If I’m going to join your church, there’s some things I’ll need to know first. I need to know whether you practice a Christianity that’s primarily a to-do list. Do you emphasize the Christian and his performance? After all, if I don’t do the right thing and avoid the wrong things how will I know what God thinks of me? God is a God of justice. Obedience to his commands matters.
Similarly, I’m looking for a church that teaches a philosophy of love. Something I can hear and learn about, then go and put into practice. I’m a big believer that people will know we're Christians by our works of love. It also helps me track my progress, whether or not I’m living a godly life.
As far as sermons, I really appreciate a pastor who likes to talk in the pulpit about Jesus’ example of holiness and godly living. I also think it’s important that a pastor not be afraid to point out the people who consistently skip morning devotions or Sunday church. They’re real example of sin after all. Faithless and disobedient people. What’ve they done to merit salvation anyway? Nothing. On the other hand, I don’t need to be beaten over the head about grace and gifts and all that business every week. I’ve heard it plenty by now. I've grown up in the church. There's nothing I haven't heard. That’s why I left my last church, by the way. Too much unrestricted Gospel preaching to people who, I know for a fact, didn’t earn it or deserve it. What I'm looking for is more emphasis put on my choices and performance.
I know, in the right church, I can become an authentic disciple of Jesus. I’m looking for a place where people appreciate the difference between Christian successes and failures. A Christian community where the spiritually elite are honored and the ordinary ignored. A congregation that doesn’t have patience for people’s emotional outbursts. I guess what I’m saying is, I’m looking for the kind of church that understands how motivating the threat of rejection, scorn, and eternal judgment can be for a Christian’s journey.
I know authentic disciples may stumble (because other people tempt them), but they never fall. And most important, they don’t have to keep coming back to Jesus. Jesus was victorious, and he’s empowered every sanctified Christian to follow his example.
I don’t have time for sad Christians, or phony Christians, or Christians who constantly need God’s affirmations. And the ones who insist on hearing they're forgiven, given life, and have already received salvation every Sunday are too self-absorbed by their own problems. They lack unconditional seriousness. They’re too in love with their own personalities.
The church I’m searching for will encourage me to keep growing in faith and to avoid failure. That being said, I don’t think I could submit myself to learning about true faith and obedience from a pastor that’s not an important person. A televangelist, or a charismatic superstar, or at the least a local church hero. If people view him as someone worth listening to, then I know I can trust his wisdom. Likewise, I’ve got too much to lose to bind myself to a pastor who doesn’t dissociate himself from shame, fear, guilt, and blame, and who doesn’t keep horrible sinners at a distance.
Finally (I say this with all humility) you’d be blessed to have me as a member. I’m not against huffing and puffing to impress God. You can count on me always to be scrambling for brownie points with the Lord too. I know what matters most for the Christian life. You don’t have to worry about the type of people I’d bring to church with me ether. I don’t associate with failures or irreligious and immoral people. I know those people can’t enter justified into God’s kingdom.
I’m looking to join a church that knows the truth. That God’s kingdom belongs to people who’re trying to look good and impress everybody, even themselves. I want to be amongst Christians who are focused on how important it is to call attention to themselves: their faithfulness, love, and good works. Committed Christians who worry about how their actions will be interpreted and worry whether God will give them gold stars for their behavior.
If this describes your church, I’m ready to join!
Donavon Riley is a Lutheran pastor, conference speaker, author, Online Content Director for Higher Things, a contributing writer at 1517 Legacy Project, Christ Hold Fast, and LOGIA. Pastor Riley co-hosts the podcast: 'The Higher Things Simul Cast'. He is pastor of Saint John Lutheran Church in Webster, MN. A graduate of Concordia Universities in St. Paul, Minnesota and Portland, Oregon, Pastor Riley received his seminary and post-graduate education at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. He colloquized into the LC-MS from the ELCA in 2008. He is married to Annie, and is the father of four children: Owen, Alma, Hoshea, and Hallel.