Thursday, August 3, 2017

Choosing a Church: the 10 Things That Matter Most (pt. 3)


"If you’re ready to decide where to go to church – or not sure if the church you’re attending is where God wants you – you may be faced with difficult choices as well. A lot is at stake. Most of us have a lot of options. And most of us have a lot of preferences, too.  So how do we decide what matters most?

  ....When it comes to selecting a church – a “must-have” list and a “that-would-be-nice” list of qualities in a church. In this chapter, I want to help you with your “must-have” list.


6.  Is this a church where people strive to live by God’s Word?

                No church can claim to live out God’s Word perfectly.  What’s important is to look for a church that is seeking not only to believe rightly, but also to live rightly.  It’s possible for a church to be doctrinally sound but have a culture of total apathy when it comes to applying the truth of God’s Word in everyday life.

                Our faith in God and our desire to honor Him with obedience and holiness will affect everything – from how we conduct ourselves at work to how we speak to our children at home.  If it doesn’t, something is wrong.

                That means that the church you’re looking for will seek to build a culture and community of both hearing and obeying God’s Word (see James 1:22).  It will seek not only to win converts, but to make disciples by helping them to mature in godly living in every area of life.

See R. Kent Hughes', "Calling a Worldly Church to a Godly Life."

See Kevin DeYoung's, "The Hole In Our Holiness: Filling the Gap Between Gospel Passion and the Pursuit of Godliness."

See J.C. Ryle's classic, "Holiness"

7.  Is this a church where I can find and cultivate godly relationships?

                We all need relationships where we can receive encouragement, accountability and care.  And an essential part of living out God’s Word is being connected to other Christians. Does the church you’re considering provide settings where you can enjoy biblical fellowship, mutual encouragement, and application of Scripture?  This will look different at different churches – some have official small group structures, others don’t but achieve the same purpose through other means.  What matters is that godly relationships happen.  And, of course, these kinds of relationships usually take time to develop.

                Finally, think about whether you’ll be able to invest adequately in the relationship opportunities the church offers.  No matter how great the church, if you live two hours away you’ll be very limited in your ability to be a meaningful part of the community.  The local church you choose should be local.

See Jerry Bridge's, "True Community."

See Paul Tripp's, "Instruments In the Redeemer's Hands."

8.  Is this a church where members are challenged to serve?

                Pastors are not supposed to be paid professionals who do ministry in place of their members.  Ephesians 4:12 tells us that pastors are to “equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.”  That means you should look for a church that equips its members to serve and minister, and then challenges them to do so.

                I want to caution you about how you apply this criterion.  I’ve met people who evaluate opportunities to serve in a very self-centered way.  For example, they’re motivated to serve, but only in their preferred way.  If you don’t make this opportunity available, they leave in a huff.  When you think about it, that attitude is funny.  True service means giving cheerfully to meet someone else’s genuine need – and the most important need probably isn’t the server’s need to serve in a particular way!

                My advice, then, is to make sure you’re not evaluating a church primarily by its capacity as a stage to showcase your gifts.  Look for a place that will challenge you to care deeply about the needs of others.  Then be ready to do whatever it takes to meet those needs.

9.  Is this a church that is willing to kick me out?

                This priority might sound old-fashioned to you.  But there’s a hard, important truth here.  When a person who claims to be a Christian lives in a way that blatantly contradicts all that it means to be a disciple of Christ, a faithful church’s responsibility is to begin the process of removing that person from membership and to treat him or her like an unbeliever in the hope that he or she will repent and ultimately be restored (see 1 Corinthians 5; 2 Corinthians 2).  This is not harsh or abrupt.  This practice is called church discipline and was instituted by Jesus (see Matthew 18:15-17).

                Why should you be excited about the potential of being expelled from a church?  I gain a wonderful sense of protection in knowing that if I committed a scandalous sin and showed no repentance, my church wouldn’t put up with it.  They would plead with me to change.  They would patiently confront me with God’s Word.  And eventually, if I refused to change, they would lovingly kick me out.

                Remember that the purpose behind church discipline is first to restore.  Four hundred years ago Menno Simons wrote:  “We do not want to expel any, but rather to receive; not to amputate, but rather to heal; not to discard, but rather to win back; not to grieve, but rather to comfort; not to condemn, but rather to save.”  So church discipline is an expression of love.  It’s a way to try to restore a sinning brother as well as a way to protect the witness of the church. After all, the power of a church in a community starts with its example.  As our generation knows too well, hypocrisy destroys a church’s witness and leaves its message discredited.  A church committed to glorifying God and reaching the lost world will not only have membership, but will clearly define what that membership requires.  It will want to be able to answer clearly anyone who asks who is truly part of the church and who is not.

                Discipline is also important when someone begins spreading false teaching.  In these cases, discipline guards the church against the damaging effects of heresy. So look for a church that will not only welcome you into membership, but will lovingly hold you to your commitments as a Christian – a church that will love you enough to put you out of fellowship for the good of your soul.

See Stephen Davey, "In Pursuit of Prodigals: A Primer on Church Discipline and Reconciliation."

See Mark Dever's chapter in, "9 Marks of a Healthy Church."

10.  Is this a church I’m willing to join “as is” with enthusiasm and faith in God? 

                I’ve often advised men and women not to marry someone if their unspoken plan is to change them “into the person they ought to be.”  Ask anyone who’s been married more than a year.  It just doesn’t work.

                In your church quest, ask yourself, “Can I joyfully and fully support this church’s leaders, their teachings, and the direction they have set? Please don’t join a church because you think God has called you to overhaul it!  Humbly recognize that you have your own sin to deal with and that you won’t succeed anywhere as a self-appointed leader. 

                Find a church you can be excited about.  Of course, you’ll want your church to grow and improve (as you yourself hopefully will!).  But if it’s the one for you, you should be ready to join it “as is” – that is, join it with faith that God is at work.  Leave your gripes and complaints at the door.  Those attitudes will only detract from your experience, limit your involvement, and weaken the church’s unity.


                Let me encourage you not only to ask the right questions about the churches you visit, but to ask them with the right attitude. Approach every church you visit with humility. Pray for every church you visit. Ask God to help you see the good in each church. Even if it’s not the right church for you, remember how much God loves the work of a church even when it’s being carried out imperfectly. And don’t get stuck in church-hopping, church-shopping mode. Do your best to find a good church as quickly as possible. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by too many points, boil them all down to three:

• You want a church that teaches God’s Word.
• You want a church that values God’s Word.
• You want a church that lives God’s Word.

                These are non-negotiables. You won’t find any church that perfectly meets all the qualifications we’ve discussed (you certainly won’t find “perfect” at my church!). But be encouraged. Churches that are committed to growing in the right ways do exist. They are out there. They’re not confined to one denomination or worship style. God is at work around the world. And these churches need committed and selfless men and women to join them in their mission for Christ."  

NOTE--- The content from this article (minus the additional book recommendations and the application questions) is from a section in Pastor Josh Harris' book, titled "Stop Dating the Church."