Ten Qualities to Look for When Choosing a Church
“In nearly twenty years of working at a biblical counseling center,” writes Jim Newheiser, “I have observed that the single greatest impediment to our counselees making progress is their lack of a proper relationship with a solid biblical church. Sometimes the fault is with the local church which fails to shepherd and, if necessary, discipline the sheep. Some local churches shirk their biblical responsibilities and look exclusively to outside counselors to care for their troubled members. Often, however, the problem lies with the counselees, who have never committed themselves to a solid biblical church. Consequently, when crises arise they don’t have access to the resources and help God provides for his people in the local assembly of believers.”
It has often been said that there is no perfect church. But there is also no perfect church member. As the old joke goes, if you find a perfect church you shouldn’t join it, because if you do it won’t be perfect anymore. Whenever sinners work together in close quarters, whether in churches or in families, conflict and disappointment will arise. Regardless of flaws, however, God designed us to need one another, and for the church to need us. But how do you find a good church? What are the qualities to look for? A brand new mini-book answers these questions, and more. I’m super-excited to let you know that the newest addition to the LifeLine mini-books just rolled off the press.
In HELP! I Need a Church, Jim Newheiser gives sound counsel to those in need of a solid biblical church. After spending a short chapter explaining how not to choose a church, Jim spends another chapter highlighting the most important positive traits. Based solely upon Scripture, here is a list of the ten most important questions to ask yourself and a few selected thoughts under each (the author fully develops each in the book).
Is this Church Centered on the Gospel of Jesus Christ? – You can tell what really matters to a church by what is emphasized from the pulpit, discussed by the people, and even displayed on the walls. Sometimes I will ask ordinary members, “Why do you go to this church?” Some churches are all about the music. Some like a church because it supports home-schooling or a Christian school, because of the great kids’ programs, or even because it has no programs for children and youth. Some attend a church because of a famous preacher, or because the right people, including celebrities, go there. Some like a church because of the political activism of its members. Some churches focus on their heritage in church history or a confession of faith. But Paul tells the Corinthians, “I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2:2)
Does This Church Stand Firm on Sound Biblical Doctrine? – You can get an idea of what a church believes by reading its doctrinal statement or confession of faith, but you also need to listen carefully to what is actually preached and taught to see if it is standing firm on biblical doctrine (Titus 1:9; 2:1). Some churches have strayed from their biblical heritage. The most important doctrine on which a church must be clear is that of salvation (Galatians 1:8). As well as this, a church should also affirm that the Bible is inspired (God-breathed—2 Timothy 3:16) and inerrant—the sole authority for faith and practice. A church must also affirm the sufficiency of Scripture to equip us for every good work for life and godliness (2 Timothy 3:17; 2 Peter 1:3.
Is the Bible Faithfully Preached Week after Week? – A faithful preacher preaches only the Word of God, his sole authority. He also preaches all of the Word—the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27), including the difficult parts about God’s holy wrath against sin. A faithful preacher doesn’t merely encourage, but he also reproves and rebukes sin. All faithful preaching will be grounded in the gospel (what God has done for us). Paul said that he was eager to go to Rome to preach the gospel to believers (Romans 1:15). When you visit a church, ask yourself these questions: Is this preaching faithful to the Word of God? Is this a place where my family could be fed the Word of God week after week?
Is the Worship Biblical and God-Centered? – The most important Person we are to seek to please in our worship is God himself. He seeks worshipers who worship in spirit (sincerely and from the heart) and in truth (John 4:23–24). Not all worship is acceptable to God (Isaiah 1:14; Matthew 15:8–9). Under the Old Covenant, God precisely prescribed the way his people were to worship him. God’s worship is still holy under the New Covenant. Some in the early church who did not respect God’s holiness in worship became sick and others died (1 Corinthians 11:29–31; Acts 5:1–10). The New Testament also reveals how we are to worship God under the New Covenant.
Are the Leaders Biblically Qualified and Mutually Accountable? – Church leadership in our day often seeks to reflect the charisma, drive, and vision which our culture looks for in leaders in business or politics. “Successful” Christian leaders (meaning those with large churches and ministries) write books on leadership which seem based more upon management and marketing techniques than upon Scripture. In these models, the leader is regarded as the key to success. The New Testament, however, makes it clear that the Head and Chief Shepherd (Senior Pastor) of the church is Christ (1 Peter 5:4; Ephesians 1:22; 5:23) and that leaders are under-shepherds.
Do the Leaders/Pastors Shepherd the Sheep? – Both Paul and Peter exhort church leaders to shepherd God’s flock (Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:2). Church leaders are reminded that they will give an account to God for how they have tended the sheep he entrusted to their care (Hebrews 13:17). Some leaders are so driven to grow the church by attracting more people and resources that they don’t have time to actually get involved in helping the hurting sheep that are already part of the flock. Many pastors refuse to invest time in counseling individuals and families through conflicts and crises. Some don’t even believe that they are called to do so, but refer their members to outside “professional counselors” who may offer unbiblical advice. Are the leaders committed and equipped to minister God’s Word, not just publicly before a crowd, but also to individuals and families who need comfort and encouragement (Acts 20:20)?
Does This Church Practice Biblical Church Discipline? – Jesus is deeply concerned about the purity of his church, both in doctrine and in practice. He is also concerned about the influence that doctrinal error and immorality may have on others in the church. “A little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough.” (1 Corinthians 5:6). In our day, local churches tend to go to one of two extremes when it comes to discipline. Most commonly fail to practice church discipline. Little or no effort is made to correct and, if necessary, remove members who are involved in immorality or other serious sin, or who promote false and divisive teaching. At the opposite extreme, a few churches, perhaps reacting against the laxness of the majority, are harsh in their discipline. They put people out for minor doctrinal differences or infractions. Ungodly leaders use discipline to protect themselves against those who threaten their power (3 John 9–10). Biblical church discipline is to be carried out in a gentle, loving, and orderly fashion with the purpose of restoring the wayward brother or sister (Galatians 6:1; 2 Corinthians 2:6–8; Matthew 18:12– 15) and upholding the honor of Christ.
Does this Church Equip Its Members to Serve God? – The church officers are not called to do all of the ministries, but rather they are called to equip each member to use his or her gifts to build up the church (1 Peter 4:10–11). Do the elders/ pastors at the church you are visiting encourage every member to serve? Are members free to use their gifts and even to start new ministries? Are the elders/pastors encouraging and training future leaders (2 Timothy 2:2)? Is this a church in which others will disciple you and you will have opportunity to disciple others? Is this a church where you will be able to flourish serving Christ and his people? Is this a church in which men and women are being encouraged and equipped to be godly husbands, wives, parents, employees, employers, and citizens (Ephesians 5:22–6:9; Romans 13:1–7)?
Does This Church Community Have a Culture of Grace, Love, and Peace? – God accepts us, not based upon outward appearance or even our works, but by his grace towards us in Christ. Are people accepted and welcomed into this church regardless of age, ethnicity, social background, spiritual weakness, or differences on secondary issues (such as educational choices for children, views on food and drink, the place of children and youth programs in the church, views of the end times/ rapture, etc.)? Because we are still sinners, you will never find a church in which there is no conflict. But is this church one in which members deal with their differences by showing grace toward one another (Proverbs 19:11; 1 Peter 4:8) and by pursuing peace (Romans 12:18; Hebrews 12:14)? Do people seek to resolve their conflicts in a direct, biblical, and gentle way (Matthew 18:15; Galatians 6:1), rather than participating in slander, gossip, and bullying?
Does This Church Have an Outward Focus—Missions, Evangelism, and Church Planting? – Some churches are such close families that it is hard for an outsider to break into them. Other churches are so concerned about precision in their doctrine and practice that they expend more energy keeping the wrong people out than in welcoming those from the outside. Jesus has given us the great commission to bring his gospel to the world so that disciples can be made to serve and worship him (Matthew 28:18–20; Acts 1:8). Sadly, many churches grow primarily by attracting sheep from other local flocks. Is this church seeking to grow through conversions? Are members of this church encouraged and equipped to practice personal evangelism?
There are many other amenities people look for in churches, but these are the most important qualities. If you are not a member of a solid biblical church then now is the time to seek the Lord for one. HELP! I Need a Church will give you the faithful guidance you need.