Two And A-Half Priorities for Choosing a Local Church
Many people have a hard time deciding what local church they want to commit to – I’ve struggled myself on a couple of occasions with the task. It’s a prevalent problem today, especially in the Bible-belt where there are almost as many churches as there are restaurants. In my opinion, the problem stems mostly from not understanding the Bible and what the Bible has to say about Jesus and His body. Initially it’s that simple.
After that it often becomes an issue of preference. In other words, if there are no core and biblical convictions about what a local church should be, and be doing, then it really boils down to taste. It comes down to what meets a subjective need. Choosing a church becomes like picking a restaurant to satisfy a craving and the problem with a craving is that it may change and change frequently. I used to really like Chic-Fil-A, but now, not so much. I just go somewhere else until I’m tired of that. Maybe that’s why so many people can’t seem to stick in a church. It’s hard to be committed when they don’t know what they need. American churches are full of church-goers with good intentions who are consuming resources instead of committed to King Jesus and contributing to His Kingdom.
I’m not saying preference isn’t important as a part of choosing a local church, but it can’t be primary. For example, I don’t think it is wrong to like modern and loud music, but I do think it is problematic to make musical style the sum total criterion for choosing or not choosing to be committed to a local body of believers. Why? Because the Bible doesn’t mandate a musical style. If we can first identify the priority of God through His word and find several churches that are God-centered, then we can seek God in prayer and vet the church by our preferences. But we must know what God’s directives are if we are to find what God wants for us. If our criteria for choosing a church is not biblically driven, then we might drift from one place to the other like a ship on the sea without a rudder.
So what does the Bible prioritize by prescription and description? What is a biblical priority for choosing a church?
First, the local church must be committed to Jesus and His Mission. If we are in Christ, if we belong to Jesus by grace through faith, then we should desire to follow Him. Luke 14:25-33 and Mark 8:34-38 plainly show how radical our devotion to Jesus should be and if Jesus asks us to make disciples to the remotest parts of the earth (Matthew 28:19-20 and Acts 1:8) then that should be our priority too. Consequently, it should be the priority of local churches and if it is not then why would we want to be committed to a church that isn’t committed to Jesus? Who knows what a church with its own agenda might ask you to do? We have to start with Jesus and His mission. It’s that simple. And by the way, a church that gets this part right is likely a church established on the authority of God’s word.
Second, the local church must be committed to each other to advance Jesus’ mission. If we belong to Jesus Christ then we are connected to each other in Christ. He is the head and we are His body (Ephesians 4:1-16; 5:22-30; 1 Corinthians 12:12-13). We are joined together in Christ to Christ, but we are also have a Spiritual union with others. The local church is the visible and identifiable expression of this reality. I find it both interesting and troubling that many people say they love Jesus, but apparently not enough to be committed to His body in a tangible and visible way. They just want to attend, critique and consume. This might be largely due to ignorance from poor disciple-making, but the prevalence of this disconnect is disturbing and a poor example to the world of how a Christian should live in community. How do you do John 13:35 if you are not committed to a people? I have become fond of saying that if you aren’t close enough to forgive and be forgiven as God forgave you in Christ then you are probably not committed to a local church in a biblical way (See Ephesians 4:32). Most people have never connected the dots between loving Christ and loving His people. A biblical local church will be committed to each other to advance the mission of Jesus because they belong to Jesus and are connected to each other by the Spirit.
But here’s the half. If the local church is committed to Christ and committed to each other for the mission of Jesus, then the church will be committed to love and care for each other to accomplish that mission. This requires practical acts of doing what is best for those we are committed to. A local church that desires to follow Jesus and live for His purposes is a church that will strive to care for each other. If a local church talks about the mission, or a mission that they assign to Jesus, but don’t care for each other, then something is wrong. Loving each other is a part of proclaiming the gospel and making disciples. If there is a commitment to Jesus then there will be a visible and loving commitment to his people for the world to see (John 13:35).
So there’s a commitment to Jesus and His mission. There’s a commitment to each other to live and tell that mission. The commitment involves living life together and caring for each other.
Keeping in mind that there are no perfect people or churches, if a local church isn’t making serious effort to do these two and-a-half things, I would keep on moving. But if you find a church that is committed to Christ in these things, give yourself to Christ and His visible and local people. If you find several churches that do these things, then you can move on to your list of preferences. But seek Jesus first, delighting yourself in God’s inspired priorities, and then you will find what you’re looking for in a local church.