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Christian Living

What Do We Do When We Meet Together?

The Bible Tells Us to Not Give Up Meeting Together, but We Often Miss the Point

As we persevere in our faith, one aspect of this is to not give up meeting together (Hebrews 10:25). Many people interpret this verse as a command to attend church. It isn’t. Not really. While meeting together could include going to church, it should encompass much more.

Where We Meet

The phrase to not give up meeting together is a call for intentional interaction with other followers of Jesus. He says anywhere two or three people get together and place the focus on him, he will join them (Matthew 18:20).

  • Meals: Most people enjoy meals with others, and most Christians pray before they eat. Isn’t this gathering in Jesus’s name? I think so. While we may eat some meals alone, we potentially have three times each day to fellowship with others and include Jesus. But do we make the most of these opportunities?
  • Small Groups: Many churches provide opportunities for attendees to form intentional gatherings with a small number of people. This facilitates connection with each other and draws us to God. If we skip our small group, it’s as if we are giving up meeting together, which the Bible says not to do.
  • Coffee Shop: People often meet at coffee shops to spend time and hang out. If you include God in your meeting, either explicitly or implicitly, you assemble in his name.
  • Homes: Do you invite people into your home or see others in theirs? If you both love Jesus, doesn’t this become a get together where he is included? It should.
  • Outings: What about going on a picnic, to the game, the gym, or shopping? With intentionality, each of these can be another opportunity to meet together in his name.
  • Church: Yes, church is on this list of places where we can gather in the name of Jesus. But I list it last because I wonder if it isn’t the least important. Why do I suggest this? Because when we meet in this environment, we often (perhaps usually) do it wrong. Consider the rest of the verse to find out why.
The reason we meet together should be to encourage one another. Click To Tweet

When We Meet

The command to not give up meeting together goes on to explain why. People tend to skip this part. The reason we are to meet together is so that we may encourage one another. The Bible says so, but how often do we do this in our church meetings?

If we leave church discouraged or fail to encourage others while we’re there, then we’ve missed the point of meeting together. While some people make a big deal out of meeting together—that is, going to church—they’re quick to miss that the reason is to encourage each other.

If we’re not going to do that, then we might as well stay home.

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

Should You Be Part of a Spiritual Mastermind Group?

Aligning with Like-Minded Peers Can Propel You Forward on Your Christian Walk

A mastermind group is a peer-to-peer mentoring alliance where members work together to help one another solve problems, overcome roadblocks, and move forward. I’m part of two author mastermind groups. In them we encourage and support each other as writers, propelling us forward in our craft. It’s most beneficial.

I wonder if I should apply this concept to my Christian journey, too, and be part of a Christian mastermind group. Though I’ve experienced this a couple times on a basic level from a church small group or Bible study, they’ve fallen short of what a mastermind group can provide.

Though we might want to call it by something with a less business-sounding name, what can we hope to gain from a spiritual mastermind group?

Iron Sharpens Iron

In Proverbs, King Solomon says that “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17, NIV). As we surround ourselves with like-minded followers of Jesus, we will help each other become stronger in our faith. A spiritual mastermind group can do this for us, propelling us forward on our faith journey.

Two Is Better Than One

A parallel passage, also penned by King Solomon, reminds us that “two are better than one.” If either falls, there’s someone present to pick them up (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10, NIV). We need each other. God didn’t create us to be alone (Genesis 2:22).

A Cord of Three Strands

Later, Solomon writes that a three-stranded cord has great strength (Ecclesiastes 4:12). There is safety and strength in numbers. One way to realize this is through a spiritual mastermind group.

Party of Five

We also find support for this concept from motivational speaker Jim Rohn, who says “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” What better way to accomplish this by spending time with five like-minded disciples of Jesus in a spiritual mastermind group?

Align with five other like-minded Christians to form a spiritual mastermind group. Click To Tweet

Moving Forward with a Spiritual Mastermind Group

What have you done informally to enjoy these benefits that walking through life with two, three, or five can accomplish? What more could you realize if you pursued this idea with greater intention?

We can receive much benefit by partnering with another or forming a group of three. How greater the outcome could be if we align with five other like-minded Christians to form a spiritual mastermind group?

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

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52 Churches

A New Church

Discussing Church 7

I suspect this church is only a couple years old. I later learn they’re an outgrowth of a small group.

Consider these four discussion questions about Church #7:

1. Their meeting space looks abandoned. We approach with uncertainty. I hesitate to walk inside. It wouldn’t take much to make the entrance more inviting.

What simple things can you do to make your facility say “welcome” instead of “go away”?

2. Inside, people mingle. Several introduce themselves in a friendly, unassuming way. They’re great at pre-meeting interaction with people they don’t know.

How can you best connect with visitors before church? How can you encourage others to follow your example?

3. Their leader is a tentmaker pastor. Like Paul in the Bible, he works for a living to share Jesus for free. Without him drawing a salary, there is more money for outreach and ministry.

How might your congregation move away from depending on paid staff and tap the skills of capable volunteers?

4. As is often the case, it’s new churches—not established ones—where people are most apt to discover God and grow into a vibrant faith.

What can you do to promote a new-church excitement where you worship?

[See the prior set of questions, the next set, or start at the beginning.]

Get your copy of 52 Churches and The 52 Churches Workbook today, available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.

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

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52 Churches

Come Back Twelve Times and See How Your Faith Grows: Reflecting on Church #51

Visiting Church One Time Isn’t Enough

With our journey of visiting fifty-two churches over, I can reflect more on the complete experience. Today, I’ll add to my thoughts about Church #51.

This mega church does so many things right. Though I don’t want to go to a large church, this one really draws me. Of all the churches we’ve visited, this one appeals to me far more than any other. If I were searching for a new church to attend, I’d give this one serious consideration.

This church also has a Sunday evening meeting, which allows for more intentional connections, as well as small groups. These two options offer to counteract my reluctance to go to a large church.

However, I won’t come back twelve times to see how my faith grows, as our tour guide suggested. If I did, I’m sure I’d just keep coming, having formed a comfortable habit after three months.

This would be an easy church for me to slide into. I’d feel comfortable, and surely my faith would grow. But I know that with so many people who attend this church it would be hard to consistently see the same people each week.

That would make it hard to form friendships, even if my faith grows.

[See my reflections about Church #50 and Church #52 or start with Church #1.]

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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Peter DeHaan News

Women of the Bible Q & A with Peter DeHaan

Author Peter DeHaan Talks about His Most Popular Book

Peter DeHaan answers questions about his book, Women of the Bible.

Question 1: Why did you write this book?

Answer: Throughout my life I’ve sat through thousands of sermons and most all of them talked about the men in the Bible. They ignored women or gave them a mere footnote in the message.

If a sermon was ever about a woman, the director of women’s ministry might have given it, or it popped up on Mother’s Day. And frankly we don’t need another sermon about the Proverbs 31 Woman. All the messages I’ve heard about her miss the point.

The women of the Bible deserve more attention, and I want to give it to them. There’s so much they can teach us.

Q 2: What drew you to the women in the Bible?

A: Women make up slightly more than half the people on our planet, yet we don’t talk about biblical women too much in church. That is to our shame and our discredit.

I desired to discover more about the women who appear in the Bible. I wanted to learn from them and share the insight that God gave me with others.

Q 3: In all due respect, how can a man write about women? What makes you qualified?

A: I’m glad you asked this question so that we can talk about it, but at the same time I wish it weren’t necessary. The short answer is that I believe God has given me a heart for women.

Obviously, I can’t understand everything women go through, but that doesn’t disqualify me from writing about them, to encourage and inspire others.

In researching and writing this book God gave me a curiosity to ask questions other people would skip, to seek to understand these women’s circumstances, and to draw lessons from their lives. I put all those insights in the book. The outcome is what matters.

Q 4: What was your intent in publishing this book? How do you expect people to use it?

A: My goal was to compile and provide the information for readers to use as they saw fit. Some have treated it as a devotional and others as a Bible study. I’ve heard from people who’ve bought it as a reference and were glad to have it.

One reader intended to read one chapter a day but couldn’t put it down and kept turning pages. She read it in a couple of days. Many have told me they kept reading, with the pledge to read “just one more chapter.”

I also hope that small groups or classes will use it for a study or discussion guide.

Q 5: is this book just for women, or can men read it too?

A: I wrote the book for everyone. The fact that it’s about women, doesn’t mean that it’s only for women. The truths that it covers are universal, applying to both women and men.

Q 6: What did you learn about yourself as you worked on this book?

A: It seemed perfectly natural for me to write about women in the Bible, but I was surprised at how many people thought it was strange. That may make me atypical, but I prefer to think of it as me having a little bit of God’s heart for the female half of his creation.

Q 7: What surprised you most when you researched this book?

A: The character of Mary Magdalene has taken a hit in recent years. But after studying what scripture says about her a different story unfolded.

Mary Magdalene was the one to carry the good news about the greatest event in the history of the world—Jesus’s resurrection of the dead—to the disciples. God didn’t have a man do it, even those that’s what the society of the day expected and even demanded.

This makes Mary Magdalene the first missionary for Jesus. Never forget that.

Mary Magdalene was the first missionary for Jesus. Never forget that. Click To Tweet

Q 8: Many people criticize the Bible for how it portrays women. Does this make God sexist?

A person who reads the Bible quickly without a discerning eye—or a person who has never read it at all—might claim that the Bible treats women badly or that God is sexist. This, however, is far from the truth.

Remember that God created us in his image, male and female. When he finished, he pronounced it as “very good.”

Yes, the Bible reveals God to us, but the narrative takes place during a time when sin badly distorted what God had in mind for the human beings he made. In this regard, the Bible reflects man’s mistakes, not God’s heart.

Q 9: Who is your favorite woman in the Bible? Why?

A: That’s such a great question. I have many favorites, so it’s hard to pick just one. Ruth is a longtime favorite because of her dedication to her mother-in-law and to God.

Esther is another cherished favorite for using her position to influence the king and save her people from an inevitable genocide. I also like Judge Deborah and Rahab in the Old Testament.

In the New Testament I especially appreciate Priscilla because she often received first billing over her husband. And then there’s Rhoda. Her story, her faith, and her exuberance make me smile every time.

Q 10: Your subtitle is “The Victorious, the Victims, the Virtuous, and the Vicious.” Why did you select these words?

A: The overall arc in Women of the Bible is to celebrate the feminine half of God’s creation. This makes it natural to look at the victorious and the virtuous. But that’s not the complete picture. Due to sin’s impact, some of them are victims.

And there are a few who are just vicious. This is a reminder that terrible behavior isn’t the sole domain of men. Women can fall into evil as well. That’s why we must all be vigilant, to protect ourselves from falling into their error.

Q 11: How many women does your book cover? Why did you include that many?

A: I cover 135 women in Women of the Bible. Most books about biblical women address only a handful, usually twelve or less. And that omits a lot of interesting women and ignores what we can learn from them. Initially my goal was 100, but I quickly realized that wasn’t enough.

Although I could’ve kept writing and gone beyond 135, at that point I covered what I felt was important. To continue writing about some of the very obscure names that remained wouldn’t really add anything to the discussion. So, I stopped at 135.

Of course, that’s not to say there couldn’t be an expanded version of Women of the Bible in the future that would blow past this 135 number. An appendix in the book lists dozens more women I could add in the second edition—if there’s value in doing so.

Q 12: Will you write a counterpart to this book, Men of the Bible?

A: I’d never considered doing that, but some people have asked about it and one reader assumed I would. If I do so, to be fair. I’ll need to cover 135 men so I can keep things balanced.

Q 13: Will you be writing any more about women in the Bible?

A: I’m glad you asked. The answer is yes!

Women in the Bible is book one in the Bible Bios series. My next book in the series is Friends and Foes of Jesus. This will look at New Testament characters, and many of those in Women of the Bible will make a reappearance.

For them I’ll offer new and expanded content. In this way their story continues. Then I’ll repeat the process for a book about Old Testament characters. The working title is Friends and Foes of God.

Plus, I have several more books planned for the Bible Bios series, such as prophets, judges, and kings and queens. Every book will include women.

Get your copy of Women of the Bible, available in e-book, paperback, hardcover, and audiobook.

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

5 New Testament Ideas for Church

Discover What the Bible Teaches About Church

While considering a better New Testament approach to church, we talked about the three key perspectives that Jesus changed: meeting in homes, serving as priests, and helping those in need.

Then we looked at ten more New Testament practices: relying on the Holy Spirit, worship, prayer, fasting, community, eating together, caring for our people, valuing one another, helping others, and informal leadership.

Now we’ll look at five more tangible ideas of church and meeting together from the pages of the New Testament.

1. The Acts 2 Church

Just days after Pentecost, the people who follow Jesus are hanging out. This is the first church. What do they do?

Luke records their activities:

  • They learn about Jesus. Think of this as a new believer’s class. Remember, they’re mostly all new to their faith in Jesus. This is teaching.
  • They spend time with each other. This is fellowship.
  • They share meals. This is community.
  • They pray. This is connecting with God.
  • They meet every day at the temple were people outside their group are. This is outreach.
  • They also meet in homes. This is fellowship.
  • They share all their possessions. This is generosity.
  • They praise God. This is worship.

As a result, more people join them every day. This is what the early church does and how God blesses them (Acts 2:42–47).

What significant is what they don’t do. There’s no mention of weekly meetings, sermons, music, or offerings. If we’re serious about church in its purest form, the early church in Acts 2 gives us much to contemplate when we consider how our church should function today.

2. The Acts 4 Example

As the book of Acts unfolds with its historical narrative of the early church, Luke notes two more characteristics of that church: unity and sharing everything (Acts 4:32).

First, the church is of one heart and mind, just as Jesus prayed (John 17:21). Their actions are consistent with his prayer that they would be one then, just as we would be one today. Jesus prayed it, and the early church does it.

Unity describes what everyone of us should pursue and what every church should be. Jesus yearns for us to be united. Over the centuries Jesus’s followers in his church have done a poor job living in unity, as one.

Second, no one claims their possessions as their own. This isn’t a mine-versus-yours mentality. Everything is ours. They have a group perspective and act in the community’s best interest. They do it out of love for each other. They share everything they have. Not some, not half, but all.

This example is hard for many in our first-world churches to follow today, though not as much for congregations in developing countries. Regardless, while we might do well to hold our possessions loosely, this isn’t a command. Later Peter confirms that sharing resources is optional (Acts 5:4).

From Acts 4 we see an example of unity and generosity. This complete generosity, however, is a practice that happens at this snapshot of time for the early church. We will do well to consider how we can apply it today.

3. Paul’s Perspective

Now let’s look at a third passage. In it, Paul instructs the church in Corinth of how their meetings should proceed (1 Corinthians 14:26–31). While Paul writes to the Corinthian church, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t follow his directives as well today.

Paul opens by saying “each of you.” This means everyone should participate. The idea of all those present taking part suggests an egalitarian community gathering, where everyone contributes, and everyone ministers to each other.

This removes the divide between leader and follower, which happens in today’s church services. During a typical church service today a few people lead, while most people watch.

This means that only some are active during the service, while most sit as passive observers, as if going to a concert or attending a lecture.

Instead Paul wants everyone involved, where each person can minister to one another. He lists five activities that should take place.

Sing a Song

First, when we meet, we should sing a hymn or share a song. This could mean playing a musical instrument so that others can sing along. For those who can’t play an instrument or lead others in singing, a modern-day option might be to play a recording of a song.

Anyone can do that. Our singing could also mean—it probably means—launching into a song or chorus a cappella as the Holy Spirit leads.

Teach a Lesson

Second, the same approach applies for giving a word of instruction. We don’t need to preach a half-hour to an hour-long sermon. In this case less is more.

We can often communicate much by speaking little. Saying something concisely in thirty seconds may be more meaningful than droning on for thirty minutes. Again, no preparation required. Everyone who’s present can do this.

All we need is a willingness to share something God taught us or that we learned through studying Scripture. In addition, we can rely on the Holy Spirit to tell us what to share during our meeting. It can build off what someone else has already said, or it may be a new topic.

Share a Revelation

Third, the idea of having a revelation to share will seem normal to some and mystical to others. Think of a revelation as special knowledge that God has given to us. He can do this through what we read or things we see. And it can be through Holy Spirit insight.

Regardless of the source of our revelation, Paul wants us to share our insights with those gathered.

Speak in Tongues

The last two items on the list may, or may not, be a comfortable activity. Speaking in tongues is the first of these two items. The Bible talks about speaking in tongues, and Paul instructs the people in Corinth how to do it. It’s biblical, and we should consider this for our church community.

But it may be optional, because Paul later says, if anyone speaks in tongues (1 Corinthians 14:27). This implies speaking in tongues is not a requirement. But he does give guidelines for when people do speak in tongues (1 Corinthians 14:27–30). We will do well to follow Paul’s words.

Interpret the Tongue

Fifth, after someone speaks in an unknown language, someone must interpret it. Implicitly, if no one can interpret the message, then the person shouldn’t share it (1 Corinthians 14:28). After all, how can words that no one understands build up the church? (1 Corinthians 14:8-9).

The Holy Spirit’s Role

These five items require no preparation, just a willingness to notice the direction of God’s Spirit. This means listening to the Holy Spirit and responding as he directs. Implicit in this, we will encounter times of silence as we wait and listen. Silence unnerves some people today. But listening to and obeying the Holy Spirit is central to the gatherings of the early church.

Paul says everything we do at our meetings must be for the purpose of building up the church, to strengthen the faith and community of those present. This means not doing or saying anything to elevate ourselves or draw attention to our abilities.

Instead we should humble ourselves and do things for the common good of Jesus’s church. This will best advance the kingdom of God and the good news of Jesus.

4. Don’t Forget Meeting Together

Note that Paul’s instructions to the Corinthian church, says when you come together, not if you come together. This reminds us that gathering with other followers of Jesus should be a regular occurrence, not optional (1 Corinthians 14:26).

The book of Hebrews confirms this idea of regular interaction when it warns to not give up meeting together. We do this to encourage others to better love and help each other (Hebrews 10:24–25).

This idea of coming together, of meeting with others, can occur on Sunday morning, or it can happen at any other day or time. The Bible doesn’t tell us when to meet. Gathering Sunday morning is merely a practice that developed over time.

Though many people interpret this instruction to not give up meeting together as a command to attend church, it isn’t. Not really. While meeting together can include going to church on Sunday, it should encompass much more.

It’s a call for intentional interaction with other followers of Jesus. Jesus says anywhere two or three people gather in his name—that is, they get together and place their focus on him—he will join them (Matthew 18:20).

Here are some ideas of how and where we can meet in Jesus’s name.

Meals

Most people enjoy meals with others, and most Christians pray before they eat. Isn’t this gathering in Jesus’s name? While we may eat some meals alone, we potentially have three times each day to connect with others and include Jesus when we eat. But do we make the most of these opportunities?

Coffee Shop

People often meet at coffee shops to hang out. If we include God in our meeting, either explicitly or implicitly, we assemble in his name.

Homes

Do you invite people into your home or see others in theirs? If we both love Jesus, doesn’t this become a get together which includes him? It should.

Outings

What about going on a picnic, to the game, the gym, or shopping? With intentionality, each of these can be another opportunity to meet with others in his name.

Small Groups

Many churches provide opportunities for attendees to form intentional gatherings with a small number of people. This facilitates connection and draws us to God. But this doesn’t need to be the result of a formal small group program in our church.

We can make our own small group whenever we wish, meeting in the name of Jesus.

Church

Yes, church is on this list of places where we can gather in the name of Jesus. I list it last because it might be the least important. This is because when we go to church, we usually do it wrong. Consider the rest of the verse to find out why.

People tend to skip that part. The reason we are to meet is so that we may encourage one another. The Bible says so, but how often do we do this at our church meetings?

If we leave church discouraged or fail to encourage others while we’re there, then we’ve missed the point of meeting together. While some people make a big deal out of going to church, they’re quick to miss that the reason is to provide encouragement. If we’re not doing that, then we might as well stay home.

5. What Jesus Says

Let’s return our discussion to Jesus.

Recall that after Jesus rises from the dead, he tells his followers to stay in Jerusalem, waiting for a surprise Father God has planned for them: the gift of the Holy Spirit to come upon them and give them supernatural power (Acts 1:4–5).

They wait, and the Holy Spirit shows up (Acts 2:1–4). Amazing things happen, and the number of Jesus’s followers explodes (Acts 2:41).

They wait in Jerusalem as instructed, and they receive the gift of Holy Spirit power as promised. But after all that, they remain in Jerusalem. Instead they’re supposed to spread out and share Jesus’s good news around the world. He told them to do that too (Matthew 28:19–20). But they don’t. They stay put.

They don’t realize that God’s instructions to wait in Jerusalem doesn’t mean they’re supposed to stay there forever. Sometimes what God tells us to do is only for a season.

Then there’s something else for us to do. But if we don’t make that transition, we end up being in the wrong place, doing the wrong thing. Instead of staying in Jerusalem—something they’re used to and comfortable with—their mission is to go into the world and make disciples (Matthew 28:19–20).

How well are we doing at going into the world and making disciples today? Are we staying put in our church—what we’re used to doing and where we’re comfortable—or are we looking outside of our church to do what Jesus said to do?

I suspect you know the answer.

Make Disciples

Today’s church falls short of being witnesses and making disciples. To do so requires an outward perspective, yet most all churches have an inward focus. They care for their own to the peril of others. Many churches ignore outsiders completely, sometimes even shunning them.

Yes, God values community and wants us to meet (Hebrews 10:25). And the Bible is packed with commands and examples of worshiping God.

Most churches do the meeting together part, albeit with varying degrees of success. Many of those churches have a time of worship as they meet, though perhaps not always “in the Spirit” or “in truth” as Jesus said to do (John 4:23–24).

Yet few churches look outside their walls to go into their community—let alone the world—to witness and make disciples. Though Jesus said to wait for the Holy Spirit, he didn’t say to wait for people to come to us, to enter our churches so we could witness and disciple them.

No, we’re supposed to leave our Sunday sanctuary to take this Jesus-mandated work to them. We can’t do that in a church building on Sunday morning, safely snug behind closed doors.

If we want to make disciples, we need to go out and find them. This brings us to the second part.

Go into the World

There is a time to come together and a time to worship, but there is also a time to go. And we need to give more attention to the going part.

I know of two churches that sent their congregations out into their community on Sunday mornings, foregoing the church service so they can be a church that serves. One church did it a few times and stopped after they saw little results and received much grumbling.

The other church regularly plans this a few times each year and receives a positive reception from their community.

These were both service initiatives, not outright evangelism. But the best—and easiest—way to talk to people about Jesus is to first serve them in his name.

Every church should make a positive impact on their community. They do this best by entering it. Yet so few do. They’re too focused on meeting together and worshiping instead of going out into the world to make disciples.

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Summary

We will do well to reform our church practices to conform to these five biblical concepts.

  1. Follow the early church’s example to learn about Jesus, pursue fellowship and community, pray and worship, meet daily in public and in homes, and practice kindness.
  2. Pursue unity and generosity.
  3. Be ready to rely on the Holy Spirit to sing, teach, share a revelation, speak in tongues, and interpret a tongue.
  4. Refresh our idea of what meeting together means.
  5. Balance our inward efforts on church meetings and worship with an outward focus on going into the world to make disciples.

Pick one change to make and then pursue it.

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.

Categories
Christian Living

Do We Have an Inward Focus or an Outward Focus?

Focusing on Ourselves Is Selfish While Focusing on Others Is Selfless

There was a time when I headed up our church’s small group initiative. One of the things I learned was that small groups with an inward focus lasted about eighteen months and fizzled out.

However, groups with an outward focus would last much longer. Yes, members would come and go, but the group’s focus on others kept them united and moving forward.

Small Group Focus

However, there are some small groups which need to maintain an internal focus. These are recovery groups and self-help groups. The people there need help. They’re broken. They can’t give to others because they’re barely hanging on themselves. Once they’re better, then they can help.

Aside from these groups, all other groups need to look beyond themselves. What can they do to help others? How can they show the love of Jesus to others? Who can they minister to?

When they rally together for an external mission, they draw themselves together, experience personal growth, and advance the kingdom of God.

But when they look inwardly, they atrophy. The group dies.

Church Focus

Expand this concept of small groups to churches. Some churches have an internal focus and others have an outward focus.

Inward-looking churches are concerned with themselves. “What can we do for our comfort? What can we do to make us feel good?” Often their focus is on survival. They need more people to remain viable. But they don’t seek more people for the good of those people.

What they’re really after is the money those people bring with them. This is so selfish and unspiritual that few church leaders will ever admit it. But it’s true.

Outward looking churches seek to benefit their community. Yes, they want to tell others about Jesus, yet they realize the most effective way they can do this is through service. How can they serve their neighbors? How can they make the community a better place?

A convicting question every church should ask is: “If our church disappeared today, would anyone in our community notice? Would anyone care?”

Personal Focus

Now let’s narrow the focus. Let’s look at ourselves. As an introvert I do this a lot. I’m introspective. This fuels my writing, which is an outward looking initiative. Yet by default I’m an inward-looking guy. My writing is one outward-looking effort.

People with an inward focus are often selfish and may be lonely. They think about themselves and their own comfort first, with others being a secondary concern or completely overlooked.

We can work toward being more outwardly focused and less inwardly focused. Click To Tweet

Outward Focus

Jesus followers who have an outward focus seek to bring him with them wherever they go. They give their attention to others. They focus on the needs of others and don’t worry so much about their own comfort. Everything they do advances the kingdom of God.

This is easier for some of us than others because of how God made us as individuals. Yet, regardless of where we are on the introvert/extrovert spectrum, we can work toward being more outwardly focused and less inwardly focused.

Regardless, may we make a difference in the lives of everyone we meet or talk to today.

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 Can You Shrink Your Church?

We Live in a World That Thinks Bigger Is Better, but That’s Not Always True

Our modern-day society evaluates things based on size. We celebrate magnitude, with bigger being better.

This includes church. We often assume that bigger churches, in terms of both facility and attendance, equates to God’s sure blessing and his implicit approval. But we are wrong to do so.

I once attended a conference where many of the attendees were ministers. Invariably every conversation I had with a pastor included a mention of or a question about church size. I expected this and resolved not to play their game.

Some wanted admiration, but I refused to stroke their narcissism. Other pursued affirmation, and I determined not to falsely feed into their insecurities. This happened with every conversation. The social time at this conference drained me.

No one was content with the size of their church. Everyone wanted to lead a big (or bigger) congregation—or at least head a fast-growing church. It seemed these pastors’ esteem or paycheck was at stake. This doesn’t seem God-honoring.

Though businesses talk about rightsizing and downsizing, I never hear of churches thinking that way. And while businesses often divest themselves of assets and product lines that don’t align with their goals, and thereby lose customers in the process, churches seldom do.

Though we shouldn’t run a church like a business, perhaps this is one lesson we should learn from corporate America.

Shrink Your Church

Instead of pursuing church growth strategies, maybe we should look for ways to shrink your church. Might we experience greater spiritual success if our gatherings were smaller?

Here are some ways to shrink your church:

Think Small

Large churches, as well as some medium-sized churches, struggle in helping people form connections and build community. This is the impetus behind the small group concept.

What a large Sunday gathering can’t provide to attendees, small groups can—assuming they’re run right. But a small church doesn’t need small groups because their small size facilitates connections and community.

Jesus focused on twelve people and gave special attention to three. His actions should guide our desire to think small and to then act that way.

Have an External Focus

Most churches have an inward focus. They give their attention to the needs (demands) of their members to the exclusion of their surrounding community. At best a church may allocate 10 percent of its budget and time to people outside their group. What if we made it 100 percent?

Eliminate Paid Staff

A church with a payroll has skewed perceptions and priorities. Members insist on being served and employees react to keep their paychecks coming.

What would a church look like with no paid staff? It would be simpler for sure. More people would be involved. And it would be smaller. This would be a good thing.

A small church doesn’t need a building. Click To Tweet

Sell Your Building

Owning a facility is a burden. It costs money, demands time, and sucks the attention away from people. People matter; a building doesn’t. So go ahead and sell it. It will free you. Besides, a small church doesn’t need a building anyway.

Send People Away

When a congregation grows too large, get rid of some of the people. But first empower them. Equip them to go out and start something new: a house church, a community outreach, or a service endeavor.

Send them out and don’t expect them to come back. That will keep your church small and advance God’s kingdom, too.

Pursue Spiritual Depth

Many have said that most churches are a mile wide and an inch deep. They have no spiritual depth. They perpetuate a superficial community, functioning as little more than a Christian social club. Instead, seek spiritual intensity over trivial pleasantries.

This will push away the noncommitted consumers and feed those with a true spiritual hunger.

Stop Counting

In the spiritual realm, numbers don’t really matter. So stop tracking them. Don’t fixate on attendance and offering. Forget quantity. Dump the bigger-is-better mentality. Instead, think less is more. Because it is.

This vision to shrink our church is not hyperbole. These recommendations are a serious challenge and aren’t intended as an intellectually provocative treatise.

Yes, this is counter cultural to our celebration of size. This turns conventional thinking upside down. It will be difficult to pursue and offend many in the process. They’ll reject us and retreat to church as usual.

Does this sound familiar?

Jesus was counter cultural and eschewed conventional wisdom. His way was difficult, but only because it was so different. He offended many with what he said and did. They rejected him and returned to their religious status quo.

Don’t expect many followers if you shrink your church and pursue a small church mindset. That’s okay because smaller is the goal.

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

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Christian Living

Who Prays For You?

Are there people who pray for you? Family members, such as parents or spouse often intercede for those dearest to them.

Your best friend, boyfriend, or girlfriend may seek God on your behalf. Maybe members of your church, your small group, or your pastors pray for you. If you’re fortunate, it may be your boss, coworkers, neighbors, or the clerks where you shop.

Sometimes these folks pray for you when you ask them to, when they see a need in your life, or when the Holy Spirit prompts them. Or praying for you may be a daily habit of theirs and you are the benefactor.

As you read these possibilities, the list of people who pray for you may be overwhelming. Or you may be dismayed that no one (that you know of) prays for you.

Regardless of how long or short your list, there are two names we can add to it—important names, the most significant we can find, the best of the best. Did you know that Jesus prays for us? And not just Jesus but the Holy Spirit, too.

Did you know that Jesus prays for us? And not just Jesus but the Holy Spirit, too. Click To Tweet

Imagine that, Jesus prays to the Father for us. The Holy Spirit prays to the Father for us. Though the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one, this is kind of like God praying to God, but they are also three parts of the godhead, imploring each other on our behalf, as though urging themselves to give us their best.

Jesus advocates for us; the Holy Spirit advocates for us. And I see God the Father nodding in agreement. It’s like a heavenly pep-rally—at least that’s how I imagine it.

Though this is hard to grasp, the essential point is that God wants the best for us and one way he shows this is by interceding for us.

Know that others, including Jesus and the Holy Spirit, are praying for us.

[Romans 8:34, Romans 8:27]

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

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Christian Living

Why Do We Do the Things We Do?

Most people whose faith is more than in name only, have certain religious rituals as part of their spiritual practices. A common one is church attendance. Another may be giving money or tithing to the church.

Participation in a Bible study, small group, or midweek meeting is a third practice many people pursue. Introspective spiritual activities can include Bible reading and study, prayer, meditation, and fasting. I’m sure there are more.

Loving God and worshiping God may be opposite sides of the same coin. Click To Tweet

Why do we do these things? Here are some common reasons:

Out of Habit

While habits can be good, an unexamined habit becomes a mindless ritual. God deserves better.

To Avoid Feeling Guilty

While there is a good type of guilt, most guilt is bad. Seek to understand the source of this guilt. If it’s another person – either directly or indirectly—it’s likely a bad guilt.

To Earn God’s Love

The starting point in our relationship with God is that he loves us. We don’t need to earn it; we already have it. There’s nothing we can do to make him love us more. (And nothing we can do to make him love us less.)

To Get God’s Attention

Do we do things to show God how righteous we are in order to get his attention? If we do, first of all, it’s just a show. Second, we already have his attention.

Because the Bible Says To

Citing the Bible as justification for certain actions is noteworthy, but we must be careful. Does the Bible actually say what we think it says? Are we making unwarranted assumptions and jumping to wrong conclusions? Too often the answer is “yes.”

I can claim all of these reasons at one time or another. And they are all wrong. Here are the real reasons we should pursue our various spiritual practices; anything else is futility:

To Express Love to God

God loves us and wants to be in relationship with us. We should want to love him back. Remember, we’re not trying to earn his love or get his attention; we’re simply trying to say “I love you, too,” intangible and meaningful ways.

To Worship God

True worship is our ultimate gift to God. Though he doesn’t need our worship, he does deserve it. How we choose to worship him need not be like everyone else, but it should come from our heart.

Loving God and worshiping God may be opposite sides of the same coin. I’m not sure if we can separate the two. The things we do and the things we don’t do should be intentional decisions for the express purpose of loving and worshiping God.

Any other reason falls short.

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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