Beliefnet
Mark D. Roberts

Part 7 of series: Choosing a Church: Some Recommendations
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So far I’ve put up three recommendations for those who are looking for a new church home:

#1: Clarify what you value most in a church, though with an open mind and heart.
#2: Look for a church that is essentially orthodox, unless . . . .
#3: Use the Internet.

Today I discuss Recommendation #4: Meet with the Pastor.
Dozens of times during my tenure as senior pastor of Irvine Presbyterian Church, I had appointments with potential church members. Usually they had visited several times and liked what they experienced of our church. But before they took part in one of our new member’s classes, they wanted to talk with the pastor.
Sometimes these visits were relaxed and informal, just “get-to-know-you” sessions. People would tell me a bit of their story, sometimes relating their spiritual testimony. If they didn’t bring up how they became Christians, I’d ask. They’d ask me questions about my background, my family, and so forth. These were pleasant, low-blood-pressure kinds of conversations.
Sometimes, however, people came with literal lists of theological questions. Before joining our church, they wanted to know what I and other church leaders believed about a wide variety of subjects, including: salvation, the nature of Christ, the authority of the Bible, women in ministry, spiritual gifts, speaking in tongues, homosexuality, abortion, politics, and predestination, just to name a few issues. I would do my best, not to “sell” the church to the potential “buyers,” but to describe our core beliefs as accurately as possible.
On quite a few occasions I’d tell people things about our church that they didn’t like, knowing that this would in all likelihood mean that they weren’t going to join. Some folks were unhappy that our church was inadequately political, either on the right or the left. Some were miffed that we regarded all homosexual activity as sinful. Others were disappointed that we ordained women as pastors and elders. I remember one man who was almost incredulous: “You really ordain women as leaders? But you’re such a great church! And your preaching is so biblical? How is this possible?” When I tried to explain that we believed the Bible pointed in the direction of women in leadership, and that I’d be willing to work through the relevant texts with him, he was not satisfied. “There’s no way I’d ever be able to join a church that ordains women. But I’m really upset about this because I like this church so much.”
Many of my conversations with potential members had to do, not so much with theology as with practical questions about ministry and mission. Folks wanted to be in a church where they could get involved with the work of Christ. They were excited about our church’s ministries in the local community and beyond. They wanted to join us as we fed pizza to high schoolers or built homes for homeless families in Mexico.
While I was pastor of Irvine Presbyterian Church, the congregation grew from the upper 500s to the upper 700s. We are one the larger side of mid-sized churches. This meant is was possible for potential members to meet with me personally. In larger churches, it’s sometimes difficult or impossible for people to meet with the senior pastor. While I was on the staff of Hollywood Presbyterian Church, for example, a person who wanted to make an appointment with Lloyd Ogilvie was able to do so, but there was often about a one-year waiting period. Given the size of the church, then over 4,000, and the widespread popularity and influence of Lloyd Ogilvie, this kind of delay was understandable. But it meant that, in reality, most people who wanted to learn about the church were better served by meeting with one of the associate pastors, with whom they could get an appointment in just a few days. So, if you’re considering a large church, my advice would be: Meet with one of the pastors. (Photo: Lloyd Ogilvie and me at my installation as pastor of Irvine Presbyterian Church)
It may seem like I’m giving the pastor or pastors too much of a role in the church-choosing business. After all, isn’t the church far more than its pastor? Yes, indeed. But, in my experience, pastors are usually able to represent accurately the church they shepherd. Plus, it’s important to know what the chief preacher(s) and teacher(s) believe.
Before my family joined St. Mark Presbyterian Church in Boerne, I did indeed meet with Pastor John Watson. Over lunch at the Boerne Grill we became acquainted. It was more of a “get-to-know-you” meeting than an theological examination. I was especially interested in the kind of person he was. One of the things that matters most to be about a church is the integrity of the pastor. I need to know that my pastor is truly seeking to honor Christ, not only in ministry, but also in daily discipleship. After my meeting with John, I knew I’d be glad to be one of his flock.

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