Revive Our Hearts Podcast

How to Choose a Church

Leslie Basham: Looking for a new church? Here's Nancy Leigh DeMoss with an interesting thing to look for.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: Is this a church that is willing to kick me out? If I fail to keep my vows to Christ or to live under the authority of God's Word, am I in a church that is going to exercise Biblical church discipline and is going to seek to restore me?

Leslie Basham: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Monday, August 8th. If you've missed any of our current series called Who Needs the Church?, you can find out how to hear it on ReviveOurHearts.com. Nancy's told us about why the church is so important. Now she'll help us understand what to look for if we're ever required to find a new church.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: How many of you have had the experience of moving to a new location and having to pick a new church to attend? Probably ever hand, virtually every hand in this room. I've had that experience, and sometimes it can be a challenge. How do you know which church to plug into?

In most parts of this country we have options. In the New Testament they didn't have options. There was the church in Ephesus or the church in Corinth, but now we have lots of options. How do you pick a local church? What is a Biblical local church? Unfortunately, today we often approach that question with a consumer mindset. "What's in it for me? Do I like this? Does it entertain me? Is it fun? Does it have programs that I enjoy?"

Unfortunately, today our local churches have bought into this mindset that we have to entertain people. We have to make them feel good, and we forget that the goal of the church is to build up strong believers who can go into the world and take the gospel of Christ. But it's so important to find a church where Christ and His Word are honored above all else. Then commit yourself to it knowing it will have problems, knowing it won't be perfect. Commit yourself to a church where Christ and His Word are honored.

Now if you're looking for a church at this point or perhaps you're dissatisfied in your current church and you're trying to evaluate: is this where we belong? It's important to remember the things that are most important. Don't lose perspective. In order to know what things are most important, I think it's helpful to take a look at the early church in the book of Acts.

If you have your Bible there, turn to the book of Acts chapter 2, and we'll begin reading in verse 41. I want us to just notice some characteristics of the early church. Now we're just going to look at several verses here. If you go all the way through the New Testament you'll find other characteristics. What are the things that are important in the local church?

Here was a church that hadn't had time yet to backslide. This was the very early church. They were still walking with the Spirit, trusting Christ, loving God, meeting each other's needs. You get kind of a visual here of what an ideal local church might look like.

Acts 2 verse 41: "Then those who gladly received Peter's word were baptized" (NKJV). This is right after the day of Pentecost when God sent the Holy Spirit to indwell the church. That day about 3,000 souls were added to that church. So the gospel is being proclaimed; people have repented; they've believed the gospel, and they've been baptized not in order to be saved but as an outward sign of an inner transformation that has taken place in their hearts.

Let me just say, if you're a child of God it is very important as a matter of obedience to Christ that you follow your salvation with believer's baptism. It's an outward sign that you have been baptized into the body of Jesus Christ--for these new believers publicly identified with Christ and His people.

Now realize if these people believed and were baptized, that was their entrance into the church. Your entry into Christ places you in the church, places you in the body of Christ. And not just in the great big universal Church, capital "C", but in a local body of believers. As we said earlier in the series, there is no option. There is no conflict in the New Testament of being a converted believer in Jesus Christ and not being a part of a local church.

In this case 3,000 new believers were born in one day. Can you imagine what would happen in most of our local churches if we had 3,000 new converts in one day? We'd say, "Praise God, but can we handle it?" All these baby believers--what do you do? Well, we might look at what they did here because whatever it was worked.

Verse 42: "Those new believers who had recently believed in Christ and been baptized continued steadfastly" (paraphrased). They continued. They didn't just go down an aisle, sign a card, turn in their name, join the club and then drop off. They didn't drop out. The sign, the evidence that they had genuine faith was that they continued as part of the body of Christ.

We have these evangelistic efforts today where you have hundreds or thousands of people who make a profession of faith, and then you look a year later and you say, "Where are these people?" They're not in our churches. Well, one has to then wonder: Were they truly converted? Now going to church doesn't make you a Christian. But once you become a Christian, one of the evidences is that you continue in the faith as part of the body of Christ.

They continued steadfastly in four things: the apostle's doctrine, (that's the ministry of the Word and that's the number one thing that's listed here, the apostle's teaching or doctrine), the fellowship (that's community), relationship with each other in the breaking of bread (that's the Lord's Supper or Communion), and in prayers.

You want to make sure those four things are in your church--now again, not taking place perfectly. There will never be any perfect fellowship this side of heaven. But make sure that in your church there's the teaching of the Word, fellowship, the breaking of bread and prayer.

Then verse 43, here's the result: "Fear or awe or reverence came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles." It was the fear of the Lord that came upon not only the church but the lost world around the church. Everybody knew God is here. That's a sign of a healthy local church. There was the power of God at work in that church.

We don't have apostles today, and we don't have the same need for miracles that they had, for signs and wonders that they had in the early church when the gospel was being authenticated or validated. But we should still be seeing the power of God at work in our churches, changing lives by the power of the gospel.

Now verse 44: "all who believed were together and had all things in common." They were a family. They were a body. They were a community of faith and as such they held their possessions loosely. They were unselfish. They were more concerned about the kingdom and the family of God than their own stuff. So they were willing to share with others who had need.

Verse 45: "They sold their possessions and goods and divided them among all if anyone had need" (NKJV). Now this is not socialism. This is voluntary giving of your abundance to meet the needs of others. They were sensitive to one another's needs. They were generous in meeting those needs.

"And so," verse 46, "continuing daily." Continuing--we saw that word in verse 42. They continued steadfastly. Now in verse 46 we see they "continued daily with one accord in the temple" (NKJV). You're thinking, "Oh my goodness. It's all I can do to endure one day a week at church. Now you're telling me I have to go to church every day of the week if we're going to be like the early church?"

No, but I am saying that we need to function as the body of Christ daily. You can't just be with God's people one time a week and expect to be all God wants you to be. You need to continue daily with one accord, one heart with each other. "Breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart praising God and having favor with all the people" (NKJV – verses 46-47).

You see some of the characteristics were fellowship, community, oneness, joy, worship, and a good reputation in the lost world. Wouldn't it be incredible if that's the way it was today? The fact that it's not often that way today doesn't mean we should just throw it out or give up on it. It means we labor and serve and pray and plead with God to revive His church, to revive His people, to bring us back to that state of healthy existence.

Then we see in the end of verse 47, "And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved." There were always new converts coming into the church. The sovereign work of God--it's the Lord who added them as the church lived out the reality of their relationship with God and with each other.

In his terrific little book called Stop Dating the Church, Josh Harris suggests ten important questions to ask when you're choosing a church. Let me just run through those. He says:

"Is this a church where God's Word is faithfully taught--committed to the authority of Scripture?"

"Is this a church where sound doctrine matters?" Doctrine is not a secondary matter."

"Is this a church where the gospel is cherished and clearly proclaimed?"

"Is this a church committed to reaching non-Christians with the gospel?"

"Is this a church whose leaders are characterized by humility and integrity? Do they meet the Biblical qualifications for Spiritual leadership?"

"Is this a church where people strive to live by God's Word and are challenged to do so?"

"Is this a church where I can find and cultivate Godly relationships?"

"Is this a church where members are challenged to serve?"

"And is this a church that is willing to kick me out?"

You say, "What do you mean by that?" Well, it's important to know that if I fail to keep my vows to Christ or to my mate or to live under the authority of God's Word, that I'm in a church that is going to exercise Biblical church discipline and is going to seek to restore me. And if I refuse to repent of disobedience to the Word of God, it's important to know that I'm in a church that will dis-fellowship itself from me with the goal of restoration.

And then finally, Josh Harris says, "Is this a church I'm willing to join, 'as is,' with enthusiasm and faith in God? Can I fully and joyfully support this church's leaders, their teaching, and the direction they have set?"

Some might phrase those questions in a slightly different way, but these are the Biblical priorities. It's what you see in the Scripture and almost everything else is secondary and a matter of preference: size of the church, the style of the preaching, the style of the worship and music, the programs, whether they have a single's group or not, a women's ministry or not, small groups, whatever the format is. I'm not saying none of those things matter, but I'm saying they're secondary to the things that really matter, the things that matter most.

So if you're in a church, stop and thank God for the church where He has placed you in spite of its imperfections, its faults, and its flaws. Ask God to make it the church that He wants it to be. If you're not connected to a local church, go to the Scripture. Ask what are the characteristics that should be true in a local church where I can plug in my life, connect myself.

Then ask God to direct you to one. Find it, get in it, get connected, get involved, roll up your sleeves, become a part of that body and watch God help you and that church grow in your relationship with Christ.

Leslie Basham: Nancy Leigh DeMoss has been helping us develop an attitude of commitment when it comes to our churches. Maybe you know someone who could get a lot out of the list that Nancy read from Joshua Harris. If offers ten important questions to ask when evaluating a new church. You can get a free copy of Josh Harris' list on our website, ReviveOurHearts.com.

Maybe you're part of a local church, but you just can't seem to get very involved. Nancy will give you some good advice tomorrow on Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.

*Offers available only during the broadcast of the podcast season.

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