After a rather lengthy 3 month hiatus from the blogosphere (which, of course, I am a vital member of!) I have returned to offer a few brief thoughts on something that's been on my mind lately.
I seem to have had an unusual amount of conversations recently with people who are looking for a church to attend. For a variety of reasons: recent move, discontent at previous location, etc., these people have been "in the market" (I feel dirty even thinking in those terms) for a new church-home. Consider this my advice to those seekers (present and future) as they look for a place to worship the Living God.
1. If possible, take a look at your previous church one more time. Maybe you've moved, maybe your previous church was a cult, maybe something else just as obvious has made it so you can't go back, if so then ignore this. But, perhaps you were a bit hasty in leaving. Perhaps you lacked patience with your pastor, with the youth pastor, with the leadership, or even with yourself. It's no small thing to break fellowship with your former church and it's usually worth a second look to see if the problem is in the mirror.
2. Look for the Word. Is it preached (and to the lost as well!)? Is it believed? Is it held in the highest esteem? Is it known by the pastor, the people, the elders? If you're at a church service and the Word seems to be an after thought or an inconvenience...GET OUT OF THERE! There are a lot of things you should be willing to sacrifice in order to sit under the faithful preaching of the Word week-in and week-out.
3. Ask about the church's beliefs concerning discipline and the sacraments. Do they practice discipline or the sacraments? What kind of accountability will they offer you and how will they shepherd you if you put down roots among their congregation?
4. Look for a praying church. Churches can have charismatic preachers, wonderful music, incredible programs, and all other manner of attractions, but if there's not prayer...it's time to keep looking. If you want to grow, if you want your family to grow, and if you want to be part of a community of faith that is going to remain faithful to the Lord you need to be at a praying church.
5. Look for a Reformed church. I don't mean an RCA church (although some fit the bill), but a church that holds faithfully to the Reformed faith. The best way to find this is to ask a leader in the church what confessions they use as a church and whether they actually believe what is contained in those confessions. Don't be afraid to ask specific questions about election, creation, the virgin birth, the atonement, etc. Again, it's worth sacrificing a bit in terms of music or programing if it means that you'll learn what the Bible actually teaches. If you're not sure where to start looking sometimes a few minutes on the church-search engine of a faithful denomination is time well spent.
6. Look for a church that exhibits a gracious and Christ-exalting spirit. When you visit do you leave feeling edified? Do you feel like the people really love the Lord and one another?
7. Is the church humble? No one wants to go to a church where you're just another number, at perhaps just another campus, for a big-shot pastor to use to boost his ego and book sales. Does the church care about faithful fruitfulness, does it care about reaching the lost, does it care about confessing sin (corporate and personal), and do you get the impression that the church exists for God's glory as opposed to the glory of men? This is not to say that large churches can't be humble, they can! It's simply to warn against the attraction to big-this, and grand-that, only later to be disillusioned by the devastating realization that you're part of a production masquerading as the church.
So, there you have it. You have something to add? Put it in the comments section.