Recently, a friend of mine posed the question: "What are valid expectations to have for a church home?"
In trying to further describe her situation, she went on to say:
Now, don't get me wrong. I love this little body of believers. I love to pray for them. They are precious people. I love the pastor who is a wonderful expositional teacher and preacher. But, there is no vision, no drive, no passion. While we love the proximity of this church, love the sweet spirit of the congregation and the teaching of the pastor, there just seems to be something missing. I feel quite shallow in describing our little church this way. I keep telling myself that sound teaching should really be enough. Shouldn't it? Are my expectations out of whack?
Coming from a pastor’s family's perspective, Spencer and I have never been through the process of just "joining a church." We always come to a church with the mindset that we’ll "meet them where they're at...help them change what needs changing...and help them fix what needs fixing-- even if it takes years. But "What if…" I wonder. What if we were allowed to be as choosy as the typical lay person. What would be our “deal breakers?”
So, in an effort to offer a little advice for my friend, here is the list I’ve come up with:
1. A Sound Pulpit-- For Spencer and me, this means expositional preaching and sound doctrine. Expositional preaching is preaching which expounds what Scripture says in a particular passage, carefully explaining its meaning and applying it to the congregation. It is preaching that takes the point of the text as the point of the sermon. I could never bear to sit under a pastor who jumped from topic to topic each week. And Heaven forbid I had to sit under a pastor who read a passage of Scripture and then promptly closed his Bible to share humorous and touching anecdotes from his own life in twenty minutes or less. (Yes, I really read that last sentence as an advertisement for a nearby church!!)
2. A church that believes in Lordship Salvation-- (rather than "Easy Believism.") Praying “the Sinner’s Prayer” has become the Southern Baptist mantra. Salvation is not the result of a magic prayer-- it is a transformation that takes place in the life of a repentant sinner who commits to following Jesus Christ. True salvation is evidenced in FRUIT. If you bear oranges, you are not an apple tree. You are an orange tree. In the same way, a truly born again believer will bear good works. (James 2:18-19)
3. A church with a heart for REAL evangelism-- For us, that means that people (by and large) have a burning heart to win the lost. However, it does not mean they are to try and cater to the culture to do so. As somebody once says, “What you win them by is what you win them to.” Seeker methods such as fire-engine baptistries and “If you get 1,000 people here this Sunday, we’ll bring a horse down the aisle!” are the sad result of a wrong view of evangelism and we would probably think twice before joining any church that used those kinds of methods. On the other hand, we are saddened by a cold hearted church where no one is doing anything to reach the lost! When no one in the church is willing to join the pastor for mid-week visitation to share the Gospel-- that would be a red flag that we didn’t belong at that church. When the people of the church are not opening their homes and sharing meals with their lost neighbors and friends, that would be a sure sign of a cold church too and we would think twice before joining.
4. A Biblical Understanding of
Church Membership-- Over the years, we
have realized that many, many, many people view church membership as a privilege
or a status symbol rather than a responsibility. This is evidenced by little Bertha Mae who
has lived in Texas for the last twenty years but kept her church membership at her home church back in Arkansas. (I guess she didn't realize that she was supposed to transfer her letter and plug into a local body for the kingdom of God!)
5. A Church that practices Church Discipline-- As John MacArthur said, “A church that doesn’t practice church discipline isn’t a true church.” How can you say that a church loves it’s sheep if it’s not willing to chase after the straying ones? Love demands discipline. (Matthew 18)
6. A Church that is Committed to Discipleship and Spiritual Growth-- My husband grew up in a church and the only sermon he heard, week after week after week was “Get Saved, Get Saved, Get Saved.” As a result, by the time he reached the University of Arkansas, he was a weak and struggling Christian. It wasn't until he met up with the Navigators and came under one-on-one discipleship that he started flourishing as a Christian. Spencer and I are committed to this practice and are committed to always having at least one or two couples we are personally discipling. If we were lay people looking for a church, we would want to see this kind of commitment from the leadership of the church and hopefully, the entire congregation!
7. A Plurality of Elders-- I've been a Baptist all of my life, so I'm allowed to pick on them. :) The Baptists suffer because they have discarded this teaching on Biblical church leadership and expect one man (the pastor) to lead the church all by himself. (Well, actually, most don’t expect him to really "lead" at all. They expect the congregation to lead through a majority vote, at the monthly business meeting.) This kind of thinking has paralyzed many a Baptist church. We are very thankful for groups like the Baptist Founders who are encouraging Southern Baptists to return to their historic, Biblical roots.
8. God-Centered, Affectionate, Lavish, Charismatic Worship-- We would desire a worship service led by a worship pastor who led us to worship in this way. Christ shed his blood for us. How can people not be lavish in their praise? CLAP YOUR HANDS, all you peoples! SHOUT TO GOD with a voice of triumph! (Psalm 47:1), LIFT UP YOUR HANDS in the sanctuary and bless the Lord. (Psalm 134:2)
Well, I'm sure I've left something out. But there they are-- eight deal breakers that would play into the decision making process of joining a church if we were lay people searching for a church. After all of that, I know we would approach the pastor and say, "What is your vision? How could we help you fulfill that vision?" The answers to those questions would be considered somewhat diagnostic and would help us determine whether or not God was leading us to join that church.
Deal breakers. I've listed a few. What are yours?