How to Choose a Church
About the Guest
Churches come in all shapes and sizes. How do you pick one just right for your family? Find out today on the broadcast when best-selling author, Dennis Rainey, gives some pointers on choosing a church.
Dennis Rainey gives some pointers on choosing a church for your family.
How to Choose a Church
Bob: It takes more than you and your mate and your kids for a spiritually strong family to develop. In fact, it takes the Christian community, the church, to grow a spiritually strong family. Here's Dennis Rainey.
Dennis: We need other people to encourage us, to hold us accountable, to forgive us, to put their arms around us when we fail, and provide healing, grace and concern, and I think this is going to become even a bigger and bigger issue in the future as the culture becomes more hostile to what Christians believe.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, August 8th. Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. Your family won't become spiritually strong unless you're plugged into a healthy local church.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Tuesday edition. When Mary Ann and I first started dating, one of the first things that we did, because both of us were Christians – or at least I thought I was at the time – we decided that we would go to church together on Sunday.
Now, Mary Ann had grown up in a Catholic church, I'd grown up in a Presbyterian church, and since Mary Ann had gotten to college, she'd started going to some Baptist churches, okay, so we had that as kind of our background, and we decided we'd start visiting some churches together. And, Dennis, we spent the next two and a half years, as we dated, trying to figure out where it was that we should go to church together. It was a challenge for us and yet we recognized that if we were going to grow spiritually as a couple and ultimately after we got married, obviously, that was a significant priority, church had to be a big part of that.
Dennis: All this week we're talking about the subject of growing a spiritually strong family. Barbara and I have written a book that's a quick read. It's designed to just catch the essence of how we can begin to grow as a couple and as a family in our relationship with our God.
I look back, Bob, just as you were reflecting, upon our early years together as a couple and, for us, we didn't date that long so we didn't have a chance to have many arguments. We only dated for 12 weeks, but when we first got married, this was one of the areas where I believe we made some of our biggest errors, some of our biggest mistakes.
I underestimated – and here is my confession – I underestimated the power of a great church in the life of a newly married couple. And so for several months we were what I would call "samplers." We sampled churches but didn't go anywhere. I think one of the most important things a young married couple can do is to make your decision as soon as you can get all the data and all the facts together.
Now, I wouldn't encourage you to make just a quick decision just so you make it, but sampling churches and church hopping and going from church to church thinking that that is going to satisfy the longing of your soul is not going to work.
Then we became what I would call "attenders." We moved from "samplers" to "attenders."
Bob: So you locked in on one particular church and said, "This is where we're going to go."
Dennis: That's right, and because we attended Sunday morning and occasionally participated in some of the other outreaches, we thought we were truly experiencing what the local church was designed to do for us as a couple. But we missed it. We were just like a spectator at a football game. A spectator enjoys the game, he can get a lot out of it, obviously, his team wins or loses, but if you really want to get the most out of a game, you need to be close to the sidelines if not on the field.
Bob: Yes, you need to strap on some pads and put on a uniform and get out there and play.
Dennis: That's exactly right, and so when we moved from sampler to attender to being committed and involved, that was when our church experience dramatically changed and, I might add, it's when we really took off growing as a couple. The problem was it was some six years into our marriage before that really happened.
Bob: You talk about the need to lock in on this decision as quickly as possible without making it casually. You've run into couples where the church backgrounds are so distinctly different when they do get married, and they try to come to oneness in this crucial area, they just can't agree, because their backgrounds are so different, their expectations of what church life ought to be are so different, and now, all of a sudden, they've got conflict around a core issue in their marriage relationship.
Dennis: And you know, Bob, because you read the letters, as I do, that come here to FamilyLife Today, the e-mails – we have a huge number who listen to our broadcast who attend our Weekend to Remember conferences; I Still Do; a number who are in Homebuilders Bible studies; who are married to someone where they go to two separate churches or one spouse has been dragged to a church that they don't agree with or that they don't get a lot out of. And I think the reason this is so important is it's not just you, as a couple, and your spiritual growth that's at stake, it's your own walk and your own relationship with Christ that's going to be enhanced, built up, strengthened, or it's going to be discouraged by attending that church.
Bob: Okay, let's say that here's a young couple on the college campus, they meet, they fall in love, he comes from one part of the country, and maybe he grew up in Christian Missionary Alliance church, and she comes from another part of the country, and she grew up in Lutheran church, and now they've fallen in love with one another, and they live in a whole new region of the country where there are a lot of Assemblies of God and a lot of Baptist churches, and they're trying to decide where are we going to go to church. Help a couple figure out how do you resolve your values and what should you look for in trying to make the decision about where the two of you are going to go to church and where your family is going to grow spiritually?
Dennis: Well, first, I think you need to commit it to prayer and commit to honest discussion and not hiding the way you really feel. A second thing I think you have to do is you have to begin to evaluate, really, what you are getting from the churches that are possibilities. And here is where I get into a list of five very important ingredients that I just think today they need to be there. They just ought to be non-negotiables.
First of all, the Scriptures – not just a part of the sermon but also a part of the fabric of that church. Do they operate as a church that is anchored in the authority of God's Word? The bottom line, and here's the litmus test – does this church equip you with what the Bible says about how to live, about how your marriage is to work, how you resolve conflict, how you raise children, how you make choices day in and day out at your place of work. Is the Bible the anchor point? Is it the authority in helping you handle those issues? And also is it helping you handle temptations according to the Scripture? And I think, Bob, this goes without being said at this point, but when we're talking about the Scriptures, we're also talking about the Gospel, and that's that Jesus Christ and His message of love and forgiveness of sin and redemption and eternal life by faith is offered clearly at that church as the hope for mankind. If that's not there, then you do yourself a disservice to keep going to that church and, certainly, your family as well.
Bob: And I think it's important for us to say here, it is probably the case in our culture today that if you just applied that one criteria, the authority of Scripture and the message of the Gospel, you could probably eliminate maybe half, maybe more than half, of the churches in America today. That's not the central focus for the majority of churches, whether they be large denominations or small, independent churches. It is more rare that you're going to find that than commonplace.
Dennis: That's exactly right. A second litmus test for a church, I believe, is the power of community. Is there a connectedness between people in that church when the service is over on Sunday morning? I'm not talking about whether the church is friendly or not, although that's a part of it. But I am talking about the authentic relationships that are built between couples, between families, between children. Are people real and honest and forgiving and merciful? And is there a place to connect and have real-life relationships and admit real-life struggles without being condemned. Your spiritual growth individually, as a couple, and as a family, I believe, is critically tied to your authentic experience of the faith in the midst of a Christian community. We need other people to encourage us, to hold us accountable, to forgive us, to put their arms around us when we've failed, and provide healing, grace, and concern. And, Bob, I'm telling you, in this culture you need a group of people of faith who are tied together under the authority of a group of elders or deacons, whatever the structure of the local church that it has, but who are cheering you on and leading you on and encouraging you on in the ways of God and His Word.
Bob: So you've got the authority of Scripture and an authentic community as two of the non-negotiables. What's the third?
Dennis: I think third is worship, and I think it's not just merely the kind of songs you sing or the style of songs you sing, it's a grandeur of God that doesn't just sing The Doxology, it manifests The Doxology. The Doxology, of course, is the song we sing many times when we come into church. We did when I was a little boy – "Praise God from whom all blessings flow." The word "doxology" literally means "glory of God," and I believe one of the things that the church has recaptured in recent years is this missing jewel of worship.
I'll never forget experiencing worship in the most unbelievable of locations – in Harlem in service that lasted about four hours. And toward the end of that service, I thought, "You know what? I'm finally getting it." My foot started tapping just a little bit at the beginning. About an hour and a half into it, my foot was starting to maybe have a little bit more of this, and then my knee began to, you know, and I was enjoying the singing, Bob, but it took me quite a while of singing before we ever got to the sermon. And, I'll tell you, the pastor who delivered the sermon, it was just a great worship experience.
And I'll tell you why this so important. Some of you are wondering, "Why is he off on worship?" Because our culture is a man-centered world, and we need an interruption in our week that comes along and jerks us out of this stream that we're a part of in this culture that pulls us out and sets us on an island and says, "Look up. There's something bigger than you going on here. This is not about you, it's about who God is, it's about what He's doing, and it's about you growing spiritually."
Bob: You know, Jesus, in John, chapter 4, the woman at the well got Him into that worship controversy. Do we worship here or do we worship in Jerusalem? Should it be on the mount or should it be in Jerusalem. And Jesus said, "The issue is not where you worship. The issue is do you worship in spirit and in truth?" And I think it's important for us to recognize, as you've said, that there needs to be a blending of the truth of God's Word, what the Scriptures teach, and the stirring of the soul, the connection of the heart, and either of those independently is insufficient. I've been some places where my heart was stirred, but my head wasn't engaged. And it's equally important for both of those to connection in order for worship to be in spirit and in truth.
Dennis: The church where Barbara and I worship on Sunday morning has an extended time of singing and, Bob, I've begun to close my eyes in singing to eliminate all the distractions, and it's who is wearing what and who is moving here and who's got a cell phone on – all that stuff, the distractions taking place, and I may not get all the words right, but when I'm standing, and I close my eyes, and I'm picturing standing before God and singing to Him.
And I think back to a message you and I both heard by my friend and mentor, Dr. Howard Hendricks, who gave a message – actually, a series of messages called "On the Edge of Eternity," and it was a series about how to age biblically, and he quoted Psalm 71, verses 14 through 16 here, and this is good stuff. He said, "But, as for me, I will hope continually, and I will praise Thee yet more and more. My mouth shall tell of Thy righteousness and of Thy salvation all day long, for I do not know the total number of my days. I will come with the mighty deeds of the Lord God, I will make mention of Thy righteousness, Thine alone."
You know, I used to read that as a young person, and I used to think, "Well, that's good religious language." But the longer I live the more I realize it really is about us declaring who He is and what He's about, and singing of Him and worshipping Him. And you want to join a church, trust me, you want to join a church that exalts Him, and it exalts Him in truth, as Bob was talking about, but also in worship. It touches your head and it touches your heart.
Bob: All right, so the Scriptures have to be preeminent, there needs to be authentic community, there needs to be the right kind of worship. You've got two more on your list, and we don't have a lot of time, so what are they?
Dennis: I'll do them very quickly – number four, I think a church that's going to cause you to grow spiritually needs to give you an opportunity for involvement, an opportunity for you to use your gifts, to plug in.
Bob: You're talking about what you discovered at first when you moved from being a sampler to an attender to someone who was actively involved. That's where the difference was made.
Dennis: I'm going to tell you one of the great privileges of my entire life – I have spoken at Amsterdam 2000 for Billy Graham in front of thousands of people from every nation and every tribe; I've spoken at Promise Keepers at Texas Stadium in front of 61,000 men and that's a great honor, a great privilege. I had a chance to speak at I Still Do to tens of thousands of people, but I’m going to tell you, one of the greatest privileges of my life was teaching a sixth grade Sunday school class for 11 years. I mean it.
Getting involved in those young people's lives over a period of years was a spiritual blessing to them but a big spiritual blessing to me, and it resulted in growth. I grew because of my involvement with 11 and 12-year-olds. Now, some of our listeners are going, "He finally revealed his true age."
Bob: His spiritual level.
Dennis: [laughing] But, seriously, you know, if you get involved in other people's lives, it's going to refresh your soul, it's going to cause you to grow and, by the way, for some of you, the best way to do this and the best way to experience community is for you to get involved in a church and maybe they're a little weak in the community side, start a Homebuilders group. I'm telling you, one of the great ways you can get involved in a church is to meet other couples, start some Homebuilders groups around common needs, and equip them with practical biblical principles that are going to cause them to grow spiritually.
Bob: The point is the Lord has given spiritual gifts to all believers, and He's given those to us so that we can use them in service to one another. We shouldn't just be attenders, we've got to be actively involved in the life of that church.
Dennis: That's right, and I've got one last one.
Bob: Do you want to hang onto it while I tell people how they can get a copy of your book?
Dennis: What if I told you I wasn't willing to hang onto it?
Bob: Well, I'd just tell the engineer to turn your mike down. The book is called "Growing a Spiritually Strong Family," and it outlines many of the elements that are required for there to be spiritual strength in your family, and one of those is what we've talked about here today – your involvement in the life of a local church with other people.
We've got copies of the book in our FamilyLife Resource Center. You can go to our website, FamilyLife.com, and in the middle of the home page, you'll see a red button that says "Go," and if you click that button, it will take you right to the page where you can get more information about this book, which is a small-size book. In fact, it's less than 100 pages, but it really does lay a solid foundation for a family. I'm thinking, Dennis, of those families who say, "We don't know how to do this. It was not modeled for us. Nobody showed us how to build a godly family."
This book gives you a very simple plan for some disciplines that will help you grow a spiritually strong family. Again, we've got copies in our FamilyLife Resource Center. Go to the website, FamilyLife.com, click the red "Go" button. It will take you right to the page where you can get more information about this book, other resources that are available from us here at FamilyLife that are designed to help you build spiritual strength into your marriage and your family.
I'm thinking about the book you and Barbara wrote, "Moments Together for Couples." It's a year-long devotional that gives a husband and wife an opportunity each day to look into God's Word together, to pray together, and to consider very practical issues that you're going to be facing as a family and what the Bible has to say about those issues. Again, our website is FamilyLife.com. Click the "Go" button in the middle of the screen, or call 1-800-FLTODAY. Someone on our team can get you more information about the book, "Growing a Spiritually Strong Family," the book, "Moments Together for Couples." In fact, if you order both of those books, we'll send along at no additional cost the CD audio of our two-week conversation on this subject. So you can ask about that when you call 1-800-FLTODAY or find the information online at FamilyLife.com.
I think sometimes when people hear a couple of guys like us talking on the radio about building a spiritually strong family, they think, "Well, if you just follow the recipe, if you just get out the cookie cutters, it's easy, and it will work out perfectly every time." And anybody who has listened to this program for any length of time knows that there are going to be challenges all along the way, and your kids are going to make some decisions you're not going to be happy with, and you're going to mess up yourself, and you're going to have to be reminded of these things over and over again.
I'm thinking about the conversation we had several months ago with Beth Moore. And, you know, here she is, she's a Bible study leader, and she's written all kinds of curriculum for women's Bible studies, and she was very transparent in her conversation with us about her own marriage and about her own family and the challenges they've faced and the fact that real families, no matter what your situation, your background, you're going to face some real challenges, and you have to keep coming back to the Scriptures to address those.
This month we wanted to make available for our listeners a copy of the CD of that conversation with Beth Moore. We thought that would be an encouragement, especially for any of our listeners who have gone through Beth's studies. And so we're making it available this month for a listener who can make a donation of any amount to the ministry of FamilyLife Today. If you can go online at FamilyLife.com and make a donation or call and make a donation over the phone, just mention that you're interested in the CD with Beth Moore when you call 1-800-FLTODAY or if you're filling out your donation form online at FamilyLife.com, when you get to the keycode box, type in the word "free," and that's how we'll know that you want the CD sent to you. And it's our way of saying thanks for helping provide the support necessary for the continuation of this ministry. We're listener-supported, and your donations help keep us on the air in this city and in cities all across the country.
So let me say thanks in advance for your financial support. We appreciate hearing from you, and we hope you enjoy the CD. And now you can go ahead and turn Dennis's mike back up.
Dennis: I appreciate that, Bob, I really do. You know, we've talked today about how to choose a church so that you'll spiritually grow, and they need to hold to the truth of God's Word. Secondly, there needs to be community, vibrant, authentic relationships. Third, worship; fourth, opportunity for involvement and use of your gifts; and, fifth – now, Bob, some people are going to "What? What's he talking about?" Well, it's a growing new kind of church, but it's – number five – it's a church that builds men. It calls men to be real men, real husbands, and real fathers and, yes, I believe it's a church that calls men to be a patriarch.
I think there is a need in this culture for some countercultural churches. Now, that goes without being said, because a church ought to be countercultural. But I believe a church needs to be equipping men to know how to live out their role as a man in this culture and deal with the many temptations. Secondly, it needs to be a church that equips men to be a husband, a father, but also a man who knows how to grow old with a vision for what it means to be a man. And you know what? There are a growing number of these churches that are doing that all across the country with a ministry that was started right here in Little Rock called "Men's Fraternity." And my son, Benjamin, who lives in Boulder, Colorado, started this as a ministry out of his church, and 65 men have banded together at 6 a.m. to study what it means to be a man, a husband, a father, and also a generational leader and protector for future generations.
Bob: You're not talking about churches ignoring the spiritual needs of women, you're just saying it's time to call men to be men.
Dennis: I'm telling you, one of the great needs of our day that would solve many problems that women experience today would be if men would just step up and grow spiritually.
Bob: FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ.
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