Suppose you were forced to start looking for another church home, where would you start? What factors would weigh upon the decision of where you and your family joined? Do you have a check-list available to evaluate the ministries of churches in your area? With the ever increasingly disorientation of the religious community, many different styles and methods exist. Some major on things such as entertainment while others major on recreation. What are some things that should be considered when searching for a church home? This question hit home for me as my wife and I moved to Louisville in January of 2004 to attend the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. My wife and I searched many churches before finding one small church to be most biblical in their doctrine and approach to ministry. As we prayed about joining the church, God called us to serve at Van Buren Baptist Church, where I continue to serve as Pastor today. Although that frustrating experience of church searching occurred nearly three years ago, it recently hit home again when my family back home in Georgia felt God moving them out of their current church and they started the infamous church search for themselves. As I sought to provide biblical counsel to my family, I found myself evaluating essentials for a truly biblical church. Therefore, it is with this background that I have decided to put together a check-list of essentials for anyone who finds themself searching for a church home in the days to come.Essential Number One: Sound DoctrineIf a church does not preach what is true biblical doctrine, it should not be considered a true church of Jesus Christ. Titus 2:1 says, “But speak thou the things which become sound doctrine:” Sound doctrine should begin with a true presentation of the gospel of Christ and should move forward to true teachings regarding salvation, the church, the Scriptures, and various other doctrines contained in the Scriptures. While some things may be open for debate due to obscure passages or lack of passages, the essential doctrines of the faith are never open for debate!Essential Number Two: Expository PreachingCan a preacher effectively teach sound doctrine from Scripture in any other manner outside of expository preaching? I do not believe it is possible. While I do think that some studies or overviews of doctrines may not be truly expository – the overall aim of the pulpit ministry should be centered on expositional preaching. Topical preaching provides open doors for the preacher to evade important issues and doctrines that would not be so easily missed in an expository study. Expository preaching is a method of preaching and teaching that simply starts in the first chapter and verse of a book and moves verse by verse and line upon line through the entire book. During an expository study, the membership will be exposed to biblical doctrine, the history of the happenings in the specific book, and this will be more likely to leave lasting impressions upon the hearts of the church members.Essential Number Three: Biblical EvangelismEvangelism is not an option for Christians. Therefore, all churches should have effective goals for reaching the lost in their community and around the world. Matthew 28:18-20 says, “And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.” This passage is often called the Great Commission. It is where Christ commanded the disciples to go out into the world and preach the gospel of Jesus Christ.As Paul wrote to Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:5, he said, “But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry.” Therefore, all pastors and all Christians should be active in evangelism – all for the glory of God. Biblical evangelism is not where we seek to make our name great or grow our churches to earthly empires. Biblical evangelism is where we take the good news of Jesus Christ to spiritually dead people in order that they may live!Essential Number Four: Church DisciplineThe majority of modern church fellowships cannot tell you the last time their church experienced an instance of church discipline. This should not be a shocking statistic as we evaluate the many different health problems with our present churches. In Matthew 18 and other various passages, we see commands to discipline as well as explanations on how to carry out the important task.Dr. Albert Mohler said,
“Without a recovery of functional church discipline – firmly established upon the principles revealed in the Bible – the church will continue its slide into moral dissolution and relativism. Evangelicals have long recognized discipline as the “third mark” of the authentic church (Polity, Mark Dever, ed. pg. 43).”
Albert Mohler is quoting the 1561 Belgic Confession. Church discipline has been around since the days of the early church. We are commanded to carry out church discipline. Therefore, when a “Church” refuses to do so for (1) Numbers or (2) Money – they should be looked upon as a social club rather than a true Church.While most would consider church discipline a heart breaking event, it should always be done for the glory of God, for the purity of the church, and ultimately – for the restoration of the disciplined member. Therefore, it is possible to perform unbiblical discipline, and this should be avoided as much as no discipline at all!Essential Number Five: High View of Church MembershipChurch membership matters! Churches that do not respect the membership of the church become something other than what a true church is over time. The question should be asked, “What is a church?” The “Church” is a called out assembly of born-again believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. In Acts 2:47, we see that the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved. Therefore, no person should be a member of a church unless they are a genuine Christian.Churches that have a high view of church membership will perform proper counseling before accepting someone into the membership of the church. Furthermore, churches that hold to a high view of church membership will most likely expect members to become active in service to the Lord through the use of their own giftedness. All Christians are gifted with specific spiritual gifts, and they must utilize their giftedness within the local church for the glory of God.A church that holds a high view of church membership will not be involved in a large “church growth” program that seeks to gain numbers rather than true converts. Often church “growth” tactics water down the purity of the church rather than uplifting the standards of church membership. Therefore, a high view of church membership should be an essential aspect of a church body before joining!Conclusion:In conclusion, I will admit that this listing is not a full exhaustive listing of essentials of a biblical church. Many other factors regarding the leadership of the church, church polity, and other areas should be considered when looking to join a church. I would like to suggest three important steps prior to joining a local church.1. Pray. Prayer is essential in looking for a new church home. Therefore, I would suggest gathering the entire family together each evening and making this a point of prayer for your family as you request God to lead your family to a God honoring and worshipping church.2. Request a copy of the church’s constitution and by-laws. Read these official documents of the church and determine where the church stands on these important areas mentioned above and others that I may not have covered.3. Visit www.9marks.com to review a more exhaustive study on the “9 marks” of a healthy church according to Dr. Mark Dever and others in the 9 Marks organization.Additional Church Search Resources——————————————-Southern Baptist Church Searchwww.9marks.comThe below information was taken from: http://www.9marks.org/CC_Content_Page/0,,PTID314526|CHID616736|CIID,00.html [Accessed on 11-19-06 at 4:47 pm.]
The Mission of 9MarksWe believe the local church is the focal point of God’s plan for displaying his glory to the nations. Our vision is simple: Churches that reflect the character of God. Our mission is to cultivate and encourage churches characterized by these nine marks:1. Expositional PreachingThis is preaching which expounds what Scripture says in a particular passage, carefully explaining its meaning and applying it to the congregation. It is a commitment to hearing God’s Word and to recovering the centrality of it in our worship.2. Biblical TheologyPaul charges Titus to “teach what is in accord with sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1). Our concern should be not only with how we are taught, but with what we are taught. Biblical theology is a commitment to know the God of the Bible as He has revealed Himself in Scripture.3. Biblical Understanding of the Good NewsThe gospel is the heart of Christianity. But the good news is not that God wants to meet people’s felt needs or help them develop a healthier self-image. We have sinfully rebelled against our Creator and Judge. Yet He has graciously sent His Son to die the death we deserved for our sin, and He has credited Christ’s acquittal to those who repent of their sins and believe in Jesus’ death and resurrection. That is the good news.4. Biblical Understanding of ConversionThe spiritual change each person needs is so radical, so near the root of us, that only God can do it. We need God to convert us. Conversion need not be an emotionally heated experience, but it must evidence itself in godly fruit if it is to be what the Bible regards as a true conversion.5. Biblical Understanding of EvangelismHow someone shares the gospel is closely related to how he understands the gospel. To present it as an additive that gives non-Christians something they naturally want (i.e. joy or peace) is to present a half-truth, which elicits false conversions. The whole truth is that our deepest need is spiritual life, and that new life only comes by repenting of our sins and believing in Jesus. We present the gospel openly, and leave the converting to God.6. Biblical Understanding of MembershipMembership should reflect a living commitment to a local church in attendance, giving, prayer and service; otherwise it is meaningless, worthless, and even dangerous. We should not allow people to keep their membership in our churches for sentimental reasons or lack of attention. To be a member is knowingly to be traveling together as aliens and strangers in this world as we head to our heavenly home.7. Biblical Church DisciplineChurch discipline gives parameters to church membership. The idea seems negative to people today – “didn’t our Lord forbid judging?” But if we cannot say how a Christian should not live, how can we say how he or she should live? Each local church actually has a biblical responsibility to judge the life and teaching of its leaders, and even of its members, particularly insofar as either could compromise the church’s witness to the gospel.8. Promotion of Christian Discipleship and GrowthA pervasive concern with church growth exists today – not simply with growing numbers, but with growing members. Though many Christians measure other things, the only certain observable sign of growth is a life of increasing holiness, rooted in Christian self-denial. These concepts are nearly extinct in the modern church. Recovering true discipleship for today would build the church and promote a clearer witness to the world.9. Biblical Understanding of LeadershipWhat eighteenth-century Baptists and Presbyterians often agreed upon was that there should be a plurality of elders in each local church. This plurality of elders is not only biblical, but practical — it has the immense benefit of rounding out the pastor’s gifts to ensure the proper shepherding of God’s church.