Instead, we must define ourself by the Gospel of the Kingdom and who Jesus says that we are. And, we must look for, find and become part of a church that is built upon the criteria God’s Word gives – again, not on our preferences, what feels comfortable, or what is familiar to us.
So, when looking for a church we can have two lists: A “must-have” list based on the Bible and a “that-would-be-nice” list of qualities that we would like to see but are not essential nor often biblical. Here is my “must-have” list…
1> God’s Word is faithfully taught
The Gospel has to define the Church. And, the Gospel must define the individual disciple of the Lord. Often we form our own life – thus our vision of who we are and what God wants us to do – around our preferences, what feels comfortable or what is familiar to us. And, often we choose a church home in exactly the same way.
God’s Word must be the center of all that is taught and form the basis for the disciple’s individual lifestyle as well as the life of the corporate body. This means both the Bible and His “now Word” of prophecy must be heard regularly by the people. The Bible is of course foundational but the prophetic word also gives direction to the people and to the body. Matthew 4:4 speaks about needing the Word in our daily life – and the Greek tense states “…every word that continuously proceeds from the mouth of God…” So, He is still speaking to His people today – through the Bible but also through the gift of prophecy. Both are necessary for a healthy church.
When listening to a teaching make sure the Word of God is the meat of the message and not just the seasoning – sprinkled on man’s opinion and ideas so as to give them validity and credibility. God’s Word has the authority and all the preacher does is to unleash what it has to say to day to God’s people.
So, find a church whose teaching is driven by a confidence in the authority of Scripture.
2> Sound apostolic doctrine matters
Acts 2:42 says that the first believers “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching.” This is what we refer to as “doctrine.” Doctrine simple means what the Bible teaches on any given subject. Therefore, a church in which doctrine matters is one that values biblical truth, knows what it believers, and is guided by these beliefs in the way that it functions.
Sound doctrine is always under attack (see 2 Timothy 4:3-4). Even within the Church doctrine is sometimes neglected and often ignored in an attempt to make the local church seem more attractive and interesting. But a concern for the truth always leads to a deeper understanding of the Lord and a closer walk with Him for His disciples.
Look for a church that clearly knows and defines what it believes – a place where the statement of faith actually makes a difference. If you are looking for a book that can add insight to your understanding or study of doctrine – I recommend Bible Doctrine by Wayne Grudem.
3> The Gospel is central, is cherished and clearly proclaimed
The gospel is the Good News of Jesus Christ’s perfect life, sacrificial death for sinners, and glorious resurrection and ascension. It is the story line of all of God’s Word – a holy God has mercifully made a way for sinners to be forgiven and accepted through the cross of Christ.
The gospel can never be a side issue – it must always be the central focus. It can never be fuzzy in our minds and hearts – but always clear and easy for us to communicate with others. The gospel must be functional and practical in the life of the believers and the church you are considering or a member of. The gospel is not just for getting saved – it is the defining reality we need to live in every day of our lives. A good book in this regard is C.J. Mahaney’s The Cross Centered Life.
4> The mandate to reach the lost is central to the life of the church and its people
Jesus commissioned every disciple to”go into all the world and make (more) disciples…’ (Matthew 28:18-20). So, the church must not only celebrate the gospel but also reaches out to the unsaved in the community with the same Good News. Without this emphasis on evangelism a church is living in disobedience and becomes ingrown and dysfunctional, not to mention selfish. The clear message of the gospel must be clearly presented in all activities of the local church and the lost must be the focus of all events and every gathering.
The local church must be a place where ongoing training in evangelism and winning the lost is available at all times. And, the leadership must all be involved in evangelism as well. Thee is no such thing as a “gift of evangelism” as it is the call of God on the life of every believer and every leader.
5> The leaders are characterized by humility and integrity
No one is perfect but when it comes to evaluating a church – look at the leadership team and see if these are people you can trust and whose example you can follow. 1 Timothy 3 lists the qualifications for leaders of a church. A leader must be a person who is above reproach, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. Notice that the qualifications relate most to the quality of their life. It is mostly about character. No amount of skill, leadership ability or communication skills can replace godly character. Look for a church where personal character is of higher importance than title, position or outward success.
One of the characteristics you should be looking for in leaders is that they are first servants. Secondly, they must be accountable and be in an accountability relationship with a number of mature leaders from outside of the local church.
6> The people are more than hearers of the Word – they are doers
Look for a church that is seeking not only to believe rightly, but also to live rightly. It’s possible for a church to be doctrinally sound but have a culture of total apathy when it comes to applying the truth of God’s Word in everyday life.
This means the church you are attending will seek to build a culture and community of both hearing and obeying God’s Word (James 1:22). it will seek not only to win people to the Lord, but to make disciples by helping them to mature in godly living in every area of life.
7> People are interested in finding and cultivating godly relationships
The church you belong to should be one that places a high value on godly relationships among the members and cultivates those relationships and opportunities for relationship building every chance it gets. We all need relationships where we can receive encouragement, have accountability, and are offered care. And, an essential part of living put God’s Word is being connected to other Christians in healthy relationships.
8> You are challenged to minister and serve
The local church should be a place where you are trained and equipped and then encouraged to “go into all the world…” and serve others, ministering to them and showing them the love of God as found only in Jesus Christ. Ephesians 4:12 states that the purpose of the leaders (see 4:11) is to “…equip the saints for the work of the ministry.” Find a church that does equip you and then challenges you to go do what you have been trained to do – and do it among non-believers. This will be a church that releases you to be among non-Christians and does not keep you totally occupied with church activities and events.
9> This church is open to the idea of kicking you out
If a person who claims to be a disciple of the Lord Jesus but lives in a way that blatantly contradicts all that it means to be a disciple of Christ – a faithful church’s responsibility is to begin the process of removing that person from membership in the hope that he or she will repent and ultimately be restored (1 Corinthians 5; 2 Corinthians 2). This is not harsh or abrupt. This practice is called church disciple and was instituted by Jesus (see Matthew 18).
This really offers the serious believer a great sense of security. They know that if they are beginning to mess up and do things that can and will lead them into deep waters morally, ethically, relationally, sexually, or financially that others will love them enough to come and speak to them and correct them. The purple of confronting and even the discipline is to restore members to wholeness and health. Thus must never be lost sight of.
Menno Simons wrote over 400 years ago, “We do not want to expel any, but rather to receive; not to amputate, but rather to heal; not to discard, but rather to win back; not to grieve, but rather to comfort; not to condemn, but rather to save.” So church disciple is an expression of love. It is a way to restore a sinning brother as well as a way to protect the witness and reputation of the local church.
So, be part of a local church that will not only welcome you into its midst, but will lovingly hold you to your commitment as a Christian – a church that will love you enough to put you out of fellowship for the good of your soul.
10> You can be a part of the life of this church “as is” and be enthusiastic about it
As you think about your church – ask yourself, “Can I joyfully and fully support this church’s leaders, their teachings, and the direction they have set?” Please don’t join a church because you think God has called you to overhaul it! Humbly recognize that you have your own sin to deal with and that you won’t succeed anywhere as a self-appointed leader.
Be a part of a church that you can be excited about. Of course, you will want your church to grow and improve just as you yourself hopefully will. But if it the church for you, you should be ready to be a part of it :as is” – that is, be a part of it with faith that God is at work. Leave your grips and complaints at the door. Those attitudes will only detract from your experience, limit your involvement, and weaken the church’s unity.
11> The church is flexible, moves with current revelation, and flows in the supernatural
Jesus states that He is building His Church (Matthew 16:18). He does so through bringing fresh revelation of what He is doing so that His people can then become involved. This is why it is imperative that the local church be flexible and moving with the current activity of the Holy Spirit in the world today. This can be difficult when part of an historical denomination which was founded upon a previous move of the Spirit – but never impossible.
For the church to be all that Jesus designed and builds her to be – and thus to do and accomplish in His Name – the local church also needs to be supernatural in nature and not in name only. Every aspect of its daily life must be guided and directed by the voice of the Spirit of God. The church must be empowered so its people must be baptized in the Holy Spirit and so walking in the power of their God and being witnesses for Him (Acts 1:8). They must be actively flowing in the Gifts of the Holy Spirit that accompany the Baptism and these gifts must be active daily both during church functions and when living life in the world on a daily basis.
12> The church has a five-fold ministry and is not “pastor-led”
Biblically you cannot find a local church where it is a “one-man show” and that lead person is a pastor. In fact, the word “pastor” only appears once in the New Testament and that is in relationship to the full five-fold ministry or apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher. This ministry function never stands alone. In the book of Acts, the history of the early church, there are no pastors leading the local church.
For a church to have life and for that life to be the light it is meant to be (see John 1:4 and Matthew 5:14) the church must be built biblically. This means the leadership of the church is invested in a team and this team functions within the gifts and callings upon their lives individually and in mutual submission to others on the team.
13> There is a visible and active ministry of apostles and prophets in the local church
The Bible states that apostles and prophets are first and of most importance in the life of a healthy local church (1 Corinthians 12:28) and that these two ministries are foundational (Ephesians 2:20). Therefore, for your local church to be healthy and about “the Father’s business” as Jesus was, there needs to be the active ministry of apostles and prophets as well as their oversight of the daily life of the assembly.
As a result of their active involvement in the life of the local assembly the people become both prophetic and apostolic. They accurately hear God, receive revelations, dreams and vision, can flow prophetically (1 Corinthians 14:1, 31, 39). They are also apostolic in nature – sent out to “seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10) as Jesus did and commanded His church to continue doing in every nation around the world.
These 13 elements of biblical life should be seen in the activities and events of a healthy local church, a church that is being built biblically and is both alive, relevant, and walking in biblical integrity and power. These are “must have” in any church that is worth being a part of and investing in as a disciple of the Lord.