Just been chatting to a pastor friend. In the course of conversation he said he is often asked by students moving on from his church at the end of their studies where he would recommend them to join up with in this city or that city.
If you were to have 10 check-boxes to help someone evaluate a biblical, missional, kingdom-extending church, what would the content of those boxes be? What things, though important, would you think are secondary and leave out? And what secondary things do you find so desirable that they ought to at least have a say in the evaluation? And how many boxes out of 10 would you say they need to be able to check for you to be comfortable with them going there? Feel free to leave some comments on what would be in your definition.
When you have your boxes, the real question is how many of them does your own church tick?
Mark Dever famously has his 9 marks that he says shows a local church reflects the character of God. They are:
1. Expositional preaching
2. Biblical theology
3. Biblical understanding of the good news
4. Biblical understanding of conversion
5. Biblical understanding of evangelism
6. Biblical understanding of membership
7. Biblical church discipline
8. Promotion of Christian discipleship and growth
9. Biblical understanding of leadership
It is an interesting list. There are all kinds of things it doesn't contain. No mention of a theological system, other than "biblical". No mention of particular activities, of what constitutes biblical fellowship (maybe that is the membership bit), social action, what to expect on a Sunday. I would be tempted to put number 8 at the top of the list. Would you put those things in or leave them out? How many does my church tick? Not all of them.
Maybe in thinking through where we would recommend for other people there is a helpful evaluative exercise for spotting the weaknesses in our own fellowships that we are otherwise blind to. By what criteria would people recommend others to come to us? And are we happy with those criteria? Is "go to that church because of its excellent preaching ministry" a sufficient criteria? Or because its kids activities are the best in the area, or because it has its theology right?
Not easy questions. I am certain of one thing, however, and that is a particular criteria you should never choose on: will I feel comfortable and at ease? (not in the sense of feeling at home, but in the sense of it being a place where the discomfort of really living the gospel won't impinge upon me). Far too many people get to the point where church is their unchallengeable comfort zone, the one place in the week where they feel no demands are made on them, there are no expectations of them participating in the fulfilment of vision. Churches should be continually restless, continually changing to meet the challenges of a fresh world, continually pushing new boundaries.
A little while ago someone told me that people go to their church because they like the way that church has always done things stylistically. They used this to argue that the church should never, ever change from that cultural style (mid-70s Kendrick) because it was clearly style that was attracting people. A classic example of someone baptising their comfort zone and looking for a way to reinforce it. Thankfully most people currently being attracted to that church are going because of biblical preaching, evangelism and mission and being attracted despite the cultural style. It will change eventually, but I hope that person sees the light before they are forced to confront the fact that there is a difference between biblical church and "what makes me feel comfortable."