I don't mean shopping for clothes, a car, or cleaning supplies. My question is, "Have you been shopping for a church?"
I know. It feels icky, doesn't it. We shouldn't "shop" for a church, right? But it's exactly what we do. We look for a church with the best teaching, or the best music, or the best kids ministry. Or perhaps its some other program we're looking for. And until we find the right flavor, we're discontent.
But is this really how we're supposed to seek a church? What are the things we really should be looking for in a church? Seriously, God has already given us guidance in what to look for in a church family. In fact, he modeled it in the ways of Jesus.
Jesus spent significant time developing what we (ECHO) call the four spaces of belonging: Intimate (2-4 people), Equipping (6-12 people), Social (15-40 people), and Public (50+ people). Why does this matter? Because in creating these four spaces, Jesus showed us the four most important things you should look for when seeking a church community.
Here are four things you should look for in a church:
#1: Confession & Prayer. The smallest environment Jesus created was an intimate, private space with his three closest disciples: Peter, James, and John. Here they could pray together, confession to one another, and show the deepest parts of themselves. When you seek a church family, ask yourself if you can truly be yourself. The irony of the confessional, prayer-driven environment is that it's the scariest, because as much as we all want to be fully known, we're also afraid that being known will result in rejection. Are you able to pull back the curtain of your life and show people the darkest parts of yourself? More importantly, does the church seek this sort of confessional, prayer-focused environment? If so, you've found a special place.
#2: Equipping. Jesus also had a space for "The Twelve." Here, they learned together under Jesus' guidance. Learning was critical in the discipleship environment. After all, the Greek word for Disciple was mathetes, which literally means "learner." Hebrew culture went far beyond Bible study environments for discipleship, and Jesus modeled it. Equipping was holistic, involving not just Information, but also Reflection and Experience. In today's church culture, we're infatuated with informational learning, as seen most obviously in our obsession with verse-by-verse Bible studies & life-application sermons. But if Jesus did more than this, then shouldn't we do so also? Does your church family have an environment dedicated to equipping? Does it go beyond information to reflection and experience? And do you embrace this environment, or are you tempted to give into an information only approach to equipping? This space is the easiest to dismiss, but it's critical to your growth. Do not neglect it.
#3: Community on mission. Jesus and his Twelve also had a tribe of 72 disciples who traveled with them from village to village, serving people along the way. They broke bread together and had a "come one, come all" ethos about them. They built a community that couldn't be ignored because it was welcoming and inviting, meeting one another's needs as they arose. It can be easy to neglect this social aspect of discipleship, but Jesus didn't. He valued it and allowed a space for others to belong. Does your church family have adequate social spaces where people can begin to get to know each other? Do you have fun with each other, eat together, serve together, and laugh often? It might not feel very "spiritual," but community on mission is critical. You simply cannot do this life alone. Who is being invited along for the missional journey?
#4: Teaching & Celebration. The fourth space Jesus created was for the masses. He would arrive in a town and hundreds, sometimes thousands would show up to see the Great Teacher. When they came together, people were amazed at what Jesus said and worshipped him for who he was: God in the flesh. This "public gathering" is a space where what God's doing is brought into the open and celebrated. The three things most important to this time are God's Word (Bible teaching), Work (what has God done this week?), and Worship (music together). In American culture, this is the thing churches do best. Does yours? If not, are they moving in that direction?
At ECHO, we are seeking to develop all four of these things:
- Confession & Prayer are expressed through ECHO Groups.
- Equipping is expressed through our weekly Theology on Tap.
- Community is expressed through our Out/In nights.
- Teaching is expressed through our Up/In nights.
All four of these environments are not only critical for a healthy church, but for a healthy disciple. Drop any of these and you will find yourself out of balance. It might not seem obvious at first, but eventually you will struggle to move forward in your spiritual walk.
What of these four things do you experience most in your church family? Which one do you think is lacking?