We’ve all heard that the choice and purchase of a home is one of the most significant decisions a person will ever make. In this temporal world that may be true. However, choosing your church home, where you and your children will learn the things of God and serve the Lord Jesus Christ, has eternal ramifications.
This is where we ought to start in choosing a church. Local churches need to affirm the Bible for what it is; 66 God-breathed, and therefore, inerrant, infallible, authoritative, and sufficient books of the Old and New Testaments. This is God’s great gift to us, which is sufficient for all things needed for life and godliness, not the least of which are essentials in God’s kind of a church.
The sufficiency of Scripture should not be a statement hidden in a dusty, no-longer-used doctrinal statement. Rather, it’s highly visible in the life of the church. For example, the Bible will be unpacked, explained, and applied from its context in an unrushed and reverent way from the pulpit during the corporate gatherings. In God’s kind of churches, biblical preaching will be more like the main-course of a meal, and less like the parsley garnish. And in preaching, and other teaching ministries, the focus will not be on the teacher, his opinions, and his epic style, but God’s word. The preachers and teachers, from the pulpit to nursery, will demonstrate a getting-out-of-the-way in order for God’s word to take center stage, so as to feed and love you.
Also, a church where women preached or taught at the main service to a mixed, adult congregation would need to be avoided as this would be a church which denies the sufficiency of Scripture (cf. 1 Cor. 14:34-35, 1 Tim. 2:11-12). Furthermore, this kind of a church will justify things like its leadership structure, philosophy of ministry and practice, budget, worship, youth ministry, discipleship, and other events with Scripture, since Scripture alone is our God-given, sufficient authority for church life.
When our churches start here, in word and deed, then many other necessary things will fall into place.
God desires that our churches be God’s-glory-centered. The preaching of the word, teaching in smaller groups/classes, and the culture of the congregation should demonstrate something of real desire for God to be honored.
Next, the church ought to emphasize the loving, finished work of Christ for sinners. We’ll want to hear much about Christ’s substitutionary atoning death on the cross for us, not due to our merit, but his grace. We ought to hear words like redemption, propitiation, atonement, substitution, and justification, explained and applied.
“But as for you, speak the things which are fitting for sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1).
When looking for a church, one of the first things we’ll want to do is look at their doctrinal statement. And it’s a bad sign if such a thing is hard to locate, reluctant to be handed out, or shorter than an In-N-Out menu. We ought to be wary of the church which indicates, “Well, we are not about doctrine.” A church who is not about doctrine can be no more about God, than a restaurant who says, “We are not about food,” can be about serving dinner.
Additionally, the doctrinal stance of the church should not be something they boast in, but a humble privilege of stewardship they see themselves as having. It should be traction for worship. They’re not looking for a doctrinal fight (2 Tim. 2:24-26), but if it comes down to the faithfulness of defending the faith, they will not back down.
And in healthy churches there’s a humble eagerness for newer and mis-shepherded believers to embrace sound doctrine in the same way that in healthy hospitals there’s an eagerness for the young to feast on a healthy diet.
This will not be hard to discern in the kind of church you should choose. You will want to see an intentionality of care for one another. And biblical love does not necessarily look only like getting a huge visitor packet in a vellum bag with the colorful church logo on it.
That’s good, but biblical love is more about a sincere warmth from the people as you interact; a humility demonstrated in a genuine interest in you and bringing you into the life of the church.
To discern biblical love, we might ask ourselves a few questions. Is there a desire for the regulars to know, serve, and care for one another? Is there an unforced doing-of-life together among the members? Are individuals consistently and candidly sharing their lives together?
Again, for this reason, it’s a good idea to attend things in addition to the Sunday gathering.
We should avoid a church who will not do those things for the same reason we should avoid an oncologist who will not deal with our tumors. And we should not plug into a church where it’s easy to nurture our sin any more than we should go to a dentist where it’s easy to nurture our cavities.
There should be something of the Holy Spirit’s work evident in the life of the church as it relates to progressively putting off sin. Whether his work through biblical preaching, teaching, or faithful members of the church, this should be a place where Christians are lovingly being encouraged to walk by the Spirit so as to put their own sin to death. The church is a place fundamentally where is at work to expose and eradicate our sin (Matt. 5:3-4, 6; Rom. 8:13-14; Matt. 18:15-17; Gal. 5:16, 6:1-3).
As you visit churches, ask about their process of recognizing qualified leadership. In a good church, it should be difficult, not easy, to become an elder or pastor, for the same reason it should be difficult to become a heart surgeon.
Similarly, ask yourself questions like, “Where did they get their training?” “By whom were they ordained for leadership?” “Are these leaders men whom I could follow?” “Would I want my daughters marrying men like that?” “What do they offer to train up additional leaders?”
God’s church is not called the “leg of Christ,” but the “body of Christ.” That should be visible in an all-hands-on-deck approach being encouraged by the leadership. Ask the church leadership how they help shepherd people into the privilege of serving in the various ministries and needs of the church.
God does not give the spiritual new birth to his children so that they remain children. Like biological parents of a newborn, his concern is that we grow. And the local church is to serve as his greenhouse; facilitating an atmosphere conducive to the sanctification of the Christians.
This should be visible in an emphasis on the discipleship and shepherding of believers in all stages of their sanctification (2 Tim. 2:2, Titus 2:3-5). When considering a new church, we do well to ask what means they provide to encourage the sanctification of members.
Ideally, when the previous essentials of church life are emphasized, active evangelism will result. In either case, as we look for a church, we’ll want to ask things like, “Is the gospel being proclaimed from the pulpit and are the lost urged to repent? What other ways does evangelism happen in the church? If I asked the members, are they, too, speaking the gospel to others?” And let’s be careful of asking about evangelism programs.
Article originally published by the Cripplegate.