This is a good question. Most likely at some point in your life you may be faced with this question. What would guide you? There is an accompanying question that has to be asked: “What is a healthy church?” or “Why would I choose this church in first place?” There are many good resources today that can help answer these questions and maybe we can discuss them on a later post, but for the sake of this post, let’s assume you have been part of what you enjoyed as a “good” church and it’s not the same today and you are bothered by this. What are the core elements that have to be in place for you to stay? Here is a list of questions perhaps you should ask about your church. The order isn’t particularly important as all of these are vital.
1. Is there a genuine Christ-centered approach to every aspect of ministry? In other words, what flag is flying? For many, Christ is merely “understood.” Often Christ is not the center, the end, the beginning and everything in between, He is somewhere in the background. Read Colossians 1:17,18 and Romans 11:36 and compare. Is Christ really the reason you exist and meet together or is there another flag flying.
2. Is there a genuine Gospel-saturation for living? Many have perhaps been brought up with the idea that the Gospel is the power of God unto Salvation (Rom 1:16), which is so very true and precious. But the Gospel doesn’t stop there! The same grace that saves is the same grace that sanctifies us every single moment of our life. We are be being saved daily (1Corinthians 15:2) and are being transformed into the image of Christ from one degree of glory to another which comes from the Lord who is the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:18). All of the message of the Gospel is true for us for everyday sanctification. If the Gospel is diminished for life the natural result is death, decay, and God’s glory will soon be missing. You can’t manufacture this and you can’t program it into your congregation. It either is or it isn’t.
3. Is there an atmosphere of confession and repentance? Sin is by nature deceptive and so, well, it deceives. Confession and repentance must come from the top. There should be in the “atmosphere” of the leadership an on-going repentance. I have said so often to myself and to many others, “It’s not ‘Once saved, always saved;’ it’s ‘once regenerated, always repenting!'” This is not just reserved for the leadership, however, the “followship” (my word…) should be a repenting people as well. Confession and repentance in the heart of people is often exhibited in how people pray and what they pray for. Listen carefully to your own prayers and see if you include both in your own prayers. It is also seen in the church’s practice of the ordinances (The Lord’s Supper and Baptism are perfectly designed to speak of both confession and repentance as well as publicly declare the person and work of Christ).
4. Is there an atmosphere of genuine growing faith exhibited and celebrated? Since it’s true that faith comes by hearing the Word (Romans 10:17) then theoretically people should be growing in their love, trust, and belief in all that Christ is and all that He has done. God’s Word is about God’s Son! Growth in faith is often exhibited in a strong hunger for the Word by the people, and a tenacious attempt by the leadership to be feeding them God’s Word. The giving of the Word and the receiving of the Word both need to be sought after by both leadership and followship and celebrated by a transformation in hearts that is talked about, and modeled in order to point the next generation to growing faith as well. If growing faith is absent, most likely church discipline will be absent as well.
5. Is there a growing love for God that is seen in lives becoming more like Christ? It is easy to sit in public worship services and give lip service to loving God. It is yet another thing to see people who humbly admit transparently their own lives need Christ and thus pursue sanctification through accountability, life-on-life discipleship, iron-sharpening-iron relational living that result in a steady change into the image of Jesus. Once again, this is certainly leadership led, but it must be a followship thing as well! This should be what good ol’ fashion Acts 2 type stuff looks like that goes on in genuine fellowship “from house-to-house.”
6. Is there a love for people that is sacrificial? This is part of God’s two-fold “greatest command” given to us in Scripture (Deuteronomy 6:5,6; Matthew 22:37,38) to love God and love people. Many will “do things” for people but that doesn’t mean there is a love for people. Christ is the model here. He sacrificially gave over and over (Philippians 2:1-11) in a way that met the need for humanity who could not do for themselves. Giving sacrificially as Christ gives means it is not convenient; it won’t fit your model of living; it will mean cleaning up messes, and it means they may not even like you for serving them. Loving people as Christ loved and gave Himself is just difficult. However, it should be a key element in leadership and in followship.
7. Is there reproduction going on? Discipleship must be happening. Helping people become more like Christ needs to be front and center – the goal of preaching, teaching, activities, fellowship, worship, and evangelism. There should be an intentional outward focus that includes the inward focus. We follow the 2Timothy 2:2 pattern that flows from Christ’s Great Commission (Matthew 20:19,20) that commands that we “teach them to observe all that I have commanded you.” This means there is the constant verbal communication of the Gospel to all as well as the constant visual communication of a life that is being changed by the Gospel. This should result then in reproduction – people whose life will be changed as they continue to watch other people’s life change. It becomes multiplication rather than addition to the church. (As an aside, I think the ultimate in true reproduction will be in churches that will produce another body of believers–sometimes called “Church-Planting.”)
8. Is there humble worship going on? Humble worship is often lost somewhere along the way and aberrant worship appears. By aberrant, I mean, is someone or something other than the God of the Bible being worshipped and is the worship acceptable worship? I think God does care how He is worshipped. There are often two extremes: 1. Worship any way you want to as long as you are sincere; and 2. You must only worship this way–a rigid adherence to a prescribed method. Either side is flawed. God is holy and thus He must be worshipped in a way that aligns with His very nature. The story of Cain and Able illustrate this. Numbers 3 also tells of a bitter story of two men whose worship was unauthorized. The One true God is to be feared and worshipped, and His glory must be at the very core of our love and submission to Him. Genuine worship isn’t electronic or non-electronic, fashion or lack of fashion, programmed or not programmed. True worship is the grace-filled heart of a servant whose soul desires to speak of the worth of God and hear His Word with great joy and submit his life to it all!
It has been my experience that if one or two of these eight are lacking, things begin to crumble pretty quickly. Some would look for external signs that are changed and to this I would offer a caution. The external things may or may not be genuine reasons for leaving a church. Be very slow to leave if these eight things are going on but you are uncomfortable simply because your preference isn’t considered. It may be God is working His will into your life and means for you to serve others by not demanding your preference. Many won’t immediately see any of these eight for some time depending on their involvement. Maybe God would have you stay to help model and shape a different direction. Maybe you sense it is too late for that and you need to quickly move on. Either way, considering these things may just clarify where God has you and what your next step must be.