How do we “choose a home church”—both the initial choice of which local church will be your spiritual family, and the ongoing choice, choosing your church over the avalanche of other things screaming for your focus? Here are five criteria to consider when choosing a church:
- Is this a church where God’s Word is faithfully taught? Be careful here: at first glance, most churches will appear to teach God’s Word. But references to Scripture don’t necessarily mean a church is submitted to God’s Word. Do the teachings of the sermon really flow out of the Scriptures which were quoted in support? A church which faithfully teaches God’s word will care about sound doctrine. “Doctrine” may sound like an intimidating word, but it simply means what the Bible teaches about any given subject. Look for a church that clearly knows and defines what it believes. You should be able to agree with a church’s statement of its major doctrines. TCC’s doctrinal statement can be found at tcc.org, keyword “What We Believe.” A church which faithfully teaches God’s Word will also encourage its people to live by God’s Word. No church can claim to live out God’s Word perfectly (and neither can you). What’s important is to look for a church that is seeking not only to believe rightly, but also to live rightly. The church you’re looking for will seek to build a culture and community of both hearing and obeying God’s Word.
- Is this a church in which the gospel is cherished and clearly proclaimed to believers and nonbelievers alike? The gospel is the Good News of Jesus Christ’s perfect life, sacrificial death for sinners, and glorious resurrection and ascension. And we’re commanded to build redemptive relationships in which we can spread this message, in our own backyards and around the world. But the gospel isn’t only for those who are lost. Many Christians are fuzzy on the importance of the gospel for their daily lives now. Many think it’s just for getting saved, but it’s not. It’s the defining reality we need to live in every day of our Christian lives.
- Is it a church whose leaders are characterized by humility and integrity? 1 Timothy 3 lists the qualifications for pastors: he should be a man who is above reproach, sober- minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. Notice that the qualifications relate mostly to the quality of his life. Pastoring is a character profession. No amount of charisma can make up for a lack of godly character. Look for a church were personal character is of more important than a silver tongue.
- Is this a church where I can find and cultivate godly relationships? Choose a church that provides settings where biblical fellowship, mutual encouragement, and application of the Scriptures take place. This can look different at different churches— some have small groups, others don’t. Some have mid-week meetings, others don’t. What matters is that godly relationships happen, one way or another. And something more than Sunday morning is needed for genuine fellowship to take place. When you have chosen a church, you need to make it a priority—the kind of priority that secondary concerns flow around, not over.
- Is this a church where members are expected to serve and give? Pastors are not meant to be paid professions who do ministry in place of members. Ephesians 4:12 commands pastors to “equip the saints for the work of ministry.” But we need to be careful how we view serving. Some people evaluate opportunities for service in a very self-centered way. They’re motivated to serve, but only in their preferred way. Make sure you’re not evaluating a church primarily by its capacity to showcase your gifts. Look for a place that will challenge you to care deeply about the needs of others, and then be ready to help meet those needs. Your money is a tangible expression of what you have invested yourself in. This week you exchanged 40, 50, or 60 hours of your life for a paycheck, so as a Christian, giving financially is a very meaningful expression of worship. It’s one way we offer our lives to God. When we give, we’re telling God that we trust him and acknowledge that all we have belongs to him. Many worthy and wonderful ministry opportunities exist all over the world, but because the church you’ve chosen is the one that nourishes you spiritually, it should be the first place you invest financially. If you don’t support your church, who will?
Don’t look for a perfect church—it doesn’t exist. But look for a church which intentionally aims to fulfill those five criteria. And then, when you do, join it “as is,” with enthusiasm and faith in God. In your quest for a church family, ask yourself: “Can I joyfully and fully support this church’s leaders, their teachings, and the direction they have set?” Choose a church you can accept “as is”—and then choose to fully engage and contribute and see how God uses you to make it even better!
Application / Challenge
See each of the criteria above.
Life in the Father’s House: A Member’s Guide to the Local Church by Wayne Mack and Dave Swavely: