First of all, good luck. I am about to offend a few of you, but there just aren’t that many real Christian fellowships out there.
How do I know this? Well, let’s see: Bruce Jenner would be a good place to start. Whenever you pile up your groceries at the supermarket check-out and you see not one, but two headlines celebrating “Bruce’s Amazing Journey,” then you might conclude, “hey! People aren’t going to real churches anymore, are they?”
Or you might hear Nancy Pelosi describing herself as a “Catholic,” and you might think, “that’s weird! The priests really aren’t pointing out baby-killers these days. What happened?”
And when Hillary Clinton talks about her “prayer warrior” circle of friends, you can be forgiven if a coven of witches comes to mind. (What would they be praying about? ‘Lord, we just lift up Hillary and we just ask that everybody forget about the dead ambassador?’)
The church isn’t really changing our national culture for the better anymore, so you shouldn’t be surprised if, on a local level, the pastor’s son looks vaguely dangerous, unable to remove his earbuds during his father’s scripture-free “sermon” on “looking for the good in everyone.”
A few guidelines:
- Look for a place that preaches the sovereignty of Jesus Christ, the son of God, who came into the world, born of a virgin, led a sinless life and died for the salvation of mankind, offering redemption to those who believe on His name and do His will.
- In order for a church to really preach #1, they have to believe that “sin” really exists, that it’s a problem, that it makes people really yucky and not fun to be with, that it separates them from God, and that people actually do need a savior. This gets uncomfortable. Get ready to feel judged. It’s absolutely unavoidable — unless, secretly, you think you are a wonderful person, and then you need to find another church — one that celebrates your inner god. (There are lots of those, so you shouldn’t have any trouble..)
- Look for a church that wants to change the world for the better. If your church preaches “it’s all really bad and it’s going to get worse and you can’t do anything about it, and then after that it gets even worse, but that’s all to be expected, because it has to get worse,” well, a little hint: your kids are going to get really depressed. If your kids start watching Lena Dunham on HBO, by way of cheering themselves up, it’s a pretty good indication you are in a bad news, not a “Good News” church. Get out. (Hint: be on guard for too many prophecy, “Blood Moon,” and “Left Behind” confabs..)
- Look for a church where the men really look like men and the women really look like women. If the men are all lispy and sensitive, and the women wear shapeless gowns and seem capable of ordering their men to the parking lot with a stiffening of their eyebrows, look somewhere else. You may have landed in pietist central.
- Speaking of that, any church that is hung up on wine or beer or pork or dancing or movies, any church whose pastor can’t quote Song of Solomon without whispering and gulping, well that’s not just the robust army of King Jesus on the march. You can overdo the gin and cigar thing, certainly, but I wouldn’t trust any pastor who would feel uncomfortable hanging out at the pub with C.S. Lewis or JRR Tolkein.
- Christ never gave a commandment: “make sure your boys buckle their trousers so high you can see the top of their sock line and make sure the girls exude joyless disdain for makeup and fashion.” Studiously nerdy looking attire is a sign that someone is proving something. We are saved by grace, not by gracelessness.
- Your pastor should be a learned, smart, funny, compassionate man, who applies the Bible and church history to all walks of life. He doesn’t have to hang glide or rock climb, but he shouldn’t look like he’s been moldering in the root cellar of a monastery either.
- Your church should be unafraid to apply the gospel of Christ to politics, culture, art, music, construction, and everything else under God’s blue sky. Name names. Be specific without being dogmatic, hard hitting without being legalistic. A Jesus who only speaks to worship is a Jesus that can’t save. Jesus is the great King of all Creation, the Lord of Hosts, the Prince of Peace. If you hear the words “Jesus doesn’t care about that,” clear out of there. You are in a “small jesus” church.
- It’s a good sign if you want to be with your church fellowship on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday — as well as Sunday. If you can only take each other when “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” is being sung, you probably can’t mend tents together or build a kingdom together. If you couldn’t start a business with a fellow member of your church, you might not be able to share heaven with them either.