Be at Church

I came across this article a few weeks back and tucked it away.  Go have a read for yourself.

First off, yes, it is hard to find a church.  Showing up at any new place where you don’t know anyone and aren’t sure what is going to happen is uncomfortable and difficult.  This  doesn’t make you a bad person and it doesn’t mean you aren’t a church person and it doesn’t necessarily mean this isn’t the particular church for you.  It just means you’re human.  Take a deep breath, own this, and push through it.

I recommend trying a church for a minimum of three weeks.  This  should give you a fairly good idea of what that church is like.  Are people friendly or stand-offish?  How is the pastor?  What is  his (or her) style?  How  is the sermon?  Yes, the sermons matter, particularly when you’re evaluating whether or not a church is for you.  Down the road, when the pastor changes and the sermons are not so good, that’s the time to take the author’s advice and stick  it out for the community.  Church is not a sermon.  Church is the body of Christ, and you need to be a part of it if Jesus and the Biblical Triune God is your higher power or the God of your understanding.  For you, church is not optional (Hebrews 10:19-25).  That doesn’t mean church is a new law or requirement of faith.  Rather, it means we were designed for life together, rather than apart.  If you’re trying to justify not going to church, odds are something deeper is at play than you just being a particularly spiritually sensitive soul.

Three weeks.  You’ll have a good sense of a place by then.  How do they handle the Sacraments?  What is fellowship like before and after?  If the pastor seems good but the congregation is  not welcoming, make an appointment to talk with the pastor to ask what’s up.  Don’t be accusatory, just point out you’ve been there three weeks and nobody has said hello or introduced themselves.  Pastors need to know this.

While I get the author’s reluctance to put too heavy an emphasis on the sermon, you should pay attention to what is being said.  Is it Biblical?  Is the focus you or Jesus?  Is the focus grace or law?  Is the focus punitive or threatening?   Do you live more aware of the love of Jesus or the condemnation of the law?  These things matter.  Pay attention.  If the focus isn’t Jesus but rather what you need to be doing to change the world, or what the congregation needs to be doing to change the world, or which political party or candidate to vote for, be wary.   Especially if all three weeks focus on this topic.  It’s easy to preach something other than Christ, and if that’s what is happening, this is not a good church.  Well-intentioned, no doubt.  But not healthy.

Don’t simply look for  what you like.  Don’t pin it all on the music, just as you shouldn’t pin it exclusively on the sermon.  The people in the community go a long way, but they aren’t the whole enchilada either.  Cults can be very friendly and welcoming while providing a deadly poisonous message.

All of this assumes that you’re in the Word.  That you have someone you can read the Bible with and who can help you make sense of it.  Otherwise, you aren’t necessarily going to know whether the sermons are on track or not and you may end up relying more on whether you like the music or not or whether people look and sound like  you.

I find the authors suggestion of trying a radically different kind of church a very interesting one.  Certainly, if you have bad experiences with a particular type of church or denomination, consider another one.  And the idea of trying to hear the gospel from a different point of view or perspective is fascinating and potentially very helpful – as  long as it’s still the Gospel of Jesus Christ!

Yes, finding a church is hard, but necessary.  For lots of reasons.  Doctrinally.  Socially.  We have an enemy and he works best by isolating us from other believers.  Those who might hold us accountable.  Those who might steer us back onto the right path if we get off course.  And as you grow in the faith, remember that you have an obligation to your brother or sister in the faith.  You need to be in church not  just for you, but because someone else  might need you to be there.  To welcome them.  To empathize with a situation you went through in your life.  To speak the word of forgiveness in Jesus Christ in a way they need to hear.

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