By Alicia Searl, Crosswalk.com
As more details begin to unravel about the shocking and devastating news regarding the Southern Baptist Convention scandal, my heart grows heavy. It is clear that the church is under attack. It has been for years, and the instigator is nothing short of evil. It isn't too hard to see that our world is turning further and further away from God's Truth, with eager grabs at power, lust, and greed. Sadly, it has stealthily been sneaking its way into our congregations. The result is heart-breaking. What is meant to be a safe refuge and "a house of prayer" is slowly becoming tainted, shattered, and torn.
Friend, let me be clear about something before we continue. The church isn't perfect. The church is made up of messy and broken people. Its members, and yes, even the leaders, are sinners. We don't go to church to become like the "body" of Christ. We go to church because it was God's idea, and we aim to be more like Christ himself. (Matthew 16:18)
Oh, the tables Jesus would flip over right about now! (Matthew 21:12-13) While each of these cases is indeed alarming and disheartening, as believers, this should cause us to be brought to our knees. So, please pause and pray with me right now.
Our hearts are heavy. Words can't describe the sadness we feel for the attacks and abuse that have taken place in Your holy house. We ask You to grant us forgiveness where we have failed. We know You are the God that seeks after the lost. Help us see how we can reach out to the lonely, wounded, and lost. Give us hearts to listen to those that are carrying heavy burdens. Let us be compassionate towards those that have been hurt or negatively affected by the church. Give us a way to show kindness to those that feel shunned or shut out due to callous remarks, judgments, or unconcerned reactions. Lord, reach those affected by these allegations and let Your justice, mercy, and grace flow freely. Restore the brokenness and bring about healing among the body of Christ. May Your will be done in the church as You lead and guide church leaders and members, seeking how to navigate these trying times safely.
It's in Your Holy name we pray, Amen.
So, where do we go from here? I understand that you may want to shy away from church, but the truth is - that is exactly what the deceiver wants you to do. However, Hebrews 10:25 commands us not to give up meeting together. God knows what is best for us, and by uniting together, we grow in our faith, hold one another accountable, and can lovingly serve others while carrying each other burdens (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12). Instead of shutting the doors of your heart to church, open your eyes and seek God's will. Here are ten important things to consider when choosing a church or deciding if returning to a church is best for you and your family.
1. What Is Their Mission Statement?
Basically, this helps define the vision and leadership of the congregation. It should align with God's will, plan, and purpose for our lives. It's generally simple and concise, but it should reflect what the church is all about and displayed in the church for all to see.
2. Does the Preaching Line Up with Scripture?
The root of our faith is God's Word. Does the church believe that the Bible, both Old, and New Testament, are inspired, trustworthy, and the true Word of God? Deuteronomy 4:2 tells us we are not to add or take away from the Word. So, is the church's main source of preaching and teaching coming from the Scriptures? Those are questions you should seek answers to!
3. Does it Live Out the Great Commission?
Do the pastor and church leaders have a passion for spreading the gospel to all the nations of the world? Are they involved in missions or trips, both locally and globally, that allow them to "go" and make Jesus' name known? Do they provide training and teaching for church members to be active participants and offer ways to be global trailblazers for the Lord?
4. How Are the Ministries Run, and Who Is in Charge of Them?
It's important to know what ministries the church offers. Whether you are single, a newlywed couple, or a family with children, you need ministries that will meet your family's growing needs. Get to know the leaders of each ministry and ask how you can get involved. It will help you better understand how they serve their members.
5. Is it Inviting and Welcoming?
Nobody wants to enter a church that feels cold and stuffy or, worse yet, feels oddly uncomfortable. A few years ago, my husband and I attended a church on vacation, and when we walked in, we got stared down by nearly every church member without so much as a "hello." Awkward. We graciously bowed out in a matter of minutes. Thankfully, many churches have a welcome team and graciously greet their guests. Our current church greeted us in the parking lot! They gave us a tour and made us feel like they wanted us to be there. We've been there for over ten years now.
6. How Do They Worship and Praise God?
Where some churches have a choir, others feel a little more like a rock concert. It's all personal preference. However, make sure there is a time to worship and praise God because it truly matters. Singing is one of the greatest expressions of joy and adoration we can offer to the Lord. Hallelujah!
7. Is There a Place for You to Serve?
If you want to understand the leadership within a church better, ask about places you can help out and serve. Then see how they go about it. Do they offer training, background checks, and safety tips, especially in the women and children's ministry? Get to know their protocols to see how they ensure the safety of everyone.
8. Does the Church Have a Prayer Team?
A church that prays for its members, new members, the community, non-believers, and current events - truly understands the power of prayer! When a church takes their hearts and concerns to the Father, they realize He has a plan and a purpose for their church and its members and relies on His faithfulness.
9. Is There a Clear Place to Find Their Bylaws to Show Their Transparency?
A church should be upfront and honest about the boundaries and expectations they expect from their church leaders, members, and others within the walls of their church. These guidelines protect everyone, including the church. If you are interested in what these are, search the church's website or send a request for information to the pastor. There should be full disclosure and transparency.
10. How Are They Going to Grow You Closer to Christ?
Remember, we go to church to become more like Christ. To seek His wisdom and deepen our faith. Church should feel safe. But it should also feel like "home." A place where you belong. A place where you can connect with other believers, worship and praise our awesome God, and serve a greater purpose – to spread the love of Jesus.
Alicia Searl is a devotional author, blogger, and speaker that is passionate about pouring out her heart and pointing ladies of all ages back to Jesus. She has an education background and master’s in literacy. Her favorite people call her Mom, which is why much of her time is spent cheering them on at a softball game or dance class. She is married to her heartthrob (a tall, spiky-haired blond) who can whip up a mean latte. She sips that goodness while writing her heart on a page while her puppy licks her feet. Visit her website at aliciasearl.com and connect with her on Instagram and Facebook.