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What to look for in a church

 
As more and more disciples of Christ are looking for meaningful expressions of 'church' and as many churches (both traditional and new) stray off into false teaching, it is increasingly important to find fellowships which are biblically-based (both in teaching and practice).
 
 
originally published 13/06/09

GropThe following list is non-exhaustive, incomplete and (no-doubt) flawed, but it is offered as a 'rough guide' of important points when looking to find supportive and challenging fellowship and discipleship in the body of Christ within a local church grouping.

There is no such thing as the 'perfect church', but if there are deficiencies, look to see if there is a heart to correct whatever is amiss.

Look for a church as a place where -

 
  • the Word of God and the person of Jesus Chris are central: where all the church teaches and does (actions speak more of real belief than words) is supported by the Bible and Christ centred. 'Be a Berean' in making that assessment (Acts 17:11). Beware of any tradition or teaching that does not have a biblical support.
  • there is a sense of the Holy Spirit (manifesting the glory of God and the presence of the Son)
  • the leadership is spiritually mature, male and plural (be wary if the selection of leaders seems to depend on social standing, academic prowess, wealth, business success, appearance, personality – man looks at outward appearance, God looks at the heart)
  • direction and leadership is local (by and under the headship of Christ via the Holy Spirit) and not controlled and manipulated by some detached authoritarian/bureaucratic denominational mechanism
  • the whole Gospel is preached (including sin, repentance - i.e. the need for salvation - and the acknowledgment and functioning of the gifts of the Spirit)
  • prayer (corporate and private) is central and not peripheral
  • growth in numbers is through souls being saved (and not principally through transfers from other churches)
  • there is evidence of growth in spiritual maturity (i.e. discipleship of spiritually young - and older - believers is well-resourced; and see next two points also)
  • as much (spiritual stuff) goes on during the week as it does on Sunday (e.g. house-groups, prayer cells, personal evangelism) Following Jesus is a 24/7 activity and not confined to one holy hour on one holy day in one holy building
  • all believers (old and young, male and female) are encouraged to discover their giftings, and given scope and encouragement to exercise meaningful ministries within the whole body: many churches that preach the priesthood of all believers, fail to practice whole-body ministry.
  • more energy and resources is put into discipling and outreaching and less into ‘big programmes’ and erecting or extending buildings (in other words look at where resources – time/energy/finance – are spent to see where the focus and emphases lie)
  • the growth model is by planting new fellowships rather than amassing an ever-larger congregation (Kingdom-building rather than empire-building); increase should be organic by multiplication and not mechanistic by addition - the Gospel message should 'cascade' rather than merely be broadcast from a fixed point
  • sacrificial assistance is regularly offered to other (smaller and weaker) churches – locally and beyond (and not necessarily of the same denomination)
  • there are meaningful relationships and flow with God's people in other (neighbouring) Bible-believing churches (Does the church support the activities of other fellowships or encourage an isolationist approach?)
  • the teaching role is not confined to one person (all elders should be able to teach; it is vulnerable fellowship indeed where the voice of the Lord is channelled through a single conduit)
  • petty traditions do not rule the roost (i.e. the church avoids majoring on minors and worshipping the things of yesteryear)
------------

The two following anecdotes differentiate between empire-building and Kingdom-building mindsets; the difference between saving souls into a relationship with God rather than merely getting more bodies in through a set of doors.

1. AC is a man who lives in London and moves among the wealthy and powerful in politics and business. He shares his faith with his peers whenever he can. However he also walks the streets of London speaking to the down-and-outs, the homeless and the disadvantaged. In this latter ministry he has two cardinal rules -
(a) he talks about Jesus, but never invites the person to church. He waits until the person enquires. And even then -
(b) he never automatically takes the person to his own church; rather he assesses which church (local fellowship) would be best suited to the particular person's situation
 
2. PR is a pastor in America. His church is continually growing by people coming to faith in Christ. But whenever his congregation reaches around 50 believers (+ their families) he divides the church, and encourages his best people to go out and plant a new fellowship (and not just as a satellite, but as an separate fellowship).

The common factor in these two stories is the soul-winning properties of these two men. They are intent on bringing the lost to Christ rather than merely bringing people to church. They are more interested in building the Kingdom of God than in merely increasing the numbers in their buildings on a Sunday morning.

Jesus said: 'I will build my church'. Indeed He is.
Footnote:
See also: The Primacy of the Local Church: an oft- subverted truth
     and A warning from Wick
 
Postscript:
An extra question:
"How (well) would your church function without all the audio/visual/PA equipment which is brought in (or brought into play) each Sunday morning?"

All the equipment consumes money (to purchase, set up and maintain); and it all needs a substantial building and reliable electricity supplies to function correctly. These things we can easily take for granted but there may come a time in the not-too-distant future that they are not so readily available.

A challenge: Re-read the first few chapters of the book of the Acts and compare and contrast with the church scene today.

Christians Together, 13/02/2014

Feedback:
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B. Lever (Guest) 12/06/2012 20:39
The word disciple, discipleship etc are biblical and therefore a biblical approach to the term is required. Pastors are under shepherds for the Good Shepherd, and again the only valid approach to this call is biblical.

What you have done is highlighted the biblical ignorance in far too mnay of our churches.
Seumas, Tobermory (Guest) 12/06/2012 23:02
Thee word "discipleship" does not exist in the bible. Do a search on biblegatway.com - it isnt in the NIV or the KJV.

The word "disciple" according to various dictionaroes means a follower (of Jesus on this case) which is so vague and malleable an expression as to be almost meaningless.

The word "biblical" itself is meaningless. Do you mean KJV? NIV? Or one of the plethora of versions which seem to litter the eccleiastical landscape? According to the KJV, the final part of Marks gospel is "biblical" According to the NIV it isnt. Which is it?

If you are going to constrain yourself by a particular frame of reference, then the first thing that needs to be done is to define that frame of reference. All these "versions" just muddy the waters.
B. Lever (Guest) 13/06/2012 08:47
For the true disciple and follower of The Lord Jesus Christ none of what you have described is a concern. Discipleship, although not appearing in the bible is nonetheless a reality because it relates to the personal responsibility of following Jesus.

The semantics that you refer to are no more than a smokescreen.
Editor 13/06/2012 10:26
Just for clarification, the Gospels and Acts is shot through with the word 'disciple/disciples' e.g. Matt 27:57; Matt 28:19. (In fact it is probably the very best word to use in terms of those 'disciples' who follow the life and teachings of Jesus Christ and the word of God - in it's various translations.)

So it is perfectly valid to use the term 'discipleship'

However, given the lead article is not about 'discipleship' per se, I have posted a question/discussion thread which can be used for this (discipleship) question - please use it as you wish; leaving this thread to carry questions about what is 'biblical church'.

Thanks for your help.
B. Lever (Guest) 13/06/2012 11:29
Strange that you are divorcing discipleship from what it means to be 'biblical church', particularly given that the Church is made up of people and not buildings!

1 Pet 2: 5 "...you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ"
Editor 13/06/2012 14:15
I am not "divorcing discipleship from what it means to be 'biblical church". Discipleship is a component (and if you want to discuss it then please do so on that thread).
In this context I have re-located your 13:05 posting to that place.

(Guest) 17/06/2012 20:39
"What to look for in a church"

How do we define the word 'church'? Is it;

1. A building?
2. A group of people who gather together?
3. A combination of both?



Editor 18/06/2012 14:26
"How do we define the word 'church'?"

A very good question. Since the 2nd century - and the Reformation didn't have any impact on this - the term 'church' has been corrupted to mean either a denomination, or a building, or (typically) the religious routines and structures surrounding the 'one holy day in one holy building for one holy hour with one holy person wearing holy clothes and performing a holy set of rituals'.

In its biblical meaning the term 'church' is simply a group of Jesus's followers. It is this (lost and subverted) simplicity which many are seeking to recover.

In meeting together a building can be convenient, but a building is never a 'church'; and in the pages of the New Testament, the buildings were merely the homes of believers were groups of disciples met.

The imperative for the follower of Christ is to meet together with other believers for encouragement, teaching, prayer, fellowship, etc. etc. - and to do this where ever, when ever and with whomsoever you can.
B. Lever (Guest) 18/06/2012 20:54
"...the religious routines and structures surrounding the 'one holy day in one holy building for one holy hour with one holy person wearing holy clothes and performing a holy set of rituals'."

Not much different to the OT then! The comparison is an interesting one, when you consider that it didn't suit the Israelites to have direct dealings with God, they were happy to have a priest mediate for them. Many Christians are the same today, they seem to think that this obsolves them of any responsibility if they go via a minister or priest!


Editor 19/06/2012 11:46
The 'temple/priest:mediator/building' model has been carried lock, stock and barrel into the NT church. The only 'priest' which Christians need today is the high-priesthood of Christ whose sacrifice brings believers into a royal priesthood.

Jer 5:30 says: "A horrible and shocking thing has happened in the land.

The prophet then continues in the next to outline an ungodly complicity which everyone is happy to maintain - each for their own purposes; but concludes with a sharp warning.

P.S. Note to B. Lever: those you wish to make regular contributions to the site are encouraged to register. Registered users have the facility of adopting a psuedonym if they wish.
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Christians Together in the Highlands and Islands > Christian Life > Christian Survival Resource > What to look for in a church