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Thursday, December 8, 2011

What to Look for in Your Next Church

People visit the church I pastor every week. Most of them are looking for something. Many of them have no past connection with church. They have never been to church before. They may be looking for many things that we can't provide. We cannot become the place where every problem goes away. We can't be the people who encourage bad behavior. We can't preach Christ and other religions at the same time. Many of these people and others check us out and keep going.

There is no virtue in losing people. We are not an exclusive club which limits its membership. We are a people who seek to bring those who do not know the Lord into His presence. However, we can't violate our own principles to keep people either. We cannot take people to Christ by going somewhere else. We are limited to the teaching of the Scriptures, the leading of the Holy Spirit and our own convictions of right and wrong. It isn't that its "my way or the highway"; its "His way is the high way."

So, I write this with my own convictions to help others who are seeking a church which will lead them to the same place I want our church to lead people. What I am saying is: I know I am biased. I just want you to know that I know it.

The leadership of your new church should have several traits which should be observable. The leadership will never be perfect but these leaders should exhibit a clear separation between themselves and the world. Church leadership is in the world like the rest of the congregation but it must provide the example of living a holy life. This should be seen in a consistent time with the Lord each day, a obvious confession of sins before the Lord and an uncondemning spirit. The latter characteristic will allow the leadership to point out sin without condemning the sinner. The Holy Spirit is the One who convicts the world of sin. Church leadership can only point to the sin.

The holy lifestyle of the leadership should be seen in their righteous behavior. It will be clear that the decisions being made have been done so because of their spiritual maturity for they have prayed about each step the church should take. Sure, surveys may be taken, consultants may be consulted and trends in culture may be taken into account but the prevailing atmosphere will be one of prayer and seeking the Lord.

Because this leadership has confessed with a godly lifestyle, the congregation will know grace itself. They will understand that the leadership has given them grace and that their only godly response is to return grace to the leadership. The leadership will be blameless because of its hard work, continuing care and selfless lifestyle.

The pastor of this church will be gentle rather than harsh. I understand that there comes times for "fire and brimstone" but most of the time the sermons will be encouraging, comforting and urging the congregation to live lives worthy of God.

I personally do not understand the pastors who privately complain about their congregations. They tell me of their ignorance, failures and ungodliness. I liken this to a coach who complains about the performance of his players. Wasn't he responsible for their actions? Shouldn't he have coached them better? Shouldn't a pastor take some of the responsibility of the actions of his membership after some period of time? Isn't his responsibility to urge them to live lives worthy of the Lord?

Thus, the congregation should reflect the lives of the leadership after a period of time. The congregation will try to beat the leadership into submission if they have had long periods of being beaten by the leadership. They congregation will either live in a godly manner after being under the leadership for a long time or they will seek another church which has no example of godliness which convicts them of their sins.

Note that I have spoken of "over a period of time." Godly leadership has been oppressed in many churches which has led to verbal and political persecution. These leaders have been fired, forced to live on smaller and smaller salaries, criticized openly before the congregation and others and sent anonymous letters of malice. This is the worldly response to godliness: demonize the godly and exalt the guilty.

Obviously, you do not need to be a part of a church that is so ungodly unless God has called you to be a part of the solution of bringing that church to her knees in repentance. That is a special calling that requires a significant maturity and commitment.

So, what are you looking for? A holy leadership which leads righteously and blamelessly before the congregation which is being encouraged, comforted and urged to live in a godly manner. This congregation will also follow the characteristics of the leadership if the leadership has been there for a significant period of time. You cannot judge these characteristics by bells and whistles but by careful observation.

In the end you have to say, "Do I want to go where this congregation is going?" Of course, you should also check your own heart. Are you wanting to go where God wants you to go? Are you seeking a godly lifestyle or a place to hide and do whatever you please?

God has a part for you to play in the mission of your new church. So, where do you want to go?

1 Thessalonians 2:10-12 (NIV) 10 You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed. 11 For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, 12 encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.

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