Why I Couldn’t Join Most Churches…and what you should look for in a church

Dr. Randy White

If I were not a pastor, I would have a very difficult time finding a church. I find apostasy to be almost at an epidemic level in the modern church. Here’s why it would be difficult for me to find a church:

The doctrinal statements are weak (if they exist at all)

I don’t understand why a church doesn’t want to clarify and advertise its doctrine. I’m surprised how many churches have no doctrinal statement at all. Others simply say, “In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, love.” Many doctrinal statements are so broad that evangelicals, Catholics and Protestants could all affirm the statement. I believe that a doctrinal statement ought to let people know where they are going to agree or disagree with you before they ever come in. At my church, the Baptist Faith and Message, 2000 serves as a broad parameter. However, the BF&M is far to broad for a local church, so we have adopted Doctrinal Distinctives that clarify certain points within the broader statement.

If I were attending a church, I would want a church with doctrinal convictions. It is easy to find a church with pragmatic convictions, social convictions, or value-related convictions, but almost impossible to find one with doctrinal convictions.

The denominational or networking affiliations are unclear

I want to know how a church is networked, and what they feel about those connections. Is the church easily discernible as a Baptist, Methodist, or independent church? Even if it is not in the name, can I find out from the website what the associations are? Is the Pastor or the church part of agenda-based networks such as The Gospel Coalition, Acts 29, or Willow Creek Association? Is the church denominationally affiliated, and, if so, to what extent are they supportive of their denomination? (I am denominationally affiliated and denominationally disgruntled, by the way, and don’t keep that a secret).

In short, I want the affiliations of my church to be clear, and I wouldn’t want to attend a church that was shy about their affiliations and their convictions about those affiliations.

The programs are the tail that wags the dog

What is the driving force of a church? The Pastor can answer this quickly, of course. I want a church that is doctrinally driven. Such a church will have programs, but you’ll never hear someone say, “Come to our church because we have the best children’s ministry in town.” Since we live in a day in which program structures have become the sacred cow of the church, I want to make sure I’m not at a church worshiping that old, fat heifer of program ministry, whether she be the music ministry, children or youth ministry, or the senior adult travel club.

The sermons don’t teach the Bible

If I were looking for a church, I’d want to find a pastor who was teaching my family, others, and the content of the Bible. Since I’m already an avid student of the Word, I wouldn’t expect him to teach me something I didn’t already know, but I would want him to teach the congregation the facts of the Bible. I would want evidence from his preaching that he has rejected the long-taught method of preaching that calls for “explanation, illustration, application” of each text. If he hasn’t rejected it, he’s going to be telling stories and making up application just to make his preaching professor happy. I think a good sermon is filled with solidly Biblical content. A great sermon is filled with solidly Biblical content with the addition of good delivery.

If you are looking for a church, here are some things you should look for:

The list is not exhaustive, but here are five things I think you should look for if you are looking for a church.

Can you have a meeting with the Pastor?

I don’t mean the guy who works for someone who works for someone else who works directly for the Pastor, and yet calls himself Pastor. I’m talking about the Pastor. If it is impossible to see the Pastor (unless you’re rich), then keep looking. Every good pastor is going to be busy, and an unannounced drop-in may not work. However, a phone call to the church office to set up an appointment should work for any real pastor. If you can’t visit the Pastor, the church doesn’t have one: it has a CEO. If you want a CEO who stands in the pulpit, go to church there. If not, find a church with a Pastor.

Does the Church have a clearly defined eschatology?

I am a student of prophecy, so eschatology is important to me. I realize it is not as important to every Pastor and every believer as it is to me. Nevertheless, I firmly believe that a Pastor who has not developed his eschatology is either lazy or not yet ready for prime time. The Bible is full of teaching on the end-times, and a Pastor has to preach these verses. I don’t want a pastor who will skip them, ignore them, or marginalize them. Further, how can one claim to have a complete Biblical worldview when they don’t know the trajectory of the world, nor its conclusion?

One exception I would possibly give is if I had a very young pastor. If that Pastor loved the Word and was committed to the doctrine of verbal-plenary inspiration, then I would give him time to fully develop his eschatology, especially if he was honest and said, “I just haven’t had the time to come to all the conclusions I need on this area of doctrine.”

Is the Church congregationally governed?

I’m not talking about leadership; I’m talking about governance. The leader provides direction and guidance; the “governor” has authority. I do not think the governance of the church lies within the Pastor, but rather in the congregation itself. A pastor has a spiritual leadership role (expressed in Bible teaching) that cannot be denied or delegated. A Pastor does not have a decision-making role for the “body.” At my church, the congregation chooses to give me some decision-making authority, for the sake of operational efficiency, but the ultimate authority is in the congregation, and I think that a congregation should be very shy about giving away such authority.

I would not, therefore, join a church that was pastor-governed or small group governed (whether a Board or a group of Elders).

Does the church believe in the verbal plenary inspiration and the sufficiency of the 66 books of Scripture?

You will have to be careful on this one, because every Pastor and church will tell you that they believe in the authority of the Bible, and that it is truth without mixture of error. In today’s world, you’ll need to dig deeper. If they really believe that every word in the Bible is God-breathed (i.e.: verbal-plenary), they will use a word-for-word translation (KJV, NKJV, NASB, not NIV, HCSB, ESV and a host of others). If they believe in sufficiency, they will reject books like Jesus Calling, along with the dream you had last week in which “God told you” about how someone was feeling, or what someone was about to do, or what Jesus wanted you to do today.

What is the Pastor’s presentation of the Gospel?

We are getting close to having two mutually exclusive “gospels” taught in the church today. One side of the church world gives a Lordship Salvation kind of Gospel that is heavy on “real repentance” and “saving faith rather than spurious faith” but short on definitions of what that actually means. I would want to hear a Gospel message that fully trusts in the completed work of Christ on the cross, the saving power of the Gospel that results from His resurrection, and the “free-gift” of Salvation offered through the blood, by the power of the resurrection, to any who would believe. Without such a presentation of the Gospel, I know that I would later run into ten thousand theological issues that would bother me.

May God rise up a generation of Pastors…so that I will have a church to attend when I retire!