Written by Madeline Twooney, Germany
Since giving my life to Christ nine years ago, l have been on a spiritual odyssey to find a suitable church for my family. I have been happy in some places of worship l visited, and misunderstood in others. I have borne witness to a congregation that glorified God and was Spirit-filled, and in other instances, ran away in shock as a church crumbled under pride.
My search is not over. I am still looking for a church where I hope my family will feel a part of. But what I’m beginning to realize is that perhaps no church will completely satisfy me. Perhaps the church will not achieve perfection until Jesus returns, and the bride finally marries her bridegroom (Revelation 19:7).
In the meantime, I am learning to worship with people whom l may not always share the same demographic, point of view, or worship style with. For ultimately, we are all children of God, united by faith (Galatians 3:26-28).
From my journey so far, here are some of the things I’ve appreciated about the churches I’ve been in and would love to see in any church I worship in.
First and foremost, Jesus is the cornerstone of the church (Ephesians 1:22-23). Sermons that are founded on biblical teachings and emphasize the truth of scripture and its continued relevance today are needful. Sacraments, such as baptism and communion are essential, as they allow people to experience the love and power of God in a very personal way.
I also appreciate churches that are committed to the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19). I’ve seen this happen through outreach projects or personal efforts of church members.
Acts as Light and Salt
Our broken world is focused on self-promotion, the latest material acquisition, or striving towards that “goals” relationship. We are called, however, to be salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16), living in the world, but not being part of its trends and pressures.
When churches teach their members to uphold moral and godly principles with humility through sermons, and exemplify it by the lives of pastors and other church leaders, this is carried through to the church members in their interactions with each other.
When we step into a church, it doesn’t really matter if people are wearing suits and ties, or ripped skinny jeans. But are church members squabbling over meaningless details, or are they interacting with love and grace? I’ve learned that we should take time to look at the hearts and needs or people we are worshiping with, and not be distracted by appearances.
Is a Welcoming Community
Another essential element of a healthy church is community. Community encourages us and supports us through life’s struggles. It is a haven of kinship from our daily interactions with people who might not know God. After all, as the body of Christ, we thrive in relationship with each other (Hebrews 10:24-25).
On one of my very first visits to a church, I was touched by how welcoming it was—my husband and l had coffee and cake in the kitchen with everyone who had attended that day. We were invited to the pastor’s son’s birthday barbecue for the following weekend, which we gladly accepted.
Yet, I know that how people behave on Sunday services isn’t always a good gauge. It’s hard for me to make new acquaintances during Sunday service, so I often look to sign up for a small group. In the intimacy of a small group, people notice and welcome you more easily, and there is more opportunity for mutual exchange. Friendships take time to build. As you start attending events, you will meet more people and over time, form meaningful friendships.
Holds Each Other Accountable
A church that practices accountability will recognize issues that can cause damage and open the door to spiritual attack. Such a church is not afraid to lovingly initiate hard conversations individually as well as on a corporate level.
I believe that this accountability should happen both at the church leaders’ level, and also among lay members. But I recognize that it is not always easy. For example, there are a number of women in my current church, including some in leadership positions, who wear clothing that could be considered inappropriate. It seems like modesty is an issue that needs to be kindly addressed in our church (1 Timothy 2:9-10), but I am still waiting on God to teach me how I can play my part in this matter.
Challenges Our Comfort
I appreciate it when a church challenges us in the area of spiritual comfort. I’ve heard someone call this “meat and vegetable” ministry. Everyone loves “dessert” sermons, where we learn about God’s love, peace and our gifts. We all need that balm to soothe our spiritual wounds. However, our spiritual growth is derived from discomfort: learning about spiritual warfare, confronting fear, being encouraged to serve even when we don’t feel like it, or loving others when their views differ from our own.
The church should not be afraid to challenge us. In my own life, I am learning that my own area of spiritual growth is fellowship. Shyness has often prevented me from building meaningful relationships. Therefore, l purposefully sign myself up for service ministries and small groups, in order to put myself out there and meet new people.
What Else to Consider
Though not strictly necessary, I really appreciate it when a church goes out of the way in service of the needs of their congregation. I remember the time my husband and l tried out a Spanish church. We were the only ones there who didn’t speak Spanish, yet the pastor brought someone up to the pulpit to translate just for us. I was touched by that thoughtful gesture.
I also value a church that encourages people to serve. One woman in our church recently approached the pastor with the idea to start a new translation ministry. Not only did the pastor thoroughly support it, but he announced the ministry in church and encouraged people to volunteer. Since we all have different gifts (Romans 12:6-8), churches should actively encourage people to serve and be open to proposals for ministries and other projects from church members.
Finding a church has not been an easy journey for me, but it has been an enlightening one. I have encountered various cultures, met people from different walks of life, and learned so much about myself.
If you, like me, find that your search is taking a little bit longer than expected, as in my case—don’t worry. Regardless of where we are, whether we have found our spiritual home or are still looking, God is always with us. And ultimately, that’s all that matters.