There's an old joke that says if you're looking for the perfect church and you find it, don't join it - or else you'll ruin it!
The point of the joke is easy to see. A perfect church simply doesn't exist. Every church consists of people, and it's all those people that cause the problems. Church people are often stubborn, selfish, egotistical, self-centered and ignorant - and those are just the elders!
God has chosen to build His Church with living stones of sinful people, but He is working by His Spirit to fashion each of us into His image. The Lord commands us to submit to one another in a community of believers for that purpose, so we can be trained in righteousness. This is a messy, imprecise process requiring faith, patience and humility – along with a willingness to accept others despite their weaknesses.
Sooner or later, circumstances may lead us to seek a new place to fellowship, and when that time comes, we're faced with many decisions. How do we decide which church is best? What do we look for? Where do we start? When finding your next church home, we might be tempted to draft a long list of must-have requirements, but in reality you need only three criteria to find the "perfect" church:
1. Does the church believe and preach the true New Testament Gospel? Not the prosperity gospel. Not trances and dances. Not a political speech. Not a rock concert combined with a motivational pep talk. The Gospel of Jesus Christ. And not only should the church embrace the Gospel in their statement of faith and creeds, but the Gospel should be evident in their approach to ministry. Most importantly, the Gospel should be written plainly and visibly on their hearts. If asked, can the church explain the Gospel to you easily and clearly? Not just the pastor and elders. The congregation. When you find a church where the folks in the pews can explain the Gospel properly, you've found a church with the right foundation (1Cor 3:11).
2. When the pastor enters the pulpit, does the congregation flip open their Bibles in anticipation of the sermon? A church body that expects the Bible to be taught in the Sunday sermon is a church familiar with training in righteous from the meat of God's word. This practice should be the norm in our churches, but sadly it is the exception. So when you look around the congregation, are people even carrying Bibles? Did the pastor's sermon teach the word of God with respect and reverence and a high view of Scripture? Did he attempt to divide the word of God rightly or merely toss out a verse here and there as window dressing for his three-point lecture? How a church approaches the word of God during the Sunday service will tell you all you need to know about their attitude toward the Bible and their devotion to the Lord. As Christ Himself said, "If you love Me, feed My sheep." (John 21:15-17)
3. Does the church raise up servants and leaders - including pastors - from within the congregation? Here's one we don't think about very often, but it's a key measure for the health of a body. Are new church's leaders identified and discipled inside the congregation or are they sought through resumes and search committees? When a service need is identified, does the church hire outside professional help or seek qualified church members? Who performs the worship music and sweeps the floors and cleans the bathrooms and mows the lawn: strangers responding to a want ad (who may be unbelievers) or church members trained and encouraged to fill the need? Does the church recognize that service within the body is a means to personal sanctification or does the church outsource their sanctification? Finally, does the church make a distinction between church staff and church members? The answers to these questions reveal whether the church is fulfilling its Biblical mission to equip the saints for the work of ministry (Eph 4:11-13).
Did your church pass all three tests? If not, here's how to respond:
1. If your church fails Question #1, you should leave immediately. No apologies or explanations required. You need a church that believes and lives the Gospel.
2. If your church fails Question #2, you should visit a few Bible-teaching churches in your area to discover what you've been missing. When you find one that passes these tests, strongly consider joining it. Every Christian should receive consistent, sound Bible teaching.
3. If your church fails Question #3, you may not need to leave, but if you stay your opportunities to serve in your gifting and grow spiritually may be stunted by your church's practice of drawing an artificial and unbiblical distinction between "staff" and "members" (or between "clergy" and "laity"), which is the Nicolatian heresy Jesus condemns in Revelation.
Keep looking for that perfect church, but when you find it...well, you know the rest.