I didn't blog about my experience being singled out, having the police called on me or even being compared to Satan for the simple reason of griping. Contrary, I prefer to not think in too much detail about these historical events. I prefer to focus on today.
I've shared them for the reason of sharing. Sometimes reading other people's history allows you to work through your own. I have a dear friend who attended a church. Her church also had a daycare. Some bad things happened and she left the daycare and the church because of the way the pastor handled things. After some time, she returned to the church. To me, that is ultimate forgiveness. I'm not sure I could have done the same thing! But I appreciate her sharing her story - it certainly gave me some food for thought on the subject of forgiveness!
Churches are important because the Lord designed us as social creatures. And being around one another provides a certain amount of encouragement, fosters growth in your Christian walk and helps keep you on the proper path. But as I've outlined, not every church is created equal. This doesn't mean we give up on them. Churches also provide some very important ministry outlets. If everyone gave up on church, who would help the poor? Who would reach the lost? Who would grow disciples? God works through us, and there are some things that the church must be present for in order to accomplish. It is the way He designed things.
The bottom line: Churches are important.
And since churches are made up of people, they will not be perfect. They have never been perfect. Much of second half of the New Testament were to various churches to help guide and correct them.
And with that said - I wanted to provide some useful tips on church hunting. I've moved a lot (lived in 5 different states and attended many many churches!), and so church hunting is something I feel pretty confident in. We spent 2 years searching for a new church home after leaving YP's church. I like to call it our "desert period"...often comparing it to the 40 years the Israelites spent in the desert! And I will discuss what went on in the next installment. :-) On too the tips!
The Lord knows where He wants you. Asking for wisdom and guidance is the best place to start. It doesn't matter if you feel like you can't hear from Him (as many new believers struggle with). He'll guide you there anyway.
2) Look for accountability in the leadership.
Two of the churches went south because of poor accountability of the pastor. You may not get this answer at the first time you attend, but be on the look out for it. Denominational churches are typically pretty good about this. The place where there is usually trouble are non-denominational churches (which is where I typically grew up in). I'm not saying one is better than the other (they each have their pros and cons!), I'm just saying be on the lookout! Good accountability includes a clear chain of command. The pastor should be held responsible by someone that is not responsible to him. Think about it in military terms - a major does not make sure a general is doing the right thing and vice versa. There is a clear TREE with no circular branches in the military! :-)
What is accountability? It is simply one person looking out for another - to make sure they are doing the right thing. Furthermore, if someone ISN'T doing the right thing, they have the power to get that person back on track. So even if there is technically someone in that role, if the pastor doesn't listen/regard/respect that role then it is of no use.
As I stated, this isn't something that is figured out on the first day. But with an open eye it is something that can be figured out within a few months.
3) There should be strong leadership.
The pastor should not be doing everything. Our greatest mission is to create disciples (Matthew 28:18-20). If the pastor isn't doing that, then there is something already wrong. There should be leadership roles established with the freedom to lead appropriately.
When strong leaders are present, the church is better for it.
4) Is the Bible being taught and taught correctly?
Our whole foundation is based on what is in the Bible. If it isn't being referenced, there should be concern. I spent a lot of time unlearning what YP had taught me because of this. He would say it was in the Bible, but he never actually referenced a particular scripture. Turns out only about half of what he taught was Biblically correct. Keeping the Bible in front will also help keep folks grounded. The Bible is our measuring stick.
And of course things should be taught in context. So take the time to read the scripture yourself to verify it is indeed in context. A great sign though is if the pastor teaches on passages, and not so much on snippets!
5) Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior.
Being #5 shouldn't be a reflection of importance. This really should go without saying...if a church is teaching that there are other ways to get to Heaven besides Jesus...then move along. It doesn't matter if everything else looks right. There is only one way - if there were other ways then everything Jesus went through was for naught.
The rest is personal opinion. Formal or casual? Doesn't matter in the great scheme of things. It doesn't matter. I think variety is the spice of life and I'm certainly not going to say one way is better than another. I love my church for the family atmosphere, for the ear of the Lord (I can count on my church to pray genuinely over needs in the church) and for the fact He moves in our church. (Take some time to listen to this testimony from a church member who was recently healed from cancer!)
Finding the right church can take some patience. And in the last installment of "Churches are made up of people", I'll talk about our journey to our church and how we found it. :-)