If you are looking to join a local church, here are 4 questions that it may be helpful to consider:
1. Do I buy-in to the vision?
Every local church should have a clear vision. A church that has no sense of direction will soon wander off track and end up in all kinds of trouble. What’s worse, it will almost certainly sleep walk into anonymity and irrelevance. Now it would be easy to make the question of vision all about the missional or ecclesiological direction that a church is going in. And those things are important, but they are not primary. What is of prime importance is the gospel of Jesus Christ.
In other words, is this church captivated and motivated by nothing less than Jesus Christ Himself? And is that enough for you? Many churches claim to have vision that is big, bold and adventurous. However, I want to suggest that you can’t get bigger, bolder or more adventurous than Jesus. Therefore the church that gets excited about Jesus week-in and week-out, that lives, breathes, models and and sacrifices for the gospel – that’s a church with a vision you should want to buy in to.
Any other vision is too small and unworthy.
2. Can I serve the mission?
A church that loves Jesus will love what Jesus loves. And the gospels, indeed the whole of Scripture is clear that Jesus loves people. Indeed He spilled His blood on the cross in order to redeem a people for Himself. Shortly before catching the cloud escalator to the Father’s right hand, Jesus left His boys with a mission statement that is still as ‘live’ as it ever was. We can probably sum up the mission of the church with just two simple word: making disciples. Therefore:
- Is this church committed to Jesus’ disciple-making mission?
- Are they about more than making converts?
- Are they committed to a mission that extends far beyond what happens on Sunday?
- Is every member equipped and encouraged to play their part in the fulfilling the great commission wherever they’re at?
- Will I have opportunities to use my gifts to serve the church and reach the lost?
3. Do I subscribe to the theology?
The mere mention of the word theology sends shivers down the spines of many Christians. It seems to conjure up thoughts of high-brow academics who confuse the wotsits out of ‘ordinary’ Christians with their big words and cold hearts. Theology is for nerds and nit-pickers, right?
In truth we are all theologians (that is, we all have a view about God) and those of us who are Christians will also have an idea on what church is all about and how things should be done. The purpose of this post is not to say what theology is right and what theology is wrong (though I’ll tell you if you want LOL!!!!) But rather, to simply suggest that before connecting with a local church it is important to understand what a church believes. Some issues such as the nature of God, the atonement, the resurrection, the reality of hell, the infallibility of Scripture, salvation through Christ alone etc. are primary and you should not consider joining a church that holds a different position to you on such important matters.
However, there are also secondary theological beliefs that should also be thought through, such as what the church believes about the gifts of the Spirit, women in leadership, infant baptism, the Lord’s Supper, membership, the sovereignty of God in salvation etc. There is definitely room for disagreement and healthy discussion between Christians on these issues, and there are many fantastic Christians who I know that sincerely hold differing views on these matters. I have absolutely NO PROBLEM loving them, fellowshipping with them and calling them my brothers and sisters. However, there is no doubt that while secondary theological beliefs are just that – secondary – they are still important to work through when it comes to serving together in a local church. If you love praying out loud in tongues you may feel restricted in a church that believes the gift of tongues no longer exists. Similarly, if you believe that the teaching role in a church should only be held by men, you may struggle to sit in good conscience under the preaching of a female pastor or vicar.
4. Can I submit to the leadership?
This is potentially the most inflammatory of these points. Perhaps it would help for me to break it down into two parts:
a) Can you submit?
For many submission is a dirty word, and language such as “submit to your leaders” in a church context suggests a thuggish, totalitarian religious regime that wants to crack the whip and keep everyone in line! But submission is a fundamental requirement for all who want to be fruitful, faithful members of a local church. Consider this scripture:
“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” (Hebrews 13 v 17)
The Bible implies that we will have leaders over us and it challenges us to submit to their leadership. Notice that it doesn’t tell us to submit if we want, to whom we want, when we want. It simply charges us to submit. By joining a local church you are by default placing yourself under leadership, therefore choosing the right local church to belong to is crucially important.
b) Can you submit to these leaders?
As a leader I can honestly say that knowing that I will one day stand before God and have to give an account for the souls of all those I have the privilege to lead is sobering…and terrifying! Like the vast majority of church leaders that I know, I don’t take leadership lightly. 7 years into leading Hill City and I still struggle to believe that anyone in their right mind would want to be part of a church that I lead, let alone allow me to speak into their lives! I still shudder when I read the qualifications required of an elder, as laid out by Paul in 1 Timothy and Titus. And I know that those I am called to serve are commanded to watch me and learn from me and even copy what I do:
“Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.” (Hebrews 13 v 7)
As you consider joining a local church, spend time getting to know the leaders. Ask them questions, and let them ask you questions too. From my perspective, I would welcome such dialogue with potential members. Here’s some things you should be asking:
- Can you respect these leaders?
- Will they teach God’s Word faithfully?
- What does their life tell you about their leadership?
- What does their marriage/family/Facebook reveal to you about their understanding of the gospel?
- Do they have a faith that you (and your family) could aspire to imitate?
- Would you trust them to speak into your life, both to encourage, challenge and exhort?
These are just a few thoughts for you to ponder as you consider joining a local church. If I missed anything or if you want me to clarify anything, why not post a comment below? Let’s connect.