How To Pick a Church

We’re going to talk about what to look for in a church. And this is a very important topic.

People choose churches for all kinds of reasons -- some good, some really bad.

Examples: Tradition/upbringing; It’s where their friends go; Music; Programs; Cult of personality -- they like the preacher/speaker. He makes them laugh; They like the culture/atmosphere; The people are friendly; Proximity to their house; God told them/laid it upon their hearts.

So there’s all kinds of reasons, but we want to talk about the biblical reasons. And frankly, they are the only reasons that matter. if you’re wanting to find yourself part of a church that’s pleasing God, and also a church that will help you grow.

People find themselves being part of church, where, if they’re honest, they haven't grown in years. They’ve been stagnant.

Perhaps they grew a lot in the beginning, but they now find themselves drifting. Well there is a reason for that.

Now it may be due to the fact that the person is being unfaithful (or has grown lazy in their walk), but it might also be due to the fact that they’re not a biblically healthy church.

So in light of that, we want to talk about what a person should be looking for in a church.

Now these are not our thoughts, but rather, they’re biblically derived principles and standards. And so, we’re just interested in what the Bible says.

In fact, if it were up to me (MM), and based on my preferences, my ideal church would probably look very different.

However (or as MM says, howbutever), since we’re controlled by the Scriptures, our church is what it is.

Very little of it has anything to do with preference, but everything to do with what Christ has mandated for His bride.

Now, there is a lot of freedom when it comes to certain things within the church, but there’s also some very important non-negotiables. And these are what must drive (and control) the freedoms.

So we want to give some thoughts on what a healthy church should be, and therefore, what a person should actually be looking for in a church.

These are adapted from IXMarks (w/ commentary from Tim Challies).

We’re, then, going to expand with some of our own thoughts and commentary on each one of these marks.

IX Marks of a Healthy Church

(1) Expositional Preaching

“Expositional preaching (otherwise known as expository preaching) is the investigation of a particular passage of Scripture whereby the pastor carefully explains the meaning of a passage and then applies it to the members of the congregation. The point of a sermon, then, takes the point of a particular passage. This is in opposition to the topical preaching showcased in the majority of evangelical churches, where Bible passages are woven together to support a pre-existing point.”

Not all exegetical/expositional preaching is the same. And this is very important to understand.

There are various approaches to “expositional preaching.”

True expositional preaching is not merely “Bible-based” preaching. It’s not using the bible as a launch point to talk about whatever topic the preacher may want to talk about.

Further, some forms of expositional preaching might go passage by passage through a book, but it tends to be nothing more than a high fly-over. They’re giving a basic sense of the passage, but are quick to run to application. That’s their goal.

Other kinds tends to go more line-by-line (sometimes word-by-word), and are more focused on providing a full explanation of the text. The goal is to leave very little unturned.

These approaches will still have much application, but the goal is to give a solid understanding of the passage, not merely application.

All true application must be based on true understanding.

This approach never shies away from difficult sayings of Scripture -- for they can’t!

As a result, it can sometimes be uncomfortable for the people. The focus of this preaching is to match the tone and intent of the author.

So if the purpose of the passage is to give comfort, then that should be the goal of the preacher.

But if the purpose of the passage is to give a warning (or rebuke), then that is how the preacher ought to preach the passage.

This is not popular, but we would argue it is faithful. Much of Paul’s writings, for example, are written as correctives. So there’s a lot of rebuking that happens.

Don’t confuse Gospel-centered preaching with faithful expositional preaching.

Much of what is called Gospel-centered preaching tends to make quick application to the Gospel.

There’s obviously nothing inherently evil to this, but we would also argue that it is not necessarily faithful to the text.

The goal of true exposition is for the people to walk away with a solid understanding of the text at hand. So if the passage is a strong rebuke, it’s not wrong to remind the people of their forgiveness in Christ, but it can also take out the teeth of a rebuke by Paul or James. As a result, this why people do not necessarily grow as they ought under Gospel-centered preaching. It’s heavy on grace, and light on God’s mandate for true growth and change.

Further, people under Gospel-centered preaching tend to view expositional preaching as legalistic.

They’re not used to being challenged to actually obey.

There is something good when the people are left to feel uncomfortable at times.

Paul (and Jesus!) goal was often leave people hanging, and force them to wrestle with their words.

There should be a true wrestling with the text, as the people now understand it’s meaning.

This is where the application comes in. They should now be examining their own life in light of what was just taught.

As a result, true expositional preaching tends to be more implicational, rather than applicational.

As the people are taught the full meaning of a text, there are now implications for their life.

Applications always tend to be generic anyway. As a result, people are never truly challenged to consider their life before the text.

We would say, pick a church that leans toward a deeper exposition.

You should not merely know the pastor’s conclusion of what a text means, but you should know why that is his conclusion.

We’re not saying you have to know (and weigh out) every possible interpretation of a passage, but you should at least know why the pastor has landed on his interpretation.

Force him to show you (in his preaching) why He believes the passage to be saying what he thinks it is saying.

Right application (i.e. worship) flows from a right interpretation. If a pastor is giving a high fly-over, and then making quick application to the Gospel, you’re not going to rightly know all that God has told you through His Word.

The result is a vague Christian walk that is more or less the result of a church’s culture (or living vicariously through the words of a preacher), then what God has given through His Word.

Col. 1:9-10 - “For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience; joyously giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.”

Paul’s prayer is for the Colossian believers to be filled with knowledge. And not just knowledge, but knowledge that is controlled by all spiritual wisdom and understanding.

Again, this doesn't happen through vague, Gospel-centered preaching, but through a  deep exposition of the Word (week after week).

Refuse to settle for shallow expositional preaching. Look for a church (and pastor) who is resolved to systematically work through books of the Bible, but at a substantial level.

The depth of preaching will have direct correlation to the depth of your walk and Christian maturity.

(2) Biblical Theology

“This emphasizes not only how we are taught but also what we are taught. In a sense this should follow naturally from expository preaching because the careful exposition of a passage should lead to sound theology. The majority of poor theology arises from a lack of careful Biblical exposition. Where there is poor exposition, we should expect to eventually find poor theology.”

This is very true, but very rare today.

Most churches can’t tell you what their theology is. In fact, most pastors can’t tell you what their theology is.

Sadly, many pastors have discarded with the necessity to be formally trained.