Finding a church can be one of the most grueling, strenuous, arduous, laborious, harsh, stressful, and complicated processes for Christians.
[See how many synonyms I used there? That means it’s real hard.]
Even though leaving a church to find a new one sucks a whole lot, sometimes you just have to do it. My husband and I found ourselves in this type of situation about a year ago. So I'm speaking from first-hand experience here. Which brings me to my list of 5 things I need in a church. That’s right—a list—of 5 things.
NOTE: This is my list. Maybe yours is a little different, but these are my Top 5.
#1: Law and Gospel
You’d think this would be a given. Unfortunately, it’s the most common theological concept where most churches epically fail. Some churches get it so wrong it's as if they are launching themselves off the cliff of logical thinking, only to tumble down the ravine of preaching what I feel like, and land head first into the pit of absolute foolishness. In other words, confusing Law and Gospel is real bad. Real, real, bad. Why is it so bad, you might ask?
Look at it this way: I have “Church A” who preaches a Law for saving. Sometimes that saving may be for justification and other times it may be for sanctification. Either way, both are just wrong. Christ is our justification AND our sanctification (1 Corinthians 1:30). To put it plainly, if something affects my relationship with God, then it must be added into the justification column. However, when that something (which affects my relationship with God) is anything other than simple Gospel promises, you’ve found yourself in attendance at the “Deserting Christ” Convention, and no one wants to be there (see Galatians 1).
Then I have “Church B” who mixes a dose of Law into their Gospel slurry by saying things like, “Christianity is all about your behavior” or “the reason God saved you is to (insert Law statement here).” No, thank you! Christ saved me so that I will be found holy and blameless and above reproach (Colossians 1:22). Period. Whether you're part of Church A or part of Church B, you leave the service every week with your consciences in a twisted hot mess. Not good.
#2: Christ-Centered Worship
I know, I know—I’m a Worship Leader—of course, this would be on my list.
But I honestly do need Christ in the preaching, and I need Christ in the worship. I don't need an hour of songs about me and my manifold destiny or all the things I'm going to commit to God. That is pretty much just worshiping myself. And there is only ONE man who deserves praise, and He will be praised for all eternity (Revelation 5:11-14).
Sing to the LORD a new song; Sing to the LORD, all the earth. Sing to the LORD, bless His name; Proclaim good tidings of His salvation from day to day. Psalm 96:1-2
#3: Biblical Leadership
I need a church with a group of elders where none is greater than another. Genuine plurality usually helps to prevent the dictatorship of an insane person at the helm. Sadly, I’ve been a part of a church where this unimaginable horror happened. That pastor took Scripture out of context, taught what he shouldn’t have taught for his own shameful gain, and beat down his congregation with the Law every week without any Gospel to lift them up. And there was nothing anyone could do about it. He was the “man of God,” and in this Law-heavy culture, you don’t question the “man of God.” Because it sucked all the life out of us—we left.
We all need a pastor who knows the Bible well, is apt to teach, and who is accessible to the congregation to—you know—TEACH them. A narcissistic pastor who lives in a walled castle doesn’t speak “servant” to me (I don’t know, maybe I’m weird).
I also need elders who love me and have compassion for me, who aren’t surprised by my sin and will continually feed me Christ and His forgiveness, execute church discipline when necessary, and are wise enough to know when it is, in fact, necessary. I need elders who are humble, gentle, peaceful, sober, hospitable, not greedy for gain, self-controlled, lovers of good, upright, spiritually mature, and examples to the congregation, who are faithful, good stewards, loving their wives and children well.
#4: Evangelism and Outreach
I need a church that preaches the Gospel to all sinners (which is everyone, including me) and who loves every brand of sinner there is (including me). I need a church who loves sinners deeply and passionately, who give freely to the poor and needy, and who doesn’t judge because they know they are just as terrible as everyone else.
#5: Lastly—People Who I “Mix” With
“Mixology” might seem silly or unnecessary (or even blasphemous to some), but I want a church where I honestly like the people, and they like me too. The fact of the matter is, I have a few very visible tattoos and pink hair. I'm a woman, but I'm loud and boisterous and highly opinionated. I don't fit in at a lot of places. There are many churches where my mere presence would cause division. I need a church where the people love me for who I am, who will be a part of our lives so closely that to remove one of us would be crushing. I need a church with people who will bear my burdens and who will let me bear theirs too. Messy people love messy people—and I have a lot of mess for people to love. Do you get what I’m saying here? I need a church full of sinners who are close enough to press my buttons and remind me that I'm a sinner too—but with good news about the Savior who SAVES sinners.
And that concludes my list of 5 things I need in a church. I hope you enjoyed it. I certainly enjoyed getting my list on. And for all of you hurting people out there having to go through the process of finding a church—I feel you—I was you. But the best news is that Christ sees you. You are not alone no matter how alone you might feel. And soon, this exhaustive search will come to an end, and you’ll find a church you can nestle in and everything will continue to be messy and hard and sometimes even suck. But it will also be beautiful and full of Christ’s unending love and grace. I’ll be praying for you, but please be praying for me too. Because I DID find THAT church, and guess what? It’s still not perfect—but it's forgiven—every Sunday.
Mariah is a mother and musician. She loves music and theology and the intersection between the two. She is wife to Daniel and mother to Clara and Amelie. She lives in Rogers Arkansas.