by Justin Huffman
Every Spring, in our church, there is occasion for both celebration and for sober reflection. Our young people are graduating from high school or college, or wrapping up graduate studies or postdoc work. Sometimes this means getting a job or going to further school in our area, but many times it means moving away (or back to their hometown) to pursue opportunities elsewhere.
The question always arises, "How do I find a good church in a new location?"
And it is a good, important question to be asking. A good church is vital to spiritual growth; therefore it should be one of our main priorities to get plugged into a healthy body of believers no matter where the Lord leads us.
But the question of finding a healthy church gets even more complicated when the place being considered is not in the United States, or even in the Western world. For this reason, I was asked recently to present a lesson to a Bible study for Chinese students in our church, describing what to look for in a church.
Each culture will have its own mix of unique challenges, common problems, and special opportunities for ministry.
So how do we get past the fluff and get to the core of what makes up a healthy church? What should a person look for in a church? Whether you are in Southern California or in South Korea, in Dallas or Delhi, the Bible gives us some very helpful tools for evaluating a healthy body of Christian believers.
I hope the following considerations -- which I shared with the Chinese students here at our church -- will be helpful for you, your family, or your church as you seek to point your young people, or any transitioning people, in the right direction.
First of all, it is important to recognize that no church is perfect, because every church is full of sinners. Also, no two churches are the same, because they are made up of people who are unique in their backgrounds, perspectives, gifts, and personalities.
So don’t just look for a church that is identical to the churches you have been acquainted with so far — for preachers with the same personality or gifts, for practices that are alike in every way, or for similar size or economic status or ethnic makeup. But of course do feel free to contact godly pastors and friends you have been blessed by in the past, as a resource for decision-making and discernment in the future.
Yet there are some crucial ingredients that healthy, sound churches will have in common.
Look for these things when you are looking for a new church:
1) Genuineness toward God’s Word: Are they consciously, publicly, explicitly submitted to the authority of God’s Word?
The Bible should be seen as infallible and should therefore be the centerpiece of teaching, of discipleship, and of evangelism. (2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21)
2) Genuineness toward Jesus: Do they believe in Jesus?
This first means an orthodox, Christian view of Jesus as he is revealed in Scripture. Jesus is not seen as just a good teacher or example, but as the God-man who is God’s only way of salvation. (John 14:6; 1 John 4:2-3; 1 Corinthians 16:22).
But this also requires an intimate and personal relationship with Jesus. Jesus is not just a means to personal happiness or wealth, but is the goal of salvation itself. (Genesis 15:1; Matthew 11:28; John 7:37) Are you, in the church, being encouraged to constantly grow in relationship with, and knowledge of, Jesus? (2 Peter 3:18; Ephesians 4:14-15)
The gospel must the focus of the church. Not political activism, or feel-good stories, or “health and wealth” promises.
The gospel – including our sin, the person and work of Jesus, the necessity of faith in him – must be the focus.
3) Genuineness toward other Christians: Do they see themselves as connected to other Christians around them and with the historic Christian faith?
If they separate themselves from other Christians, or see themselves as having “new light” that Christians have not historically embraced, this is a bad sign. (John 13:34-35; 17:20-21; Galatians 1:8; 1 Timothy 3:15-16)
4) Genuineness toward each other: Do they love each other as a body of believers?
Every church will have its problems — tests to unity and the need for longsuffering. But do the members of the body display a sincere interest in each other’s emotional, physical, and spiritual welfare? (Ephesians 4:16; Romans 12:4-8)
This must include humble, godly, loving church leadership. (1 Timothy 4:16; Hebrews 13:7)
5) Genuineness toward others: Do they serve others for the glory of Christ?
The particular outlets of evangelism, or of efforts to help in the community, will be different for every church and in each culture; but every church ought to be engaged in their community in some way that shares the gospel with unbelievers and cares for the needy. (Matthew 5:14-16; 28:19-20; Galatians 6:10; James 1:27)
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