After my church’s most recent new member class, I reflected on the importance of choosing a church home. God designed the local church as the center of truth and energy for the Christian life. No other membership holds broader impact on a person or family than a local church, with many fingers of influence reaching into every area of life. Personal relationships, spiritual growth, wisdom for parenting, investments in marriage, the joys of corporate worship, fulfilling the missional purposes God gives Christians, supporting one another in suffering, mutual ministry of the Word during times of temptation, and the list of influences goes on and on.
The choice of a church home is the most important decision a person can make for himself or his family. Wise men and women feel the true weight and do not approach the decision willy nilly. You don’t want to play around with this one. With astonishment I’ve seen so many people transformed in sweet and beautiful ways simply by living as part of a biblical and healthy local church. I’ve seen their hearts soften, hope swell, vision for Christ expand, and careful ministry to others deepen. On the other hand, I’ve seen people choose poorly and regress in these ways. Now, that doesn’t mean growth in Christ comes automatic on the heels of joining a good church. Much work and investment remains. But the choice of meaningful membership in a well-rounded (though imperfect) church holds vast benefits and blessings in real life.
If you realize the need to take church seriously, let’s look more closely at four big reasons why your church choice is of immeasurable importance to your life, your spouse if you’re married, your kids if you’re a parent, and your community no matter where you live. Embracing these reasons (and more) will help us make careful and sober decisions about church membership.
Your church will establish the diet of your soul.
God designed the Church as the pillar and support of truth. The church exercises a God-given responsibility to minister the Word of God with practical and biblical wisdom. Under the leadership of qualified pastors and other church leaders, all members of Christ’s body receive spiritual nourishment. A well-balanced diet of truth gives the Church her strength, and this trickles down from the Church at large to local churches, and even down to individual Christians. Thus your choice of church membership and participate sets the diet of your life. If you choose a church that ministers the Word of God to the real issues of your life and world, in a way that bears fruit in your life, your spiritual life will blossom. But if you unwisely choose a church experience low on spiritual nourishment, your spiritual life will suffer.
When I attended college, my diet bounced back and forth between health food and fast food. Part of the year, my diet consisted of Totino’s pizza and Taco Bell. The other part of the year, while training with my team, I swore off all fried foods, soft drinks, and any related junk. Along with me, you’ve found changes in your diet make a noticeable difference in your life. The principle applies not only to our bodies, but also our souls.
The Lord Himself urges us to prioritize our spiritual diets. We don’t live on bread alone, but on the Words of God which nourish our souls. And the Apostle Paul reminds us that bodily discipline holds a little value in this life, but spiritual disciplines hold value also for the spiritual life to come. Combined with God’s good design to place the church central to our spiritual lives, the need for good spiritual nourishment demands a place at the top of our priorities.
We simply can’t afford to take our choice of church membership and participation lightly. No church is perfect, but some churches are better than others. Some churches are designed for the care and nourishment of souls, while others are not. If you’re looking for a church, be sure the preaching, teaching, counseling, and overall discipleship ministries of the church are valued and truth-focused.
Your church will help you set the temperature and tone of your home.
A popular cliché goes like this: as goes the king, so goes the nation. This little proverb expresses the impact of a good king. The king sets the tone and temperature of the nation he serves. We might leverage this cliché to express a similar sentiment about the impact of a good church: as goes the church, so goes the family (even if you live among housemates). Families who belong to healthy churches have an incredible advantage in caring for one another in their homes. A strong church teaches husbands and wives, parents and children, and even local communities how to relate biblically with each other. When the influence of sound shepherding and instruction wanes, family struggles can increase. Obviously, this doesn’t mean families who belong to healthy churches have no troubles at home, but that good churches consistently equip those families to navigate the commons (and even unusual) struggles of life together.
When my wife and I were young parents, we belonged to a church where pastors coached us, fellow moms and dads strengthened one another, and the ministries of the church supported our efforts. These influences proved wildly formative. I simply don’t know where we’d be today as a family were it not for the incredible investment of our church. We learned how to love, lead, follow, discipline, play, schedule, educate, and many more exercises in our family.
I look at my struggles and deficiencies as a dad and husband today and shudder to think of the exponentially bigger ways I would struggle without those godly influences. Being intimately involved in the lives of other families and they in mine produced an immeasurable benefit to our growth and sanity as parents of five kids and architects of a busy home. No Christian family can afford to play fast and loose with church membership and participation. What a family stands to lose by neglecting the influence of a healthy church looms large, and what the family stands to gain cannot be counted.
When looking for a church, consider how involved your family can dig deep. It takes a lot of intentional work and commitment to weave your family into the fabric of the church. But if you will dive in, the church will become woven into the fabric your family.
Your church will determine your approach to conflict.
Good churches don’t shy away from conflict, they run into it. Competent pastors, other church leaders, and good church members view themselves as first responders to the fires set by sin. When conflict arises or peace subsides, good churches take loving action. Despite flaring temptations to walk away from discomfort or sweep trouble under the rug, so we can get back to happy oblivion, healthy church members move toward one another for the purpose of peace.
A good church cannot operate as a country club, where comfort and ease reign supreme. At the country club, no one care about conflict or division or mistreatment. The club exists as a place of escape and forgetfulness, where everyone can put on a smile and drift away from the real world. When churches follow suit, cancer sets in. Unresolved conflicts fester and divisions grow, without the unifying effect of peacemaking ministries people cannot flourish in Christ.
Sometimes we blame conflict and division on what some like to call divisive issues. But in reality, there are no divisive topics. Topics have no power to divide. Divisive hearts cause division and conflict, not topics. Thus, we do not need to push down divisive topics. We need to raise up peacemaking people. The church also determines (at least in part) the development, strength, and flexibility of peacemaking muscles. An exciting surge of peacemaking churches continues today. Alongside the ever-growing biblical counseling movement, peacemaking principles spread to more and more churches every year. This spread means more and more families, who belong to churches who are serious and articulate about developing a culture of peace, will carry these principles into their homes, workplaces, and neighborhoods. Without the influence of peacemaking churches, conflicts and division will increase.
Most people struggle with peacemaking. Rather than resolving conflicts and division in biblical ways, gossip spreads, bitterness grows, and the distance between people expands more and more. You will always need help making peace, because it doesn’t come naturally to any of us. And for this reason, when looking for a church, you must explore the culture and practice of peacemaking. Does your church’s pastors and members simply overlook conflict in the hope they will resolve themselves? Is there an intentional, measured plan to bring peace where conflict remains? These kinds of question deserve a place in your search for a church home, and in your exercise of meaningful church membership.
Your church will affect your love for people.
God designed local churches as soil where His love grows best. The ministry of His Word nourishes the ground, the water of His grace hydrates our hearts, and love springs forth. No one can deny that the soil of love goes untended at times. Neglect stunts love’s growth. But when a church strives forward together in grace, love flourishes into a great tree, bearing fruit of every kind.
God’s full design for the church will not be seen until everyone leans into love. Therefore, healthy churches make love a major theme. The love of God for His world, the special love of God for His elect, and the love of God at work in His people are points of special interest in every good church. And this love lies at the center of all other areas of church membership and ministry.
Why do competent shepherds establish a healthy diet for the sheep? – love.
What affects a God-honoring temperature and tone between members of God’s family? – love.
What leads fallen people to prefer one another through the ministry of making peace? – love.
Love is supreme. It is no small thing to say, God is love. In fact, everything about Him and everything about His healthy churches rests on love.
Do you deeply love people? Not just the people who agree with you or support you or get along with you. But do you love people who oppose you; people who are not like you; people who our outside your inner circle? Do you love people who offend you or mistreat you? These are the hard questions of love. Love comes from God, and love grows through His Church, by His design. If you’re looking for a church, ask about love. How does the church stir up love? How does the church show love? How do the people love one another, even when conflicts and hardships arise? Do they bear thorns or do they bear the glorious fruit of love? This concern will ever be supreme because our Lord Himself assures us the world will know us by our love.
An article like this could run on and on. There simply is no end to the importance of making wise decisions about the church in which you will plant your life. Being a Christian in the modern world requires humility. Without humility, we think we have everything under control; we know everything we need to know; we have no need for help or change. The Word of God and our honest experience tell a different story. We each need a local church, and healthy local churches need you. Again, there is simply no greater decision a person or husband or parent or family can make than the choice of a church. For more help thinking about this topic or finding a healthy local church, visit 9marks and The Gospel Coalition. Both orgs offer great resources, as well as ways to find a healthy church.
On top of that, here are two books every Christian should read, one about finding a good church and one about being a good church member.