As a pastor I meet a lot of people who are looking for a church. One of the most helpful questions I can ask is, “What are you looking for in a church?” In one sense I hate this question because of the way it can reinforce our American consumer mindset. At the same time it gets right to the point. They are looking for something.
Then there is the other side of the spectrum, people who leave a church. It is basically the back door answer to the front door question, “What were you unhappy about in this church?”
What I have found is that most people do not filter what they looking for in a church through the Bible as much as through their previous experiences or personal ideals. Some of the most common things that I’ve seen in the last 10 years of pastoral ministry include the following:
- Besties: People are looking for other people that they have a lot of common with.
- Youth Ministry: People are looking for the church to provide a Christian network of friends for their kids.
- Children’s programs: People often look for the church to be the catalyst for family discipleship.
- Mercy Ministry: Some people want to be a part of a ministry to meet the physical needs of the community.
- Music: People look for a musical experience during the singing time of service.
But what if none of these things were actually the church’s job? What if we are expecting far too much and far too little from the church?
The church’s job is to preach, teach, and apply the Bible. We are to be faithful in preaching, discipleship, evangelism, and service. There are not directives in the Bible for various programs for children or certain types of music. None of these things are bad, however, we should be careful to place the same level of emphasis on these things as the Scriptures.
Consider also the pursuit of good friends at church. It is very good to have close friends, particularly from your fellowship. In fact, most of my closest friends are from our church family. But how do we pursue them? What is the basis for making friends? How are friendship sustained?
Many people think of friendships as those relationships where we have a lot in common with the other person. This is true, but what is the basis for this commonality? Some people will leave a church saying, “I can’t find people that I have a lot in common with.” This is a staggering and revealing statement. It could mean, “There are no Christians here.” It could also mean, “I am not a Christian.” And it could mean, “I don’t chiefly value my identity as a Christian as the basis for relationships.”
As a Christian it is to be our identity as a Christian that serves to be our chief identifying feature and basis for friendship. You have so much in common with other Christians. You have the same story (saved from sin and death), passion (the glory of Christ), struggles (sin), hope (coming kingdom), authority (the Word of God), etc. There is so much in common here! The problem is we often promote worldly things to the position that only the gospel should hold. Then we wonder why the church cannot deliver. In fact, she should not deliver worldly pursuits.
I am convinced that many professing Christians are simultaneously expecting too much and too little from the church. We are now in something of a “tail wagging the dog” scenario. Many people have expectations so church leaders aim to accommodate them. If one church won’t meet their preferences they can go to another. This becomes a significant long-term problem.
The church’s role is really quite simple: to make and train disciples. If we do this then we will create a culture where friendships grow out of the gospel rather than in spite of it. Other programs will see their rightful place in the life of the Christian. As Christians we should all work together to raise the gospel flag above the other markers of identity and heartily salute it then we would be well on our way.