Church. Just the word alone carries a variety of connotations, and many of them are negative. Hypocritical. Judgmental. Boring. Old-fashioned. Restrictive. Philip Yancey, in What’s so Amazing about Grace, relates this encounter.
“A prostitute came to me in wretched straits, homeless, sick, unable to buy food for her 2-year-old daughter. … At last, I asked if she had ever thought of going to a church for help. I will never forget the look of pure, naïve shock that crossed her face. ‘Church!’ She cried. ‘Why would I ever go there? I was already feeling terrible about myself. They’d just make me feel worse.’”
Let me be candid. There are some negative churches, and I wouldn’t want to go there. I should know. I’ve pastored some of them. They had to pay me to come back each week! Churches can be all those negative terms. But so can every other place you frequent. The grocery store, the DMV, the bank, the doctor’s office. What does it do for you when you have an over-weight doctor who tells you your cholesterol is too high or a cardiologist who smokes? Why do we go to these hypocritical, judgmental, boring places that only want our money? Because they have something we desperately need.
You’ve made a connection with Jesus. Awesome! Your sins are forgiven, and you’re on your way to heaven. Splendiferous! I’ll meet you there if we never have a chance to meet here. You’re all set.
So what does church have to offer that you don’t already have?
To answer that question, let me give you some other terms that come to mind when I think of church. College. Nursery. Pep rally. Hospital. The activities at each of these and the reason you might participate in them are the same as what you will find at a healthy church. Let’s start with the analogy of a hospital.
You’re walking down the beach one day with your family. It quickly becomes apparent that the pain in your chest is not due to the greasy chili-cheese hot dog you ate for lunch but something far more serious. Thankfully, a lifeguard has easy access to an AED and training in its use. After your eyes open, and you realize what just happened, you have a decision to make. Do you continue walking down the beach to your dinner destination, or do you ride the ambulance to the hospital? There’s a reason your heart stopped beating! You need to discover that reason and do whatever it takes to prevent it from happening again! Go to the hospital!
Your spiritual heart was a mess. It wasn’t functioning. Jesus didn’t just restart your heart. He gave you a new one. Any transplant surgeon and any new car salesman will tell you your new item needs regular maintenance if you want it to function correctly and consistently. Church is a hospital for your heart. Don’t get me wrong. You don’t need church to become a follower of Jesus or to maintain your status as a child of God. But you do need church to maintain your Christianity – to give you what you need to live as a Christian.
Consider those other words I suggested as an analogy for church. College. What happens there? What’s its purpose? People who are ignorant about something that interests them or that can make them more productive commit to four years or more of teaching and training. Sometimes it’s boring. It interrupts their sleep schedule. It’s expensive. Lots of books to read. In the end, they come out as better people, knowing stuff they never knew they needed to know. And they’ve made some life-long friendships along the way. Maybe they’ve even had a little fun.
A nursery is for fledgling plants or little people that just wouldn’t survive if they had to face their harsh natural environment without some extra feeding and extra support. A pep rally excites people and motivates them to work together and support one another in their attempt to defeat challenging opponents.
Do you have any challenging opponents that threaten to trounce you? Marriage problems. Finances. Your job. Parenting. Going to church will not automatically overcome all these antagonists. But if you apply what you find at church, none of them will be able to defeat you!
Let’s say I’ve done an awe-inspiring job of convincing you of your need for church. Whew. That’s a relief. But it leaves us with another consideration. How do you find a good church? You mean to say there are some bad ones? Yes. Maybe “healthy” is a better term than “good” to describe the kind of church you want. So let me give you my description of a healthy church.
First, it’s not about a particular denomination. In the interest of full disclosure, I’m a Baptist. Our team here at I Am A Watchman comes from various church backgrounds. The name on the church sign doesn’t inherently mean the church is a good one. It just gives you an idea of what to expect inside. It’s like going to your favorite chain restaurant. You know what kind of service and what quality of food you enjoy at the restaurant near you. Going to a different one of the same name in a different town doesn’t guarantee you’ll have the same experience. There are fantastic Baptist churches; there are also horrendous ones. How do you tell the difference?
A healthy church possesses the following five qualities.
1. A Healthy Church Teaches Truth.
This is the most important quality. Just as your brain controls the functions of your body, truth, or the absence of it, rules the church. Nothing else will be right in the church if truth is not there.
The most effective way to evaluate the truth is to compare the church’s teaching to the Bible. But the Bible is a big book, and you might be inexperienced with it. Plus, you’d have to be there every week and hear every teaching to know what they teach as truth. Realizing that, churches often have a doctrinal statement. “Doctrine” is a big word for “teaching” or “beliefs.” You can usually find a church’s doctrinal statement on their website. If not, ask the pastor to join you for lunch. Pastors love to eat, and they love to talk about their beliefs so he won’t reject your offer.
If the doctrinal statement uses big words you don’t recognize – kind of like the labels on the back of food packaging – it’s not because they’re trying to hide bad ingredients. It’s just they like to impress. Google the words to discover their meaning. Then compare their doctrinal statement to other good ones. We have a good one here at I Am a Watchman. Some historical examples are the Apostles’ Creed and the Westminster Confession of Faith.
2. A Healthy Church Will Worship Jesus.
It’s not about how they worship, but who they worship. That might seem obvious, but not all churches worship Jesus. Some don’t even think He is God (look for that in their doctrinal statement). Other churches worship their pastor and are willing to follow whatever he says even if it doesn’t agree with the Bible. Self is the most common object of worship in unhealthy churches. They spend their money on themselves and their personal comfort. If something taught or required makes them uneasy, they find another church where they don’t experience conviction about their sin. Their new church doesn’t ask them to leave their sin. They embrace it.
Worshipping Jesus means sacrificing my own ideas about my life. It involves singing, yes, but it also involves serving. It’s giving, not just my money, but my time, my heart, and everything that I have to Jesus. Getting out of bed on Sunday morning can be hard. Thinking of it as an act of worship, a sacrifice for Jesus makes it easier. The best way to worship Jesus is by changing to become like Him. Church is worshipping Jesus.
3. A Healthy Church Will Have A Focus On Evangelism.
See, there’s one of those big words. This one simply means they love to tell people about Jesus and help people enter into a relationship with Him. What proud parent or grandparent doesn’t search for opportunities to show pictures and tell stories about their offspring? In the same way, people who love Jesus want other people to love Jesus. We don’t need to be stingy with Jesus. He has enough love to spread to everyone who will come. Healthy churches send and support people in other countries who have gone there to tell people about Jesus. They do more than that. They tell their neighbors, their co-workers, and anyone who is willing to listen.
4. A Healthy Church Will Prioritize Worship
We serve Jesus. It makes sense. He gave His life for us; now He calls us to give our lives back to Him. In some cultures, when one person rescues another, the rescued becomes the rescuer’s permanent slave. Jesus said the best way for us to serve Him is to serve each other. You can usually get a pretty good feel for a church’s level of service by counting how many people offer to help you with the kids or give you directions before you make it through the foyer.
Once you become a part of the church, you can be one of these servant people. Ask the pastor how you can serve in the church. Make sure you have your phone ready to record the comical look on his face. If he just keeps smiling his normal smile, then you know he’s used to people asking that question. You’ll lose your chance to get loads of laughter on Facebook from the picture you post, but you will have found a church that serves.
5. A Healthy Church Will Be Known By Its Love
They like spending time together. The parking lot still has cars in it long after the pastor has finished speaking because people just love spending time with each other. They’re willing to love you too. No one gets mad when you unknowingly sit in the seat they’ve sat in every Sunday for the last 21 years. In fact, they invite themselves to the seat next to you so they can introduce themselves to you. They also make sure you meet their four kids, their spouses, and their ten kids. Don’t worry. They won’t make you take a test before you can leave for the restaurant after church. A healthy church is unified because they know it’s not about them. It’s about Jesus.
Please understand me. No church is completely healthy. Churches are living organisms made up of people. No person is completely healthy so no church can be. Remember that analogy of a church as a hospital? Who goes to hospitals? Sick people. We’ve all got our issues. We’re all sick. Some are sicker than others. Jesus can heal, and He wants to heal you. He wants to use you to help heal others. Maybe what that church is missing for it to be healthy is you.
I can already hear the question. “Can’t I just watch a podcast or YouTube video and get the same benefit?” Let me put a question to you. Would you rather be at the game or watch it on your tablet? Watching it has the advantage of not having to fight traffic. Plus, you don’t have to sit next to that painted fan who isn’t wearing a shirt and who’s had a little too much to drink. But the disadvantage is you miss out on the experience of being there with all those other crazed fans. You don’t get to say, “I was there when…” Don’t you want to be there to watch God do an amazing transformation in someone’s life? What if the someone is you?
I know. Getting out of bed on the weekend is hard. It seems like a lot of work to find a healthy church. Items of importance require work. How much time did you put into researching your health insurance plan or your car? How long did you evaluate before you decided which job offer to accept? Those decisions are important, but they are temporary. This one can have eternal consequences.
Well, you have a starting point now. So open up your browser, and start your search for a church in your area. I’d invite you to mine, but it might be a terribly long commute. I’ll do this for you. I’ll pray for you to find God’s choice of a church for you. In fact, as I write this, I’m praying for you right now.
“Lord, show the person reading this their need to join with other believers at church this week. Motivate them to search for a church where they can learn, worship, share, serve, and love. Help them to find other people who will serve and love them. Don’t allow them to procrastinate. I pray that they will get started this very moment. Thank you, Lord. In Jesus name, Amen.”
 What’s so Amazing about Grace?, Philip Yancey, p. 11
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