My last post from March 18 was Church Shopping Pt 1. To get the fullest picture of this whole concept of “church shopping” it would behoove you to read that post first. Regardless, enjoy this continuation of my dive into the depths of of church shopping and its redemption.
With the basic theology and concept of the Church that I offered in Church Shopping Pt1, I now offer a few principles and thoughts about your journey into choosing and being part of a local body of Christ:
Create a creed. Know what you believe; form a concept of your own orthodoxy that you hold with deep conviction. These are the things for which you would die, not things that you prefer. Things like the authority of Scripture, the Trinity, the deity of Christ, the person of the Holy Spirit, the death and bodily resurrection, the Church, the return of Jesus. It not things like version of the Bible, worship style, liturgical practices, sign gifts, baptism method. This creed is your basic litmus test for a local church, and it is very important. Paul warned the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:
“Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made youoverseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert…”
De-emphasize denomination. Dear God, please, for the sake of your name, glory and reputation here on earth, rid us of denominational divisions and arrogance and draw your city and regional Church and diverse local churches together in your name outside of heritage, denominational identity and preference. Denominations are going to go away and the sooner that happens, the better. Yes, I pastor a church that is part of a denomination. We are a few generations (Boomers, X, Millenials) now that have been raised in a machine that is the American church denominational system, even other types of denominational systems that claim they are not denominational but pretty much are (the Charismatic movement, Anabaptists, Calvary Chapel, the IFCA, Willow Creek Association, independent Baptists, Anabaptists). My call from God is to join the machine in order to serve the machine, but it is my deepest heart cry to see city and regional local church connections happen for the sake of the unity of the Body of Christ, the regional corporate worship of Christ, and the work of the Kingdom in that region. When you are searching for a congregation to corporately join, allow God to burst your bubble and cramp your comfort.
A warmly welcoming church is just that, not necessarily more. Just because you’re greeted warmly at the door or in the parking lot or during the greeting time, does not mean that local body is a healthy community. Trust me, we church leaders have been indoctrinated with the importance of a warm welcome and friendly assimilation for new(er) people at our church. I want the local body I lead to be friendly and welcoming, but please Lord…let it be so, so much more.
Be wary of a local church that seeks the perpetuation of itself and its programs. If all you hear about is this program or that program, that’s a problem. If your kids come home having had a lot of fun, but not having engaged God or His Word, that’s a problem. If in the course of a year all you hear about is that church and that church’s ministry, that’s a problem. Corporate philosophies have taken over and poisoned the leadership and activity of the Church. The Church is not a business and though it can be run like one, it should not be. The people of God are not consumers and you should not tolerate being treated like one.
At all costs, avoid consumerism. You are a consumer. (hahaha, the irony!) If you have been born since World War II, your primary cultural worldview is that of consumer, it is in your cultural DNA. You will be tempted at every turn to analyze what you “like” or “don’t like”, compare this church’s programs with the programs from your previous church experience, be wowed by the huge performance this megachurch can offer, or wowed by the nostalgic simplicity of this small church experience. You must fight the tendency to condemn, critique, copy or consume (grateful nod to Andy Crouch) a worship service or church program. You are there to corporately consume Christ, feasting on Him from the overflow of spiritual nourishment He has already given you. Nothing more, nothing less.
Engage a local church that knows and values that it is part of something bigger. When you join yourself to a local church, you are joining yourself to that church’s calling. The local church you want to be a part of is one that knows its calling is not unto itself. In reality, there is only one Church, one people of God. We worship Him in diversity throughout cities and regions, but that is our Church. Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, the ends of the earth. Covenant with a local body that desires the health and prosperity of its city/region and thusly, the regional Church therein.
Your story should matter. A healthy local church should care about where you came from and how you got to them. Many churches are just stoked to have people coming in the door, filling the seats, and putting money in the offering plates. Why? Because bigger is better and obviously the pastor who dies with the most people wins! In today’s consumeristic church culture, people hop from church to church for horrible reasons, causing division and hurt within the Body of Christ all over a city. If you go to a new church for a small amount of time and they’re not interested in where you came from, what other local church you’ve recently been a part of, why you are transitioning and if you did or did not leave that local Body well, that’s a local church that is not seeking the health of the regional Church of which it is a part, and that is a local church to avoid.
The goal is always worship, not evaluation or critique. Is the presence of God there? Is that local body seeking the face of God together? Is there hunger and thirst for deeper things of the Word? Don’t let your worship get packaged into music. God shows up any way He desires, but the point is that He does show up. Only one church out of seven in Revelation 2 & 3 heard Jesus say that He would take away their ministry, remove their lampstand. The Church in Ephesus was very, very busy doing great and mighty work for God, they taught well, made disciples well, worked hard, had good programs and ministries, but Jesus was ready to shut them down. They had lost their first love. Look for a local body that is pursuing first love at all costs.
Bigger is not better. Getting a bunch of people together creates a very cool amount of energy. That many people agreeing to anything — the greatness of their sports team, the beauty of a concert, the quiet intensity of a ballet, and yes, a worship service — is very exciting. It does not mean though, that God is there or that He is pleased.
Smaller is not better. Getting a small gathering of people together creates a very cool amount of intimacy. A few people engaging one another — friends hanging out having real conversation, children asking their parents to tell them stories, a film in a small art-deco theater, listening to a whole album in the dark with a group of friends, and yes, a worship service — is very intense. It does not mean though, that God is there or that He is pleased.
You most definitely need actual real people who you can touch, hear, see, smell, and vocally engage in real time. I know it is quite opinionated of me, but I have wholesale written off any form of digital church experience for the western Church. The basis of human community is the Imago Dei experienced incarnationally through one another. The Word became flesh and so should we. Do not attempt corporate worship or true community on a screen.
Ask for direction from God. Pray, ask God to tell you what local body to join. Listen and look for dreams, visions, words from wise counselors, or some other form of communication from Him to you. God may just straight-up tell you where to be you with a local body in your city or region.
God bless you, my brothers and sisters, as you pursue His plans for you and your part in His Body. May you walk in wisdom and grace, seeking in all things the greatness of Christ, increasing the beauty of His Bride and advancing the work of His Kingdom.