If you were to construct your image of the perfect church, what would it look like?
We live in an age where preference rules. Today’s culture values personal choice so highly, it prevents many from committing to real priorities. Fifth marriages, live-in lovers, quick flings often characterize our restless society while commitment is at an all-time low. Sadly, many Christians allow culture of personal preference to influence their idea of a perfect church. As a result, many treat their church like a beloved spouse during the honeymoon stage, but when the romance wears off they trade up for something new, driven by preferences rather than priorities. Should personal preference be the deciding factor in committing to a local church?
The problem with preference is, I look for what satisfies me. Single adults have a slew of preferences for an ideal mate – personality, beauty, love, laughter, wealth. We may have similar expectations for a church – contemporary music or traditional hymns, youth activities, personable preachers or a fancy facility. The reality is if we focus on preferences, we’ll never be content or committed to our local church.
The solution to a preference-driven church mentality is not to compare a new “me” for a healthy church. When we do this we are able to focus on our church’s central strengths rather than its weaknesses. We will be able to determine if our church might be falling short. We will be able to establish reliable criteria for finding a healthy church. The important priorities are God’s priorities.
First is worship, which involves shifting our entire focus from ourselves to God, giving Him the glory He alone deserves (Rev. 4:11; 7:12). The very first church in Jerusalem modeled this brilliantly. They continually devoted themselves to teaching and prayer (Acts 2:41), praised God with gladness and sincerity of heart (vs. 46), and responded to God’s works with awe (vs. 42). Our worship is not “me-centered” but God-centered.
Second is instruction, which is rightly teaching the whole Word of God as the final authority in matters of faith and practice. The first church was devoted to the apostles’ teaching. The apostles then instructed the next generation “to give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching” (1 Tim. 4:13). For a healthy church, instruction in God’s word is a non-negotiable priority.
Third is fellowship, which consists of close, spiritual relationships with fellow believers in the local church. Again, the early church gathered for instruction and worship, expressing deep love and care by meeting each other’s needs (Acts 2:42-45; 4:31-37). The Hebrew writer said, “Let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together….but encouraging one another.” (Heb. 10:24-25). To grow in Christ we need each other. We grow together. For a healthy church, Christ-centered fellowship in the unity of the Spirit is a top priority for each Christian’s growth.
Fourth, and finally, evangelism, which is sharing the good news of Jesus’ death for our sins and that He arose from the dead for others. The first church made spreading the good news a priority (Acts 2:40-41), preaching the free gift of eternal life to others. We cannot wait around for others to come to us, it is our priority for us to seek opportunities to teach others.
Are you struggling with your local church commitment and tossing around the idea of looking for something that better fits your preferences? Look at our model. Look at the strengths not the weakness of the local church that follows God’s priorities. These four priorities of a healthy church will give each one a place to start as each sets his or her sights on a local church that please God rather than men.
by Rickie Jenkins