because our priorities are misaligned with God’s will for our lives and his desire for how we act.

Instead of blaming God when our lives are dissappointing, we might do better to blame ourselves, and then work to fix our priorities. It starts by putting God first.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Haggai 1-2, and today’s post is on Haggai 1:2-4.]

Learn more about all twelve of the Bible’s Minor Prophets in Peter’s new book, Dear Theophilus, Minor Prophets: 40 Prophetic Teachings about Unfaithfulness, Punishment, and Hope

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 People Show Up Late for Church?

The Timing of When People Arrive at Church Reflects Their Priorities

When my wife and I went on our grand adventure of visiting fifty-two churches in a year, we decided we’d try to arrive at church ten minutes early.

In doing so we would avoid breezing in at the last-minute, and we would have time for possible connection with other people before the service. (Sometimes we had wonderful conversations and other times it was an awkward ordeal.)

Three Times When People Arrive at Church

This also gave us an opportunity to observe when other people arrived at church.

1. Arrive Early: For a few churches most everyone arrived early. They sat in respectful anticipation of what was to come, reverently waiting for the service to begin.

2. Arrive Right on Time: At other churches many people timed their arrival with the starting time of the church service, not a minute earlier and not a minute later. They arrived right on time.

At some of these places, the people were in the facility early, trying to squeeze in some pre-church activity, but not yet seated in the church sanctuary. In other places, they rushed in at the last moment.

3 Arrive Late: Yet at too many churches, the starting time seemed more like a guideline. At these churches over half the congregation showed up after the service had started. They arrived late. Sometimes this was understandable since the service didn’t start on time either.

The church had conditioned people to arrive late, because the service started late. However, even for those services that started on time, the practice of people arriving during the singing of the first, and even the second and third songs, alarmed me.

Late arrivers at church disrespect God and distract other worshipers. Click To Tweet

When Do You Arrive at Church?

Yes, I understand that sometimes things come up to keep us from getting to church on time. This is most pronounced for those with young children in tow. I remember those days well.

Other times we may oversleep, not get around as fast as we’d like, or encounter delays on the drive to church. Yet these things should be rare, not common.

For people who habitually arrive at church late, I wonder if it doesn’t reveal a bit of their heart. That God isn’t important enough for them to show up early in anticipation of what he’ll do.

That church attendance is one more thing to squeeze into an already-too-busy schedule, so they can check it off there to do list.

Late arrivers at church disrespect God and distract other worshipers.

Arrive at church early, arrive at church in expectation, and arrive at church prepared to worship.

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

What’s More Important, Family or Church?

We need to order our priorities with intention and do what matters most

Whether we realize it or not, we form priorities to order our lives. For most of my adult existence my number one priority has been God. Though I held this out as my ideal, sometimes, perhaps too often, my actions didn’t live up to this principle, but I did strive to reach it.

Many years ago, I mistakenly included church in the box that should have been reserved for God. As such, I elevated the importance of church to the level of God, effectively making church activity my highest priority.

During that season of my life, whenever the church doors were open, I was there. In addition to attending twice on Sunday, I also served on committees and helped pretty much wherever and whenever someone asked.

As a result I spent two, three, and sometimes even four evenings a week at church fulfilling various roles, commitments, and needs.

When I was busy at church doing these things, my young family was at home—functioning without me. I had mistaken the elevated church activity above family life. I have long since moved past that church, but my family is still here. They are my priority over church—any church.

If I ever need to choose between church and family, I now choose family.

As far as church activity, aside from the Sunday service, I limit myself to no more than one other commitment—if that. This helps me keep my actions aligned with my priorities.

Yes, God is still the number one priority in my life. But now family comes in second. And they have for a long time, too. Church, however, is further down my list.

God is number one, as he should be. Family comes second. After that is work, writing, and friends. I suppose church activity comes in next. That makes church number six on my priority list. And I think that’s the right place for it to be.

Be intentional, and make a thoughtful determination about what your priorities should be. Click To Tweet

I can’t undo the mistake I made a couple decades ago when I placed church over my family, but I can make sure not to repeat that error again. Not with my wife, not with our children, and not with our grandchildren.

Just because this is how I order my life, doesn’t mean that’s how you need to prioritize yours. But I do encourage you to be intentional, and make a thoughtful determination about what your priorities should be. The next step is to make your actions align with your ideals.

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

We Focus On What Matters Most

I often hear from aspiring writers who say, “I wish I had time to write.” Other people tell me, “I’m too busy to read my Bible.” Still others complain, “I’ve got too much going on to make it to church this week.”

They give the same argument when asked to volunteer for a noble cause. Of course, when invited to donate money to a worthy charity, the explanation is often, “I can barely get by as it is” or “I have nothing to spare.”

These are all excuses, a mere pretense. The reality is we place priority on the activities and groups that are important to us. We focus on doing what’s best, saying “no” to what is secondary, and ignoring everything else. Then, what we value receives the attention it deserves.

Focus is a discipline, but it also gives freedom. Click To Tweet

As a writer, I focus on writing every morning. I have a sign to remind me of that in case I forget and to alert everyone else that something important happens when I sit at my writing desk. With a focus on writing, I crank out 500 to 1,000 words every day. Before long, I’ve finished a book.

Similarly I focus on reading my Bible and going to church. Because of my focus, these activities happen. I have one organization where I regularly volunteer, which is my focus.

This frees me to say “no” to other volunteer opportunities—not because they aren’t good, but because they are secondary to my focus. For charity, I have four areas that are important to me.

I focus on supporting them, and I say “no” to others, no matter how worthy—because I don’t want to dilute my focus.

Having focus gives me the motivation to do what matters most and the liberty to decline other opportunities. Yes, focus is a discipline, but it also gives freedom.

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

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Christian Living

How to Spend Time with God

We spend time with people we like. The more we like them, the more time we spend together. If we claim people as friends but don’t often see them, then they must not be too important.

The same is true with God. If God is important to us, we’ll spend time with him: not out of guilt but out of longing. Here are some ideas.

Pray

Prayer is talking to God. When we pray, we tell him what’s on our minds. We also listen to what he says.

We would never dominate our time with a friend, just talking about ourselves but never listening or always complaining but never being appreciative or always asking for favors but never giving any. Those are easy ways to lose a friend.

So it is with prayer: don’t do all the talking, rant, or just ask for things. Instead, listen, thank, and give.

Read the Bible

With friends we read their emails, subscribe to their blog, like them on Facebook, and follow them on Twitter. If God is our friend, shouldn’t we likewise be interested in what he has to say?

Think

Taking time to just contemplate is not often done in our fast-paced culture. Yet we do think about friends. And for that someone special, we think about him or her a lot. We call this daydreaming; we can’t help ourselves. As it relates to God, thinking about him is meditating; we contemplate God.

Give

I’m not talking about money. We give friends our time, attention, and focus (and sometimes money, too). So it should be with God. We carve out time to be with our closest friends. So too, God appreciates our time, attention, and focus.

Hanging Out

The Gen-X and Gen-Yers value “just hanging out with friends.” In the same way, we can hang out with God: going for walks, listening to music, watching TV, eating out, taking him to the movies. In fact, God can do whatever we do and go where ever we go.

What does your time with God look like? Does anything need to change?

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

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Christian Living

What Are Your Priorities?

It’s a good idea to be aware of the priorities in our lives. We should periodically review what’s important to us and make sure our actions align with our intentions.

For example, if I consider watching sports to be a waste of time but devote hours to its pursuit, then my actions don’t align with my intentions. Something needs an adjustment.

Perhaps I would need to be honest and say I enjoy watching sports, thereby making it a priority (remember, this is hypothetical). Alternately, I might need to skip some TV viewing in order to subject my actions into matching my intentions.

(For the record, the television can be a distraction for me, but it’s seldom sports.)

So if you were to make an honest list of the priorities in your life, what would they be? Perhaps the main categories might look like:

  1. God
  2. Family
  3. Work
  4. Hobbies
  5. Rest

Then there would be subdivisions. For example, family might include spouse, children, parents, and so forth. Or work might consist of the 9 to 5 portion, expectations outside of the workday, and going the extra mile.

By factoring in variations and distinctions, our list of five or six key areas can expand to a couple dozen items with overlapping themes and intertwined considerations.

The next step is to compare our ideal list with reality. Does the way we spent our time match our priorities? If you’re like me, the answer is often no.

Contrasting actions with intentions isn’t a guilt producing exercise but an opportunity to better align our reality with our priorities. For me the practical result is often the realization that I should scale back on television or need to cut out some non-essential activities.

The most important consideration, however, is where does God fit into our life? Is he a priority? Do our actions actually support that?

The consequences are eternal.

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.