A Good Local Church CLICK TITLE FOR AUDIO
What should I look for in a good church?
To organize the answer to this question practically, we have divided the answer into several sub-questions that you can ask concerning any church you visit or attend. These questions and answers are not intended to be divisive. Rather, they are intended to sincerely answer how you look for and decide upon a church. Many people searching for a church don’t think to go through a list like the following one in order to decide where they believe God would have them join. We encourage you to know these things before you decide.
Is the Bible being preached and taught as the words of God? This is a simpler question to answer than you may think. 1 Thes 2:13 says, “For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe.” For one thing, there is no doubt in the mind of a true Bible believer that God preserved his words in the King James Bible for English speaking people. It is perfect. So, if the KJV is believed to be the actual words of God then it is going to be preached and taught as the words of God. A modernist generally does not believe that his modern translation, or any translation for that matter, is the word of God. He may believe that the original autographs were the words of God. But they are all gone. So, he will not believe that any book today is actually the word of God. Consequently, he cannot preach and teach the word of God because he doesn’t have it. Listen for him to retranslate a word or phrase, to jump from one version to another, to refer to the Greek or the Hebrew [as if the originals were still around], or to look to scholarship for a proper interpretation. A preacher who really believes “the Book” would never do any of these things to the words of God. In a good church the Bible is the authoritative word of God.
Are all of the doctrines of Jesus Christ taught? Acts 20:27 says, “For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God.” These days, it is getting harder and harder to find preachers who will preach and teach all the counsel of God. We have people visiting here regularly who say something like, “our church preaches salvation but we never hear anything about hell or the second coming of Jesus Christ and we don’t get the sin preached out of us.” Listen, salvation is very important and adding a plea for souls to the end of any message is a good thing. However, there are a lot more aspects to the doctrines of Jesus than simple salvation. He is to be loved, he is to be feared, he is to be obeyed, he is to be served, he is to be lifted up, and he is to be honored, cherished, and preached. We are to fellowship with him, testify to others of him, pray to him, lead souls to him, read about him, rely upon him, and be strengthened by his grace, cleansed by his blood, sanctified by his presence, encouraged by his promises, and charged by his commands. And this is just scratching the surface. You can tell a lot about a church by whether Jesus Christ has the preeminence in the preaching. In a good church all the counsel of God is given.
Does the Holy Spirit have liberty? 2 Cor 3:17 says, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” In the church, the Spirit of the Lord is the one who gives the spiritual gifts to the body. He is the teacher, he is the revealer of truth, he is source of power, and he is the giver of fruit. He testifies of Jesus, he glorifies Jesus, he unifies the body, he intercedes for the saints, he sanctifies believers, he reproves of sin, righteousness and judgment, and he gives us understanding in the scriptures through inspiration. He never magnifies himself or his gifts above the words of God or the Lord Jesus Christ. That’s not all, but these are enough to distinguish whether his ministry is active in a local church or not. A good question asked by a preacher many years ago was, “What in this church would stop if the Holy Spirit pulled out?” The answer to his chagrin was, “Not much.” In a good church the Holy Spirit has absolute liberty.
Is God getting glory in the church? Eph 3:21 says, “unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.” The number one objective of a local church should be to glorify God. Of course, this glory needs to be properly balanced with edification of the saints and evangelization of sinners. Nevertheless, a church can concentrate on its mission so much that it fails to meet the prime purpose of glorifying God, altogether. Instead, men, buildings and programs get all the attention and whether God is pleased seems to matter very little [Rev 4:11]. It won’t take long to figure out how important God is to the church you are visiting. In a good church God gets all the glory.
Do the saints love each other? Jn 15:12 says, “This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.” Blessed be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love. Love for the brethren is so important that John questioned how a man could even love God if he didn’t love his brother [1 Jn 4:20-21]. But in spite of the direct command from Jesus and from his Father to love one another, there are churches all over this country strained by disguised hatred, gossip, evil speaking, malice, and disgust. If the folks in church are having trouble loving each other, then they are having a really tough time loving God, regardless how much they may say they love him [Matt 15:8]. In a good church the saints love each other.
Do they have compassion for the lost? In Matt 9:36-38, Jesus “when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them.” Compassion for the lost is one of the greatest motivating factors in leading sinners to Jesus Christ. The harvest truly is plenteous. Churches need to be laboring in the harvest and praying for more laborers to enter the harvest. You can tell if the local church you’re visiting is in the harvest. Members will bring visitors to church, visitors will be saved by the preaching of the gospel, and some new converts will stick once they are saved. In a good church the folks in the church are concerned for the lost.
Does the church give to missions? In Acts 13:2-3 and Acts 1:8, we see that our commission is to go to the uttermost part of the earth. The church at Antioch took this commission seriously and sent away two of their best men to spread the gospel to regions beyond them. They established a pattern followed by all New Testament churches who faithfully serve the Lord. If the church is doing the Lord’s business instead of their own, they will be sending out missionaries, supporting missionaries and praying for missionaries on a regular basis. Can you see any missionary prayer letters anywhere around the building indicating whether the church emphasizes missions? In a good church the folks give to missions.
Is the music spiritual? Col 3:16 speaks of “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.” Those are the categories of spiritual songs for the church. They are supposed to teach and admonish the saints so that the word of Christ will dwell richly in you in all wisdom. In other words, the singing teaches you and sets your heart up to receive the preaching of the word so that it will stay with you. Spiritual music will do that for you. Carnal and sensual music won’t. Look at the old hymns and notice how powerful the messages are in the words. Those songs really teach you something. Much of, but not all, modern music fails to teach and admonish. It is more like a concert. Putting personal preference aside, check whether the music fulfills Col 3:16 and Eph 5:19. In a good church the music is spiritual.
Are the youth and children’s ministries instructive? 1 Tim 4:12-13 says, “Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity. Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine.” While these verses do not directly address the youth ministry, they are very beneficial in determining whether a church is the right place for you family or not. In many churches, the youth ministry is a place to entertain the children while Mom and Dad go to church. The youth ministry ought to be a place where your children learn the Bible and practical Christian principles. It should be fun, no doubt. However, the fun should not supersede the Christian education. Are your children learning what they ought to be learning in these formative years of their lives [2 Tim 3:15]? In a good church children learn the Bible.
Conclusion: Now, if you check out a church based on these questions, you will have given it a pretty thorough examination. Then once you know the church is a good church, follow the leadership of the Holy Spirit in directing you to exactly the place he wants you to be. Don’t go to the church of your choice. Go to the church of God’s choice.