Part 2 of series: Choosing a Church: Some Recommendations
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I’m continuing to collect input from my blog readers on choosing a church. Thanks for your comments and emails. Keep ’em coming!
Before I start offering some recommendations on how to choose a church, I want to make some preliminary comments. These will set the stage for what’s to come.
1. How you choose a church depends on your basic understanding of the church.
If you’re looking for a church, you already have a basic understanding of the church, even if this understanding is more intuitive than rational. This core theology of church will strongly determine how you look for a church and what you value in a church. Let me offer several examples:
• If you believe that the Roman Catholic Church is the true church, then your search for a church will be limited to Roman Catholic parishes. It’s not unlikely that you will simply end up at the Roman Catholic church closest to where you live.
• If you think of church primarily as a place to get theological input, then you’ll be inclined to seek strong preaching and teaching, and to make this a top priority.
• If you think of church more as a body of believers who share life and ministry together, then you may be less worried about the quality of the preaching and more interested in finding a church with strong fellowship.
Given the fact that choosing a church depends on your theology of church, it does without saying that my approach to this matter assumes a certain theology of church. Some time ago I began a blog series on What is a Church? There I began to spell out my theology of church. But this series isn’t completed. I need to get back to it sometime. At any rate, as I talk about how to choose a church, you’ll see through the lines to my basic understanding of the church.
2. In a sense, we don’t choose the church. The church chooses us.
Okay, so here is part of my core theology of church: We don’t choose it. It “chooses” us. What do I mean? Scripture is clear that when a person becomes a Christian, that person is joined to the church by the Holy Spirit (see, for example, 1 Cor 12:12-13). It’s not an option for a believer in Jesus to be a part of the church of Jesus Christ or not. If you’re a Christian, you’re a member of the church. Period. (Photo to the right: Holypark United Methodist Church, Gardena, California. Retrieved through Google Maps Street View. My first church, where my family attended until I was six-and-half-years old. One of my first memories of this church was sitting in a worship service and noticing a boy crawling through the bushes along the side of the sanctuary. I pointed this out to my mother, who informed me that he was the minister’s son. “Minister’s kids often get into trouble,” she told me. Indeed.)
Of course you can choose not to act on this truth. You can choose to amputate yourself from the body of Christ in practice. There are many Christians who do not associate with other believers in any tangible, regular way. This is not what God intends for us. But it is an option that many Christians take.
Of course, in practice, most Christians choose a church with which to affiliate. But I think it’s important to recognize that this isn’t some extra credit option for believers, but rather a response to the fact that the Holy Spirit has immersed us in the church of Jesus Christ. When we take this fact seriously, we’re inclined to think of choosing a church differently. We realize it isn’t a matter of our personal choice so much as it is a matter of discerning God’s choice for us.
3. The most important issue is not what church I choose, but what church God has chosen for me.
Choosing a church is like other major decisions in life. The main question isn’t what we want, but rather what God wants for us. I might want to join a church in which I can be anonymous, but God wants me to be in a church where I share life with people who know me. I might want a church where I can just sit and enjoy the worship service, whereas God wants me in a church where I am needed. Etc. etc. etc.
Let me hasten to add that discerning God’s will for our lives is not necessarily easy. Often we end up doing what we believe is right without any divine revelations or reassurance. I won’t go on and on about the will of God where because I’ve already done that elsewhere (Why Move? Stewardship, Wineskins, and the Enigmatic Will of God). But putting God in the center of the church-choosing process is essential, because it takes the focus off of “me and what I want” and puts the emphasis upon what God wants for me and for his kingdom.
More tomorrow . . . .