What do you look for in a church when moving, switching to a new gathering, or visiting for the first time? This episode breaks down just a few things to keep in mind and questions to ask during the church hunt process!


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Welcome to Verity. I’m your host, Phylicia Masonheimer, an author, speaker, and Bible teacher. This podcast will help you embrace the history and depth of the Christian faith. Ask questions, seek answers, and devote yourself to becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ. You don’t have to settle for watered-down Christian teaching. And if you’re ready to go deeper, God is just as ready to take you there. This is Verity, where every woman is a theologian.

Hello, friends, and welcome back to Verity podcast. I am so thrilled to talk about choosing a church today. This is a topic that I get questions about frequently on Ask Anything Monday on Instagram. And so far, I’ve always referred people to a blog post that I have about it but I thought, you know what? it is time to have an episode of the podcast on this issue, because whether you are coming back into the world after the COVID pandemic, or whether you’ve moved to a new state, or city, or maybe you went through a church upheaval, and you’re choosing a new family to gather with, you’re going to have to ask some questions about choosing a church. So, I hope that this episode is helpful for you as you navigate those questions, and as you find a family of God to gather with locally. 

Before we get started, I really want to emphasize, how much I champion the local church, I have a ministry that is mostly online, it is international, and yet the local church is where I am known and held accountable. It is where my work is grounded and seen, and that is so important for someone who’s doing what I do. It is so easy to just hop on the internet and say stuff about the Bible or about God and not be connected to a local church. I just think that’s such a dangerous choice for someone who is teaching the Bible, and so I want you to know first that I am connected to my local church. I have been for the entire time that I’ve been writing about scripture and teaching the Bible. 

The church that I’m in now, I am on the teaching team and I know the pastors and the elders, and they are wonderful people who have been so helpful and inspiring to me, in my own ministry. And have just taught me so much about what it means to be a healthy leader and what it means to keep the gospel front and center. So, I want to first begin with that. 

Secondly, I want to talk to those of you who maybe have been hurt by the church, because when we talk about choosing a church, inevitably, some of you have been hurt by people who claim to be Christians or who are Christians and who were not walking in the Spirit, and they have injured you. And so first of all, I just want to say I’m so sorry, that happened. I am so sorry that people did not act in the way that they were called to act, and remind you that those were people, they were not God Himself. They were not Jesus. And at the same time, Jesus died for them and for you. And He loves the family of God, the church, and He wants you to be healed. 

Jackie Hill Perry has a quote where she says, “Do you want to know who healed my church hurt? It was the church.” I myself have been through a church split. My husband and I have been in four or five different churches over the course of our marriage. I’ve been in or visited over a dozen denominations and different types of churches over the course of my life in ministry. I have been very hurt by people in the church. I’ve been so hurt by Christians, if I were to get into the list of ways, it would be long, but I don’t share the specifics of that online or on my podcast, because I believe those are stories that are not mine to tell. I just want to assure you that I have been hurt by the church too and I have seen how ugly it can get, and yet I still champion the local church, because it is the bride of Christ. And I do not get to tell Jesus, what is more important. I don’t get to tell him that his bride isn’t important. And so, I hold out hope that people in the family of God will continue to grow and be sanctified and humble themselves and repent. Even if that means leaving one particular local body for a healthier one, I will always champion the local church. 

So, for those of you who are looking for a church and wondering, what do I do? Where do I go? How do I choose? There’s so many different denominations. I understand. And I’m not going to get into the history of denominations and all of that in this episode. It would probably be helpful if I did, but we’re going to have to do that in a separate episode or season, because it’s such a complicated conversation. But basically, when you are looking for a church, the very first thing I would really suggest doing is to think about your personal and theological priorities. When I say personal priorities, I don’t mean, “I like this color of carpet or certain style of worship songs.” I want you to think about what are first the core doctrines of Christianity that matter most, because there’s a whole episode on determining core doctrine episode. 

Determine those core doctrines and make sure the church you’re looking at teaches those, that’s number one. Number two, you’re going to have preferences based on how those theological truths are walked out. So, for example, you’re going to have a charismatic church, for instance, that has an environment and passion for the Lord, that maybe another denomination does not. They might practice worship differently than you’re used to, or believe things about the spiritual gifts that you don’t believe. In that case, attending a Charismatic or Pentecostal church would maybe not be a good choice, because you don’t agree on how those doctrines are being worked out.

Maybe you visit a Baptist church, and it has this preaching style and community emphasis that another denomination doesn’t, but maybe you don’t agree with their views on women in ministry. You can vary your view of these different theological issues and that will change what denomination or type of church you are most comfortable being in, and that is okay. These denominations, to the degree that they unite around the core doctrines of the gospel, and the core doctrines of holiness and what it means to be a Christian, the ethics of life and love and honor for the body and for God, and for the soul. If that is happening, then we can proceed forward giving grace for some of these differences. So, I am encouraging you to give that grace and to understand the difference between these denominations and to study them out even, and to think about what are the inner workings of why they believe what they believe, read their doctrinal statements, because there will be differences in the churches that you visit. And I do usually recommend visiting several when you move to a new city, that’s what my husband and I would usually do is visit a couple different churches and then find one that seemed to be a good fit for us. 

Last thing, before we jump into some questions to ask, finding a church community is a process, you have to be okay with discomfort. You’ll probably try a few churches before you find one that you connect with. Just remember, and this is important that the church is not designed just to serve you. It is a place for you to grow and to learn, and it’s also a place for you to contribute and disciple. Make sure when you come to a church and you check it out, you’re not coming with this consumer mindset. This is not a restaurant; we’re not looking at a menu. These are real people who are our brothers and sisters in Christ, and we want to look at the church as a place where we could potentially labor alongside them for the gospel. So, with that mentality in mind, these are some questions that you can ask.

Number one, does this church preach the Word of God? Does the church you’re visiting open the Bible at all during the sermon? You might be laughing, like, “There’s no churches that don’t open the Bible.” No, there absolutely are churches that do not open the Bible or don’t need you to open your Bible. This might seem basic, but there are a lot of churches out there in America, at least that teach very topical messages that are a little more than self-help with a Bible verse on the screen. We want a church that encourages you to know the word and sets an example of this from the pulpit. This does not mean that you can only go to a church that preaches verse by verse or expositionally. We go to a church that does topical sermons and have done that before, and probably will do it henceforth. [chuckles] But here’s the thing, you can preach topically while also being true to scripture, so don’t run away from topical sermons. Just look discerningly at how the sermon is structured, is it centered on the Word of God. That is the important thing to consider.

As you were sitting in church listening, taking in the different sermons, think about their preaching style and whether the word is central. Remember, there’s nothing wrong with topical preaching, we just want to see a church avoiding proof texting where you take a text to prove your point, or a teacher pulls verses out to support his message, even though the context of the verses has nothing to do with the topic. So, we want to just be cautious with the word and keep the word as our top priority. 

Now, there are some churches where the main sermon might be a little bit lighter because you’ll have to people have varied spiritual maturity there, and then in Sunday school or in other classes that they offer, they will go deeper. And so that’s an option too but I always encourage looking for a church that place is a high priority on scripture and the gospel and that happens in a lot of different denominations. 

music]After a three-year hiatus, Verity Conference is back and it’s coming to Petoskey, Michigan, November 4th and 5th. I’m so thrilled to bring back Verity Conference after our short break of a few years for COVID, and this time, we are much bigger with two amazing speakers joining me, to talk about Apologetics and Evangelism. How do we share our faith effectively in today’s culture, in a way that is both gracious and truthful. You’ll hear from me, Jeremy Jenkins of All Things All People and Pricelis Dominguez, who is going to share with us how to love other people, while also speaking the truth. Jeremy, specializes in world religions and cults and he will be talking about evangelism in that context. I am so excited for this event. I hope you can join us. You can grab the remaining early bird tickets on my website, phyliciamasonheimer.com if you click the “conference” tab.

Number two, will I be supported in my faith in this body? So, the body of Christ is a community meant to help you grow in your faith, so you can then disciple others, you want a church which will help you in this growth, small group, Sunday classes, midweek Bible studies. It can be different church to church, but what matters is that your faith will be supported by the people around you. When you are looking for a church, you’re looking for people that you can invest in, and who can invest in you, who can be accountable to you, and you can be accountable to them. People you can ask advice of, parenting advice, personal advice, that’s what the church is meant to be. I, as a blogger, an online teacher, cannot and should not answer those personal questions that are innate to your life, and your marriage, and your work. I can maybe help a little bit, it’s your local church that should be able to come alongside you in those situations. 

When I personally have struggles, when I personally am feeling like, “Oh, I’m overwhelmed, or I don’t know what to do in this parenting issue, or I don’t know what to do in this friendship issue.” I go to my local church, I have people who pray for me, I have mentors and wise women who give me counsel. I have a church family who supported us when we had our babies who helped my husband find a job when he lost his job. The local church stepped in for us over and over and over again. It wasn’t just one church; it was in multiple states, it was in multiple different bodies of Christ that people came through for us. And a part of that is investing in that community. Which brings me to question number three, will I commit to my new community? 

Joining a church is again, not just about finding a place that serves us, but about finding a place to serve. So, when we visit churches, we can ask ourselves, am I willing to commit to serve this body and these people? And that might take some time to figure out, going a few times, going for a month or more. Are you ready to get involved in a small group or host one in your home? Are you ready to embrace people as they are, not judge them or look at them through pharisaical eyes?

What can happen when we’ve been exposed to legalism or criticism in unhealthy churches, is that we come to every future church with that same criticism. We come to a church looking for the problems and finding the things we don’t agree with, and judging them wanting, and yet, we don’t offer anything of ourselves to change it. We don’t commit to being the change in our churches. If we visit churches, only thinking about what they’re doing wrong, or what other people will think of us, we’re shortchanging ourselves. What if we did what we’re supposed to do biblically and looked at churches through the lens of what can I bring here? How can I make this a better place? 

When you find a church body that preaches the word and is actively discipling its attendees, you must be ready to contribute. So, look for ways that you can join in and link arms and serve with the gifts God gave you. This could be anywhere. I have served on the refreshment team, pouring coffee, cleaning the kitchen. Over the course of the years, I’ve been involved in the church. Now I work in the baby nursery, while also being on the teaching team. My husband who does not love to stand in front of people, especially little kids, because he’s uncomfortable teaching. [laughs] Kids can be a little judgy sometimes. He volunteers with our kids’ ministry at our church, which is a real challenge for him sometimes, but that’s his way of giving of himself to the people who are educating our children in the children’s ministry. So, find a way that you can contribute. 

The fourth question is, am I being reactive in my church choice? I really want to emphasize this point because it happens more often than we know. Rather than choose a church objectively looking at scripture saying, “Here’s what Acts says, should be happening in a church.” If we look at Acts 1-3, we see they were emphasizing the teaching of the apostle’s scripture, they were emphasizing gathering together to celebrate the Lord’s supper or communion, you can listen to our episode about that. They were praying together, and they were breaking bread, they were fellowshipping together. This is what the church was doing. So that’s what we should be looking for, but instead, we look at where we’ve come from, or negative experiences, and we react against them. So, for instance, maybe you grew up in a hyper Pentecostal church, and you don’t want anything to do with the abuse of spiritual gifts. So, you won’t even look at churches with more expressive worship or maybe you grew up in a strict Independent Baptist church and struggle with a reaction, or bitterness towards, maybe suits and ties, so you judge all dressy churches by appearance, even though that’s what you hate. I’m encouraging you, I’m not saying ignore the hurt, I’m not saying that if you were abused, whether spiritually or otherwise, that you should just get over it. I’m absolutely not saying that and I’m going to get to that in a moment. What I’m saying is, let each church you visit, speak for itself. Do not make that church answer for the sins of other church bodies. Don’t assume just because you’ve seen something abused, that the next church is inevitably going to abuse that thing too. 

There is hope for healthy churches, there is hope for good people, and if they are truly good people, let them be good people, let them be loving people, then I know that takes time and processing and healing. I’m always an encouragement to use counseling, and to seek help in this area. I’m not minimizing it at all. I just also want us to be sure that we do not attribute to innocent people sins that they have not committed. I personally have seen charismatic churches abuse spiritual gifts. I’ve seen them not do well in teaching theology. I’ve seen Baptist churches judge by appearance and use wealth as a way to flaunt their status. I’ve seen Methodist churches abandoned the Word. Does this mean that all charismatic, Baptist and Methodist churches are doing the same thing? No. Let each church speak for itself, make a wise decision led by God, not an emotional reaction based on past experiences. Experiences are real and they hurt us, God sees them. He has compassion on them, but make sure that you also let Him begin the healing process in you. Let Him heal you. That is why Jesus exists and what the church is for. 

The last question that I would ask is, what is his church’s policy for abuse and/or accountability for its leadership? This has become very important as time has gone on, in the American church at least where people can easily manipulate the system and secretly cover up the things that they are doing that are sinful and abusive. As we have seen this happen, it’s important that we are transparent with our churches. What’s their policy with their childcare workers? Do they do background checks? What access do pastors have to congregants and what’s their involvement with youth ministry? You can ask these questions. You can ask what the goings on are, and what the inner workings are. Sometimes, if a church isn’t transparent, or they won’t tell you or they don’t think it’s a big deal, that’s your sign right there that it’s not the place for you. Better to ask to find out, to learn what their policies are, and to be dissatisfied and go than to stay and be uncomfortable and something terrible happen. Do not be afraid to ask about policies in the case of sexual abuse. 

What about spiritual abuse? What is it? What does it look like? Let’s define that. Let’s find out what the church would do or what accountability structure they have between the eldership and the pastors. What does that look like? That gets a little bit into ecclesiology or church structure. But I’m just encouraging you to ask these questions to find out about these things because when they don’t get discussed, when there is no policy or no exploration of these things, that’s when we start to get into trouble. I’m not an expert on church abuse, but there are some really great people who’ve written about it. Chuck DeGroat is one. I believe Leslie Vernick, has written about this too. She comes more from a marriage angle of things. And then this one isn’t specifically spiritual abuse. This is a book that I bought recently. It’s called, Is It Abuse? A Biblical Guide to Identifying Domestic Abuse and Helping Victims by Darby Strickland. And it looks really helpful for– if you’re in ministry, I think it’d be very helpful to read and have your staff read. The Foreword is by Ed Welch. I’ve really respected the work that he’s done. So those would be some resources to start out to make sure that this is a conversation that’s at least being had or has been had in the church for the protection of the members.

I hope that some of these questions are helpful to you. I understand that some of the things I’ve said in this episode are probably challenging. But as someone who has both been hurt by the church, seen people hurt by the church and champions the local church, I have to cover all the nuances of this. Well, not all the nuances, I obviously did not do that. I attempted to cover different angles of it. Let’s say it that way. And if you’re just beginning this process, and you’re in your city, and you’re thinking, “Okay, well, where do I even start?” I would just encourage looking up your churches in the area, right on Google, and reading through their doctrinal statements, that will give you a little bit of an idea of what they believe, and where they’re coming from. 

Here’s something exciting. They’re probably going to use certain terms that hint at their beliefs about the Holy Spirit or about Worship or about the Bible, things like that. And that’s where knowing what those terms mean is so helpful. So, coming soon to the Every Woman a Theologian shop this fall, is our glossary of theological terms, and I’m so excited to provide this resource. It won’t be ready when this episode goes live, but it will be ready in the future. If you ever wonder about a word as you’re looking this up on these doctrinal statements, you can Google that word and say, “What is the biblical meaning of spiritual gifts?” I always add biblical when I google something that’s in a doctrinal statement, because then it will bring up articles that talk about that more specifically. 

Then as you are going through their doctrinal statement, remember to go through those tiers of the doctrines. First tier doctrines are the core of Christianity, they’re essential. You’ve got to have those in order to call yourself a believer in Christ. Second tier doctrines are the how questions. Okay, baptisms essential, communions essential. How does that work though? And you’re going to have different interpretations of that. An Anglican Church will probably baptize infants, Baptist church is going to baptize adults, you’re going to have different views on that. And then those third tier issues are freedom issues. They might be where you send your kids to school, or how you dress, etc. Some churches will raise those issues up to higher levels of importance and that’s where we can run into the danger of legalism. So, if someone says, “You can’t attend this church, unless you wear this particular attire, or you’re not a Christian,” that would be very concerning. For instance, a Mennonite church says, “This is how we dress. This is our belief system. We believe this is a core part of our expression of our faith.” And you don’t agree with that doctrine, it would be better just not to attend that church than to try to go and disrupt that doctrine that they adhere to.

This is a very case by case thing where you’re taking the time to explore the church, you’re taking the time to look at their doctrine, speak to people in the church, talk to the pastors if you can, or take a class to learn more about them, and then decide, is this the place where I want to be? Here’s my encouragement for you. Every time that Josh and I have done this, and even before I married him when I was a single girl finding a church, every time I have been so blessed by the people of God, even as I’ve had people in those churches hurt me and wound me, I’ve been so blessed by the overarching people of God. I have prayed every time, “Lord, show us the right church to be in. Show us where we need to go. What is the body of Christ to look like in this season?” And it has looked different in different seasons. We have had big concerns and reasons why we’ve left churches before. And at the same time, I know that there are people in those churches who love the Lord and walk with Him, and they’re my brothers and my sisters and I want to keep that unity always front and center. So, I pray that your journey to choosing a church is one filled with joy, and healing from whatever has happened in the past.

Thank you for joining us for today’s episode of Verity. You can connect with fellow listeners by following me on Instagram @phyliciamasonheimer or on our Facebook page by the same name. Also visit phyliciamasonheimer.com for links to each episode and the show notes.

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