You have made an important decision. You want to find a church and improve your spiritual life. That is a commendable goal but it could be more difficult than you think. Finding a church that will help you learn and grow is not easy. More and more groups call themselves a church but in reality are little more than entertainment venues. If you are not careful you will hurt your spirituality instead of helping it. Here are five tips to help when finding a church.
1. Understand “Church”
The word church is thrown around so much today that its real meaning is lost. The word comes over from a Greek word which referred to an assembly of people who come together for some purpose. In fact, it could mean an assembly with no religious purpose at all. Even in the Bible, that underlying Greek word was sometimes used to describe a community meeting (Acts 19.32, 39, 41). However, by studying the New Testament we learn that when that word is used it typically means people who come together to serve and worship.
Today, we could say that a PTA meeting or even a football game is a form of church; it would be an assembly with a purpose. Obviously, that is not the kind of church we think of today, or least I hope not.
When you say you are looking for a church, you are looking for a group of people assembled together for the purpose of serving and worshiping God. The original Christians served one another (Acts 2:42-47; Acts 6:1-7; James 1:27). They did not expect to be served but rather to be busy about caring for others. The work of the church was outside the walls of the meeting place and their service took place daily (Acts 2:46).
Worship was directed toward the Lord only. While Christians are surely encouraged, edified and uplifted by worship the primary goal was to glorify and praise God. This is what the Father desires (John 4:23). The pattern of worship from the Old Testament forward was always God-centered; it was never directed toward mankind.
So you see, understanding what church really means is the first step toward finding one.
2. Resist Entertainment Churches
An entertainment church is a group that expends much time and money to bring productions to the stage every week. God’s name is heard and people speak of Jesus and the Holy Spirit but the real center of the worship is the individual. Sometimes you can attend and never once participate in worship. Instead, you are being entertained. The glory is given to the performers. How sad.
After the music ends and the lights come up you may feel excited but without any purpose, without any change and without any increase in knowledge or understanding. If you visit a church and feel like you have been to a concert; mark it off your list. Did you know that among the original Christians there was never such a church to be found? What does that suggest to you?
3. Find Truth
Jesus declared that God’s word was truth (John 17:17). As you seek a church make sure that the truth is the foundation of everything taught, preached and practiced. Truth is hard. Some churches have softened the truth to make people feel at ease in their assemblies. These churches sometimes have large crowds because people are not discomforted when they attend. Of course, they are also unchanged by the preaching – at least they are not being transformed in a Biblical way (Romans 12:2). Paul warned of such preaching:
For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. (2 Timothy 4:3-4)
If you find a church that does not preach truth and truth only, you should run screaming from their building. At the least you are wasting time and at the worst damning your own soul. Remember, the Father seeks those who “worship him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23).
4. Compare Churches to the Original
As you visit about, and you should, simply observe the worship. How does the modern worship compare to what you read of in Scripture? During the days of the New Testament, Jesus’ apostles were directly involved in the various churches that were forming. These holy men, empowered by the Holy Spirit, were able to guide the churches into the truth. When problems arose with teaching or worship, and they did, the apostles could correct those errors and ensure that worship was according to God’s plan. So we may conclude that the worship practices of the original churches in the New Testament are true else they are corrected. We may pattern our worship after what we read in the New Testament because we know it is correct and acceptable.
Changes have occurred slowly. Some have altered true worship more than others. For example, the Roman Catholic church bears almost no resemblance to the original church of the New Testament. Truth is everything. As Solomon said, “Buy truth and sell it not…” (Proverbs 23:23).
5. Avoid the Perfect Church
There are no perfect churches. Actually, the church is perfect since it came from Christ and he remains the one head of the church. But the people who make up the church are not perfect. The finest Christian among is flawed and struggles everyday to reflect the glory of Christ. All of us are sinners (Romans 3:23). We are far from perfect. When finding a church be suspicious of anyone or any group that claims perfection. Any honest Christian will surely acknowledge their weaknesses. David struggled (2 Samuel 11; Psalm 51), Peter fell (Luke 22:54-62); Paul had his issues (2 Corinthians 12:1-10). Everyone stumbles.
The problem with a supposedly perfect church, aside from dishonesty, is that you will feel alone in your battles. It will seem that everyone else has it together while you drag alone in despair. We are all in this together.
There are many other things that are helpful when finding a church What about the youth programs? Are there areas of service? is there a program for seniors? These are important but secondary to the things I have mentioned. What good is a great youth program that teaches pop culture and not life-changing words from Jesus? Use these tips to begin your search. Find a true church and jump in!
What do you think? Share your thoughts and comments with our readers.
Bryant Evans may be reached at bryant at preachersstudyblog.com. You can follow Bryant on Twitter @J_Bryant_Evans.