Inside Information: If I Were Picking a Church
by Joseph Franks
When someone needs to find a good plumber, Angie’s List™ promises to be of great assistance. On that website, people who are satisfied or dissatisfied with various technicians can share their past experiences. Sometimes, it is of great value to learn lessons from the trials and tribulations of others.
When looking for a good physician, perhaps the best people to contact are other members of the medical community. For sure, unbiased analysis from fellow professionals can be a great aid in making a solid decision.
When buying stocks or purchasing ownership in a company, interviewing former management can make or break the deal. Inside information is highly valued in the financial arena.
So, when selecting a church, wouldn’t a professional minister be of incredible value? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to hear truth from a person who has seen the good and the bad? Perhaps even one who has done the good and the bad? And what if the person had served in Baptist, Presbyterian, and Non-Denominational churches; would that make his insight more interesting? In addition, what if the minister were in his mid-forties, and had appreciation for the tried and true church of his fathers, and also the newer expressions of the body of Christ, wouldn’t that make his counsel even more well-rounded? And what if he had been schooled in a fundamentalist college and then further educated in four different seminaries each with a different theological focus; would that make his insight of more value?
Well, as luck has it (speaking in my former non-Reformed tongue) I just happened to be that man. As a man who has attended church all his life, and worked in the church for the past twenty years, I would love to share my thoughts on the church. So here is the question: If I was moving to another town and picking a church for my family, what criteria would I use to make my decision? The following is my list.
1. A commitment to sacred scripture. From the pages of the Bible, the true, legitimate, helpful, and effective church is discovered. From scripture, wise counsel for living life and making decisions is found. The Bible must be the “Book of Church Order” for the reasonable church of Jesus Christ. The Bible stands above creeds, catechisms, seminaries, teachers, traditions, programs, and confessions of faith; it judges the validity of all church statements, positions, and practices. Scripture illuminates as to whether or not the church is licentious or legalistic. From the Bible, one finds truth regarding: the degree of man’s fallenness; the sovereignty of God’s grace; the effectiveness of Christ’s death and atonement; the reviving power of the Holy Spirit on the depraved will of man; and the eternality of the eternal life given to the penitent soul. Yes, whether one is Reformed or not, and whether one is in the holy catholic or Roman Catholic church, this is all determined based upon one’s grasp of God’s Word. From within the pages of scripture, timeless doctrine and practical applications are found, and through the preaching, teaching, and reading of God’s Word, lives are supernaturally transformed. Since, the Bible creates the church, the true and useful church of Christ conforms to the Bible that created her, and that should be an essential criteria in selecting a church for one’s family.
2. A commitment to prayer. Whether the prayer be read or sung; whether the prayer be written or impromptu; whether the prayer be from the pulpit or from within the pews; Jesus desires his church to be a “house of prayer.” Without the power and influence of the Holy Spirit, the church is just a hollow building or a shallow community group. God is the power of the church, and he chooses to work primarily through the Word, sacraments, and prayer. Therefore, since I long for my family to be in the place where God moves and shakes, that place must be a “house of prayer.”
3. A commitment to shepherding. Godly leadership, desiring to know and be known by their congregation, is essential. Many preachers and pulpiteers can be found. Legendary are the famous celebrities preaching the “power of positive thinking.” However, men of character called by God to shepherd his flock, and women of character gifted by God to disciple his ladies, this is somewhat old school and hard to find. So the church I would choose for my family must have godly elders, mature men, and mature women, ready to invest themselves in discipling me, my wife, my sons, and my daughters.
4. A commitment to community. In addition to developing relationships with ordained elders and gifted ladies, the church must be a place where men and women rejoice with one another, cry with one another, pray for one another, confess their sins one to another, share their gifts to improve one another, eat and drink together, and lovingly hold each another accountable. Is not that what one sees through the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper? In baptism, the church family is corporately reminded of the washing performed by the Holy Spirit. Baptism is a time when the gathered church supplicates or thanks the Lord for his spiritual washing. Then, in the Lord’s Supper, the body of Christ professes together their love for Christ and one another by eating and drinking as part of worship. Also, this is where the doctrine and practice of church discipline fits in. From scripture we learn the most loving thing the family can do is to separate themselves — hopefully for a time — from the arrogant brother or sister who will not address their sin. Even in church discipline, community is honored and improved. Therefore, fellowship — around the Word, prayer, and sacraments — is an essential character of the profitable church.
5. A commitment to external ministry. A country club is interested in ministering to those who pay their dues and walk in their doors. However, the church of Jesus Christ gathers to be fed, so they may leave and feed others. Therefore, local evangelism and foreign missions must be prominent. In addition, the church should be growing members who are hungry to individually minister to their neighbors in word and deed. Every member should participate in ministry outside the doors of their worshiping assembly. Jesus called his disciples “Fishers of Men.” From his lips came the “Great Commission.” The dim or unsalty church is of no value to him. So, while corporate Lord’s Day worship is a big deal to the Heavenly Father, so too is the decentralized worship of God, seen in evangelism, taking place outside the church on the other six days of the week.
6. A commitment to grace. The Father elects by grace. The Son came and died for sinners out of a gracious heart. Because of grace, the Holy Spirit revives or converts those who have a fallen tendency to run from the Gospel. Faith and repentance are gracious gifts from God. Wisdom and sanctification are graciously given the student of God’s Word. And every time the believer — like the Prodigal Son — turns from his sin and returns to the Father, he runs to meet him with grace in his eyes. By grace, God preserves his children and never lets them go; nothing can separate them from his hand. And when we get to heaven, and there we receive our jewels, crowns, and heavenly mansion, even these rewards are ours by grace alone. Therefore, the church must be one that preaches the Gospel from beginning to end. Within the church, there must be law, principles, commandments, standards, order, discipleship, and discipline, but all of this must be communicated through humble people who are hungry to pass along God’s glorious grace.
So, as you can see, this is a different list than many would prescribe. While there are many things I find important, interesting, and intriguing such as organs, guitars, drums, choirs, praise bands, solos, pulpits, monitors, robes, suits, Lucky Brand® jeans, candle lights, strobe lights, old songs, new songs, service time, service length, service quantity, service order, homo-ethnicity, multi-ethnicity, traditional, contemporary, mixed, upper-class, middle-class, no-class, pews, chairs, architecture, facilities, location, congregation size, youth group, Sunday school, vacation Bible school, denomination, Bible translation, membership procedures, etc …, none of these things made my list. The attractive and effective church is one where the Bible is the foundation, prayer is the prevailing practice, shepherds are engaged, community is developed, external ministry is expressed, and grace is enjoyed.
Friends, this is the short list I would use for my family in finding a church. It is also the short list I would use, for my local church family, in evaluating the beauty and effectiveness of our particular assembly. May the God of grace aid us in finding such churches for our family and maintaining such churches for community and posterity.