Where should I go to church? In generations past that question was clearer, mainly due to a population that was much less transient. If you attended a church it was likely to be the church in your community. Most church-going folks would find the community church and get plugged in. If there were things they didn’t agree with, they would talk about it from a biblical view, work through it, and continue to serve and glorify God through that local church. But that was yesteryear…
Today’s church search tends to be quite different. In 25 years of pastoral ministry, I’ve heard a plethora of reasons people attend church; and unfortunately many of them are very man-centered. It’s not uncommon for me to hear phrases like:
I want the music I like; I’m looking for a church where there’s a lot of activities for my children; I want a young pastor; I want an old pastor; I like how hip that church is; I like how traditional the dress is at that church; I want a pastor that tells good stories; I want a church that doesn’t judge; I like my church because they don’t ask much of me; I left that church because they didn’t offer enough… and the list goes on, ad nauseam; one man-centered thought after another…
These man-centered thoughts drive people to change churches like socks; using them until they’ve worn them out or until they desire a different style. If they’ve grown tired or bored with their church, they simply leave… Distance is not a deterrent in our transient society. Some folks will drive to the other end of the county for a good ear tickling.
This mentality raises the question, “What criteria should be used to choose a church?” The Bible is replete with ecclesiological instruction, but I will build my brief argument on Acts 2:42,
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
The birth of the church was marked by several determining factors, including:
–The apostles doctrine: The message of the gospel was delivered to the church through the chosen men of God known as the apostles. They delivered truth, doctrine, instruction, etc., that was vital to the church. They taught the church Christology, Soteriology, Ecclesiology, Pneumatology, etc. They taught the church what the gospel was all about; the ins and outs of what the gospel is and why it is needed. To do this properly, they had to teach the Scriptures in a systematic manner. They were expositors of the Bible. Alistair Begg puts it like this,
“A good church is a Bible-centered church. Nothing is as important as this–not a large congregation, a witty pastor, or tangible experiences of the Holy Spirit.”
The early church had a steady diet of the meat of the Word of God. This was priority in the church. The church knew who Jesus was, what He did, how to know Him, etc., and the result was a church that was filled with passion, peace, and purpose! The early church knew how to live well and they knew how to die well, because they knew the Bible well! Calvin said,
“Wherever we see the Word of God purely preached and heard, there a church of God exists, even if it swarms with many faults.”
Proper preaching of the Bible is absolutely priority in choosing a church. If the church has everything you want, except exposition of Scripture, it’s the wrong place to be. Without a steady diet of Scripture, you will be a weak believer that’s “Tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine…” You’ll not know how to live as a Christian in a thoroughly secular world; you will be filled with angst and anxiety because of your lack of knowledge of the sovereign, almighty God; you’ll not know how to glorify God, which is your purpose in life; and you’ll not know how to deal with suffering when in manifests itself in your life.
The exposition of the Bible is an absolute priority in the church, and everything else should compliment the preaching of the Word. When the exposition of God’s Word is not priority, people quickly become weak, feeble, scrawny, and simply unhealthy Christians that are more concerned about their fleshly needs than the glory of God. Choose a church that makes exposition of Scripture a priority!
-Fellowship: This “fellowship” is living life with each other, centered in Christ. It’s not simply getting together and talking about the game, or eating a potluck dinner, etc. It’s living in genuine Christ-centered community together, with the power of the Holy Spirit, for the glory of God.
David Paul Tripp rightly said,
Autonomous Christianity never works, because our spiritual life was designed by God to be a community project.
Our Christ-centered fellowship with each other pictures our fellowship with Christ Himself, brings glory to God, and encourages the church. Choose a church that practices and encourages genuine Christ-centered fellowship!
-Breaking of Bread: A biblical church will practice Communion, or what some call “The Lord’s Supper”. The apostles specifically instructed the early church to practice the breaking of bread and drinking the wine to show the gospel and to commune with Christ. This must be priority in the church. A good church will be gospel saturated and a gospel saturated church will practice Communion. Choose a church that understands and practices The Lord’s Supper!
-Prayer: The last thing mentioned in this Acts 2:42 is prayer. The church has the incredibly amazing privilege of prayer. The church is known as “The house of prayer” (Isaiah 56). The church doesn’t grow by the creative ability, charismatic personality, or oratory gymnastics of a pastor. God grows His church. Sure, you can draw a crowd through many ways, but that certainly is not a church. We desire to see large crowds, but only if God is genuinely making people alive through Jesus, not merely because it’s the “best show in town”. Tozer said,
“One hundred religious persons knit into a unity by careful organization do not constitute a church any more than eleven dead men make a football team. The first requisite is life, always.“
God’s people should consistently pray, acknowledge their dependence on Him, and rest in His sovereignty. When prayer is priority in the church, His people enjoy Him, He is glorified, and the church grows in a genuinely healthy manner. Choose a church where prayer of a priority!
Finally… Forgive me for my sense of frustration, even exasperation. I’ve grown weary of fair weathered worshippers. God grant us believers who love His church because it’s a manifestation of His grace; because it’s a picture of the god-head; because it’s the vehicle in which the gospel travels to all peoples; because it’s where believers are instructed in the things of the gospel…and so on… May the day of “cafeteria church”, where people go to pick and choose whatever their favorite style is, be a thing of the past. Love the church for what God made it, not what the world has molded it to be.
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
1 Peter 2:9