We are not in search of a new church to join at present. What we are in is a search to find a new way of being church. Two very different mindsets .. and that’s what I liked about this article. It challenges mindsets and it shifts the focus.
What I mean is, so much of what I read coming out of the emerging and/or emergent church community, has its focus on what’s wrong with the institutional church. We’ve just left one, so heck, we know there’s a bunch wrong with it! What I’m interested in is what might be right with the things that God has us pursuing at the moment. It’s the difference between always looking back and starting to look forward to the new thing God would have us invest ourselves in.
This article puts the onus onto the searcher, rather than the church. Now while that may not be a popular approach in much that is being written and blogged today, I must say I like it!
It is re-printed for your consideration:
Figuring Out Church
Learning to find a meaningful experience in a sometimes-meaningless routine.
Finding a good church fit can be tough, frustrating and even destitute if you don’t know what to look for. But with the right perspective and an understanding of what a healthy church should look and feel like, you will be well prepared to find the church that fits.
When you are searching for a community to share your life with it is important to evaluate your own heart as well as the heart of the community you wish to partner with. Many people have meaningless church experiences because they lack a proper perspective of their own role in a church. So, before we look at the elements in a healthy church we will look at a few reminders about our own role in community to help us find meaning.
A. Don’t look for a church to feed you. You are not a hamster – you are a living, breathing, agent of Christ and you were made primarily to serve, not to consume. Avoid the self-absorbed culture trap and embrace the example that Jesus gave us. When you are looking for a church so you can serve, the search takes on a whole new meaning. Just as an exercise, go back through the gospels and look at all the things Jesus consumed – the times he took in resources from others. You and I were made to serve, so don’t put too much weight on the church’s responsibility to take care of you – that’s just a bonus. Keep your focus on the fact that you are the church, you don’t just go to one.
B. Prepare your own heart to be stretched. Resist the urge to find that magnificent church that has all the amenities. Be prepared to let God lead you to where he wants you and not just where you feel comfortable, this may mean switching denominations or even joining a house church. We will gain a greater sense of the beauty of church if we avoid the temptations of joining a church resort and look for the grass roots opportunity. I am not necessarily talking about church size, but the mentality…you get the idea.
C. Evaluate your ability to build meaningful relationships. If you are struggling in building healthy relationships chances are, you are going to have a miserable and meaningless experience in church. Church is all about commitment to one another, real relationships and authentic sacrifice. If you are struggling with this, you may want to evaluate your own heart and let God begin to mend it before you start critiquing the next community you visit.
Take comfort in this: choosing a community is not nearly as demanding as preparing yourself to be in community. Now let’s look at the elements to search for in a healthy church.
1. A community that values God’s Word but doesn’t pretend to have it all figured out. This may go without saying, but it is one of the most crucial elements that can damage a meaningful experience. Check out the focus that is put on God’s Word; ask questions to find out how it is valued by those who are deeply involved. In a healthy church there should be an attitude of humility when it comes to handling God’s word and not an attitude of pride.
2. A community that values everyone’s gifts and avoids elitism. A church should allow for the beauty of individualism while maintaining a commitment to unity. What is elitism? The use of a few individuals for everything and the neglecting of the gifts of others.
3. A church that doesn’t merely speak about mission but is actively on mission. The church should embody the mission of Christ and call others to follow him. If there is no sense of mission, shake the dust off your feet.
4. A church that embraces the people of the world in tangible ways not just words. A healthy church loves people. A church that embraces the people of the world will not be yelling, “God hates Fags”, they will be finding ways to love diverse people even if their lifestyles make church people uncomfortable.
5. A church that passes on leadership and service to emerging generations. A church that has the same people in leadership for twenty years does not value mentoring. A church that passes on leadership is willing to risk so that God will work in powerful ways.
6. A church that embraces diversity as a value not just a thought. If a church has diversity as a core value, they will be working to accomplish it, like the Mosaic church in Los Angeles; even their name speaks of their commitment to include many people groups.
7. A church that is willing to change to be more effective for the kingdom of God. A healthy church should be fluid, always creating new ways to share the message of the kingdom without getting into the program rut.
There is no secret to finding the right church but if you have a grasp on what your role is and what you are looking for you just may find a place to experience God in the presence of others that will give new meaning to the old and sometimes meaningless routines that we call church.