Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Characteristics of a good Church

It is important for a Christian to be in regular company of other Christians. (It is commanded in the Bible too) Christians call this fellowship, but most people today don't know what that word means, so call it what you want. (the Bible calls it the gathering of yourselves together)

I have been brainstorming about some things to look for, if you are looking for a new Church. (or if you are looking for a Church, for the first time in a long time)

I undertook this idea for a number of reasons, first and foremost, because a couple of my recent pastors (my Church has changed pastors twice in the past 7 years) have stressed the importance of being involved with a Church.

Since you are looking for a group of Christians to spend some significant time with, both for company and for learning, you want to find a Church that is well suited to you.

And with so many Churches teaching incorrectly, or even teaching outright heresy, how can you determine which Church is the best? In my local area, there are enough Baptist, Lutheran, Christian, Bible, Nazarene and Assembly of God Churches that you could go to a different one every Sunday for a year.

The following should be helpful to those who are searching.

The Church Building
It should be ordinary, unspectacular. A Church building is a building for meetings and teaching. It is not, in itself, holy or sacred. The last thing you want is to try to go to a Church that meets in a building that intimidates you.

The Congregation.
Look for a medium sized congregation. This can be anywhere from 100 to 1000 people. Just so you are comfortable. Don't like to stand out? Look for a little larger one. Afraid of crowds, or feel like you will just get lost in the crowd and not find any one to be friends with? Look for a smaller one.

The Preaching and Teaching.
Of course, the most important aspect of a church is the Preaching and Teaching. There is no substitute (except as in the next paragraph) for Expository Preaching (which is really teaching). Expository Preaching is a system where the Pastor goes through a portion of the Bible, one chapter or even one verse at a time, teaching (or exposing) the Scriptures. The Bible specifically requires pastors and teachers for the equipping of the saints.

This means they are commanded to prepare Christians for service to Christ. Since this is their purpose, Expository Preaching is required. In addition, if a Pastor teaches on subjects straight through substantial portions of the Scriptures, it is very difficult for him to stray very far from the true meaning of those Scriptures, since the Scriptures, themselves, are tools for their own true interpretation. (This doesn't mean we can't have some disagreement on some interpretation, but the longer we study the scriptures, the smaller those disagreements should become, in relation to the whole.)

As a second best alternative to Expository Preaching, I suppose a liturgical format is OK, if they offer a Sunday School or other weekly (or twice weekly) expository study. Some information on the liturgical format:

At any rate, if they preach on the same subject three Sundays in a row, it is time to find a different Church, as they have become wrapped around the axle, and are no longer equipping the saints, but rather indulging their own social pet peeves. This is not quite the same as teaching from the same passage three weeks in a row, but close. A passage can be looked at from three different points of view, giving three different subjects. I would cut them a little more slack in this case = to maybe four Sundays. At any rate, if they are not moving on, teaching through the Scriptures, then it is time for you to move on.

Offerings and Tithes
Some (rare) Churches never "pass the plate" to take an offering. Some have been known to pass the plate three times in one service. Well, if they pass the plate more than once - except on rare occasions, then, again, it is time to find a different Church. On the other hand, if you are sitting indoors and the lights are on, someone has to pay the bills. And many Pastors find that leading a Church is a full time job, so they need to get paid. (The Bible actually directs a Church to support those who evangelize and those who teach the Scriptures)

But the Pastor should live like his flock. If most of the people who attend the Church live in apartments, or small unassuming houses, then the Pastor should live in a small unassuming house. If most in the congregation live in nice middle class homes, then they should expect
him to live in a comparable house.

If the Pastor lives like a king and the flock struggles to get by, if they constantly parade "successful stories of faith" across the stage or if you hear "let your seed reflect your need" (this is a specific heresy) or anything like it - run. Again, this would indicate that it is time to find another Church.

If you attend Sunday School, or any other theological classes offered by the Church, they should be Bible Based - not over dependant on other material. This doesn't mean they can't use other materials, but the classes should be centered on the Bible.

The Works of the Church
A Church should (unless they, themselves, are destitute) support Charities and Missions - this is one of the biggest advantages of belonging to a Church. If you have read things I have said in the past about charitable giving, then you know there is a hazard to giving individually. Namely that the money might not go where it should, or that they will spend much of it on trying to get you to give more. With a Church, one person can do the research on a charity for the whole group, and the charity only has one point of contact to waste their efforts on, if they try to get more.

The budget, along with some other Church documents, such as their Constitution and bylaws, should be open to inspection by members. But not necessarily by just anyone, so as a compromise, I would highly recommend inquiring about them before formally joining any Church.

Pastor and Deacons should be approachable. They are in charge of setting the overall direction of the Church and serving the spiritual needs of the congregation, but they are not Lords. And if they are not approachable, they cannot fulfil their Biblical Duties.

So applying the above half a baker's dozen tests will narrow the choice of Churches by probably 90%. Possibly to zero - in which case you have to look for the closest thing you can find, and I would say that Expository Preaching is the most important test. Or you may have too look some distance to find a Church. Here in Texas, I know a few people who travel 30 or more miles to find a true Bible Based Church. But after learning the Bible for myself, I think it is worth it.

Proverbs 29:27
The righteous detest the dishonest;
the wicked detest the upright.

UPDATE 27Oct09: I discovered, this morning, that my links to the definition of Expository Preaching were broken. I fixed them, but at the same time, found that I wasn't satisfied with the definition they linked to. I will be looking for a more precise, yet pragmatic definition. But in the mean time, I found the following thoughts, which I want to provide.

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