Many of us have visited multiple churches in our lives, some stand out more and other’s we probably don’t remember much about. For many people what stands out most is what happens during the service, the kind of preaching, what was preached, the music, how the sacraments were handled. These parts of the service are the content of why many gather for worship, without these parts we could be a community??? and do mission anywhere.
Questions concerning the pastor and sermon will often be one of the most important aspects of church hunting. I know many people who look for a church based on how well the pastor preaches and who the pastor is. Is the pastor a man or a woman, is their faith evident, what kind of education do they have, how do they talk about their relationship with God and to the Bible, and what’s their preaching style like are implicit questions many of us may never verbalize but evaluate churches on. This being the case it will be hard to know a lot about a pastor and his or her preaching and leadership after only one visit but here are some things to keep in mind.
What is the structure of the sermon? Is topic oriented, based on one particular verse or group of verses in the same passage of Scripture, does is used various verses throughout the Bible, does it use the Bible at all? Is the message useful, challenging, directed at the spiritual life only or does help you understand how to live as well? What kind of rhetoric does he or she use? Look for words, phrases and topics that get repreated. Is the life and death of Jesus addressed in the message – good sermons always include the Christ event??? and point the congregation back to Christ as our model of living (and dying).
What are you looking to find when you are consider good preaching?
Preachers all have their school of thought, and have a way they like to structure their sermons. I don’t think there is one right way (so long as the Bible is being used in some capacity) and that it’s more based on preference. That’s why you have to consider many questions if you’re not sure. An assumption I think is safe is that most preachers tend to stick to one style, and may do something different from time to time, but if you don’t like my preaching style this sunday, you probably won’t like it next week either.
Thinking About The Worship Service
Concerning the worship part of the service, this could include music, liturgy, art, plays and more. Good questions to ask are: What forms of worship does this community use to enter into praise of God? Who is involved in the worship? Is it the same people who you’ve seen do other things, or are these different people. Were they helpful in leading you and the congregation into a prayerful, centered spirit? What is the message presented through the lyrics, liturgy, and other words offered? What kind of God is this church worshipping can be guessed by the way worship is talked about, and the way God is addressed through these various mediums.
The sacraments are a very important part of church life, whether they are handled by a priest or shared as a common meal in someone’s home it generates the life of the church as it fellowships with Christ. You may or may not have the opportunity to be at a church when they participate in the Lord’s Supper, baptize or do other sacramental practices (including silence), but if you are this will give you a great peek into their theology of how they understand how we are to interact personally with God. Is it something done with seriousness, prayerfully, communally? Who is allowed to participate in the sacrament? How often do they do this practice? All of this will help you see how this important aspect of church life is handled.
Finally, I would ask what is this church’s relationship to a tradition? Is it a denomination with a long history, if so what is that general church history (you could start out at wikipedia). If it’s a denominational church see if you can tell whether it’s proud to be in that tradition, is it indifferent, or is it a maverick group that’s rejected the larger denomination?
Is it a stand-alone non-denominational??? group of Christians? If so it may be much harder to get at what their theology is (if they are not found in the history books it will be harder to understand their origins etc), but you may be able to find out how the church was started and what caused it to be started. It’s also important to question it’s interaction with other traditions within and outside of Christianity. Is this a church that’s got it all figured out, and everybody else is wrong? Are they pretty nice about other Christian groups but hostile to other religious groups? Or are they looking for relationships with groups of people different than themselves?
You will not be able to get answers to all these questions in one day, maybe not even in a few months, but some places you will be able to discover a lot about the people there, how they treat strangers, and the God they worship by keeping these considerations in mind. And then wait and pray that God will guide you to the right place.
This concludes the series of posts meant to be a guide for people who are looking to find a new church or have just moved to a new area and are lots with the long list of churches in the yellow pages. Part I – is on How do we look for a theology of a church???? and part II is on More questions to ask when church shopping.???