The Church is Bigger than the Clergy Men
How do we choose a church?
What really matters in a church?
Why are there so many different churches?
A lot of people struggle with these questions, and unfortunately for a number of Christians, it’s simpler to just stay home. Or worship by yourself at home or in nature. Or “worship” by yourself doing something you enjoy like hiking, fishing, sleeping, or going to the beach.
While I think that personal worship and one-on-one time with God are great things, it’s best if we don’t schedule those activities in place of corporate worship.
But how do we choose the right church?
This can depend on a number of factors and may seem overwhelming. I’ve heard several friends groan at the realization that their move to a new city or state means hunting for a new church.
We look for things like:
The style of worship music.
The style of preaching.
The depth of preaching.
The opportunity to form community.
The size and ‘goodness’ of the children’s or youth ministry.
The diversity of the classes or Bible studies.
The friendliness of the congregants.
The genuineness of the congregants.
The attractiveness of the congregants – don’t kid yourself, you do this.
The décor of the stage or foyer.
The availability of coffee, tea, or donuts.
The availability of close parking spots.
Honestly, no church is ever going to meet your list of ideals.
Churches are run by humans and humans aren’t perfect, so it shouldn’t be surprising. That means that the people on stage, greeting you with a bulletin, or sitting in the pews around you are just as shy, introverted, insecure, distracted, depressed, busy, and judgmental as you are.
So what really matters in a church?
Worshipping God. It’s great if you can find a church that sincerely and passionately invokes a spirit of worship among its congregation, but the truth is that you aren’t really there for the other people. Sure, you’re there for corporate worship because there’s a sweetness found in the fellowship of believers that can’t be found elsewhere, but at the end of the day, it’s an opportunity for you to pour out your heart to God AND be fed by the preaching of His Word.
Biblical teaching. If the pastor isn’t preaching from Scripture, then you’re probably not in the right place. For some preachers, the pulpit is an opportunity to stand on their soap box and let their voice be heard. But, thank the Lord, this seems to be a decreasing trend in Christian churches. Pastors are increasingly educated and trained for their profession, meaning they understand that their purpose is to let God’s voice be heard. Granted, higher education isn’t necessary to accomplish this, but it can help drive home the responsibility of the position.
True fellowship and community. Chances are, the first time you step foot into a church, you’re not going to make deep, lasting, lifelong relationships. That’s because people are people. It takes time to warm up to others, let people in to the chaos and vulnerability that is your life, and form bonds that can subjugate the light and breezy conversations about weather, lunch, and sports. This also means that it’s going to take time, effort, and vulnerability on your part to help forge the kind of community you’re looking for. And one more thing to consider… fellowship is about a lot more than sharing a meal. Christian fellowship is the intentional discussion and practice of theology, life, and discipleship. Stop calling your potluck gathering a “fellowship.”
Ministry. It is important to find a church where you can minister to others. Whether it’s holding babies in the infants’ room, joining the weekly prayer group, cleaning up after communion, or going on short-term mission trips, it is crucial to minister within your local church. Paul speaks about the parts of the body in relation to the spiritual gifts, and guess what – those gifts are meant to be used! God gave you proficiencies, tendencies, specialties, and aptitudes to put to use for the sake of the gospel and the body of Christ. So find a church that has an opportunity for you to serve and: Get. Plugged. In.
But why are there so many different churches?
If you’ve spent any time reading the Scriptures, you’ve probably wondered what exactly certain verses mean. As 21st century English-speakers, there are some cultural and textual oddities that cause us some difficulty. How are we supposed to take Paul’s discussion of women’s behavior in church? Since we have the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, can’t we go around picking up vipers and we’ll be fine? You get the idea.
Unfortunately, there is not a consensus among Christians regarding the whole of the Bible. While we all believe that Scripture is inspired of God, we don’t all read its meaning the exact same way. This has been the case for people even before Jesus came to earth! But because of these interpretational differences, the Christian church has many different denominations.
The acceptance of the gospel – Jesus, the Son of God, came to earth, fully man and fully God, to live a perfect and sinless life, to die on the cross as an atoning sacrifice for the sins of humanity, to be raised to life, offering eternal life for all who repent of their sins and believe in him, and will come again – is the foundation of the Christian Church. Every Christian denomination will affirm these truths. Their understanding of the other elements of the Christian life is what results in multiple denominations. But don’t let that deter you… study for yourself what the Scriptures say, discuss the Scriptures and fellowship with other believers, and find a church whose statement of faith you affirm.
Church is an important part of the Christian walk. Corporate worship glorifies God and feeds us spiritually. Joining a church body exposes us to biblical accountability. Fellowshipping with other believers refines our understanding of Scripture, helps identify our gifts, and sharpens us spiritually. Serving in the church fulfills us spiritually, ministers to others, and glorifies God.