If you move to a new city, I strongly recommend not settling for the first church you walk into. You have a unique opportunity to see the state of Christianity in the area in which you live. Don’t leave a church where you are a member unless God is purposely moving you forward. Faithfulness is worth a lot in God’s eyes, and endurance is usually what is required of you when you are hurt by others in the church. You must feel a supernatural peace from God about leaving, and a sweetness toward those left behind.
This summer we have been visiting a wide variety of churches. The style, the preaching, the worship, and the people were vastly different from each other, even though I saw people who loved God at each place. For example, one church was more like a geriatric ward (I love the elderly, so I have no problem with this!) and hardly any young people, and another church had only young people and not a single person with gray hair. Some of the churches were warmer to newcomers, and others were disconnected and uninterested in making new friends. Some people left you alone while other people were so in-your-face that they were almost like annoying car salesmen. I suddenly saw how unbelievers viewed Christians.
Neither I nor my husband enjoyed this process. It felt like we were eating too many flavors of ice-cream, and we wanted to puke. Each Sunday when we got home from church, my husband would say to the children, “We are not going back to this church, and here is the reason…” Then he would tell the children why the church was not solid. My children began to gain discernment.
This brings me to the most important characteristic my husband and I were looking for in a church: expository preaching of the Word of God. This means a verse by verse explanation of Scripture. Ideally we both enjoy exposition combined with exhortation, so that we walk away convicted to become more holy people. (But pure exposition also causes conviction.) A high view of the Word of God and of God Himself are vital. Both my husband and I want to walk in holiness. If the preacher gives 20 illustrations that are disjointed and finally throws in a verse at the very end as an afterthought, the Word of God is not preached at that church. My husband said he felt like putting police tape around those churches to prevent more people from being led astray.
The second-to-most important factor in our search for a church was friendships. Childhood friendships are crucial for walking in holiness as an adult. That’s because childhood friends understand you like no one else can; you can’t fool them. They can remind you of a time in your life years prior when you were in a similar situation, and how you handled it well, and you can do so now. In other words, friends who have known you forever are irreplaceable as far as rebuking effectively or encouraging in a way that is real. This is no small matter. There’s something about my best friend choosing to remain my friend over the years, even though she isn’t related to me. It makes me feel valuable as a human being. “There is a friend that sticks closer than a brother,” says Proverbs, so even Scripture acknowledges that people ought to have friendships outside their family. There are also blind spots in families that only an outsider can point out; it helps you to gain wisdom to see something from another person’s point of view.
The quality of the adults at a church influences the quality of the children. Are they striving after holiness? In one of the churches we attended, the adult Sunday school was talking about personality types and only mentioned Scripture for five minutes. When prayer requests were taken, the requests were trivial. At another church, the prayer requests mentioned in the Sunday school indicated that the adults had a deep walk with God. People talked about sanctification issues, adopting an orphan from Haiti, and for God to help them on a missions trip to India. Even the comments during the Sunday school in that second church showed that people cared about obedience to God, and they weren’t afraid to speak the truth.
The style of worship didn’t even factor in, although my husband had an opinion about the depth of the words of the songs. He doesn’t enjoy songs like “Kumbaya” that have no substance. In one church, people were actually dancing during the songs. Oddly, I felt like everything was out of control, even though I love raising my hands during worship music. To be honest, I would rather be in a church where no one is raising their hands, so that I can raise mine and free other people to worship God. (I see in my peripheral vision other people raising their hands because my action freed them; they just didn’t want to be the first person to do it.) Forty years of being in churches where almost no one raises hands makes me feel weird when the entire church is moving. It makes me feel dizzy. I was surprised because I’m a closet charismatic at heart. I want to worship God with wild abandon, and I’m always holding back for fear of distracting others. Now I had a perfectly good chance to go to a church that was more charismatic, and I found myself backing up.
Finally we found the right church. We both knew as soon as we heard the pastor preach. He exposited the Word of God with scholarship and with a passion for truth. My husband later said to our pastor, “As soon as I heard you preach, I knew that I was home.” I felt the same way. At last we were served a feast of spiritual steak, and our souls could rest.Tweet