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Bible Insights

Job’s Conclusion

A common lament of Job throughout the story bearing his name is his begging God to answer his pleas. However, it seems that Job (and his friends) are too busy talking to give God a chance. When God does respond, Job’s friends are rebuffed, and Job’s righteousness is affirmed.

Now we can read Job’s conclusion to the entire matter.

Job’s brief reply to God’s discourse is humble and contrite. After acknowledging God’s complete knowledge (omniscience) and total power (omnipotence), Job unabashedly admits:

“I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.” This is Job’s conclusion to his ordeal. May we follow his example.

With all of our knowledge and assumed understanding of God and his ways, I think that Job’s words are more often an appropriate and accurate posture then for us to assuredly spout our religious opinions (theology) as if they were fact.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Job 40-42, and today’s post is on Job 42:3.]

Discover more about Job in Peter’s book I Hope in Him: 40 Insights about Moving from Despair to Deliverance through the Life of Job. In it, we compare the text of Job to a modern screenplay.

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

Father, Son, or Holy Spirit?

Which Part of the Trinity Do You Focus On?

The Bible talks about God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. We intellectually know that these three parts of the Trinity exist, but what is the reality of our spiritual practice? Most Christians prefer one part of the godhead over the other. They make that facet of God their primary focus, while diminishing or even forgetting the other two.

Churches, too, tend to emphasize one part—Father, Son, or Holy Spirit—in their religious practices. I’ve gone to all three types of churches, have friends in all three, and understand all three.

In what follows, I’ll speak in generalities; that means there are exceptions. If one part of my summary offends you, ask yourself if I may have hit too close to home.

In our discussion of Father, Son, or Holy Spirit, I outline three considerations:

Father God

The first group of Christians focus their faith on Father God. They worship him and serve him. He is the reason for their existence—intellectually so—and the center of their worship—albeit more stoic in nature. Though he is their Heavenly Father, they are more apt to refer to him as God than as Father. He also tends to be a more distant deity in their faith practice and daily living.

Jesus is a secondary part of their faith. They revere him as a good man, a wise teacher, and a worthy example. Mentally they acknowledge him as Savior, but it doesn’t often go beyond that. And they give the Holy Spirit minimal attention, treating him like an eccentric relative that they know exists but try to ignore.

Jesus, the Son

Another group of Christians celebrate Jesus as the center of their faith. Having a personal relationship with him—according to their specific theological constructs—is the only thing that matters. Once they’ve done that, their card is punched, and they’re going to heaven, where they’ll spend eternity with him. Oh, and Father God will be there too.

The Heavenly Father is part of their faith, But in practice and in thought, he’s often secondary to Jesus. They forget that Jesus is the way, not the destination. They acknowledge the work of the Holy Spirit but have scaled back their acceptance of his work from what the Bible proclaims to what better aligns with their own practices and experiences today.

Holy Spirit

The third group of Christians put the work and power of the Holy Spirit in the center of their faith and daily practices. It starts with a relationship with Jesus and culminates with the infilling power of the Holy Spirit in their lives—often proved by speaking in tongues. Once a rigid expectation, speaking in tongues is now more a preferred—but not required—outcome for most practices.

Though Jesus and the Father are part of their faith, the extreme emphasis on the Holy Spirit tends to diminish them in the process.

Our perspective should be Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. May we move forward to embrace all three. Click To Tweet

A Holistic Perspective

Though you might insist on some exceptions, you likely identify with one of these three camps over the other two. But before you affirm your perspective as right and the other two as wrong, let me suggest that despite the good aspects of each group, none are correct. It is not an issue of Father, Son, or Holy Spirit, but a holistic call to equally embrace all three in our theology, worship, and service.

It should be Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. May we move forward to evenly embrace all three.

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

Don’t Let Our Labels Divide Us

May We Be One in Jesus and Ignore What Could Separate Us

We live in a divisive time, with one group opposing another, often in the most zealous of ways, sometimes even with violent outcomes. As a society, we’re quick to put people in a box and label them according to some aspect of their life.

Though these labels are sometimes convenient, and at times even appropriate, more often they divide us and cause unnecessary conflict and needless opposition.

These divisions, however, don’t just appear in secular spaces. They also appear in the religious realm. We put labels on people of faith and use these identifiers to decide who we align with and who we oppose. And to our discredit, we do this in the name of God.

Here are some ways that we let labels divide us as people of faith and followers of Jesus:

Divided by Denomination

First, we divide ourselves by denomination, in both a generic and a specific sense. First, we segregate Christianity into three primary streams: Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Protestant.

Each group knows little about the other, often denigrating them over wrong assumptions and misunderstandings. Yet we all have Jesus in common. This should be enough to unite us and be one in him.

Within Protestantism, we see many more divisions with 42,000 Protestant denominations who distrust each other, criticize one another, and resort to name-calling for no good reason other than to make us feel smugly superior.

This is to our discredit. These manmade divisions take us far from the unity that Jesus prayed for and marginalize our witness for Jesus.

Divided by Theology

Next, we use the labels of our theology to separate us. We elevate our point of view—which we think is correct—and diminish our fellow brothers and sisters—who we perceive as being in error.

With academic vigor, we pursue a right theology. In the process, we overlook the importance of having a right relationship with God. Our connection with the Almighty, through Jesus, is what matters most.

Our theological labels don’t matter. In most cases, our theology wrongly judges one another and causes needless division. It generates suspicion and breeds mistrust. Instead of formulating tenuous theological constructs, we should focus on placing our trust in Jesus.

Divided by Politics

We also let our political views, which carry their own set of labels, influence our theology.

In the United States—and perhaps in the rest of the world too—we see well-meaning followers of Jesus who align with one political party, vilifying their brothers and sisters in Christ who belong to the opposite party.

I’ve heard each side lambaste the other, saying how can someone be a (enter party affiliation) and be a Christian?

Divided by Church Practice

Making an even a finer distinction on our theology, we place labels on our church practices, too, often with fervent passion. Some churches are known as being high churches, which implies the rest are low churches.

There are liturgical churches and non-liturgical churches. Some church gatherings place their focus on the practice of Holy Communion and others emphasizethe sermon.

Then there are musical styles, ranging from traditional to contemporary. We also debate pews versus chairs, women in ministry, and the “proper” way too be saved through Jesus.

Divided by Membership

Beyond that, we divide ourselves by membership status. For some churches—perhaps most—this is an essential consideration. Members are in, and nonmembers are out, be it effectively or legalistically.

But membership in a denomination or local church isn’t biblical. It opposes the Scriptural teaching that as followers of Jesus we are members united in one body, which is the universal church.

The Solution to Labels

It’s time we end our categorization of each other and stop our needless squabbles over secondary issues and disputes that don’t matter to God. Instead it’s time we embrace one another and love one another, just as Jesus told us to do.

We need to live in unity.

It's time we embrace one another and love one another, just as Jesus told us to do. Click To Tweet

Then we can come closer to being united as one, just as Jesus and the Father are one.

It’s time we embrace one another and love one another, just as Jesus told us to do.

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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Visiting Churches

When Visiting Churches We Must Keep Our Focus on God

For 52 Churches, my wife and I spent one year visiting a different Christian church every week. What we learned was amazing. Still, I knew the journey wasn’t over. We had more to do and visited more churches. I shared these new experiences in More Than 52 Churches.

Consider these three discussion questions as we dig deeper into visiting churches.

Visiting churches wore us down. Visitors to our churches may share a similar perspective. What can we do to help weary visitors experience God and enjoy community?

Each church’s worship practices varied, and their theology diverged, but the God behind them stands constant. How can we keep our focus on God and not on our church service and theology?

A slight majority of the population are introverts who may struggle more in visiting churches. Regardless of where we are on the introvert-extrovert scale, what can we do to personally embrace church visitors?

[Read more or start at the beginning of our journey.]

Get your copy of More Than 52 Churches and The More Than 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.

Categories
Christian Living

3 Problems Caused by Theology

An Academic Pursuit of Religious Knowledge Can Cause Much Harm

When I wrote about the dangers of pursuing a right theology, I noted that God doesn’t want us to know about him. He wants us to know him on a personal level. In our pursuit of knowledge, we seek to categorize our understanding of God. We’ve taken the mystery of who God is and turned him into an academic pursuit. We organize, and we intellectualize. In doing so we risk producing three negative outcomes.

1. Theology Labels

Theologians love to give highfalutin names to murky philosophical constructs in a vain attempt to quantify God and explain who he is. This produces labels for various theological thoughts. People who study God from an academic perspective will align themselves with viewpoints they like and distance themselves from others. Using these labels, they determine who is with them and who is against them in their spiritual comprehension of faith (see 1 Corinthians 1:12-13).

People too often try to do this with me. They ask, “Are you a (insert-theological-label)?” They grow irritated when I don’t answer. This is because I can’t. By intention I’ve not studied the nuances of the doctrine they mentioned. Instead I study God as revealed in the Bible and through the Holy Spirit.

I follow Jesus and strive to be a worthy disciple. That’s all that matters. Seriously. Don’t let theological labels detract from this singular focus that trumps all others. If we’re all on Team Jesus, everything else becomes a nonissue.

2. Theology Judges

As we put labels on certain theological perspectives, we apply these tags to those who align with them. We judge people based on which camp they reside in according to their set of beliefs. As a result, we view some people as in and others as out (see Romans 14:10 and James 2:4).

If they agree with the beliefs we hold dear, we accept them. But if they have an alternate view, we judge them as unworthy of our attention and push them aside. In most cases, the judgments we form by our nuanced theology force many people away. It’s us versus them, even though we all pursue the same God—the God of the Bible.

Jesus prayed for our unity, and we responded by allowing our theological squabbles to divide us. Click To Tweet

3. Theology Divides

First, we label. Next, we judge. Then we divide. We see this most pronounced on Sunday morning. We go to church with other people who believe just like we do. And too often we vilify those who believe differently. This is why Protestantism has divided itself over the centuries to produce 43,000 denominations today. Most of these spring forth from theological disagreement.

Jesus prayed for our unity (John 17:20-21), and we responded by allowing our theological squabbles to divide us. Denominations are the antithesis to Christian unity.

Tool or Distraction?

For some people, an academic quest to understand God is a tool that brings them to him. Yet many more pour themselves into pursuing a right theology as if it is the goal, as if nothing else matters. They risk having this intellectual path distract them from truly knowing God, from having an intimate relationship with him.

The result is labeling, judgement, and division. This trio harms the church of Jesus, distracting us from becoming all he wants us to be.

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 Important Is It to Have the Right Theology?

God Doesn’t Want Us to Study Him; He Wants Us to Know Him

When people first learn that I have a PhD and where I did my postgrad work, they assume I’m into theology. Imagine their disappointment to find out I don’t care about the concept or want to pursue a right theology, that I can’t engage in a meaningful discussion about the topic—at least not as they perceive it.

At its most basic level, theology is the study of God. I like that. But as nuances of finding a right theology layer on top of this basic understanding, the subject gets murky.

The result is too many long, multi-syllable words that few people can pronounce and even fewer can comprehend. Turning God into an academic pursuit of the right theology pushes him away and keeps us from truly knowing him.

Relationship Is Key

For many people, their spouse is their most important relationship.

Imagine if I went to my wife and said, “I’m going to devote the rest of my life to studying you.

“I’ll watch you and make notes. I’ll catalog who you are and categorize what you do. Next, I’ll read books to help me better understand you. I’ll also talk with others to gain their insights about who you are. Then I’ll tell others what I’ve learned.”

How would she react? Not well. My singular commitment to focus on her would not win me her appreciation. Instead it would stir up her ire. She would rightfully complain, “Why can’t we hang out instead? I just want you to spend time with me.”

So it is with God. He doesn’t want us to study him. He wants a relationship (Hosea 6:6). Theology keeps God at a distance when what he really wants is for us to know him.

Knowledge Puffs Up

As people pursue theology, they amass a great deal of information. Much of this forms a theoretical construct, turning God into an abstract spiritual entity.

In doing so they gather much knowledge but risk pushing God further away. This knowledge of who God is generates pride. It puffs up. Instead of knowledge, we should pursue love, which builds up (1 Corinthians 8:1).

Pursuing theology isn’t necessarily bad, but it can distract us from what is most important: being in a relationship with Jesus. Click To Tweet

Education Distracts

The pursuit of higher learning is a noble task, but it’s not the goal. Chasing after a theology of God isn’t the end. It’s the means to the end: to know who God is in an intimate, personal way.

Jesus routinely criticized the Pharisees and Sadducees—who we could equate to ancient theologians. Instead he embraced a simple message when he said “follow me” (John 10:27).

Pursing a Right Theology

Though pursuing a right theology and even having a Bible study aren’t necessarily bad, they can distract us from what’s most important: to follow Jesus and be in relationship with him.

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

Love God and Love Others: A Call to Christian Unity

Shun Division, Disunity, and Denominations in the Name of Jesus

Just as church member status divides the church body into two groups, so does our doctrine. Instead of obeying Jesus’s instruction to love God and love others, we make a lengthy list of what we should do and shouldn’t do, judging others according to our opinions of what’s proper and what’s not.

This legalistic approach follows what the Old Testament set in motion with its 613 instructions in the Law of Moses, of things to do and not do.

Compounding the problem, God’s children in the Old Testament added tens of thousands of manmade rules, which evolved over the centuries, to help interpret the original 613 expectations he gave to Moses.

Jesus Says to Love God and Love Others

Jesus says that his yoke is easy in his burden is light. This means his doctrine is simple to follow and effortless to bear (Matthew 11:30). To confirm this, Jesus simplifies all these Old Testament commands and man-made traditions when he says we are to love God and love others (Luke 10:27).

Yes, Jesus’s essential expectation is love.

To accomplish these two instructions to love God and love others, we can best do so through Jesus. We should follow him (Matthew 4:19 and Luke 14:27), believe in him (John 6:35), and be his disciple (John 8:31 and John 15:8).

These are all ways of saying we need to go all in for Jesus. That’s it.

That’s our essential doctrine. Everything else is secondary. Beyond Jesus and love, we shouldn’t argue about the rest. We are to be one church, just as Jesus prayed we would (John 17:20–21).

Denominational Division

Yet in the last 500 years we’ve argued about doctrine, we’ve judged others by our religious perspectives, and we’ve killed people for their beliefs. We deemed that our view was right and everyone else was wrong. We used this to divide ourselves.

We formed groups of like-minded thinkers, which became denominations.

Today we have 42,000 Protestant denominations, dividing Jesus’s church so much that we’ve lost our witness to the world. Jesus wanted his followers to live in unity. Yet we persist in division. Our denominations that we made are the antithesis of God’s unity that Jesus wants (Ephesians 4:3–6).

Yes, division occurred in the prior 1,500 years—the first millennia and a half of Jesus’s church—but that was nothing like what’s happened in the last five centuries during the modern era.

We are to unite ourselves under Jesus, to be like-minded, of one Spirit and one mind. Click To Tweet

Paul says that we are to unite ourselves under Jesus, to be like-minded, of one Spirit and one mind. In our relationships we should have Jesus’s mindset (Philippians 2:1–5).

To Titus, Paul writes to warn a divisive person one time, and give a second notice if they disregard the first. Then the only recourse is to ignore them (Titus 3:10–11).

Jude also warns against division. Instead of taking sides, he tells us to rise above it by focusing on growing our faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, and abiding in God’s love (Jude 1:18–23).

As followers of Jesus, we must pursue unity in him and oppose every instance of division—regardless of the source.

Read the next post in this series about things we must change in our discussion about making disciples.

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 Important Is Seminary for Today’s Church Leaders?

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Personal Relationship with Jesus

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

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

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

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

We need to select our clergy based on their godly character and not their seminary diploma. Click To Tweet

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

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

Read more about this in Peter’s 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

Will You Pray for Us?

The People of Israel Ask Samuel To Intercede for Them

Throughout the Old Testament, the Philistines show up as a recurring nemesis for God’s chosen people, the nation of Israel. The Bible mentions the Philistines 191 times in seventeen of the Old Testament’s books. In most of these cases the Philistines are doing something to harass the Jewish people.

Today’s passage is one of many such examples.

Pray for Us

The Philistine army advances to attack Israel, and the people fear what will happen. They go to the prophet Samuel and ask him to “pray for us,” to intercede and seek God’s provision for deliverance from their enemy.

“Do not stop crying out to the Lord our God,” they beg, “so that he will rescue us from the Philistines.”

Though the Bible doesn’t specifically say that Samuel prays, we can assume he does. Then Samuel offers a burnt offering to God.

When the enemy army draws near, God produces a mighty thunder and the Philistine army goes into a full-scale panic. In complete disarray, the Israelite army easily routes them, killing many and winning a significant victory.

Then Samuel sets up a stone as a monument to commemorate the event. He calls it Ebenezer, which means “stone of help.” This serves as a reminder to the people of how God worked through nature to bring about a victory for the Israelite army.

Pray for Yourselves

This passage is a tribute to God’s power and of Samuel’s intercession for the people. Yet why did the people need Samuel to pray for them? Why did they need him to be there liaison to God?

They could have sought God directly and personally asked him for deliverance. But they didn’t. It could be that their faith was weak, and they didn’t feel they could approach God. Another explanation is that their theology was in error, and they didn’t realize they could pray directly to God.

We can go directly to God in prayer. Do we do this or ask someone else to pray for us? Click To Tweet

Today, we can go right to God in prayer. Do we do this or ask someone else to pray for us? What does this say about our faith and our theology?

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is 1 Samuel 5-7, and today’s post is on 1 Samuel 7:8.]

Categories
Christian Living

7 Things Church Is Not

We Must Correct Some Wrong Perspectives about Our Religious Practices

We’ve looked at how Jesus fulfills the Old Testament to provide a new way for us and our churches to function, replacing the temple, paid clergy, and tithes. Then we explored ten New Testament practices and five New Testament examples to inform our church behavior.

Yet today’s church has characteristics that come from our culture and have no scriptural basis. We need to identify these unbiblical practices and remove them from our perspectives—and our churches. We need to pursue what Jesus wants.

1. Church Is Not About Membership

Membership in a business promotion or club implies privilege. There are qualification requirements to meet. Often there is a fee. Because not everyone can meet these barriers to entry, membership becomes a status symbol.

It separates those who are in from those who are out.

Church does the same thing when it touts membership. To become a church member, there are hoops to jump through: attend classes, agree to certain teachings, follow specific rules, or commit to give money, possibly even at a certain annual level.

Once we become a member, the church accepts us as one of its own. They fully embrace us, and we become one of them. We are elite, and, even if we won’t admit it, we swell with pride over our special status. Now the church and her paid staff will care for us.

To everyone else, they offer tolerance but withhold full acceptance. After all, church membership has its privileges.

There’s one problem.

Church membership is not biblical. We made it up.

Having members separates church attendees between those on the inside and everyone else. It pushes away spiritual seekers. Membership splits the church of Jesus, separating people into two groups, offering privileges to one and holding the other at a distance.

It is a most modern concept, consumerism at its finest. (More on this in the next section.)

Although perhaps well intended, membership divides the church that Jesus wants to function as one (John 17:21). Jesus accepts and loves everyone, not just those who follow him or give money.

Paul never gives instructions about church membership, Peter never commands we join a church, and John never holds a new membership class.

Church membership is not biblical. We made it up. Click To Tweet

2. Church Is Not for Consumers

When we join a church by becoming a member, we expect something in return. In addition to acceptance, we seek benefits. That’s why we go church shopping, striving to find the church that offers us the most.

We look for the best preaching, the most exciting worship, and the widest array of programs to meet our needs.

This is consumerism—and it doesn’t belong in the church.

When people feel free to leave a church, often over the smallest of slights, they view themselves as a customer shopping for the church that offers the most value. This is a consumer mindset, not a godly perspective.

We shouldn’t shop for a church that provides the services we want. Instead we should look for a faith community we can help.

When people go church shopping, the church becomes a service provider. Which church offers the best services? Then the focus shifts to programs, service styles, and preaching power.

Instead of asking, “What can the church do for me?” the better question becomes “What can I do for the church?” Don’t seek to be served but to serve. (See Matthew 20:28 and Mark 10:45.)

This idea of receiving services influences our church selection process. Seldom do people look for a church that gives them the opportunity to serve. Instead they seek a church for the benefits it provides: the music, the message, and the ministries.

They’re church shoppers, pursuing church selection with a consumer mindset.

The result is a retail religion. These people shop for a church the same way they buy a car or look for a gym. They make a list—either literally or figuratively—of the things their new car, gym, or church must have.

Then they draft their wish list of what they hope their new car, gym, or church could have. And then they create a final list of deal breakers, detailing the things their new car, gym, or church can’t have.

Then they go shopping.

They tick off items on their list. With intention they test drive cars, check out gyms, or visit churches. In each case, they immediately reject some and consider others as possibilities.

Eventually they grow tired of shopping and make their selection from the top contenders, seeking a solution that provides them with the most value.

A better, and more God-honoring approach, is to seek a church community that provides opportunities for us to serve. We need to stop thinking of church for the things it will provide for us and instead consider the things we can do for it, that is, for the people who go there and the community surrounding it.

We should look for a church that provides opportunities for us to serve, according to how God has wired us, ways that make us come alive. This includes service within the church and to those people outside the church.

Service is not an isolated activity. As we serve, we do so as a group. Church service and community matter more than church programs and benefits.

We need to stop thinking of church for the things it will provide for us and instead consider the things we can do for it. Click To Tweet

3. Church Is Not about Division

We’ve talked about how church membership divides people. Some carry the special status of members, while others are relegated to second-class status as attendees. Membership segregates people into two groups. This divides Jesus’s church, the body of Christ.

Sadly, there are nuances within membership too. There are those who serve on boards and committees and those who don’t function in a leadership capacity. There are those who teach classes and those who don’t. There are those who volunteer and those who don’t.

Each distinguishing characteristic elevates some and devalues others.

We also divide by race, ethnicity, and social economic status. More God-dishonoring segregation. Shame on us.

4. Church is Not About Theology

Another way we promote division is through our theology. Yes, theology divides us.

At its most basic level, theology is the study of God. But the modern idea of finding the right theology piles layers on top of this basic understanding, and the subject gets murky. The result is too many multi-syllable words that few people can pronounce and even fewer can comprehend.

Turning God into an academic pursuit of the right theology pushes him away and keeps us from truly knowing him.

As people pursue theology, they amass information. Much of this forms a theoretical construct, turning God into an abstract spiritual entity. They gather knowledge at the risk of pushing the Almighty away.

This knowledge of who God is generates pride. It puffs up. Instead of knowledge, we should pursue love, which builds up (1 Corinthians 8:1).

The pursuit of theological learning is a noble task, but it’s not the goal. Chasing after a theology of God isn’t the end. It’s the means to the end: to know who God is in an intimate, personal way.

Instead we take our theologies and divide Jesus’s church. We cite certain beliefs as immutable. We fellowship with those who agree with us and disassociate from those who disagree. We dishonor Jesus in the process and serve as a poor witness as a result.

We take our theologies and divide Jesus’s church, dishonoring God in the process. Click To Tweet

5. Church Is Not for Networking

Some people become part of a church to make marketing contacts or achieve status as a member of a high-profile congregation. Their goal in attending isn’t spiritual. It’s business. It’s closing sales.

Once they’ve sold all they can to those who attend that church, they move on to another one. For them attending church is a business strategy, and God takes a backseat.

6. Church Is Not a Business

A church is not a business, and we shouldn’t run it like one either. Many churches today, however, think like a business and operate like one. A church should not have a profit motive, that is, maximizing donations.

Nor should a church adapt current business world concepts such as having a CEO, a board, marketing strategies, customer experience, and incentive programs.

Yes, a church should be fiscally responsible and manage its money—God’s money— with the highest integrity. And a church needs some degree of leadership, but remember Jesus modeled the idea of servant leadership (Matthew 20:28 and Mark 10:45). So should today’s church leaders.

And we shouldn’t track the achievements of our church the same way a business would. Today’s church measures success by attendance, offerings, and facility size. This is because the world values increased scope: the number of people, amount of money, and square footage of a building.

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. Churches with a sizeable attendance or grand edifice garner attention.

They receive media coverage. Books celebrate them and elevate their leaders to lofty pedestals. This is how the Western world defines success.

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—doesn’t matter as much as most people think.

Said more bluntly, most church leaders today focus on the three B’s: butts (in the chair), bucks (in the offering), and buildings.

I doubt God cares about the size of our audience, offerings, or facility. Instead of an unhealthy, unbiblical focus on the three B’s, what if we and our churches looked to the three C’s of changed lives, community, and commitment?

Changed Lives: First, Jesus wants changed lives. He yearns for us to repent (Luke 13:3) and follow him (Luke 9:23). Then we can reorder our priorities. In fact, most all he says is about changing the way we live.

Community: Next, Jesus wants to build a community—to be one—just as he and Papa are one (John 17:21). He wants us to be part of the kingdom of God (John 3:3). Instead we have become a church.

Commitment: Last, Jesus expects our commitment. He desires people who will go all in. He wants us to follow him, to serve him, and to be with him (John 12:26). We need to maintain our focus on him and not look back to what we left behind (Luke 9:62). That’s commitment, and that’s what Jesus wants.

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

Jesus focuses on changed lives, community, and commitment. So should we. Click To Tweet

7. Church Is Not an Institution

Most churches—and especially denominations—become institutions over time. As institutions they seek to perpetuate themselves regardless of the circumstances. In their struggle for survival, they lose sight of why they existed in the first place.

Instead of seeking to serve their community and share salvation through Jesus, their focus grows inward. Their priority is on self-preservation at all costs.

People expect a church—their church—will last forever. They forget that a church, which comprises people, is a living, breathing, and changing entity. It’s organic. That means a church is born, grows, thrives, and dies—just like the people who are in it.

The only way to avoid this is for a church to become an institution, but once it does it loses its original purpose. It’s no longer alive. It’s dead and can do little to advance the kingdom of God.

Church shouldn’t be a business, institution, or club. We must rescind membership, stop thinking like consumers, and start pursuing unity over segregation. Finally, we need to stop dividing ourselves by our theology. Jesus has one church. We must start acting like 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.