Multiple choice: If you had the option to join a church where you were expected to: set aside nine hours of your day every Sunday to be there, provide spiritual fulfillment for everyone but yourself and attend even though you knew no one, would you:
a. Pretend to forget.
b. Shout, "look over there!" and hope it bought you enough time to get away.
c. Keep looking for another church
d. None of the above
If you answered any of the above, keep reading.
Three and a half years ago, as a freshman, I was literally asked to make this difficult choice. I was given the opportunity to do something extraordinary: to build the worship department of a young church called Seaside in Bremerton from scratch. They did not have anyone to lead worship during Sunday services. Consequently, there was no music at all.
I had a tough call to make. Should I risk my own comfort and stability to pour myself into Seaside? Or should I play it safe and pursue involvement in a church that better seemed to meet my spiritual needs?
At first glance, Seaside did not look like a church I would normally have chosen to attend. When I went for the first time, there were no more than 20 people meeting in a small room at the local community college. It was raw, unrefined and a bit uncomfortable, to be honest. But it was the place that God called me.
The truth is that each of us who claims the name of Jesus by declaring, "I am a Christian" is sent by God into fellowship and service in a local church. We might not always understand why God would send us where he does. I am willing to bet that Abraham did not know why God told him to leave his family, friends and country, but he obeyed and God blessed him. I certainly did not understand at first why God sent me where He did.
Also, because our natural tendency is to surround ourselves with people who we enjoy, we need a standard higher than other people to guide us. Relationships are a decent secondary standard to use in finding a church home but what happens when we encounter brokenness, pain and betrayal? To assume that we will not is na•ve at best. And how many of us instinctively choose to be surrounded by people who are already broken, the way Jesus did?
Unless Jesus is our example and God is the one guiding us, we will continue to search for that relational fix. Searching for a group of people that seems to "fit" us is not the best method because we will almost always end up surrounded by people exactly like us. And our humanity ensures that relationships will inevitably change and many will fracture and break. Consequently, we need a better set of criteria to guide us as we search for a place to call home.
What are these standards that God gives us for guidance? There are three biblical truths that we can use to guide us in discerning which church we should call home. This is certainly not an exhaustive list but merely a place to start.
First, we need to recognize that church is not about us. It is about God.
"In him we were also chosen…in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory." Eph 1:11-12.
Simply put, we participate in the church because Jesus has redeemed us and he calls us together into community to give him glory. The primary role of the church is to bring glory to God as we see and savor Christ together. We should not simply search for a group of people that we like, but instead we should allow God to direct our path and learn to love the people where he leads us. If we go where God leads, he will help us love the people we meet along the way.
In my admittedly limited experience, I have found that meaningful fellowship with close Christian companions comes as a by-product of our obedience to God’s command to participate in the body of Christ. So, don’t shy away from a church if it is not filled with your "ideal" group of people. Imitate Jesus and ask that God would teach you to love them, flaws and all.
Second, not all churches are good.
"I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them." Acts 20:29-30.
The first and most important requirement for a good church is that it focuses on Jesus rather than itself. If you attend a church a few weeks in a row and you hear more talk about how you should live a better life, (rather than how Jesus lived a better life and that all you need to do to know God is love Jesus,) get out of there — you are not in a good church.
The painful truth is that while many "churches" exist, not all of them are good and some of them should not even be identified as Christian. While in high school, I attended a well-known Christian music festival. I watched as a preacher talked about how God wants to be friends with everyone and how if you become a Christian, your life will automatically become better. God will practically start making deposits into your bank account, he said.
He gave an altar call inviting people to commit their lives to this "gospel" and after he was done I realized something: he never even mentioned Jesus, sin or the cross. Not once. I do not know if people were genuinely saved or not as they responded to this man but the gospel he preached was certainly not the gospel of Jesus.
Third, every Christian is a missionary. No exceptions.
Just before he ascends back into heaven, Jesus says these words to the disciples: "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you." This command, known as the great commission, applies to Christians today just as much as it did to the Christians present when Jesus gave it.
God wants us to be on mission with Him. We get to participate in the gospel with Jesus! This means that you are an important part of taking the gospel to Seattle in community with a group of fellow Christians. Your specific gifts and abilities are vital to the health and success of some church.
What are the gifts that you can bring? Instead of asking what a church has to offer you, ask instead what you can offer to the church. If everyone would approach churches asking what God would have them contribute, our churches would lack nothing.
As I look back on my experience with Seaside, if I had refused when God called me to go, I would not have experienced the joys that came along with risking my comfort for the sake of God’s kingdom.
Did I find fellowship? Certainly. When I went, I knew no one. When I left, I had built relationships that will last for many years. Seaside had become my home.
Were my spiritual needs met? The personal investments I made into Seaside Church were reciprocated and as I ministered to those around me, God used the people in the church to minister to me in ways that I could not have even hoped.
Most importantly, I served at a church that loves Jesus and commits to making the gospel known in the city of Bremerton. Jesus was exalted and people’s lives were changed. This is your mission as a Christian: to pour your life into glorifying Christ and to teach others to do the same. Your mission will require much of you and will rarely be an easy task to accomplish. But remember the words of Jesus when he says, "My yoke is easy and my burden is light."
Finding a good church may seem difficult but God is more than willing to lead you to the place he has prepared for you.
Questions to ask when choosing a church:
-Where has God called you individually and specifically?
-Which churches are oriented around the gospel of Jesus rather than "self-help"?
-Where can you be most useful for the gospel and the kingdom?
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Original Metadata about the article can be found below
Title: Not each church is equal | Author: Ryan James | Section: Opinions | Published Date: 2007-01-31 | Internal ID: 5388