Finding a Good Church

finding-a-good-churchIf you move to a new city, I strongly recommend not settling for the first church you walk into. You have a unique opportunity to see the state of Christianity in the area in which you live. Don’t leave a church where you are a member unless God is purposely moving you forward. Faithfulness is worth a lot in God’s eyes, and endurance is usually what is required of you when you are hurt by others in the church. You must feel a supernatural peace from God about leaving, and a sweetness toward those left behind.

This summer we have been visiting a wide variety of churches. The style, the preaching, the worship, and the people were vastly different from each other, even though I saw people who loved God at each place. For example, one church was more like a geriatric ward (I love the elderly, so I have no problem with this!) and hardly any young people, and another church had only young people and not a single person with gray hair. Some of the churches were warmer to newcomers, and others were disconnected and uninterested in making new friends. Some people left you alone while other people were so in-your-face that they were almost like  annoying car salesmen. I suddenly saw how unbelievers viewed Christians.

Neither I nor my husband enjoyed this process. It felt like we were eating too many flavors of ice-cream, and we wanted to puke. Each Sunday when we got home from church, my husband would say to the children, “We are not going back to this church, and here is the reason…” Then he would tell the children why the church was not solid. My children began to gain discernment.

This brings me to the most important characteristic my husband and I were looking for in a church: expository preaching of the Word of God. This means a verse by verse explanation of Scripture. Ideally we both enjoy exposition combined with exhortation, so that we walk away convicted to become more holy people. (But pure exposition also causes conviction.) A high view of the Word of God and of God Himself are vital. Both my husband and I want to walk in holiness. If the preacher gives 20 illustrations that are disjointed and finally throws in a verse at the very end as an afterthought, the Word of God is not preached at that church. My husband said he felt like putting police tape around those churches to prevent more people from being led astray.

The second-to-most important factor in our search for a church was friendships. Childhood friendships are crucial for walking in holiness as an adult. That’s because childhood friends understand you like no one else can; you can’t fool them. They can remind you of a time in your life years prior when you were in a similar situation, and how you handled it well, and you can do so now. In other words, friends who have known you forever are irreplaceable as far as rebuking effectively or encouraging in a way that is real. This is no small matter. There’s something about my best friend choosing to remain my friend over the years, even though she isn’t related to me. It makes me feel valuable as a human being. “There is a friend that sticks closer than a brother,” says Proverbs, so even Scripture acknowledges that people ought to have friendships outside their family. There are also blind spots in families that only an outsider can point out; it helps you to gain wisdom to see something from another person’s point of view.

The quality of the adults at a church influences the quality of the children. Are they striving after holiness? In one of the churches we attended, the adult Sunday school was talking about personality types and only mentioned Scripture for five minutes. When prayer requests were taken, the requests were trivial. At another church, the prayer requests mentioned in the Sunday school indicated that the adults had a deep walk with God. People talked about sanctification issues, adopting an orphan from Haiti, and for God to help them on a missions trip to India. Even the comments during the Sunday school in that second church showed that people cared about obedience to God, and they weren’t afraid to speak the truth.

The style of worship didn’t even factor in, although my husband had an opinion about the depth of the words of the songs. He doesn’t enjoy songs like “Kumbaya” that have no substance. In one church, people were actually dancing during the songs. Oddly, I felt like everything was out of control, even though I love raising my hands during worship music. To be honest, I would rather be in a church where no one is raising their hands, so that I can raise mine and free other people to worship God. (I see in my peripheral vision other people raising their hands because my action freed them; they just didn’t want to be the first person to do it.) Forty years of being in churches where almost no one raises hands makes me feel weird when the entire church is moving. It makes me feel dizzy. I was surprised because I’m a closet charismatic at heart. I want to worship God with wild abandon, and I’m always holding back for fear of distracting others. Now I had a perfectly good chance to go to a church that was more charismatic, and I found myself backing up.

Finally we found the right church. We both knew as soon as we heard the pastor preach. He exposited the Word of God with scholarship and with a passion for truth. My husband later said to our pastor, “As soon as I heard you preach, I knew that I was home.” I felt the same way. At last we were served a feast of spiritual steak, and our souls could rest.

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4 Responses to “Finding a Good Church”

  1. Oh I’m so glad you found a church…especially one that feels like home. For several reasons though we go to a really good church we have just never really felt like it was home. Thank you so much for praying for me! Yes so far everything looks good with my pregnancy! I’m glad you’re back online. I missed you! 🙂

  2. Michelle (Renz) Gentry says:

    I am really glad you posted this. My thoughts run along the same line. Strangely, our family is caught in a situation where many have left, leaving behind a lot of hurt, but those who have remained, leadership included, are driving good families away. With a desire to please God and only move when He leads so our motives will be pure, we have remained. Some days the oppression is overwhelming. Nevertheless, the peace to leave is not there.
    I rejoice that you have found a church home that truly feels like home.

    • Susan says:

      Michelle, thanks so much for your beautiful comment. I know what you mean by “The pressure is overwhelming,” so I will be praying for you.

  3. Teri says:

    I felt a warm feeling reading this blog. What you were looking for in a church was what me and my husband have a hard time with when visiting other churches. I’d like to give you a little background. My husband and I met at the church we are at now when I was 17 and he was 16. We were married when we were both 19 and have been married going on 11 years with no regrets. The pastor during the majority of this time was moving toward a more conservative direction, keeping in mind the scriptures that talk of separating ourselves from the world (I Corinthians 6:17) and walk in the old paths. (Jeremiah 6:16) There were other scriptures as well that I will not go into at the time. But he was a very hard and direct preacher. I felt provoked a lot. I don’t know if part of me wanted to just obey him because he was so adamant or if the Holy Ghost was speaking through him. But in early 2008 he left the church to join fellowship with a church in North Carolina and as a result took another large conservative family and my Husband and I also attempted to go, but couldn’t sell our home and felt it was the Lord’s will for us to stay behind. At that time the Pastor asked my husband to take charge. My husband preached for several months while some attempts were made to figure out what the church was to do, when the congregation asked if my husband would be the Pastor. So my husband became the Pastor.

    My husband and I still maintain our family’s personal convictions without forcing them on others. As a result of the two family’s leaving we were left with a very small congregation and a few have been added but not all have been faithful. Our church is different. We do not have a lot of “programs” for the little ones or a bus ministry. We do not even have running water, but thankfully our church building was given us by an old Methodist couple who had attended the church sometime ago and left it abandoned. I am saying all of this to kind of give you a background of what we are and where we came from.

    It is very difficult to be a Pastor or a Pastors wife in this day and age in which we live. Most of the time people give to support the pastor and the church members suffer but sometimes the Pastor suffers constant ridicule and rebuke for how the church is run or not run, by the church members. I’m not saying the Pastor is perfect, but I think some respect should be given. My husband has tried to make decisions, because some wanted decisions made, only to be hung up by those who initially voted to pass the decision who changed their mind later. This can be incredibly frustrating. But the hurt does come in when people already leave a small congregation to go to a larger congregation without talking to the Pastor or church family about it. This is not biblical. The Bible clearly states that if you have a problem you are to go to the person, if that doesn’t work then bring in a couple witnesses, if that fails then you are to go before the congregation. I don’t always get along with people, but you don’t turn your back on them, you work through your problems. One of the most hurtful things I’ve heard being in the ministry was this, “When I first came to this church, I thought it was a perfect church. Then when I saw this family’s problems and that family’s problems, I quickly learned it’s just like any other church with a whole bunch of issues.” I thought how can anyone say that? Do not we all have problems? Are we all not striving to do right?

    I’ve talked to my husband many a times about this and I’ve wondered, was it really God’s will for him to be the Pastor? Was it really God’s will for us to stay here? Then my husband made the statement, if people come to church because of me, it’s not of God. If people come to get fed from me, it’s not of God. If people come to church to get a feeling, they are not coming for the right reasons. I can only guide and direct them, but it’s up to them to have a relationship with God. It’s up to them to come together to worship the Lord together. It’s up to them to read God’s word and to be fed from it. I’m only the messenger. I can’t make people do right, it is up to themselves to purpose in their heart they will serve the Lord and be faithful.

    I know if I myself were Pastor, (which I believe to be unbiblical), I would have stepped down a long time ago. I couldn’t handle all the criticism. This makes me respect and honor my husband more than I ever thought. If you knew my husband you would know he is extremely patient and takes his time. If you want a decision made in a hurry, don’t ask him. But before he makes that decision he carefully searches out the matter and prays. Some people are not wired this way. Myself being one of those people. It has taken many years for me to understand this.

    I’m glad you’ve found a good church. I hope they will continue to encourage and provoke you unto good works.

    Your sister in Christ Jesus,

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