Like many in my generation, I’ve done some moving around and with each new move I’ve had to begin the difficult process of searching for a new church home. If you’re like most, a day is coming when you too will be on the search for a new church to call home. When that day comes, you may want to think twice before using these all-too-common reasons for making your choice:
1. “The Pastor is Really Good.”
Perhaps no other man apart from Jesus has had a bigger influence on the church than Paul. But here’s the thing: neither you nor I would have been a big fan of his preaching style. Paul had a reputation for being unimpressive in person and giving contemptible sermons (2 Corinthians 10:10). One sermon in particular was so bad it lulled a parishioner to sleep who then fell out the window to his death (Acts 20:9).
Needless to say, if he were still alive today, Paul would probably not be a staple on your podcast feed. He wouldn’t be invited to speak at your favorite Christian conference. Most large churches probably wouldn’t even consider hiring him for a teaching pastor position. This is the same guy God chose to preach before dignitaries and kings, to plant churches, and write much of the New Testament. Apparently God has very different criteria than we do.
If your primary goal is to be entertained, follow an entertaining pastor. If your primary goal is to know Jesus, follow a pastor who can lead you to the throne. If you don’t know how to assess which is which, ask yourself whether people walk away from the worship gathering thinking, “Wow, that pastor is good,” or “Wow, our God is good.” Few people would have said the first statement about Paul’s preaching, but many thousands experienced the second as a result of his ministry.
2. “The Doctrine is Spot On.”
Is theology important? You bet it is, but what a church believes is not necessarily reflected by its name, affiliations or statement of faith. If you want to know what a church really believes, pay attention to how its people live.
They say they believe in a God who cares about the oppressed? Pay attention to who they advocate for. They say they believe in the great commission? Watch how willing they are to inconvenience themselves to see it fulfilled. They say they believe in grace? Watch how they treat others, particularly those they disagree with.
By all means, weigh with serious consideration what a church believes before calling it home. Just don’t look exclusively to a formal statement to tell you what that is.
3. “They Have a Great Kids’ Ministry.”
As a dad of three, I can fully appreciate the importance of taking kids into consideration when choosing a church home. But let’s get something painfully clear: pastoring your kids is your job. You can’t outsource that. It is your most important vocation, and no church or program can do it for you. They need to hear and see it from you first. And the good news is when it’s happening at home, you can do without what most consider a “great” kids’ ministry.
For the record, I want my kids to love church. I just want them to love Jesus more. And that can happen without bounce-house evangelism or ski balling for Jesus. In fact, sometimes those things just get in the way. Most important is that we as parents are teaching and modeling for our kids what it means to follow Jesus and that there are other godly men and women in their life to do the same. And this can happen without all the bells and whistles.
Furthermore, if shopping for the best kids’ program is our primary motivation for choosing a church, we are modeling a consumer approach to church that may very well shape our kids as much or more than any curriculum, which brings me to Point 4:
4. “It Meets My Needs.”
While the details of what we are looking for may vary, too often the primary factor in choosing a church is what we get out of it. This is a dangerous approach to church selection, and quite honestly, it flies in the face of the Gospel.
Why? Because it positions us as a consumer before we even show up. It suggests that the church exists to meet our needs. Anyone see a problem here? Our primary call as a part of Jesus’ church is to contribute, not just to consume. We are to die to self (Mark 8:34-35), to lay down our life for others (1 John 3:16), to consider them more important than ourselves (Philippians 2:3).
So go ahead; be thoughtful and deliberate as you choose a new church home, but please understand the purpose of the church as you consider your criteria.
Perhaps then the “right” church for you isn’t the one that offers you the most or where you feel the most comfortable. In fact, the right church could be the one where you’re most uncomfortable; where you get less and give more; where Jesus, rather than your preferences, is the object of worship. Perhaps the right church is the one where some of your needs go unmet, but where you get to be a part of meeting the needs of the world.
The right church just might sneak up on you. It may not look anything like you expected. And once it has your heart, somewhere along the way you might even forget to ask, “What’s in it for me?”