Wednesday, December 05, 2007

What is the primary thing you look for in a church?

For me, it's the centrality of the Gospel. I particularly appreciate it if the worship and the teaching is strong on taking every aspect of life and interpreting through the meaning of Christ's finished work on the cross.

11 comments:

-Dave said...

A question I'm having some trouble answering. I think if I had to boil it down, it would be:

1) Jesus and the cross. I want to be reminded regularly of the crux, so to speak, of history.

2) Love for God and man, by word and deed. It's important to me that there be a social element to our mission. But it has to begin with God's love for us, and be rooted in love (not passionless obligation) for our fellow man.

jose said...

Tell me more about what you mean when you say "interpreting through the meaning of Christ's finished work on the cross.

Ρωμανός ~ Romanós said...

For me it's more of what I DON'T look for in a church, than what I DO.

I don't look for a community that has lots of in-house projects going on, busy work under various names, "programs" and "ministries," designed to keep the sheep in the pen with their noses in the grass. Too many churches exist to serve themselves.

I don't look for a church where preaching is mere story-telling, especially if it's long and entertaining. Yeah, that too, I don't look for a church where I will be comfily seated and entertained.

I don't look for a church that only helps the hurting and needy who qualify, that is, who can be easily processed through their system.

(So far, I'm describing the church I belong to, my family church, Greek Orthodox, which has been reoriented by a new "pastor" so as to better fit his expectations of what a church should be.)

I'm just now leaving work for the day. Maybe I'll be back later to tell you what I DO look for in a church.

Ρωμανός ~ Romanós said...

Now that I'm home for the day, let me think this thru. Forgive me, brothers, for venting some frustrations in my previous comment. Trying to look at the question more positively (but I can only do it from inside my G/O frame of reference), I think back to what I looked for when I was a young dad with four boys growing up.

Certainly, a faithfulness to the Gospel evidenced in both preaching from the pulpit and in the behaviour of the congregation, both in the context of worship and in the fellowship hall… these would be, and were for me at the time, very important. Orthodoxy has ceremonies and a lot of "extras" not found elsewhere: these things did not attract me or repel me. I venerate holy things and holy people, but I worship only Father God, praying to Him in Jesus' name, and in the Holy Spirit. Okay, so that's settled. Did I observe this at Aghía Triás when I went there for the first time? Was my personal sense of the "rightness" of the worship, as well as the other points I mentioned, satisfied at this church? Resoundingly yes. Twenty years ago, a mighty man of God as pastor, and a loving congregation, welcomed us and moved over on the bench so we could grab the oars and pitch in. There was a real sense of being on a "journey" without calling attention to it. Little talk, even less measuring, but lots of heartfelt sympathy and willingness to make sure no one was left behind.

An added bonus… In the church we came from, our teenage son had a peer group of ONE. At Aghía Triás, he suddenly found his peer group was about two dozen or more. I would say as a young mom and dad, we were very happy to find a congregation where our children could grow up with a large number of potential life-long friends. In our former church, the whole place seemed to have a "ghetto" mentality… "We're the last true Christians on earth." And also an emphasis on ceremonial to the detriment of authentic discipleship.

Sorry, I'm rambling on, I know. If you like, you can delete this comment, to make room for others.

Times are different twenty years later. I still worship on Sundays with my wife, and occasionally one or two of my grown sons (when they show up) at Aghía Triás, but it's because we must support the community. It's a real trial to us that the current priest is an unbeliever. Just goes to show how churches are set up, even the Orthodox, in such a way that, if you say the right things, you can go far in and high up… and miss salvation while mouthing the script like an actor.

What do I look for NOW in a church? Well, what do I actually do? On Saturday evenings I worship and pray with the small Orthodox congregation (OCA) of St Nicholas. We pray standing and, in the soft light of dozens of candles, sing à cappella the healing melodies handed down for a thousand years. And in between the verses, bowing low, I ask the Father to have mercy on my church, my family and on me.

There will always be a church or congregation appropriate for everyone who claims to be a Christian. And if you are a pilgrim, don't let it bother you if you have to "follow the cloud" when it moves, that is, if you need to move on as the Father draws you closer to Jesus and to a fuller commitment. No matter what church you find yourself in, never let it bind you, but as the apostles, let yourself always be ready to leave your nets and follow Jesus.

Kenny said...

Jose,

That was a bit of a typo. What I meant was "taking every aspect of life and interpreting it through the meaning of Christ's finished work on the cross."

This is harder for me to explain because I'm not good at it myself. I'm prone to explaining things in the light of the Law: this activity is good; this activity is bad; I should do this; I shouldn't do that. But I've had the great blessing of having a few teachers during the past 4-5 years who explained EVERYTHING in the light of God's grace. Just for example, one pastor (Mark Acuff, Chapel Hill Bible Church) was good at explaining how much of our lives were lived as if we were under the law, which could be seen by how much we strived to achieve all the time. A constant message I got from him was 'because of Jesus, you don't have to spend your life trying to prove yourself.' So for me this very much helped me reinterpret my daily activities so that I don't spend so much time worrying about whether I'm a success or a failure, and worrying about whether other people are more or less successful at their endeavors than I am.

Again, I'm not the best at explaining this, which is why I look for it in a pastor or teacher.

Kenny said...

Romanos,

I really respect your notion of supporting the community, particularly given your priest is an unbeliever. I hope, someday, to have a community that I'm similarly committed to (although, hopefully not under the same circumstance).

Kenny said...

Jose,

A bit more: one things I've seen in my recent pastors is an ability to tell me how the Gospel is relevant to every aspect of my life, from how to get into heaven, to how be in relationship, to how to feel about my bills, to how to pray, to how to shop and watch movies...

I've started to find that the Gospel can be your worldview, and this redeems everything.

jose said...

I've been trying to work away from the notion that the gospel is just for unbelievers (believers apparently get "discipleship" as if that were a totally different animal). So I'm with you; I would love to find a church that taught that. But doesn't that seem rare to you? I'd settle for finding a teacher in a church that taught in that framework, or maybe a platform where I could discuss such a thing.

Kenny said...

Jose,

I agree that it's rare. But I've also found more and more teachers over time who are on this page. In particular, "classic" writers focus on this, an example that I'm reading right now is 'The Practice of the Presence of God,' by Bro. Lawrence. Another example is 'The Normal Christian Life,' by Watchman Nee. Martin Luther was very much on this page. And I think these guys are "classic" because they had it right, and were serving out refreshment from the river of eternal life.

I've also been really blessed that my past two teaching pastors really taught in this vein, and their sermons are linked to my blog. My previous teaching pastors may also have been Gospel-centric, but at the time my mind was too law-oriented to hear the message clearly.

Ρωμανός ~ Romanós said...

"I've started to find that the Gospel can be your worldview, and this redeems everything."

Amen, Kenny, this is the Road!
What you will find, though, is that you will face a lot of opposition when you try to live this way, both from without and from within the church institution, and even from your own family. This is not to discourage you, but to give you fair warning. The fathers say, "The better God has armed a man, the harder He expects him to fight." From what I've seen, brother, I'd say that He has armed you well. Don't disappoint Him.

"I would love to find a church that taught that. But doesn't that seem rare to you?"

Yes, Jose, I agree with Kenny… it is rare. That's why we have to resort to the "classic" teachers, what are loosely termed "the Church fathers," that includes such as Martin Luther, Brother Lawrence, but also the more ancient fathers, and some of the more recent ones. Picking them out is a collaborative effort between the disciple and the Holy Spirit. If we had to depend solely on the teaching authority within our local churches, sometimes we could be horribly turned aside, and waste the time we are called to redeem.

Brothers, never be discouraged, but as you follow Jesus more closely, you may find that your walk with the visible Church is diminished. It all depends on where and when you find yourself. But no matter what happens, your walk with Jesus, if you are persistent, will always lead to walking with the saints of God, the invisible Church, and that walk will confirm everything for you, about Christ, about His call on your life, about the truths of faith, and about the eternity of your choice.

Kenny, thanks for the good blog posts, and everyone, for your good comments.

Amber said...

Simple answer for me: the Eucharist.