I used to be a waiter when I was 16. My first job was working for A&W in my hometown. It had drive-in car service and homemade root beer in chilled glass mugs. We had regulars we loved to serve, but we also had regulars we didn’t like at all. Diet Lady was one of them. She came every week on Tuesday and ordered 1 medium diet root beer and 2 coney dogs (since Tuesday was BOGO). She was nice enough, but she never tipped, that’s never, as in never. We made $2.85 an hour, and we relied on tips to even make the trip to town worth it. Being stiffed was a high insult.
One day I drew the short straw on the wait staff and had to serve her. I took one for the team since as a 16-year-old I was kind of a pushover for teenage girls. I’m sure when my daughters are teens times will not have changed. Ugh. But I digress. I had to take Diet Lady’s car. I knew her order before she even spoke.
“Hey there! A medium diet root beer and 2 coneys with everything?” I said.
“Yes, that would be great.”
“Alright I’ll get your order in.”
So I took care of her. I served her. I took her payment and brought her change. And when her headlights came on a after her meal I knew it was time for me to get her tray and she would leave. But I was shocked. On the tray was a folded up $20 bill!
“Wow! Thanks so much. I really appreciate it. Are you sure?”
“Absolutely, young man. You earned it. Have a blessed day.”
And with a cheerful smile she drove away. I was stunned. I had misjudged her. We all had. Here was a lady that just wanted to be served politely and quickly. And with my brand of service and sunshine, she got the full experience of what she came for and rewarded me.
As I carried her tray into the store, I took the $20 from under the mat on the tray. Then I felt something was amiss. Instead of the cotton fiber of cold hard cash, I felt paper. As I unfolded it where I should have seen a rectangle with President Jackson in the middle, I held a square bible tract.
My loathing of bible tracts notwithstanding, this memory has served me throughout the years. It taught me the value of tipping well and representing the Kingdom. It also taught me that sometimes no matter how well I serve others, I will always be let down. Whether my expectations are too high or a person I’m serving is ill-prepared to reciprocate, I will have moments where I end up with the short straw.
My time in ministry was no different. It was all too common for new families to come and spend some time getting to know us. They would go to dinner with other people in the church. They would be included and loved. The church would help them make connections for jobs, contractors, service providers, friends, and babysitters. They would hang out and share their lives. We loved them.
Then they would leave.
With the suddenness of a breakup, as leaders we faced this time and again. We would invest in a person or a family, and then we’d be scratching our heads when we were ghosted. Sometimes it took a while for those wounds to heal. Eventually, we just assumed that all people were rude or flakey until they proved otherwise.
I can understand why people behave this way. I’ve been on their end, searching for a church. I’ve encountered church community so radical that it was a little embarrassing. It’s so different to be loved radically that I didn’t know what to do with it. It was like meeting that special someone when you’re dating and they’re just what you’re looking for, but they’re a little too serious right out of the gate. You really think it could go somewhere, but you just met. So you duck out not wanting to face them and answer tough questions.
Sadly many people approach church like a service provider or a business vying for them as customers. If the church doesn’t stack up, <raspberries> thumbs down, poo emoji.
Christian, if people picked our lives apart like we pick apart churches and pastors, we’d be crushed.
Yes, church hurts are deep. I have my share of scars from church, so I understand. But friend, when you start looking for a church or when you find yourself looking for a new one, there is a healthy way to do it. If you approach it like a consumer, you won’t end up with the life-giving community church is supposed to be but rather an experience of God rooted in your own selfish desires.
Here are the questions you should ask when looking for a church:
First—why am I looking for a church?
Are you a new Christian without a church? Have you never been to church before? Maybe you’ve recently moved and you need a church home. Or maybe something has prompted you to leave your current church to look elsewhere.
Whatever your motivation, you need to get to the bottom of it, particularly if it’s the last one. Consider looking for a church like looking for a spouse. You should only be looking if you don’t have one. If you already have one, something is wrong and needs sorted out. Were you hurt? Did you try to reconcile? Is this a pattern in your life, bouncing from one church home to another in the same area? If so, consider whether your bouncing has more to do with you than with the churches you’re bouncing from.
Just like my friend who was single for a long time because he kept dumping really great girls, maybe you just need to look in the mirror.
Second—what is most important in a church?
This is where I want to turn to Scripture. Let’s look at 1 Corinthians 2:1-5. There are some key principles in this passage that we need to learn.
2 When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. 2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. 3 And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. 4 My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.
This passage outlines the 3 things every church should model.
- The single most important thing to find in a church is whether they routinely teach and model Christ and him crucified. Denomination, location, style, and even demographics are all secondary to Jesus. Yes, these things can serve the Kingdom as vehicles by which people are brought to Jesus, but the centrality of Christ in a church must be evident.
Ask yourself these questions: does the preaching routinely reflect Jesus and the work he did on the cross? Does the music reflect Jesus and the work he did on the cross? Do the lives of the people attending reflect Jesus and the work he did on the cross?The single most important thing to find in a church is whether they routinely teach and model Christ and him crucified. Click To Tweet
- The second most important thing is what the church’s approach Paul says he came to the Corinthians in fear and trembling, in weakness. Can you say that about a particular church? I’ve seen a lot of pride from the pulpit. In an effort to be relevant, some pastors have become brash, uncouth, or downright offensive. Instead of approaching people humbly, knowing they carry the responsibility of their flock’s eternity on their shoulders, some pastors end up as the star of their own show.
Ask yourself these questions: do I feel like the pastor is in this with me, like he or she too is a sinner made righteous in Christ? How elite is the community? Is there an in crowd? How focused is the church in reaching the least, the last, and the lost?
- The third most important thing is where the church’s power comes from. Paul says that his ministry, all his influence, was rooted not in performance designed by men but in power radiating from the Holy Spirit. When you go to a church, the presence of God the Holy Spirit should be evident in the preaching and in the prayer.
Ask yourself these questions: does the church feel alive or dead? (This is not to be confused with entertaining versus boring.) Does the church actively pray and expect God to intervene? Is the Holy Spirit actively taught or is the Bible held in higher regard? Would the church know what to do if the Holy Spirit showed up or would he be an interruption to their carefully crafted order of service?Would the church know what to do if the Holy Spirit showed up or would he be an interruption to their carefully crafted order of service? Click To Tweet
When you’re looking for a new church, remember this: the best experiences of love in your life likely didn’t happen on the first meeting. They developed as you grew in your relationship. Give any church you attend enough time to accurately and prayerfully judge it. Again, treat it like you’re looking for a spouse. You need time to get to know them. If you turn down a second night out because your date had a mole then the problem isn’t the mole.
What is your experience in looking for a church? Was it easy and you fell into it? Did it take time? How did you work through the kind of church you were looking for? Please comment below.