Not long ago someone who was moving to a new city asked a group of us what we looked for in a church.
Some people said they valued good preaching, or good worship music, or a good children’s program. Some wanted a place that offered the old time religion and salvation message that was good enough for Grandma. Some wanted something deeper or fresher or more relevant. Some wanted standards. Some wanted to be open to everyone and everything. Some wanted a place where they could take an active part and others wanted a service that ended on time with easy access to the exit and the parking lot.
When they asked me I said I don’t know anymore.
I’ve been in rooms with brilliant teachers teaching brilliant thoughts to eager learners.
I’ve been in open fields with people willing to lay down their lives for the nations,
in kitchens where folks fed the poor,
in safe houses with two or three friends who understood my brokeness patiently worked toward my emotional healing,
in giant cathedrals with choirs and organ music that carried the echoes of a thousand years of faithfulness,
on patios around the barbecue where people talk about the love of Christ and things that matter,
in backrooms where street people loved each other with the deepest sincerity,
in quiet sanctuaries where the sacraments repeated the promises I needed to hear,
in rented spaces with music and dance so enthusiastic I could feel the beat in my chest,
in accepting ethnic communities where I was the only white person,
in gyms where children laughed and played and recited memory verses,
in creaky old pews where multi-generational families prayed together and stayed together
in halls and airport hangars where the power of the Holy Spirit was so strong people were thrown out of their chairs or fell on the floor with laughter or were healed of incurable diseases on the spot,
and in wood paneled sanctuaries where the elderly found comfort in hymns about heaven.
I have known the safety of basement classrooms with friends who desire to hear the Lord and are willing to graciously speak truth into my life.
I’ve known the church of the internet where spirit to spirit connection rides the air waves.
I’ve known the reverent and the raucous, the richly furnished and the barely maintained, the well-staffed and the unstaffed, the steadfast and the risk-taking.
It’s hard to choose which one I will reject if I cling solely to one and forsake the others.
I love them all.
But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.
14 thoughts on “What Do You Look For In a Church?”
Charis, what I look for is being in the gathering, where God places me. Not my will but his will. Subject to his kingship, not mine. Not the people’s choice but his choice. Not a place where I feel comfortable, but a place where I am submitted to his will for his comfort. A place where I listen to his voice and give him the worship that he desires. For more years than I can count, I gave the Lord what I wanted to give. My favorite worship, in my way, with my comfort zone paramount. Religious routines and structures and predictability so I could feel good, not following or even realizing whether the Lord was pleased..Most of my Christian walk, it did not matter what he wanted but I went away feeling justified because I went to church, read the Bible, prayed and performed. Never realizing that Jesus wasn’t there. Now he calls for my whole heart, humbling myself and leaving my pride, religious performance (Pharisee), killing my flesh and taking up my cross to follow him. Surrendered and obedient to his voice! Difficult, when I rebel with stubbornness but so satisfying when I yield and surrender.
So good. And if He asks us to step outside of the systems with self-protective walls that separate our “distinctives”, that is also a place where we are submitted to his will for his comfort.
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maybe its not the teaching, nor the music, nor the setting, but rather the people that make a good local church.
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No doubt. So which people do I choose not to associate with?
because what you are looking for has not yet been fully formed…the Bride? Thats me! (not the Bride but in the same place I hasten to add!!) we’ll be waiting “’til Kingdom come” quite literally 😉
Thy Kingdom come
Thy will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
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Do you know that saying: “There’s a place for everything and everything has it’s place.”? That’s what I imagine – a church that has a place for everyone. Where marrieds and singles don’t play tug-of-war for power, where men and women are both leaders together (and not all leaders are required to be married and have kids), where there’s a variety of music and Bibles to reflect the variety that God instilled in humanity. Where love is more important than authority and submission. Where everyone I know would feel welcome and nothing holds people back from welcoming everybody. I like churches that see needs and fills them before they even know they need to – like having American SIgn Language interpreters already ready to help fill communication gaps. Now me, I do like contemporary music, and since I haven’t had access to that for ages, I get how much it would suck to have no access to hymns for the old fashioned sorts – so I’d like to see all music represented – contemporary, hymns, even blue-grass and gospel. I don’t want a church that’s the same old same old, all about authority and submission, graceless and loveless, everybody’s all the same and there’s no diversity – no challenge to view the world as greater than myself. I want the kind of church that’s founded on Jesus’ teachings, rather than superseded by Paul’s teachings.
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Thank you, Jamie. Unity in the Spirit with diversity of expression seems to be a theme I am running into lately. There is more. I know there is more.
The common denominator in every scenario you’ve listed is not ‘place’ but ‘people’. The church is people not place. You don’t need to reject any of these. You have found something precious….go with it. Cos yes, there is more…always more!
Ah, you see it. People, not places. Being church, not doing church.
The movie, “Divergent” (the first in the series, anyhow) caught my attention. In this film people were divided into factions according to their temperament – or motivational make-up, if you will. If, at the age of choosing, they left the group they were raised in they were required to transfer their allegiance from family to the faction they were now part of. “Faction over family” was a motto. The heroine of the story didn’t fit into one particular faction. She was called a “divergent.” She was a problem.
Sometimes I feel even the “people church” requires loyalty to factions (which tend to gather in their own places) over the greater concept of family. A them-and-us, our-faction-is-better-than-your-faction scenario develops. I must be a divergent because I don’t want to choose which group I will honour more or honour less.
And this is why I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.
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I also like Divergent, but I saw something different. Many churches are into complementarianism which basically boils down to: “be one thing” but humanity is a varied spectrum, all of us reflecting something different about God. Being one thing means not being the different things that God made us to be. In a sense, we must all be divergent (diverse) in order to secure a better future. Divergent’s tendency to separate people into like-minded categories was also their biggest weakness – just like a divided house cannot stand.
I think complementarianism is saying you should be either one of two things, but I hear you. I agree the tendency to divide people into like-minded categories provided an orderly structure to perhaps lower tension, but it was also their biggest weakness because of lack of cohesiveness in the whole society. The heroine, Tris, and her sidekick, Four, challenged that way of thinking and were a threat to order for that reason. Most people did not understand them and power seekers were definitely not happy with them.
What is God looking for in a church? Hopefully that is what I am looking for (and anticipating):
“…The church, which is His body, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all” (Eph. 1:22).
“Unto Him be glory in the church in Christ Jesus unto all the generations of the age of the ages” (Eph. 3:21).
“…The glorious church not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing…” (Eph. 5:27).
Ah yes! What is GOD looking for in a church? Hopefully it is what we are lifting our eyes to look for as well. The fullness of Him.
Thank you, Brother. I can always trust you to step in with a words of wisdom.