How do you choose a good church? This question comes up frequently and I’m glad it does. It shows people are asking the right questions.
I belong to a charismatic congregation and so theologically, I’m charismatic. I believe in the kinds of things that charismatic churches characteristically believe in with regards to the spiritual gifts. I think worship ought to be exuberant. I believe that God can work through miracles. I believe that the gifts that were in evidence in the early church are still available today. But being charismatic theologically doesn’t mean that you go along with a lot of the crazy things that are associated with a charismatic group.
Having a good church is really valuable. Here are the criteria that I usually give for a good church.
First of all, you have to go to a church that has a high view of the Scriptures. In other words, you want to go to a church that believes that the Bible is the word of God, and what they mean by that is word by word the word of God. There are no mistakes in it. This view is called verbal plenary inspiration. Inerrancy. Infallibility. They believe that the Bible is the authority. They teach from it word by word on Sunday so that you might learn what the Bible has to say and use that as a standard for your daily life.
I suggest that any of the bona fide translations are good for study. The King James Version, the New American Standard Bible, the New International Version. These are all helpful. I personally prefer the New American Standard Bible. If you want something a little easier to read, there are many study Bibles in the NIV. I would steer you away from the King James Version only because the language is archaic, unless you went with the New King James Version. I recommend the King James Version for a very select group of people: people who are 350 years old or older!
The second thing is that you go to a church where you can be useful. I think it is a mistake for people to hang around churches where they get spoon fed every week and there is nothing they can do in the church because the pastor has a control problem and never lets anyone else get involved with anything. Find a church where you can practice your gifts.
The third thing is you find someplace where you can be accountable. What that means is that people know who you are and know what your life is like so they can encourage you to love and good deeds, as it says in Hebrews 10. When I say accountable, there is an edge on that. I am accountable in relationships too, and I confess my sins to certain people. When I do certain things that I am not supposed to do, I check up with these guys because that helps me to live properly. It’s hard to do that in a large church unless you have a small group strategy. Other people must have visibility of your life because then you are really part of the life of a community of faith.
The final thing is a fairly broad category. You must go to a church where you feel you can be fed spiritually. This would entail the notion of teaching the Bible, but it goes beyond that. It entails an idea of having a worship pattern that meets your particular needs as a Christian. You want to go to a church where you feel you are a part of this community and it’s directing your life in some significant fashion, such that you are growing spiritually. It’s not just what you do for two hours on Sunday and then do what you want the rest of the week. You want a church that sees Christianity as a full-orbed, full life and will help meet that need in your life.