Finding the “Right” Church
By Pastor John
A lot of young adults (especially students) have asked me how they should go about finding the “right” church when they move to a new city. Here’s what I usually tell them.
The first thing you want to do is to distinguish between what’s major and what’s minor. It takes intentionality to realize which is which. The danger is confusing what is “right for me” and what is “right according to the Bible.” What is merely “right for me” is usually a minor thing; what is “right according to the Bible” is always major.
For example, the Bible never sets friendship as a central mark of the church, but that’s often times what’s most decisive in choosing a church, even when other essential things are not there. And that’s when a minor thing replaces a major thing.
So, here are 3 things that are major according to the Bible that you ought to keep in mind, and each of these actually yield the minor things in the long run if you keep at it (but it never works the other way around, the minor things never yield the major things).
No church will fulfill all three of these perfectly, but you should at least recognize the signs.
1st Major Thing: The Gospel
You should ask yourself, ‘Did I hear the gospel of Jesus Christ? Was I called to repent and rejoice in Him again? Was I reminded of how Christ alone is my righteousness? Or was the focus on how great I am, or how I need to try harder to prove myself worthy of God’s acceptance?’
The gospel is vital for your spiritual health. Without it you’ll end up swinging from one end of the pendulum to the other – extreme guilt on the one end and extreme pride on the other. The gospel rejects both of these extremes.
Meditating on the love of God that placed his Son on the cross for our sins makes it impossible for us to remain in self-deprecating guilt. But, at the same time, it makes it impossible for us to feel any self-righteous pride about our standing with God. It lifts up those that are low and brings down those that are high. The gospel reminds us that God loves us not because of our works, but because of Christ’s work for us. So, it’s true, we are eternally loved by God in Jesus Christ. That’s the good news that drives us to true repentance and rejoicing.
And this ought to be a weekly reminder for us. As it’s often said, the gospel is not the ABC of Christianity but its A to Z. Being in the “right” church means you are pressing into the depths of the right gospel, not leaving it behind like it has no relevance to you now that you’re saved.
For those of you who are trying to introduce Christianity to your non-believing family or friends, remember that what they need most is not just attendance in any church but an attentiveness to the gospel in a gospel-preaching church.
(Ref. Matthew 3:8; Acts 8:12; 2 Timothy 4:2; 2 Timothy 3:16)
2nd Major Thing: Pastoral Counsel
You also have to ask yourself, ‘Will I be pastored here? Will I be able to develop a relationship with my pastor, or will I be unaccounted for? Can I share my struggles with the pastor (or a female counselor when needed) and ask tough questions when I wrestle with doubt? Or will I be silent?’
It’s important that you find a church where the pastor is accessible and approachable. It is good when lay leaders provide biblical counsel to fellow members of the church, but the leaders themselves are in need of continual pastoral counsel for this to work.
The pastor’s calling is to walk through your struggles with you, not to assume you’ve got it all figured out or measure your performance and criticize you when you fail. He’s there to help you apply the gospel to your life, one day at a time.
So, find a church where the pastor’s assumption is not that you’re strong, but that you’re weak. Find a church where your relationship to your pastor feels less like a relationship between a boss and an employee, but more like a relationship between a doctor and a patient (in this case, the doctor is also a patient). Bottom line is, be okay with being weak, being confessional, being poor in spirit, and being able to ask the hard, tough questions when you doubt.
(Ref. 1 Timothy 5:17; 1 Peter 5:5; James 5:16)
3rd Major Thing: Serving the Community
This last point has more to do with you, the church-goer.
At some point you have to stop asking ‘Is this the right church for me?’ and start asking ‘Am I the right kind of church-goer?’
God has called us to serve and care for the body of Christ, and that means we should look for ways to be a contributor and not just a consumer.
The beauty of it all is this — when we contribute to the body of Christ we are the ones actually benefitting from it. We get to witness how God is using us for His ministry here on earth. Then we realize the true purpose of the church — that it exists for God’s mission, not ours.
Maybe you’re at a place where you think your contribution is not needed. Usually that has less to do with a lack of opportunity and more to do with a lack of vision, a vision for God’s mission for the church. If this is you, I’d urge you to spend some time in prayer:
God, help me to be the right kind of church-goer before you place me in the right kind of church. Open my eyes to see the church not as an instrument of my glory but Yours. Give me the desire to heed the call, to serve Your mission through Your church.
Of course, a church where serving is all you do is not healthy either. But if you have the 1st (Gospel) and 2nd (Pastoral Counsel) Major Things in your church, then you’re as ready as you can be to serve with joy. And by serving you will not only get to love your community the way Christ does, you’ll most likely develop some meaningful friendships along the way, too.
The major things will yield the minor things.
(Ref. 1 Corinthians 12:14; Galatians 5:13; Galatians 6:2; Galatians 6:9; Acts 2:45)
P.S. – Some may be wondering why there is no mention of the sacraments (baptism, the Lord’s Supper) and church discipline. These essential things I would place under the categories of 1st (Gospel) and 2nd (Pastoral Counsel) Major Things.