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52 Churches

The Surprise

We walk inside to an empty lobby and head toward an amplified sound. We slink into a back row. Sunday school must be running late, but we find out that they cancelled church.

Consider these four discussion questions about Church #36

1. The speaker acknowledges the presence of visitors. He apologizes that there will be no service today. Their minister had an emergency, and they cancelled church. 

If you cancel your service, how can you accommodate the people who show up?

2. Sunday school ends, and the people leave. A woman apologizes for their cancelled service. She shares her faith journey. Her pilgrimage encourages me. 

How ready are you to share your spiritual journey? What can you do to be better prepared?

3. This is an apostolic church, with Spirit-filled members. I wonder why they didn’t rely on the Holy Spirit to help them hold their service. 

What would you need to do to have church without your minister? 

4. Though a typical church service didn’t occur, fellowship did. We proclaimed Jesus, worshiped the Father, and celebrated the Holy Spirit—all without music or message. Today may be one of our best Sundays yet even though they cancelled church. 

What elements must exist for church to happen? How can you provide them when the unexpected occurs?

[See the prior set of questions, the next post, 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

Misdirected and Frustrated

Discussing Church 30

When Candy asked about the service time, the pastor confirmed what their website said: 10 a.m. When we arrive, they tell us to sit anywhere. After fifty agonizing minutes, they say, “Thanks for coming. The service will start in about ten minutes.” They used the old bait and switch tactic on us.

Consider these four discussion questions about Church #30:

1. We just endured an agonizing Sunday school. They must think they’re clever, but I feel manipulated. They should be honest and say church starts at eleven. 

How might people feel tricked or misled about your church’s practices or the information posted online?

2. We sing old-time hymns with piano accompaniment. They sing with vigor. 

How might people characterize the singing and worship at your church? Is their assessment acceptable?

3. One man wears a lapel pin of the Baptist flag. He thinks his pin is a conversation starter, but his dogmatic discourse pushes me away. 

In what way might our words, passion, or doctrine repel people?

4. Today we heard a powerful message and worshiped God with people passionate about singing, but their bait and switch trick to get us into attending Sunday school remains my key memory. What parting memory do people leave with from your church? (If they don’t come back, you made a bad impression.)

[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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Christian Living

We Need to Stop Interpreting Scripture Through the Lens of Our Practices

The Bible should inform our actions, not justify our habits

Christianity has its traditions and religious practices. We often persist in them with unexamined acceptance. And if we do question our behaviors, we can often find a verse in the Bible to justify them. But that doesn’t make them right.

The Lens of Scripture

We need to interpret the Bible through the lens of Scripture and not from the perspective of our own practices. The Bible is the starting point, not the ending. When we begin with what we do today and work backwards, looking to the Bible for support, we will usually find it, but we may be in error.

Consider the following.

Church Attendance

The Bible says to not give up meeting together (Hebrews 10:25). Most people interpret this as a command to go to church. That’s not what the verse says. This command is a call to Christian community.

This may happen at church on a Sunday morning, but it could also happen at a different location the other 167 hours of the week. This meeting together thing happens whenever two or three are gathered in his name.

The point of this verse is that we shouldn’t attempt to live our faith in isolation.

Communion

Another area is our practice of communion. We even read the Bible when we partake. This makes us wrongly conclude that our celebration of communion is biblical. It’s not. The context of communion is at home with family, not as part of a church service. We’re doing communion wrong.

Sermon

Why do we have a sermon every Sunday at church? Because it’s in the Bible, right? Yet biblical preaching is to those outside the church.

You’ve heard the phrase, “preaching to the choir,” which is understood as the futility of telling people the things they already know. Yet preaching to the choir is effectively what we do at most churches every Sunday. Preaching is for people outside the church.

Worship Music

Why does a significant portion of our Sunday service include music? While singing to God is prevalent throughout the Bible, it’s interesting to note that nowhere in the New Testament is the use of musical instruments mentioned.

Does this mean our singing to God should be a capella? It’s worth considering.

And the idea of having a worship leader is also an anathema to the biblical narrative. When we gather together we should all be prepared to share and to participate, which might include leading the group in a song.

Sunday School

The justification for Sunday School—aside from tradition and “that’s the way we’ve always done it”—often comes from the Old Testament verses to train up a child (Proverbs 22:6) and teach your children (Deuteronomy 11:19 and Deuteronomy 6:6-8).

But who’s to do this training? The parents. Delegating this critical job to the church is lazy parenting.

But if we’re going to persist in the practice, let’s at least give Sunday School a meaningful purpose.

Tithing

Giving 10 percent is an Old Testament thing. The New Testament never commands us to tithe. Think about that the next time you hear a minister say we’re supposed to give 10 percent to the local church. That’s wrong. Though tithing might be a spiritual discipline, it’s not a command.

Offerings

Though there is some basis for the Sunday offering, we’ve co-opted it into something it wasn’t meant to be. Paul’s instruction to take up a collection each week was for the express purpose of giving money to those in need (1 Corinthians 16:1-2). How much of a church’s weekly offering goes to that?

Church Buildings

Though the Old Testament had their Temple and the Jewish people added synagogues, the New Testament followers of Jesus met in homes and sought to connect with others in public spaces.

The idea of building churches didn’t occur until a few centuries later. Church facilities cost a lot of money and take a lot of time, distracting us from what is more important.

In the Bible, Peter says we are all priests, and Paul says we should minister to each other. Click To Tweet

Paid Staff

The concept of professional, paid clergy also didn’t occur until a couple centuries after the early church started. Peter tells us that we are all priests (1 Peter 2:5, 9), and Paul tells us that we should minister to each other (1 Corinthians 14:26).

When we pay staff to do what we’re supposed to be doing ourselves, we’re subjugating our responsibility and acting with laziness. Paul set a great example, often paying his own way on his missionary journeys. Today’s ministers should consider this. Seriously.

Read the Bible

Prior posts have touched on these subjects in greater detail. They might be worth considering as you contemplate the above items. We persist in these practices out of habit and under the assumption that the Bible commands us to do so.

We conclude this because we read the Bible wearing blinders, focusing our attention on our practices and seeking to find them supported in the Bible.

It’s time we reexamine everything we do through the lens of Scripture and make needed changes. And if we do, it will be a game-changer.

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

9 Perspectives That We Must Change about Church

Re-examine Our Church Practices from a Biblical Viewpoint

Over the past few months, I published a series of posts about assumptions we should change about church.

Here is a list of all nine:

9 perspectives to change about church. Click To Tweet
  1. We Don’t Need a Church Building
  2. Exploring Church Staff from a Biblical Perspective
  3. How Much Money Does the Church Need?
  4. The Fallacy of Church Membership
  5. Seek First the Kingdom of God
  6. How Important Is Seminary for Today’s Church Leaders?
  7. We Must Rethink Sunday School
  8. Love God and Love Others: A Call to Christian Unity
  9. Make Disciples Not Converts

What perspectives should you change about your view of church? Pick the assumption that most convicts you and work to reform it, first in your mind and then in your practice.

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

We Must Rethink Sunday School

We Must Rethink Sunday School

Reform Sunday School as an Education Service to Your Community

It may be strange to see Sunday school on this list of things we must change for our churches, but we should carefully reexamine it. Do you know the original mission of this Sunday program?

It was to teach poor children how to read. And the church used the most accessible book to them, the Bible. It was a pleasant side effect that in teaching children to read, this Sunday educational program also taught them about God through the Bible.

By the time public schools came into existence and took over this job of teaching children how to read, Sunday school had become entrenched in churches. Instead of realizing they had accomplished their objective and shutting it down, they shifted its focus to teach the church’s children about God.

It didn’t matter that this was the parent’s responsibility (Deuteronomy 6:6–7, Proverbs 22:6, and Ephesians 6:4). Though parents can supplement their efforts with other resources, let’s not depend on Sunday school to be one of them.

English as a Second Language

We could use this as justification for shutting down our Sunday schools, but a better approach might be to reform this practice from the internal program that it has become back into a service effort to help those in our community, just as was the original intent.

One example that would apply in many areas in the United States is to look at teaching English as a second language (ESL). Though many ESL programs already exist, they don’t reach everyone. Beyond ESL classes, meeting any unmet community educational need would fit nicely.

Regardless, the church should reform their Sunday school practice to address needs in their community.

Parents should resume their biblical role to tell their children about Jesus. They are the primary spiritual educators of their children. This removes the need for Sunday school, which we can re-envision as a program to help those in our community.

Read the next post in this series about things we must change in our discussion about Christian unity and loving others.

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

Why We Need a New Vision for Sunday School

Designed to teach illiterate kids to read, Sunday School needs to reclaim its vision of community service

Quick, what is the purpose of Sunday School? Your answer is likely that Sunday School is intended to teach children about God. Yet, that is not why Sunday School was first started. Sunday School was launched as a community service to teach underprivileged children how to read.

Yes, they used the Bible to do so, but I suspect that was as much pragmatic as strategic.

By the time public schools took over this task of teaching children how to read—thereby making Sunday School obsolete—it had become an entrenched institution within the church. To ensure its self-preservation Sunday School morphed into something else.

It became what it is today: a means to teach kids about faith. Never mind that parents should be doing that.

So despite having fulfilled its objective, Sunday School lives on.

I had all this in the recesses of my memory when I read Wesley Granberg-Michaelson’s excellent book From Times Square to Timbuktu.

As one small part of a much greater theme, he shares about his church that started English as a second language (ESL) classes to serve the area’s immigrants (page 103). That grabbed my attention.

Connecting the dots, I suggested to Wes that ESL classes could be the new Sunday School. Indeed, ESL better matches Sunday School’s original mandate to serve the community by teaching kids how to read than it does functioning as an internal Christian education tool for lazy church parents.

Started to teach poor kids to read, Sunday School needs to reclaim its vision of community service. Click To Tweet

Just as teaching reading was once a community service effort provided by the church, so too, churches can now offer ESL classes to serve their local community.

While the children of immigrants will learn English in school, both directly or indirectly, who will teach the parents, who lack such opportunities? Though some ESL programs exist, there is still a void. And who better to fill this need then the local church?

Who better to serve the community than followers of Jesus? After all, Jesus came not to be served, but to serve (Mark 10:45).

We, as his followers, should do the same.

Can your church offer ESL classes to serve your local community? What are other ways Sunday School can reclaim its original purpose?

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

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Christian Living

The New Sunday School

What was the original purpose of Sunday school? Religious instruction, right? No, not at all.

The initial goal of Sunday school was to provide basic academic instruction to poor children. Sunday school started as a philanthropic effort, not as religious instruction.

Teaching underprivileged kids to read was a key means to empower them so they could avoid mistreatment by society and abuse by employers.

Sunday school started as a philanthropic effort, not as religious instruction. Click To Tweet

Later on, when public schools effectively took over the role of Sunday school, rather than shutting down their programs, churches morphed Sunday school into religious education classes.

Though the purpose of Sunday school ended, their existence continued on, becoming an expected part of most church programming.

In the same original spirit of Sunday school, I heard of a church that offers classes in English as a second Language (ESL).

Their intent is philanthropic, to help people and better society. Isn’t that what churches should be doing, helping people and making our world a better place?

Could ESL classes be the new Sunday school?

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.