As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been in the process of looking for a new church. The process has been longer than I would have hoped or expected, and through all this, I’ve been forced to ask myself, “What is it I’m looking for in a church?”
I got out my notebook and wrote out a list of things that I was looking for in a church. Looking at my list, I acknowledged that certain items were higher priority than others. Some churches might fail to meet the lower-priority criteria with the rigor I’d like, but might still be fine churches. I recognized that I might have to settle for something that didn’t exactly meet my wishes. Of course, certain things were non-negotiable, but unless I want to continue looking for a church until I move to another town, I decided that I need to find something soon.
So here’s the list I came up with:
- Agree on fundamental doctrine
- Agree to disagree on non-fundamental doctrine
- Where the gospel is emphasized
- Where I grow in my relationship to God and the Church
- Where I feel at home
- Where I can serve and be served
- Where I know people and they know me
- Where I can perform some important role
- Where I can do something with apologetics
- Where the intellect is appreciated and not suppressed
- Not too far away
A while ago, a friend of mine from my last church suggested I read the book Stop Dating the Church by Joshua Harris. Before I could say, “No thanks, not interested,” I had the book shoved in my hands along with the instructions to read it at my earliest convenience. “Great, that’ll be about 12 years,” I thought, considering my lengthy reading list. I hesitated to read the book also because I was familiar with Joshua Harris’s radical, and in my opinion unnecessary, “no dating” rule, which my ex-church tends to treat as if it came straight out of holy scripture. I didn’t want the same fellow who says “don’t date anyone,” to tell me how to find a church as well. I was pretty certain the book would tell me I’d be better off staying with my church and not wasting my time trying to find anything that suited me better.
But, recently there have been a couple of churches I’ve visited lately that I’ve felt a connection to, and it occurred to me that I might ought to go ahead and give the book a try. Maybe it could give me some insight. If not, it’s a short read, so what the harm be? My old church was so far behind me at that point I couldn’t see how Harris could give me any reason to construe to go back to it.
I was pleasantly surprised to find that there wasn’t much in the book I disagreed with. The premise of the book is to stop treating the church like your girlfriend of x-number of years when you ought to make the commitment and marry her.
I’m all for that sentiment. That’s what I want. I want to commit to a church. But just like you can’t marry someone until you get to know the person and mutually agree that you’re right for each other, you can’t commit to a church until you get to know the church and decide that you’re right for each other.
That being said, a lot of the book was preaching to the choir. The most helpful chapter to me was the one titled “Choosing Your Church: the Ten Things that Matter Most.” As you can see, there is a lot of overlap with the criteria I’d determined for myself. These were that a good church (1) teaches the Bible faithfully, (2) cares about sound doctrine, (3) cherishes the gospel, (4) is committed to reaching the lost, (5) has leaders that are humble and full of integrity, (6) is made up of people that try to live by God’s word, (7) is a place where one can develop godly relationships, (8) encourages its members to serve, (9) is willing to discipline its members if necessary, and (10) doesn’t need to be radically changed to be adequate.
I think these are good criteria to keep in mind as I continue my church hunt. Adding these to my own list of needs/wants, I would compose this list:
- The church teaches the word of God faithfully and emphasizes the Gospel as being of utmost importance.
- Secondary doctrines are taught, but I’m not considered inferior in any way if I disagree.
- The church leaders demonstrate the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) and are well-learned but admit with humility that they don’t know everything.
- The church is focused on service, both within its walls and outside, and encourages its members to be servants.
- The church is eager to reach the lost with the gospel.
- The church encourages diversity among its members, and tries to enable everyone to contribute their unique gifts in building up the body of Christ.
- The people in the church demonstrate the love of Christ to each other and to me, and they try to live faithfully by God’s word.
- The leaders of the church will discipline its members when necessary, and only when necessary.
- The church is not too far away, but is having an impact in my area.
- The church is willing to try new things (like apologetics), but remains firm in the essentials.
I hope I’m coming to the end of this journey. I don’t want to waste away in this lukewarm state any longer.