How to Pick a Church
I’ve always felt Patrick was like a brother to me–a younger brother, better looking than I am. Which reminds me of my favorite church building story about two brothers. A young pastor came to a church and he inherited a building program. The buildings were all built and they were $1 million short, and his first big responsibility to this young pastor was to raise the $1 million to complete the building program.
Well, he didn’t know how he was going to do that. At the same time, there were two men in the church who were contractors, brothers, and they were horrible men. I mean they came to church on Sundays, but the way they lived in the community with their families was reprehensible.
Soon after he arrived, one of the bad brothers died. So the young pastor went to the funeral home and was ministering to the family. The surviving brother came up to him and said, “Pastor, tomorrow in the service I want you to do me a favor. I want you to tell everybody my brother is a saint. If you will do that, I have this envelope here–and in this envelope is a $1 million check to the church and will pay off the building program. So here’s the building program, if you tell everybody my brother was a saint.”
So the young pastor thought for a minute and said, “All right,” and took the envelope and put it in his pocket. The next morning, on his way to the service he stopped at the bank and deposited it in the church’s account. He then arrived at church and began his eulogy, “We are all aware that the deceased was an absolutely horrible person.”
“We are all aware he was insensitive and often verbally abusive to his children, who are sitting here. They would bear testimony to that effect. This dear wife who remains was neglected on a consistent basis. Many of you know that he cheated you in the marketplace time and time again. But I have to tell you something this morning,” the pastor said, “compared to his brother, he’s a saint.”
That is fun–but it is not why we are here. Why would you want to be a part of Faith Bible Church? How do you pick a church? How would Christ pick a church and what would He say about this church? And why should we even ask this question? Why is this a crucial question for today and beyond?
Because many of you have friends who are looking for a church and you need to know what to tell them . . . because many have relatives in other places who need your help in where to go . . . because many of you visit churches when traveling and need discernment as to what pleases Christ and what doesn’t please Him . . . because many youth in our midst will go away to school and need help in deciding where to serve . . . because it’s healthy for all of us to take a hard look at ourselves to make sure we’re on the right path . . .
Because many of you are new here and you need to know what Faith Bible Church is really all about . . . because some of you have come to us from other churches, and unknowingly you have brought with you some of the ideas, expectations and programs (we call that baggage), thinking that Faith Bible Church should do it this way . . . because some of you help other Christians try to figure out what a biblical church is–you need help.
One thing I can tell you that you want more than anything at Faith Bible Church–that is to have Christ in charge. You want Him to be the actual, practical head of this body, together following His will with all your hearts. You don’t want to be a church where Christ appears to be the leader, but where Christ actually does lead.
But how do you know when Christ is really in charge? How do I find that kind of church? How do you know when Christ is really the head? Ever stood behind the picture backdrop where you stick your head through and it makes you into a dog, farmer or president? How can we avoid being in a church where the head, Christ, doesn’t fit the picture of the body?
The answer is not found in a good youth program or fun children’s ministry, a focus on families, good music, but in some key areas that run much deeper. Allow me to highlight a few indicators of the kind of church where Christ is really in charge. Look for a church that is . . .
#1 Christ-centered, not people-centered
When I came back from Russia once a long time ago, I was walking off the plane on the jetway and there was my bride–her eyes completely focused on me, tears running down her cheeks. She was so focused, it was as if the people walking by her didn’t exist. It was great–she only had eyes for her groom. There were and are no competitors–I’m her one and only.
That is what it is like when the Bride of Christ is Jesus-centered. We only have eyes for our groom. How can you tell when a church only has eyes for her groom?
First By the level of INTIMACY with Christ
A Christ-centered church is intimate with their Lord. You’ll observe in people a commitment to love Christ with everything they are and everything they have. Like Mark 12:30 says, “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.”
The Bible says, those who are intimate with Christ love what He loves, hate what He hates, are committed to what He is committed to, think His thoughts and serve Him with all their might. We also know a church is centered on Christ . . .
Second By the level of OBEDIENCE to Christ
A Christ-centered church is committed to follow God’s will, no matter what the consequences. In 1 Peter 1:1 to 2, Peter says that churches are chosen for a purpose. And what is it? That you may obey Jesus Christ. Those who really love God will obey His Word. First John 5:3, “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome.”
You know when a church is led by Christ, when the people of that body have a low toleration for disobedience and a high expectation for obedience to the Scripture. That’s the church centered on Christ. A church with eyes only for Christ is seen . . .
Third By the focus on God’s GLORY
Because of all that Christ did for us, a Christ-centered church desires to put His attributes on display. To imitate the one they love is the highest form of flattery. In this kind of church, all credit goes to Christ. His ways are chosen over human ways, and people gather to give to Him first, instead of to get.
So Ephesians 3:2, “to Him be the glory in the church” will be true, and so as a church we might, 1 Peter 2:9, “proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” Peter even shows how we can tell whether we are really focused on God’s glory–he tells us in 1 Peter 4:11, “Whoever speaks, let him speak, as it were, the utterances of God; whoever serves, let him do so as by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”
The church that is Christ-centered is filled with Christians who serve others with their spiritual gift and do so in total dependence upon the Holy Spirit, so God receives all the glory. I know the greatest person in this room right now—the servant, the best servant . . . faithful. Yet people in the church drop out, take breaks, back off–as if it were an organization not an organism, as if it were a business and not a body, as if it were a fraternity and not a true family. The Church today is not centered on Christ.
In fact, we’re in trouble because we’ve been infected with a consumer mentality. “What’s in it for me? What can your church do for me? Instead of, “How can I give back to Christ for all He has done for me?” It’s the Mac-church mentality—“I’ve come to choose off your menu, but if I don’t like what you offer, I’ll just go to Church-in-the-box.”
So instead of being a body of people who are intimate with, obedient to, and seeking to glorify Christ–we focus on my happiness instead of living holy, self-esteem instead of God-worship, self-fulfillment instead of obedience to the Word of God, finding self instead of fleeing sin and pursuing right. But the Christ-centered church is filled with people who are talking about Christ, gathering on Sunday after having walked with Christ, submissive to Christ, obedient to Christ, filled with His Spirit to glorify Christ and becoming more like Christ month after month.
Fourth A Christ-centered church is a Gospel-centered church
Unless the Gospel saturates every Christian every day, unless the Gospel is what is shown and shared by everyone, unless the Gospel is the passion of every heart toward the lost, you are not a Christ-centered church. As a part of Faith Bible Church, are you Christ-centered? Let me suggest a few tests.
Did you sing with all your might, even making a joyful noise? Do you talk about Christ in the hallways, or sports? Is your focus on pleasing Christ by living holy, or is your focus on pleasing yourself by living happy? But the church that pleases Christ is more than centered on Him–His church is also . . .
#2 Built upon Christ’s leadership plan
It is built upon a plurality of qualified functioning elders who shepherd the flock and lead the family. Everyone here who has ever been a boss with employees, or who has had a secretary or is a parent, knows what it is like to go physically away on vacation or take a trip to the store and leave instructions on what you want to see happen while you are physically away–right?
Many of us know the joy of leaving competent, qualified or trustworthy people to carry on in our absence. Some of us know the anguish of leaving incompetent, unqualified and untrustworthy people to carry on. Christ planned for His Church to be led by qualified, trustworthy and competent examples who would follow His specific instructions.
A church that Christ would choose to attend is the one where the leadership are those who are qualified and functioning the way He designed. How is that? Turn to 1 Peter chapter 5–here Peter shows us some of God’s plan for leadership in the Church. What’s Christ’s leadership plan?
First Biblical leadership is a TEAM
Verse 1, “Therefore, I exhort the elders [circle] among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed.” Whenever the word elder is used for the church, it is always used in the plural referring to a team. Acts 14:23, “And when they had appointed elders for them in every church.” And Acts 20:17, “he…called to him the elders of the church.”
Biblical leadership is a plurality (a team) of spiritually mature men. The church is never to be led by one man, but a team of qualified men. Like Acts 15:22, “It seemed good to the apostles and the elders.” But what do elders do?
Second Biblical leadership shepherds the flock
Verse 2, “Shepherd the flock of God among you.” Acts 20:28 adds, “Shepherd the flock of God which He [Christ] has purchased with His own blood.” Elders are not a group of successful businessmen who function like a board of directors, but they are shepherds who care for God’s sheep. In fact, look at what verse 3 adds, “nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge.” Allotted to your charge means a portion of the flock.
No elder is ever to be distant from the flock, but is to give himself to the Word and prayer so he might care for a group of God’s people. Can you appreciate how difficult this is? Backpacking with 22 junior highers—an 80-pound pack is work! My dad did this every year for 12 years—wow, appreciate him. Do you appreciate your elders? Few churches have good elders who work hard and protect–carry those 80-pound packs. That’s what you look for. What do they do?
Third Biblical leadership leads the church
Verse 2 continues, “exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God.” Because biblical elders are to be the most spiritually mature in the flock, as spiritual fathers they lead the church like a father leads a family. Not the way they want, but according to the will of our heavenly Father, found in God’s Word.
Fourth Biblical leadership includes elders who are financially supported and have unique gifts
Verse 2 adds, “and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness.” Some elders are supported financially and had to be careful not to minister for sordid gain. But still some are to be freed up from financial concern by the church, so they can minister freely. First Timothy 5:17 adds, “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.” Some elders are financially supported so they can give most of their time to study, teaching and preaching God’s Word, in order to equip the saints. But how do elders lead the church?
Fifth Biblical leadership leads by example
Verse 3, “nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock.” This is how the congregation can trust, follow and obey the shepherds of Faith Bible Church. Every pastor/elder leads by example–they are qualified according to 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. They all function as shepherds and they demonstrate authentic spirituality–not by being perfect, but openly admitting their sin and passionately pursuing being like Christ.
Sixth Biblical leadership is motivated by pleasing Christ
Verse 4, “And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.” True godly leaders only want to please Christ. They’re not into power trips, glory, fame, money or pleasure. Unpaid men only want to hear, “Well done good and faithful servant,” from the Lord they love. True elder/shepherds are willing to die for the sheep, even though the sheep may turn on them or bite them. This is why elders are to be qualified–not that they are perfect, but you can trust them.
How do you know which church to attend? Find one that is led by the Great Shepherd, Christ, through His appointed, qualified team of under-shepherds. Elders are how Christ leads–not a single pastor, but an eldership. If they don’t do that right, it is not the right church. Also, find a church that’s . . .
#3 Pursuing the will of Christ, as found in the Word of God, as the only authority
Years ago, I built a basketball hoop for the boys. It took about four hours, even with the detailed instructions that came with it. Only as I followed the instructions, did the hoop come together as it was designed. And anytime I varied from the instructions, even in the smallest way (like using a washer when I should not have), it became a serious problem.
Have you ever gone through that? It’s the same with the Church of Jesus Christ–our Lord has given us some very detailed, specific and easy to understand instructions found in His Word. When we vary from them, even in the smallest way, the church is not going to work right. When we stick to the Word, the church will function together like a well-oiled machine. When the Word of God is taken as sufficient for every crisis, every issue and every need, that’s when the church functions Christ’s way.
To find a church that pleases Christ, find one that follows His Word with no varying, no compromising and no rationalizing. This is not popular today. Today, people want to be tolerant of everything–but churches can’t be tolerant when it comes to truth. We must seek to discover what God means by what God says–literally, historically, grammatically, contextually and synthetically.
As Paul said in 2 Timothy 2:15, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth [cut it straight].” Churches that say doctrine doesn’t matter don’t please Christ. Listen friends, Christ is defined by truth, by doctrine. Christ is the way, the what? The truth.
If we throw out doctrine, then we’re no longer following the Christ of the Bible, but a Christ defined by human beings–a God designed by men, an idol. No doctrine means the wrong Christ and often means no true salvation, as John 8:31 reminds us, “If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine.”
So how can you tell whether a church really teaches the Bible as the only authority–where Christ’s instructions are really being followed in obedience? A lot of churches claim the Bible, but do they follow it? Let me suggest a few questions you can ask . . .
First Is the entire Bible taught?
As Paul says in Acts 20:27, “For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose [or counsel] of God.” The whole counsel of God means a church teaches the entire Bible. Churches that teach sermonettes for Christianettes, or constantly teach disconnected portions of Scripture, are not teaching the whole counsel of God.
If the Word of God is not taught so the family can learn all the themes, facts, history and theology of the Bible, then the Bible is not the authority.
Second Do they tackle difficult issues biblically?
If and when they come to a controversial issue, do they tackle it, or burp and go on? You know, when they get to tongues, “Well, this is the gift of tongues–some think it’s for today, and others . . .” (burp), “let’s move on.” Or, “this passage addresses the role of women–some think it’s cultural, others don’t”—(burrrrrpppp).
Third Is sin declared to be evil from the Word?
Not only verbally said to be wrong from the Word, but shown to be wrong with holy behavior and proven to be wrong through loving church discipline? Is homosexuality sin? Then the church must declare it. Are men and women the same? Nope. Then declare it. Do men lead their homes and the church? Then declare it!
Or do they just teach against sin, but don’t do anything about it in their midst? In Luke 8:21 Christ said, “My mother and My brothers are these who hear the Word of God and do it.” Only when the Word of God is followed is Christ in charge of a church. Only the church that obeys God’s Word–literally believes the Bible is sufficient for everything and adores the Scriptures as a bride adores her groom, is the church where the Christ is fully in charge. Add to that . . .
#4 Focused on Christ’s priorities for His Church
Have you ever gone to a store and couldn’t find a salesperson? Have you ever been around a family that continually tore into each other? Have you seen a farm where the fields were a mess? Have you ever attended a church where people were really busy, but they didn’t grow to live like Christ? Then you’ve witnessed a business, family, or community that has lost its priorities.
Have you noticed many churches are driven by the wrong things? They’re driven by the budget (can we afford it?), the senior pastor (what does he want?), tradition (we’ve always done it that way before), comfort (we’ve never done it that way before), the building (it’ll mess up our facility), big events (this will keep our people involved), the Christian community (what’ll other churches think?).
Why aren’t churches driven by what Christ wants? Many don’t know what He wants—and others don’t care. But if you want a church that Christ is happy with, find a people who passionately pursue God’s purposes.
If you were to study the ministry of Christ on Earth–the names, descriptions of the church, the ministry of the New Testament churches, the heart of Christ in His prayers, the Early Church example, and the apostolic commands (as I have), you would discover three obvious goals under God’s glory.
Great Commandment–love God and others
Great Commission—repeated in every gospel
Gospel–first importance (1 Corinthians 15) is the cross
How do you see that lived out? Exaltation, Edification, Evangelism, Encouragement, Empathy, Establishing. When Christ is in charge, churches will identify and pursue Christ’s main priorities. Keep their program simple enough to focus on God’s priorities. And will say, “No,” to lots of good things in order to pursue Christ’s best things. Plus they will constantly evaluate everything they’re doing in light of Christ’s priorities, to make sure they are on track.
You see, this kind of church is not safe to attend. Why? You can’t play church at this kind of church. You can’t cruise at this kind of church, because the people at this kind of church are passionate about pleasing their Lord in the areas that are really important to Him. The church where Christ is in charge is the body.
#5 Committed to Christ’s methods
Relationships that reproduce–Hebrews 10:24 to 25 states this so clearly, ”And let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, 25 not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more, as you see the day drawing near.” (There are over 40 “one anothers” for the church in the New Testament.)
Everything within the community of Christ is to be accomplished through relationships. Our faith in Christ is a relationship, not a religion. John 17:3, “This is eternal life, that they may know [intimacy] Thee, the only true God, and Christ whom Thou hast sent.” Elders lead the church as shepherds lead a flock and as fathers lead a family–not as a board of directors.
Real ministry is accomplished through relationship, not programs. Parents raise their children through relationships. Over 98% of evangelism is accomplished through relationships with the lost, not through big events. Future church leaders are trained through relationships. Discipleship is relationship, not a class or school. The goal of Faith Bible Church is that everything be done in the context of relationships.
First A relationship with Christ–for the purpose of intimacy with our God, called eternal life
Second Relationships with Christians–for the purpose of growth, called discipleship
Third Relationships with non-Christians–for the purpose of proclaiming the Gospel, called evangelism
Don’t forget though, that all the relationships Christ desires for us to cultivate have a purpose. Don’t make the mistake of many churches, by viewing friendships as the goal. It is not. Knowing everyone who attends is not the goal of Christian relationships. Staying tight with your group of buds is not the goal of biblical relationship.
Becoming like Christ is the goal of Christlike relationships. Becoming intimate with Christ, helping Christians become like Christ and non-Christians come to Christ. The goal is to be used of God to make as many people like Christ in the shortest time possible. Yes, we can and should enjoy Christ and each other.
But the goal of our relationships is not my enjoyment, nor your pleasure–that’s people-centered. But the goal of our relationships is God’s glory, which occurs when people become like His Son. The church where Christ’s method is followed . . .
First Has an intense, sacrificial love for each other
First John 4:20, “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.”
Second Has a strong commitment to community
In spite of the fact that relationships are messy, hurtful and difficult, Christ-centered churches encourage intimacy in their programming. They design their church for relationships–as they grow larger, they grow smaller in groups so people can be networked into community.
Third Has a family and home priority
When Christ is in charge, churches focus on training parents to raise their little disciples to cultivate a strong Christian community in their home.
Fourth Work hard to train up the next generation
As Christ invested most of His time in His men, so the church where Christ leads invests great energy in reaching out to and training up the next generation to assist Christ in building His Church until Christ comes again.
Fifth Never forgets that relationships are messy
Do you realize how difficult it is to be in relationship? At any one moment, that one person you want to be in relationship with as a Christian could be in the flesh or in the Spirit. And I have not even mentioned background, history differences, previous influences, parents and more—it’s hard work. And finally, the church Christ would attend is one that . . .
#6 Fulfills Christ’s role for leaders and members
Again, do you know how tough it is to be a leader in the church? You are not a CEO, you are a man broken under God’s grace, striving for Heaven, battling the flesh, the world and the devil. It is being a servant and trying to shepherd sheep who are all volunteer, unpaid, with agendas, egos, pride, selfishness, preferences, wants and more. They get sick, they bite, they smell, and wander off. I hope you appreciate what they do.
Hebrews 13:17 says, “Obey your leaders, and submit to them; for they keep watch over your souls, as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.”
I love football—it’s a great game. I don’t get to watch it much, so I was wondering if you have ever seen a football coach who does it all? He pumps you up before the game, designs the plays, doctors every wound, sets up all the equipment, personally trains every athlete, plays every position, passes and catches every ball, hands off and takes every hand-off, and does all the fundraising and cheering for the entire team?
I have never seen a coach do that in an actual game, but I have seen pastors do that in the church. But the church where Christ leads has leaders and congregation personally pursuing the role Christ designed for His body according to Ephesians 4:11 to 12. “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ.”
The leaders equip the saints so they can do the work of the ministry. In the church where Christ is in charge, leaders are the player coaches who equip everyone on God’s team to play their position. The coaches don’t do it all, but build up the team so each player can do what God designed you to do. People who are gifted in mercy go to the hospitals, those gifted to teach teach classes.
Saints who are gifted by Christ to serve set up, clean up, administrate, counsel and help–are equipped by the leaders to facilitate their God-gifted ministry. What is exciting is when everyone in the church does their part, the promise of Ephesians 4:16 takes place. “According to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.” Growth, love, building and purpose await this church.
What else does Christ look for in a church? I could add–Christ looks for sacrifice, which is the primary indicator of true biblical love. Christ longs for His body to move together with the coordination and unity of an Olympic athlete. He looks for a people who remember His death and resurrection with the one-time act of baptism and the repeated remembrance of communion.
Our Lord looks for the attitudes of thankfulness, gratitude, joy, giving, service and love. He is not looking for a church without suffering or persecution, but one that trusts him through it. I could go on and on . . . that’s what the preacher says when he has run out of material. But let me conclude with three final questions.
1 Does the description of the church where Christ is in charge truly fit Faith Bible Church?
Answer–no. Is this description what you are pursuing? I hope so. If you came to Faith Bible Church, you are not committing yourself to a perfect family, but a progressing one. If you don’t want to grow, change and become more like Jesus Christ, then you won’t like it here. But if you passionately want to glorify God, obey His Word, pursue His priorities, become intimate, find your place of ministry, and become more like Christ, then you’ll love it here.
2 What is the best usage of our time, resources and energy?
Faith Bible Church can’t and won’t do it all. You must be committed to being simple and focused on the main things, not just the good things. If you want to do it all, you may not like it here. But if you want your life to count with the things that really matter to our Lord, I hope you’ll love it here.
3 What is the main passion of Faith Bible Church?
Two words, Jesus Christ. You want to know Him, so we can be like Him to share Him with others. We want to be used of God to make as many people like Jesus Christ in the shortest time possible. That is what the body of Christ is all about–showing off Christ. You can’t do that unless Christ is in you, through you, and central in all you do. That’s the Gospel.