Easter Day was our family’s last day attending Centerpoint Church, ending almost nine years of fellowship and ministry. May marks a year since I stepped down from leading The Journey, our ministry to young adults there. Now I really feel the itch to teach again, to step back into more of a pastoral role and pursue a vision!
As it happens, not only are we currently without a church home, but the weekly Bible study we have been attending has decided to dissolve, opting for a more occasional monthly fellowship. This has left us pondering the possibility of starting a new Bible study. But we do not want to get ahead of ourselves, or the Spirit. We are still in church-hunting mode and hope to start settling into a new church home soon. God only knows what sort of opportunities there will be for us to connect and to serve there. So though I’d like to just rent an office space and start teaching Bible studies and classes, I will wait and focus on finding a new fellowship.
So, what are we looking for? Three things are primary for us in our search: freedom in worship, sound teaching, and outstanding children/youth ministries.
Freedom in worship for us means a few things. First, we want to be part of a church where there is freedom of expression. People can raise hands, cry, kneel, dance, whatever, and not feel out of place. Of course, as an introvert, I likely won’t be doing much of any of that. But if the extroverts don’t feel free to shout praises I sure ain’t going to volunteer any “amens.” Second, we want to be in a church where the worship team is free to improvise as the Spirit leads. So, third, it has become apparent that we would prefer a church with only one service. If the service goes long because of the preaching, praising or prayer time, it’s okay. Lastly, speaking of prayer time, we would love that to be a part of the service and not necessarily isolated from worship or the message.
Sound teaching is tricky to assess. No two preachers are alike. In the thirteen churches we’ve visited we have encountered the gamut of approaches. There’s motivational, practical, expositional, and theological. Some pastors rely heavily on word studies, others on cross references, and still others on background and teaching commentaries. Some try to be relevant and some prefer to let the Word speak for itself. There are faithful exegetes careful to unfold the meaning of a scripture text and those who listen for God to speak something fresh from the text. Teachers also tend toward certain kinds of illustrations: one tells a story, one jokes, another gives an analogy. No matter the style and approach, we are looking for sermons that are tied to and communicate the truth of scripture in the power of the Spirit. In other words, we don’t just want to hear a heresy-free message. We want to hear the voice of God. We want to be challenged in our minds, hearts and lives. Consequently, we think Christian teaching should be intellectual, spiritual, and exigental–always scriptural.
When it comes to children and youth ministries, though our kids are still nursery age, we hope to be a part of our church for a very long time. (I grew up in the same church from age 2 to 22). So their philosophy of ministry for the younger members of the church is very important to us. First, it should go without saying that we aren’t looking for good Christian babysitters. We hope that our kids are shown love by our church family and that they feel safe to be themselves and grow. We hope they will make significant friendships and will be encouraged in their uniqueness to be a valued part of the church from the earliest of ages. Second, content is crucial. We want our kids to know the Bible and have a growing understanding of its significance. Third, a supernatural worldview is a must. We don’t only want our kids to know about Jesus. We want them to walk closely with Him and experience His eternal life. We want them to be familiar with the supernatural, healing, miracles, and answers to prayer. We want them to experience the presence and power of God as normal aspects of the Christian life. Fourth, we want them to develop discipline and character, knowing and doing what is right even when it is difficult, serving, and displaying the fruit of the Spirit. Fifth, especially as they get older, we want them to be equipped with apologetic thinking as a means of strengthening their confidence in God and His Word. Sixth, we would love for there to be a partnership between the church and the family and an integration/inclusion of children and youth into general congregational life. Finally, yes, it would be great if all or most of this could be accomplished in a fun, interesting, age-appropriate ways.
Is all of this too much to ask? Maybe so. Maybe we just need to start our own church. More than likely we simply need to take all our hopes, wants, and desires, submit them to God, and allow Him to shift our focus. He knows what we need right now and in the future. But He also knows which church or churches need us (and our kids as they mature). Maybe there is a church that doesn’t have all this…yet, but our family will get to be a part of making it all happen. We could be the ones that God uses to help take their worship or teaching or children’s ministry to the next level. Either way, God is more than able to lead us to a place where we can grow and serve.