Churches have more flavors then Baskin Robins. And this makes finding a church, well, not always easy. On top of this, the challenge becomes increasingly difficult when we aren’t really sure what to look for in the first place. As a result, we approach churches like consumers: What’s in it for me?
When we come to a church with unrealistic expectations, we set ourselves up for disappointment. When we fail to understand what the global Church is and what it does, we engage it in a ways that can be both inappropriate and unhealthy. So, what should we look for when searching for a church home?
A Balance of Love and Truth
Some churches are too soft. They confuse love with kindness. Of course, kindness is important, but sometimes the best thing we can do for someone is speak the truth to them. When my wife asks me how she looks, if her makeup is running and her hair is messed up, letting her go out in public without letting her know might spare her feelings in the short term, but it isn’t loving.
On the other hand, some churches are too hard; they don’t consider the feelings of their people at all. Telling my wife she looks like circus clown also wouldn’t be loving. Some churches wield truth like a weapon and beat people with it like a playground bully. They speak the truth harshly and tactlessly. They have convinced themselves that speaking the truth by itself is the best way to love.
Love always speaks the truth. It always does so out of love and in love. Love walks a perfect line of grace and truth.
No Sacred Cows
When looking for a church, it’s best to avoid the ones that place too high a value on things that are not the Gospel. It’s not that other things aren’t important or shouldn’t be valued. But when they become sacred, there is a problem.
All churches are unique. And so, obviously, they emphasize different things. Some are big on the worship experience, and others rally around facilitating social and communal life. These aren’t bad, of course. They are helpful ways to identify the unique components of a community. The danger is when we start caring so much about these differences that they become idols.
The message of the Gospel never changes. The method does. Sacred cows—those ideas and customs we sometimes hold onto against reasonable criticism—often come when a church holds too tightly to their traditions. These aren’t always evil, but they are over valued. For example: modesty is a good value, but when how a person dresses to church is more important than the fact that they showed up, there are sacred cows getting the way.
Being Gospel-centered means we are fully reliant on the grace of God for all we do. It means we view everything through the lens of God’s Word and our relationship with Him—it changes how we think, speak and act.
Any church that fails to put Jesus at the front of all they do is missing the mark. A Gospel-centered church actively preaches and lives out the fact that we exist to serve God, glorify Him and share His message with the world.
A Heart for Outreach
The heart of God bleeds and breaks for the lost. A church that has no heart for outreach has lost sight of the mission of Jesus.
There is nothing wrong with a church that takes care of itself, just like a healthy diet and exercise are not bad things. But there is a difference between taking care of ourselves and being obsessed with ourselves.
A church with a heart for outreach cares more about getting people to know Jesus than about getting people to become members.
There are lots of the theological arguments between denominations and even between churches within those denominations. Some of these are important.
Jesus, God, Salvation and the Bible—these are truths to hold onto. Everything else, to one extent or another, is debatable. Make sure a church has its essentials right, and then sort through the rest with discernment and open hands.
We shouldn’t select a church solely for their end-times views, worship style, preaching philosophy or children’s ministry programming. We shouldn’t select a church just because they focus on the things we like or cater to our desires.
We should be looking for a community that seeks to glorify God in all they do. Ultimately it’s this: when looking for a church, we should be seeking a unified family of believers that teaches the Word of God, that seeks to follow the example of Jesus while focusing all they do on Him, that speaks the truth but does so in love, that cares for those who are far from God, and that constantly seeks new ways to reach people with love of God.
Tyler Edwards is a pastor, author, and husband. He currently works as the Discipleship Pastor of Carolina Forest Community Church in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. He is passionate about introducing people to and helping them grow in the Gospel. He is the author of Zombie Church: breathing life back into the body of Christ. You can find more of his work on Facebook or you can follow him on Twitter @tedwardsccc.