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What do I look for in a Church?

Lately Ive been trying to decide what Church is about for ME, basically trying to figure out what it is that I look for in a Church to decide if its a place I want to join and stick around, or dust my feet off and move on from. As I have been negligent in regularly attending anywhere for long at all these past several months trying to change that aspect of my life has caused me to really spend some time reflecting on exactly what it is that Church means to me, that is what is it that I am looking to find or what aim am I looking to achieve by changing this. Because of my background and the education and training I have been through, I can find the rightly divided word of truth in quite a few places outside the 4 walls of a church on a Sunday morning, I can find my own worship music, listen to or read a solid message or perhaps if the right person is speaking on the right topic I might be able to find a decent message on TV on some gospel channel or something. So for me, do I look for a church where the truth is spoken where I believe the word of God is correctly delivered and practiced? sure, but that’s not really my primary need or goal, as I just gave examples of, I can find that already on my own I don’t really need to depend on someone else for it, granted a great message spoken in a service that I attend is always great to hear, I love to hear my brothers and sisters in Christ proclaim God’s word to his people, especially if its about something they feel God has specifically burdened them to speak about, whether its a Pastor or some ministry leader. But I go, because what I search for, what God has given me need of is community and its something I cannot do on my own, no matter how hard I try it would be kind of ridiculous to try and produce that on my own, it sort of defies the very gist of what biblical community is.

  There is this word in Greek, that I cannot spell or speak but the Anglicized or “English” form of it is Koinonia. Koinonia is truly the best way to describe the type of biblical community we see described in the new testament as we read about the early, formative days of Christianity, and its more than just warm feelings towards some nice people you see once a week, its about an intimate sharing its about the same bonds that link each of us to Christ being the same level of connection that links us to one another as the body See we were built for it, in Christ our lives are made to be lived in community with God and with other believers…its integral to our spiritual growth. I think this is part of why small groups/life groups/cell groups/ missional communities, have become so popular in many areas, believers recognize this need for community in their own lives and they long to fill it. It’s not a new thing, but I guess since Ive relocated to a part of Georgia that for me, still feels, literally almost as foreign as another country, and I’ve not been really committed to and involved anywhere in a ministry or local body its become more pronounced a need.

  I love the amazingly accurate picture that is painted for us in the book of Ecclesiastes, about the pitfalls of going it alone. It mentions the strength that comes from two, as there is at least someone to watch your back, and then finally it speaks of how strong 3 can be, how its not easily broken and seems to me, to point out that to be the ideal situation. Take that passage and apply it to life, community is about more than just showing up on Sunday and singing some great songs to God and about God and then hearing a solid message…IF that is all it was about, all it was meant to be, then why bother showing up? the Pastor could just record the message and the worship leader could just throw in a few songs and mail a disc to everyone or you could all do some group Skype thing and when its over just close out the program and go back to business as usual…don’t get me wrong, being able to hear the message over and over again to sort of meditate on and more deeply understand it is great, and if your on vacation or otherwise away from home how great is it if your church has an online broadcast of the service? especially if its live. I don’t mean to go off into a rant or rave about community,and Im sure Ive posted about it before, but it’s just so vital, so much meant to be at the core of who we are as the body of Christ. Yet, as important as it is, and as much as there is a longing amongst many believers, for me this seems to be one of the most illusive aspects or features of Church today.

  Maybe its because social networking and smart phones have made us all a little ADD and we are so used to important things being conveyed in 120 or so characters or less that we have trouble establishing any kind of deep personal relationships that last over any reasonable period of time. Not that it’s the fault of the internet or any website, we are all responsible for how we use whats been put in front of us no matter what the rest of the culture says or does with or about it. But still, it is almost frustrating for me, to stick my neck out there, to try and establish some connections. I mean hey, just because that’s what I want, and I recognize the need doesn’t mean Im an expert on connecting with people or that I am perfect at meeting new folks and making new friends, because let me make this clear, despite having a bit of an extroverted personality and being well aware of this need in myself and others, and being convinced of its importance, it is something I have trouble with just as much as the next guy. Oh, and of course when your coming to any church for the first time, or the first time in a long time…or really any situation where you pretty much feel like the new guy that doesn’t know anyone but they all know each other, its even harder. I haven’t been perfect about it, there are times when I’ve been the last one in the door before service and the first one out the door after service, but on the other side of the coin, if you don’t feel a part of something, if you don’t feel connected, why would you want to stick around right? I mean we can all do that disconnected , by ourselves , thing on our own in the comfort of home or our vehicle right? no point in sticking around church to feel like that. I also know that for me its tough because in my age group I am finding it very common for most folks to be married and or already with kids. Now I know that doesn’t make you “dead” lol, but to a single person, looking for that connection with a group, that sense of community its a big red flag sometimes, because we know that you have other priorities, we know that no matter what we are always going to be the ones that have the greater need for the community than you and that there is a good chance you may not be able to be there, or to be as available, not that its due to a lack of trying, but hey lets be honest you’ve probably got community overload some days. And that isn’t a bad thing, a family is a blessing, a spouse and kids are wonderful and amazing blessings that fill our lives with rich challenges and rewards.

  Please don’t misunderstand me, this is not about calling anyone out or speaking ill of any local body or Pastor or church staff member or church member. It’s not about saying “church your just not doing good enough” Its just an honest observation, and I hope that if you’ve read this all the way to the end it has shown you a perspective that has caused you to evaluate how you deal with people in the body of Christ, or maybe re evaluate how you’ve dealt with some in the past. I know that is has certainly changed how I think of church hoppers and church visitors, or members who end up not sticking around for very long. I’ll end this entry with this :There is a document in church history, its something that was designed to educate lay persons on matters of doctrine and belief. It’s known as the Westminster Larger Catechism or “greater” in some readings instead of “larger” one of the statements made in this document is this: that the chief end of man is to glorify God and fully enjoy him forever (yes I did have to dust off a few websites and do some reading to remember that one) what better way can we both glorify and enjoy God than by , as he enables us, living out our lives according to how his word tells us we should, not just in the moral sense of how we live but in how we interact within and develop that Koinonia with other believers? Not only that, but it occurs to me that of all the vital and important things that I personally gain from being a part of a local body, that koinonia, is the one thing that I simply cannot have on my own, it is the one thing I most miss out on by being on my own.


Why go to church?

Image    We live in an age where information of any sort can be easily obtained, whether its factualresearch for a paper, the latest episode of your favorite TV show that you missed last week, you can just stop by some website or launch some special app and get what your looking for pretty quickly, or just type something into a search engine and get instant information overload on any subject/topic. The same can be true when it comes to church as well, with some churches hosting an “internet campus” or broadcasting their service live over the internet or TV, or even offering a recording of their service via cd or downloadable podcast. And of course you can download your favorite worship music from your favorite Christian major recording artist via sites like Itunes or Amazon music, or in some cases maybe even the worship band at your local church has put out a CD or MP3 Album. Take that combined with the fact that you can even find online/digital copies of the bible in almost any translation in almost any spoken language, as well as some study tools, you might find yourself pondering the question: “Why GO to a church service” ?  …I mean really, if you can find solid (or sadly even not so solid) teaching and you can find the worship and everything else online, why bother going some place? Is there actually a point or reason in gathering with other believers? is there even anything beneficial to be gained by not just doing your own thing?

This is an idea /question that I have been going over and over with in my mind for sometime now, being that I have had a difficult time finding a church that is both Doctrinally pure and accurate as well as culturally relevant without driving several hours out of my way. I am well aware of many churches around the country that have services that I can watch online or get a video podcast of, I could literally “go to church” without ever leaving my home or seeing another human being. I could even give my tithe and offering without even having to cut a check or stamp and envelope.

The thing is though…its NOT the same, there truly is this great and wonderful dynamic at play when the body of Christ comes together, in person, when there is human contact and words are exchanged between one another. I look for more than just a nice comfy chair from which to spectate a well orchestrated service, I look for somewhere that I can participate and be encouraged, where I can get that “Iron sharpening Iron”  experience. Something that in the anglicized Greek would be called Koinonia, or “communion by intimate participation”. Now I know that in the Church most of the time the word “communion” is used when referring to that ceremony in which we give special reverence and remembrance to what Christ did with his life and sacrifice on the Cross, with the bread (the body that was broken) and wine (the blood that was shed) (or in 99% of American Churches , grape juice). But the communion I’m referring to here is from the Latin communio which translates as “sharing in common”.

That my friends, that is the key, its that Koinonia, and to be honest its not just something I personally feel a need for, its something that is absolutely essential to being a Christ follower. I love the word picture of a bed of hot coals, if you take a group of coals, get them nice and white hot and keep them together they are useful, they stay that way for  a while and you can use them for things like cooking. But if you were to take 1 coal out of that group, set it aside, especially in a nice open, breezy, and cool place. You would see that in comparison to the other coals that are still grouped that one cools down rather quickly, and even if it didnt, it still has nowhere near the impact and usefulness it had when it was with the others. It’s still a coal, and for a while its still a hot coal, but it’s nowhere near the same as it was before it was removed. It seems to me, from my understanding of the bible that we are to be like those coals, and that without each other, with just our own “thing” we can never achieve that.