“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” – Hebrews 10:24-25
Finding a church can be a stressful experience depending on your situation, background, or the location where you live. It becomes even more stressful depending on the circumstances surrounding you leaving your current church, whether those be good or bad. Recently, my wife and I moved so that she could attend graduate school, which meant that we had to leave our church. To say that leaving was painful is an understatement of all understatements. The people who attended our previous church were not just friends or fellow church members, they were family.
As the time to move to our new city was getting closer, I began to search online for Reformed churches in the area via Founders Ministry, 9 Marks, and Acts 29 (as with everything, use discernment when searching these sites; just because a church is on one of these sites does not mean that they are definitely solid). There were not a lot of options and we were not willing to settle when it came to a place where our souls were to be shepherded. In our area, we found three potential churches: two Presbyterian (PCA) churches and one Reformed Baptist congregation.
My wife and I are Reformed Baptists so, naturally, we visited that church first. Our biggest contention with this church was the fact that we would be the only young members who regularly attend the church. And when I say that we would be the youngest members, I am not exaggerating in the least bit. The congregation was primarily filled with congregants our parents’ and grandparents’ age, and it was mostly the latter. However, that would leave us with compromising our Baptist distinctives merely because of an age difference. To add to the complication, I was still in the Navy for several more weeks and had not been able to move up to where my wife was in school full-time. Consequently, she was left to attend church by herself and felt much more comfortable attending a church that we had visited several times and that had more people closer to her age.
We were not sure what to do and struggled with whether we were being selfish. The elders of our church at the time told us to not feel rushed in our search and all of our friends were praying. I know this sounds like we were overanalyzing this entire situation, but leaving a solid church meant that the bar was raised very high. The church that we were leaving was solidly reformed Baptist, had faithful expository preaching, and a robust community. In other words, we were not just being fed biblically and theologically, but relationally as well.
Fast forward a couple of weeks and I am finally living in our new city, attending job interviews, and ready to really dive deep into the decision of which church to become members of. We had visited one of the PCA churches and felt very welcome. The problem was that it was a huge church with multiple services and we would have certainly felt lost within the body. There is nothing wrong with large churches, but it was not something we were looking for.
That left us with the smaller and more traditional PCA church, where my wife had been attending without me, and the Reformed Baptist church. I began attending the Reformed Baptist church’s bible study and was invited out to meet with the pastor one-on-one. After having a discussion with him, I realized that we were judging the Baptist church prematurely. Our current pastor exhorted us to give this church several weeks of intentional attendance with the mindset of becoming members.
After receiving counsel from the pastor of the church we were leaving, our friends, and giving the PCA church a shot we realized how much we needed to be in a theologically like-minded church. Furthermore, we were convicted by our initial attitude towards an older congregation. How easy would it be to attend a younger church with lots of energy and slightly compromise on our beliefs? Pretty easy. Yet, by God’s grace, prayer from friends, and the wisdom of our elders, we were able to truly take root at Providence Baptist Church and become members.
I want to say this as bluntly as possible in the hope that many of you will avoid the mistakes that we made. Simply put, we made an idol of age and ignored the unity of Christ that we could have with an older congregation. To say it another way, to not attend a church solely because people are older than you is not much different than choosing to not attend a church because people have a different skin color.
I know at this point many of you are wondering why I am telling you this or why you should care about any of the things I have told you thus far. Well, my friends, it is quite simple: where you attend church really matters.
Where you attend church matters because that pastor and those elders will be shepherding both you and your family. We are not talking about picking a church based on “what is right for you,” but based on what scripture tells us is true. If it didn’t matter what church we attended, then we could have attended any of the overwhelming amount of Methodist, Episcopal, Catholic, or non-denominational churches in our area. This truth is of extreme importance and one that should be taken very seriously. A lot of the leaders of non-denominational churches in my past use to decry “church shopping” as an appeal to consumerism, as if you could treat churches like you would a different brand of clothing or a restaurant – take what you like and toss out what is bad. Ironically, these same churches were the ones that threw out the biblical teaching on how to “do church” merely for numbers.
That’s not what I am talking about. The kind of intentional searching I am referring to is making sure that your church is characterized by at least these very basic attributes:
This might seem like a no-brainer, but you would be surprised by how many truly regenerated Christians stay in churches that teach a perverted Gospel. Paul makes it very clear how serious it is to preach another gospel. In Galatians 1:8-9, he writes, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” In light of these verses, I ask a simple question: If the Apostle Paul said that those who preach another Gospel are to be accursed, then why would you stay and sit under their preaching?
You cannot attend a church that does not teach you the Bible. Contrary to what many in the broad evangelical world say, preaching the word is not optional, but is absolutely essential for a church’s life. As the author says in Hebrews 4:12, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Paul also gives explicit instructions for how elders are to handle the word of God in 2 Timothy 4:1-2, “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” Find a church that preaches the word, ignore the motivational speaking, and ditch the preachers who try to make the Bible about you.
If a church preaches the word, then biblical leadership should come naturally. Does the church you attend or plan to attend have a female pastor or elders? Then leave! Do they have a CEO pastor with subordinates who work for him but no elders of equal authority? Then leave! A biblical church must always be run by a biblically-qualified plurality of men called elders (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9; 1 Peter 5:1-4)
If your church does not exercise discipline, then your church does not care about your soul. In his book Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, Mark Dever rightly states, “Biblical church discipline is simple obedience to God and a simple confession that we need help.” Church discipline does not just protect the church, but it protects the members as well. Church discipline can be as simple as having members who admonish one another, to members being brought before the elders/church for discipline, to, even, excommunication (Matthew 18:15-20; 1 Corinthians 5:4-5).
It is without question that Christians are to have community in their lives. However, Christians are not to just long for surface level community that you can get at any YMCA or country club. Rather, we should long for a church with intentional, sanctifying, accountability-filled community. This means that we should not settle for just polite friendships or conversations. How many people in the Church body actually question you about your walk with Christ? Your holiness? Your study of scripture? Your marriage? Are you in relationships with people who hold you accountable and you them? Yes, our friendships should be fun, exciting, and filled with fun activities done together, but that should not be the only way our friendships can be described.
After several months of attending, my wife and I are now members of Providence Baptist Church and we love it. They hold to the biblical Gospel. Pastor Andy’s preaching is faithful and filled with biblical truth and a passion for the Word. The church is in the process of nominating deacons and the process of choosing elders will follow shortly after. The church practices biblical church discipline. And, despite our initial judgments, we are surrounded with such a loving and Gospel-centered community that is continually pouring years of wisdom and experience into us.
It has been and will continue to be a challenging change of pace for my wife and I, but name a relationship without challenges! Paul gives us insight into what our attitudes should be towards our brothers and sisters in Christ when he writes, “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality (Romans 12:9-13).” We should all strive to have genuine love for one another, hate what is evil, and grip tightly to what is good. Beyond that, we must love one another deeply and with brotherly affection. I love how Paul says to “outdo one another in showing honor” because that is what should mark our walk with one another. I admit that I struggle with showing honor to others above myself, but I pray that my life, not just 2018, will be marked by loving others above myself and that will start with loving those who are not the same age as me.