Looking for a new church is hard. Whether you have been in church all your life or are new to the family, finding a local assembly that you can call home can be daunting. With the Church seemingly plagued with scandals, it can be hard to view the local church as a place that you can commit to. Whilst the Church is not perfect, it is still beautiful and is the manifestation of God’s covenant commitment to those that put their faith in Jesus (Ephesians 5:25, Revelation 19:7-9). The local church is the physical representation of a spiritual reality. Committing to a local church is vital because you declare that as Christ has committed to a people, so will I. The aim is not merely attending a church as a bystander but committing to a church as a member. There are many things to ponder before joining a church, but here are 3 for your consideration.
In the bible, Paul wrote to two pastors: Timothy and Titus. In these epistles, he instructs these pastors to only appoint qualified men to the role of Elder (1 Timothy 3:1-6, Titus 1:5-9). These qualifications have not been left a secret, neither are they subject to review or modification. These qualifications given by Paul, come straight from the mind of God (2 Timothy 3:16-17). The role of an Elder is not one to be taken lightly. It’s not for men who are gifted in speech or likeable in personality. Whilst these traits are not necessarily negative in isolation when they are elevated above the necessary character required to lead God’s sheep disaster will surely follow. You don’t have to look far to see the numerous pastoral failures that have occurred in the past year alone. When you become a member of a church, you’re entrusting the pastor with your soul (1 Peter 5:2-3). Don’t you want to ensure that they are qualified for the role? Before joining a church, ask what the process is for appointing elders. Does it match what the bible demands?
The book of Acts marks the inauguration of the Church. Christ has ascended, and the Spirit has descended and filled all those who trust in Jesus (Acts 2:1-4). Upon being filled with the Holy Spirit, Peter is emboldened and preaches the gospel to the people present in Jerusalem (Acts 2:14-36). This gospel presentation leads many to receive the gift of salvation and trust in Christ (Acts 2:37-41). These new converts devote themselves to the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, food, and prayer (Acts 2:42). This is how the first local churches began, does the church you’re considering compare? Your local church experience shouldn’t be limited to 2 hours on a Sunday. If the local church is a physical representation of the global Church, then you’re committed to one another daily. The news converts in Acts devoted themselves to daily fellowship (Acts 2:46). How seriously does your prospective church treat fellowship?
Last year, a letter from a church enacting discipline on one of its members went viral. A short perusal of the comments showed the outrage of people against this church. From the comments, it seemed unimaginable that someone could be excommunicated from their local gathering. Isn’t the church meant to be open to everyone? Aren’t we meant to love people no matter what they do? The comments displayed that there appears to be a gross misunderstanding of what church discipline is and what it is meant to accomplish. The Church is God’s bride. God redeems sinners through the sacrifice of His Son. All those who put their faith in Jesus are grafted into the Church. Jesus gave Himself as a sacrifice so that the Church could be presented to Him as holy and blameless (Ephesians 5:27). This means that sin cannot be tolerated within the church. That doesn’t mean that we will not fall short. It does mean that when we do fall short there are processes in place to restore the believer in gentleness and patience (Galatians 6:1). However, there are those who wish to remain unrepentant. There are those who wish to remain in their sin after multiple warnings and admonishments (Matthew 18:15-17). In this case, it is the duty of the church to remove such a person from church membership and consider them an unbeliever (1 Corinthians 5:11-13). Why? A little leaven leavens the whole batch (1 Corinthians 5:6). In other words, sin is prone to corrupt even the most faithful of believers. Church discipline has a two-fold effect. 1) It alerts all those who seek to remain in sin, that sin is not tolerated here. Repent and trust in Jesus. 2) it encourages the believer, especially those who have been abused. It says we won’t tolerate sin of any kind. You are safe here. Does the church you seek to attend take discipline seriously?
No church will be perfect, but churches can be faithful. As you look for a church, ensure your criteria match what the scriptures prescribe. It will do your soul so much good.