Yesterday, I posted on Facebook that I had heard of a couple "shopping around" for a new church and that, in my opinion, the way many in our culture view the Church must grieve the heart of God and reveals the need we have for revival.
As many times happens on social media the reaction was mixed. Some people agreed and some didn't. Unfortunately, some may have read into the post things that weren't intended to be communicated.
So, let me clarify and unpack a few things.
First, what I'm NOT saying.
I'm NOT saying that there aren't times when God changes the season of your life which includes the community of believers that you belong to. Our church has seen significant growth over the last few years and many of those who have joined their lives to ours have come from other churches. In fact, and I'll elaborate in a later blog post, I don't believe that we, as a church, would be anywhere near where we are (in terms of church health) were it not for mature and serving believers who have joined us over the last few years.
There are a myriad of reasons why God leads people to leave their church family and join themselves to another. This is, many times, a painful process especially if those individuals and families have been at their church for a long period of time and are deeply embedded in serving.
I will say, however, that above and beyond anything else, you need to make sure it is God who is doing the leading. This requires much prayer and fasting. His will for your life is what is of utmost importance and not knee jerk reactions or restlessness.
Now...here's what I AM saying...
In the American Church (specifically the South) we need revival and a renewed devotion to New Testament Church "Membership."
In the South, we live in what is traditionally called the "Bible Belt" where churches are on every corner and church "choices" are as numerous and various as Baskin-Robbins flavors. At Taylor Road, we ask those who feel led to join our church family to attend a New Member's Lunch. In that lunch, on the front end of their joining the church, we try our best to clarify our vision and my heart. We are trying, as unpopular as it may be at times, to push back against the current climate of church membership.
The words we use - intentionally or not - reveal what we believe. What concerns me - and maybe it's just me! - is that in the 12 years I've been in full-time ministry, I've heard the phrase "shopping around for a church" more and more.
Now, here's WHY that phrase concerns me. What comes to your mind when you hear the word "shopping"? I think of going to a store, looking at my options, letting my preferences dictate my decision, spending my hard earned money on my decision and fully expecting the product to deliver and give me my money's worth. In other words, I'm a consumer and I'm shopping for a product that meets my needs and preferences.
In Romans 12, the Apostle Paul writes to believers that we are members of the same body and that we belong one to another. That's huge. So many times, it's said "I'm a member of such-and-such church" or "I belong to "such-and-such church." But, what Paul is saying is that as a follower of Christ, you are a member of the body. You don't belong to an institution or an organization. The Church isn't a country club where you pay your dues and receive benefits. No, Paul is saying that we belong to each other. The Church doesn't belong to me - like a product. I belong to the members of the body and they belong to me. We belong one to another.
As I said earlier, there are seasons and circumstances when God leads a believer to a new season of life and community of believers. And, again, we must know that it is HIS leading - not ours.
So, what should you "look for" in a church? Here's what I think:
1. Is there a spirit of submission to the Lordship and authority of Jesus Christ?
Jesus is the bridegroom and shepherd of His people. Too many times churches are driven by personalities and not led by the Holy Spirit.
2. Is there a high priority placed on the Word of God?
Does the pastor preach the Bible unapologetically and consistently? Is the Bible, understood as God's revealed word, the ultimate authority in church governance and decision making?
3. Is there a high priority on the Great Commission?
The Church is God's plan for the gospel of Jesus going into the world. Local churches are "outposts" in communities and are (or should be) the greatest mission sending agencies each Sunday. Does the church have a heart to reach their community, their state, nation and world with the gospel of Jesus and see all people come into a saving relationship with Him?
4. Is there a high priority on Biblical Community?
Does the church strive to live out biblical community of living life together, growing in relationship with one another (belonging to one another), growing in sanctification together, and going on mission together? For the best model of this, check out Acts 2:42-47.
I understand that there might be those who disagree with what I've said in this post and that's ok. My heart, however, is to see our church - and every church in our city, state, and nation, push back against a culture of consumerism and reclaim more and more the Church Jesus had in mind when He started it.
In the words of a good friend of mine, "Jesus started the Church the way He wanted it and now He wants the Church the way He started it."