What do you first look for when looking for a new church or new Christian community? What are those “key words” searches that you plug into your web browser or “must have” list? What do you prioritize? What are deal-breakers? How much of what we are looking for is Biblical? How much of it is actual quite relative and purely cultural?
Kat and I have been at our current church for about 9 months. We recently became members and we are extremely happy to be part of this community of believers. However, the last church I was a member at I attended for most of my life, so the experience of “looking for a church” was quite new to me.
We were very fortunate to have people we already knew attending our current church. In fact, my boss and one of my fellow interns at the summer internship I took up last summer are all members of this church. Like I said, we feel extremely blessed to be part of this community. But what did I look for? What did I search for the very instant that I walked through the doors?
When it comes to finding a church, and joining a Christian community, I am greatly influenced by the teachings of Pastor Jeremy, a former pastor of mine and lifelong friend who officially “discipled” me (boom: big evangelical term-drop) from the age of fifteen through the age of twenty-two. He continues to be a very big influence on my life; however, Reformed theology teaching was a huge part of my early discipleship. I remember buying a copy of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology and reading “The Calvary Road” by Roy Hession. Additionally, we spent time a plenty discussing the theological merits of predestination and the finer points of 5-point Calvinism. However, alongside Reformed theology, my discipleship under Pastor Jeremy helped me gain an appreciation for what we call, in Reformed ghettos, “expository preaching.” Expository preaching is a type of preaching in which the pastor or, well, preacher centers their sermon around a text or passage in Scripture. Basically, instead of picking a random topic to preach on, such as “finances” or “relationships,” the preacher preaches directly from Scripture, dissecting and discerning what a specific passage in the Bible means—no pressure.
So yes, when I look up a new church or walk around the lobby of a church we are visiting, I look for those unquantifiable elements of (1) Reformed theology and (2) expository preaching. However, at the end of the day, you can’t really catch these unless you sit through quite a few sermons there, but churches tend to have hints that I have caught myself looking for. What kind of books do they have in their bookstore? Do they have any John Piper, Francis Chan, or Tim Keller? Do they sing a lot fluffy contemporary songs or do they stick to some theology-centric good stuff? Now some of those may come across as silly, but I have honestly found myself in that mindset, and I am sure all of you have a list of what you look for.
Are those lists healthy? Are they ok to have or do they minimize our potential loyalty to a church community down to a mediocre game of matching? Are we justified in looking for a church community that agrees with our theological perspective, take on worship, views of women in leadership, and holy opinions on jeans and basketball shorts? I think we are partly justified. As a husband, and hopefully future parent, I want my family to be part of and be surrounded by a church community that has “healthy” theology, which in my opinion, is of the Reformed variety. Personally, I consider Reformed theology to be Gospel-centric, so for me it isn’t being nitpicky to weigh the theological positions held by the pastor, church, denomination, or network. If we are honest and humble in our approach to new churches we may visit, I think we are fairly justified in finding a community that we can naturally join and not only edify, but also be edified by.
Nevertheless, I also believe there are areas in which culture relative matters intrude. I have a personal taste on music and what musical worship should be like, but if my church has a different approach or embraces some newer or older styles, this isn’t a deal-breaker to me—it’s cultural and relative. Equally, there should be a level of decency when it comes to apparel and choice of clothing, but issues like “jeans in church” or people showing up in shorts is also trivial. Who cares? What does matter is that people are actually coming to church to feed on the living Word and joining in collective worship! If we are honest with ourselves, we all have those culturally-bound and relative preferences about church that have little to do with the Gospel itself, and have more to do with what we are comfortable with.
To tackle a more serious note, I am passionate and inspired by churches that pursue genuine diversity across ethnicities, races, languages, and age groups. Our current church is struggling, in a good way, with this issue. We want diversity because the Kingdom of God is diverse, but how do we achieve it without being superficial or “forcing” diversity down our throats. How do we do that? I think it starts with communal engagement and by being part of the city we are called to. Wherever your church is located, I believe that the Gospel calls us to be locally relevant and justice-minded. Can we, as a church, do more for the local community? Are there poor and needy people around that we should be helping? Is there de facto or de jure oppression in our city or community that we should be battling against? Can we be part of local racial reconciliation? Are we giving back as much as we are getting? Are we being missional at every level of society? I believe that when a church becomes relevant at the local level, diversity will be a by-product of a church serving its Gospel-centric mission, both evangelistically ad justice-centric.
What have you looked for in a church? What’s on your list? What does Jesus think of your list? I think these are good questions to reflect on. The New Testament, specifically the book of Acts and Paul’s letters speak a plenty on the early church and the struggles they faced, and the modern church has much to learn and re-learn from the ancient church. I believe we are justified in looking for solid theological foundation and a healthy community to be part of; however, I also believe that as believers, as saints, we may also be called to bring with us that sound foundation and healthiness with us. Am I a catalyst for good in my church? Am I a catalyst for a healthier community? Am I a vessel of blessing and edification to my fellow believers? Am I a source of needed discipleship, mentorship, and sound teaching, and if not, why not?
Thank you for reading.