Editor’s Note: Pastor Roger Barrier’s “Ask Roger” column regularly appears at Preach It, Teach It. Every week at Crosswalk, Dr. Barrier puts nearly 40 years of experience in the pastorate to work answering questions of doctrine or practice for laypeople, or giving advice on church leadership issues. Email him your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For several reasons I’m looking for a new church home. I’m looking for guidelines to help me in my search. What should I look for in a church?
1. A Church That Prioritizes Biblical Expository Teaching and Preaching
The Scriptures are foundational for everything in the church and they must be taught.
The first thing written about the early church was that they were devoted to, “the apostles teaching” (Acts 2:42). The teacher’s toolbox includes many different types of sermons and teachings. One-point sermons, three-point sermons and topical sermons are just three of many.
But the most effective way to build disciples over time is what’s called “expository” preaching and teaching. “Expository” means to go verse by verse, paragraph by paragraph and chapter by chapter in order to teach, explain and apply the meanings of the Scriptures.
I want a church where people arrive asking the question, “Does God have a word to speak to me today?”
I listen to a preacher sermonizing about economics and think to myself, “Why is he doing that? There’s not a person in the Treasury Department who doesn’t know 10 times more about the economy than he does. I hear a teacher trying to teach on foreign policy, and I think to myself, “There’s not one person in the State Department who doesn’t know 10 times more about our foreign policy than he does. God’s servant’s priority is to do what economists and politicians are not trained to do: teach and proclaim the Word of God.
Only a church that knows the Bible can ever hope of having a church that pleases Christ!
2. A Church Where Praising God through Song and Worship is a High Priority
“And be not drunken with wine, wherein is riot, but be filled with the Spirit; speaking one to another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:18-19).
Singing psalms means taking words and passages directly from the book of Psalms and setting them to music.
Spiritual songs are composed, under the leadership of the Holy Spirit, for the purpose of bringing worshipers into the throne room of heaven. These are often songs of personal testimony.
Hymns are designed to teach great biblical truth, but contemporary worship songs can offer this as well.
3. A Church That Practices and Encourages Prayer
Charles Spurgeon, a London pastor of a previous generation, whose written sermons circled the globe, who was well known for his evangelistic heart, said: “When I’m invited to speak somewhere, and given the opportunity to either pray a prayer or preach the sermon, I’ll pray the prayer every time.”
Most pastors I know, myself included, would rather preach the sermon than pray the prayer.
Prayer develops intimacy with God. Very few times, if any, does the Bible record Paul praying for someone to be healed. However, he prayed often for the human spirit to be matured:
“I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being… And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power… to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:16-19).
God answers prayer:
“Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; You will cry for help, and he will say: ‘Here am I’” (Isaiah 58:9).
We had dedicated prayer teams to go at any time when prayer was needed. When people called the church office asking for prayer, we set up appointments for them on Sunday to meet with one of our groups.
4. A Church That is Evangelistic
In Luke 5: 4-7, Jesus miraculously filled Peter’s fishing fleet with so many fish that their nets broke. Jesus said, “You think that is exciting! Follow me and I’ll let you fish for men.”
The day after I became a Christian, I shared the gospel with two of my best friends. A month later all three of us were baptized together!
This is important because research shows that 98 percent of all Christians fail to lead anyone to Christ.
Paul tells us that Jesus awards crowns for those who follow him in five different areas. For example, when we first lead a soul to Christ, Jesus reserves for us the soul winner’s crown. Every time we help another become a Christian, he adds a star to our crown.
By the way, some seem to believe that numbers are not important. Luke thought that they were.
“Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about 3,000 were added to their number that day” (Acts 2:41).
5. A Church That is Discipleship-Focused
Christians who are farther along in the faith must take those not as far along under their “wings”. This is what Jesus meant when he said to Peter, “Feed my sheep. Tend my little lambs.”
“You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others” (2 Timothy 2:1-2).
John described three levels of spiritual maturity. We want to mature spiritual children into spiritual mothers and fathers through prayer, fellowship, Bible study, and mentoring.
Here is one prayer that God promises to answer: “Lord, make me a spiritual mother or father at any price.”
6. A Church Where People Tithe Regularly and Give Generously
I’ve heard Christians say that we are no longer under the principle of tithing–giving the top 10 percent of our income, (the tithe) to the Lord. They propose that Paul teaches “grace giving” in the New Testament (2 Corinthians 8-9) whereby we personally decide how much to give to the Lord.
When we look carefully, two practices are in play. First, we give tithes to the Lord. Second, we give to those in need and to the various facets of Lord’s kingdom.
Jesus verified the tithe in Matthew 23:23: “Woe to you teachers and Pharisees. You give your tithes. But, you have neglected the more important matters of justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.”
Paul, on the other hand, is talking about “grace giving”. In this particular case, he is encouraging the Corinthians to give generously to help the Jerusalem church in their time of famine.
7. A Church Where Fellowship Permeates the Congregation
“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer… Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:42-47).
We really do need each other. Others need us to meet their needs, and we need them to meet our needs. Fellowship involves pouring our lives into the lives of others.
Occasionally, we hear Christians say something like, “I don’t need a lot of fellowship; Jesus and I get along just fine.”
That attitude reminds me of burning coals in a fire. Imagine taking one particular coal out of the fire and placing it off by itself. It won’t be long until the burning coal is a smoldering ember that soon turns dark and cold.
Jesus is not looking for Lone Ranger Christians
8. A Church That Focuses on Helping Hurting People
Jesus said to Peter, “I’m a shepherd, you be a shepherd, too” (John 21:15-18).
In the catacombs of Rome, the “fish” symbol is often scratched into the walls. The Greek letters for “fish” form an acrostic, “Jesus Christ, son of God, Savior”. However, the most frequently scratched symbol is that of a shepherd’s staff.
I decided long ago that if our church focused on helping hurting people we would always have a viable ministry. The world never runs out of hurting people.
Our church motto became: “Helping hurting people.”
9. A Church That is Active in Spiritual Warfare
James wrote that Satanic attacks can wreak havoc in the lives of Christians.
“Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).
Every area of our lives not surrendered fully to the Holy Spirit is open to attack by a Satanic spirit.
John wrote that spiritual young men and women have overcome the devil. Spiritual children are often deceived (1 John 2:12-14). It’s time for many babies to grow up.
Paul encourages us to be active in spiritual warfare: “… in order that Satan might not outwit us for we are not unaware of his schemes.”
If Satan can deceive Adam and Eve, who were perfect, how must it be for us?
Fortunately, God has given as every tool necessary to be victorious in spiritual warfare.
In Ephesians 6:10-18, Paul describes the spiritual armor necessary to find victory.
Most all of our demonic attacks can be handled with prayer and discipleship.
The key verse is James 4:7: “Submit to God; resist the devil; and he will flee from you.”
10. A Church That is Preparing for the Next Generation
Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14).
The best time for people to come to Christ is before the age of 25. After that, most have set their life’s values in place and those values do not include Christianity.
Donnelle, I hope that you find my thoughts helpful as you consider your church home.
Dr. Roger Barrier retired as senior teaching pastor from Casas Church in Tucson, Arizona. In addition to being an author and sought-after conference speaker, Roger has mentored or taught thousands of pastors, missionaries, and Christian leaders worldwide. Casas Church, where Roger served throughout his thirty-five-year career, is a megachurch known for a well-integrated, multi-generational ministry. The value of including new generations is deeply ingrained throughout Casas to help the church move strongly right through the twenty-first century and beyond. Dr. Barrier holds degrees from Baylor University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Golden Gate Seminary in Greek, religion, theology, and pastoral care. His popular book, Listening to the Voice of God, published by Bethany House, is in its second printing and is available in Thai and Portuguese. His latest work is, Got Guts? Get Godly! Pray the Prayer God Guarantees to Answer, from Xulon Press. Roger can be found blogging at Preach It, Teach It, the pastoral teaching site founded with his wife, Dr. Julie Barrier.
Photo courtesy: ©Thinkstock/RossHelen