The formal word for “doing church” is ecclesiology. It comes from the Greek word ἐκκλησία (ekklēsia), which means a congregation of the called out. Those who go to church are there because they answered the calling of Jesus on their lives. Christians are convicted by the Holy Spirit to answer God’s calling on their lives to follow Him. Those Christians are in various stages of answering God’s call and growing closer to Him. We’re all in the process of learning His plan for our lives, together, in a community called church. As we are people, though, made of sinful flesh, we do make our mistakes.
I was blessed, during my ministry & seminary training, to get to travel from church to church as a supply pastor. I made mistakes. I also saw several churches and individual make mistakes, and there were some mistakes that were obviously a challenge for a substantial number of churches. I wanted to take time to pick out the Top 4 mistakes that Christians make when they do church. My hope is that maybe I can help someone(s) get through a challenge and learn to serve Christ better as we advance the gospel.
1) Loss of Focus
We can boil our calling into the Two Greats: The Greatest Commandment and the Great Commission. If we stay disciplined to make sure what we do is focused on those two simple passages, we can rest assured we are doing church as God intended. There are 66-books, and every Word in every one of them applies. Still, all 66 lead to Jesus, and it is His instruction that summarizes our purpose. Let’s review those two passages:
Matthew 22:36-40 (NIV)
36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
2) Spiritual Immaturity
Spiritual maturity and age are not necessarily connected. I’ve seen many young people showing great spiritual maturity, adhering to the two greats and on fire to be Jesus’ hands and feet. Likewise, plenty of seasoned saints have shown possessiveness, divisiveness, entitlement and behavior well outside the Mind of Christ (Philippians 2:1-11). We gain spiritual maturity by our proximity to God and our willingness to do His will as prescribed in His Word. I recommend every Christian grow her/his spiritual maturity by a committed discipline of Conscious Contact with God.
Conscious contact time is just dedicated time to engage in the spiritual disciplines: Prayer, Bible-intake, meditation, journaling, fasting, worship, service and many more. For an example, I have a condition that requires 1-hour of using a physical therapy device that keeps me immobile while in PT. During this time, I go through a routine of prayer, followed by worship (often with my iPad on YouTube), taking in my day’s lesson, meditating on the lesson, and journaling about it all. This gets my day started with lots of great healing, both physically and spiritually.
Others have told me of having their conscious contact time during the drive to and from work, utilizing the smart-phone or CD-player. While I pray for their safety, it does seem to make for a ride with more spiritual maturity and less unnecessary hand-gestures. How we do the conscious contact time is less important than the steady commitment to do it. It changes our entire attitude about our brothers and sisters at church, and makes us more useful to the Kingdom as we grow in Christ.
Sunday morning services are less about the saints developing spiritual maturity, and more about seekers and the disciplines of community and worship. When the long-term members develop an attitude of entitlement, they make mistakes. When anyone feels like the service doesn’t particularly serve their desires, they make mistakes. All of the meetings of God’s people are about serving God.
3) Musical Immaturity
There is an old church saying that goes, “When Satan fell, he landed right in the choir loft”. This comes from reality that there are lots of opinions about how to do music. Instrumentation can divide many congregants. For many it is a question of musical tastes. It may be just right, or too old, too new, too formal and classically-trained, or too informal and unrestrained. Some feel like hymnals should be in the pew-pockets, and others like having the lyrics projected on big screens by the platform. Where Christians make mistakes in church music is in insisting the music should be just what they want, to the exclusion of everyone else.
Spiritual maturity fixes most of the problems with church music. Looking at the Sunday morning service as an opportunity for seekers and for everyone to worship God in unity is an important attitude to take. Here are some useful tips:
A. Clearly communicate the purpose of the music program; to worship God and to prepare our hearts to receive His message.
B. Lead worship with skillful musicians. The congregation depends on a leader who can help all let go and receive God in the service. Music leaders should be passionate Christians first, and musicians second, but all should be dedicated to giving their utmost for His highest. Skillful musicians are there to support the church, not entertain a crowd with their awesome playing chops.
C. Don’t neglect anyone. The music should enrich the worship experience for the entire family of Christ’s body. Here are suggestions to broaden the connection with the congregation family:
i. Grow your genre beyond its target age. I’ve seen traditional churches adapt current Christian contemporary songs to formal instrumentation. Conversely, I know a great many contemporary musicians who use modern contemporary instruments and methods to convey older songs from the hymnal.
ii. Integrate, don’t separate. Congregations need to get over their fear of musical instruments. The psalmist makes this abundantly clear:
Psalm 150:3-6 (NLT)
3 Praise him with a blast of the ram’s horn; praise him with the lyre and harp!
4 Praise him with the tambourine and dancing; praise him with strings and flutes!
5 Praise him with a clash of cymbals; praise him with loud clanging cymbals.
6 Let everything that breathes sing praises to the LORD! Praise the LORD!
iii. Be gradual, with as much variety as possible. Many in the congregation have a musical talent. Former high-school musicians serve, bringing flutes, violins, cellos, horns and woodwinds into the church’s sound palette. Percussion can be a contemporary drum kit, as well as hand-drums and shakers. I’ve see guitarists with “metal-head” skills pick up an acoustic guitar and add a rich dynamic to piano and organ traditional church music.
D. Pay careful attention to the lyrics and the author. Lyrics should be theologically sound and lead into the theme of the service. Authors
should be chosen for appropriate content (Skillet: great, but not in a traditional church), as well as background (Mark Gungor: hits, but theology is controversial).
E. Foster unity and gently but firmly admonish the church against divisiveness, specifically regarding the music. Politics might work in secular government, but they have no place in serving God. Jesus is our leader, and the Bible is our guide.
4) Financial Stewardship
Careless stewardship of God’s gift of resources has ended the ministry of many churches. The mistakes can be loosely categorized into two trouble spots; giving and prudence. Let’s look at some common mistakes by category:
A. Giving – God already owns all of the money He created. He doesn’t need anything, certainly not our money. Still, His Word instructs us to tithe for several different purposes. The greatest purpose of tithing is expressing faith. God’s word is clear:
Luke 6:38 (NLT)
38 Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full—pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back.”
Hebrews 7:2 (NLT)
2 Then Abraham took a tenth of all he had captured in battle and gave it to Melchizedek. The name Melchizedek means “king of justice,” and king of Salem means “king of peace.”
The Bible also tells us to give with a cheerful heart. And just as each individual tithes, the congregation should cheerfully give faithfully to their missionaries of mission organizations. I’ve witnessed several churches prioritize a new piano or vehicle over fully funding missions. They lost track of their purpose and God took away their church.
Some personalities come with a controlling nature. They give a special offering to the church, and then restrict the church by putting conditions on the money such as matching or under-funding a pet project. Giving with strings attached may be well-meaning, but it is a bad idea. I’ve known churches with 6-figures donated into special offerings that couldn’t afford to replace a $15,000 air conditioner.
There are also leaders who act like money tithed by the congregation is theirs to miser, and they starve desperately needed ministries. Older congregations complain that new families with children aren’t attracted to the church, and then they allocate money for a new organ rather than youth programs. Old churches have funds and property salted away and appreciating for decades of operational budget. They take pride in having a big bank account while seeker, youth and missionary services are poorly funded or completely un-funded.
Serving people’s personalities can destroy the work of a church. I’ve seen God take away His provision in both finances and people when stewardship hinged on serving personalities, rather than prudently serving God.
As the ekklēsia or ecclesia, we have been given such a powerful opportunity to serve a living and wonderful God. He uses us to help Him save the lost, to heal, to teach, to pray for others and grow closer to Him. As we grow in Him, it’s wise to pay attention to the mistakes we have seen elsewhere so we can ensure that our mission misses as many pitfalls as possible.
That’s what I have to say, but what do you say? What positive steps have you seen that might help another Christian or church? What should other churches avoid? I look forward to hearing from you.