The following guide is designed to help churchgoers with discernment as to whether they are attending church for the right reasons, and to help with discernment in choosing a faithful church to attend.
1. Sentimentalism Should Never Overrule Truth
When it comes to church life, people are easily given to sentimentalism rather than to the truth. There may be a variety of reasons for this: sentimental attachment to a building, longstanding family representation in a particular church, pride in a certain denomination, etc. Doctrinal integrity often takes a back seat to these kinds of sentimental attractions. In these scenarios, people can easily honor their traditions more than the Lord.
2. The Church Should Not Be A Product for Consumption
People approach a prospective church like consumers: What kind of programs does the church offer? What is the facility like? Does the pastor make me feel comfortable? How did the people make me feel? What people like and what they actually need are often radically different things. The church is established by Christ as a place to help the needy in their struggle against sin to receive mercy and the forgiveness of sins through message of the gospel.
3. Your Children Should Not Determine the Choice of a Church
We live in a day of the cult of the child. The home today is built around children in all ages of development with a neglect of proper discipline. This has devastating effects upon church life. Undiscerning parents are prone to listen to their child’s wants rather than to actively nurture their children by leading them in what they need. As peer pressure grows, a youth may complain that sermons are too long, or the service is boring, or the views are too restrictive and undiscerning parents, often honor their young people more than the Lord as they base their church attendance on what the young person likes.
This has resulted in the practice of children’s church and youth centers, along with other practices that remove children/youth from the worship service. The consequences of this are devastating upon church life. We are raising an entire generation of children/young people who are not being trained to listen to sermons or worship the Lord together with God’s people. The long term fruits of this show in increased antipathy to anything formal or organized when it comes to worship, and an unwillingness to attend church. This is a prevalent reason as to why scores of young adults no longer attend Christian worship.
4. Style Preference Should Not Be Neutral
Often people base church attendance on stylistic preference, often with regard to music. The Bible never presents worship as a matter of personal taste or style. Self-imposed worship is greatly condemned in the Bible (see Col. 2), Christians, therefore, should give great care that worship conforms to God’s Word. Our music must conform to his truth, our liturgies should be filled with his Word, the sermons should be delivered in the demonstration of the Spirit and of power. Personal stylistic likes doesn’t make worship true or powerful.
5. The Message Should Be Believed, Not the Man Followed
The average churchgoer, when searching for a church today, is primarily concerned with the likability of the pastor. Is he down to earth? Does he share personal stories from his own personal experience? Is he just a fun-loving guy who can relate, who connects with the youth? The pastor can easily pander to the desire for likability and manipulate that aspect of his personality that he knows will attract people. The church then becomes built around him rather than Christ. Likability is not a qualification for the pastor.
Beware of the cult of personality. If you are following a man, you are set up for a great fall. God sends pastors with a specific calling, to deliver a specific message. People are certainly called to love their pastor, encourage him, pray for him, but, ultimately, they should recognize the voice of Jesus speaking to them through the faithful proclamation of the gospel. Follow Jesus and his Word, not the messenger.
6. The Preaching of the Word Should Be Central
Is the service centered on the Word? Is the Word being read, preached, prayed and sung? Or is the Word being manipulated by the pastor to pander to the felt needs of the people. If the preaching of the Word is not central, since it is the primary means of grace, you can be sure, God is not present in that in that voice or worship service.
7. The Sermon Should Be Christ-Centered
When Paul said, “Woe is me if I do not preach Christ and him crucified,” he was expressing that at the heart of all Christian preaching is the goal of making known the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. This message is God’s chosen power to save people. Many people want sermons on relationships, finances, sex, etc., things of this nature. Appropriate, biblical applications should always be made from preaching the Bible. There is, however one meta-narrative that has the purpose of unveiling the glories of Jesus Christ through every genre of Scripture. Proper Christian preaching should create a hunger in the people to see the glories of Jesus Christ throughout his revelation to us. Every churchgoer should ask this question: Could the sermon you’re hearing be preached in a Jewish Synagogue? If so, it’s not a Christian sermon.
8. Worship Should Not Be Built on Entertainment
People have six days to be entertained, but the seventh day is a day of rest from worldly amusements and a time to seriously worship the risen Christ. If the church one is attending is theater-driven, tickling people’s ears with what they want to hear, while using the world’s methods in an attempt toward relevancy, then the worship of the Lord is compromised with worldliness. Every Sunday, churchgoers should shake off the worldly desire to be entertained, and enter the holy gathering of the saints with the desire to worship the Lord, in spirit and in truth, in the beauty of Christ’s holiness.
9. Sacraments Should Be Faithfully Exercised
God has given us two visible words in baptism and the Lord supper. These are signs and seals of his grace to us. Are these being honored in your church? Are they being faithfully administered and not cheapened by making what is holy, common (i.e. baptisms outside of corporate worship in parking lots and swimming pools for whosoever feels moved, etc.), completely disconnected from the body of Christ? Are the sacraments treated as a means for your personal renewal to the Lord, or as a means of God’s grace in providing visible word to sign and seal his promises to us?
10. The Church Should Love You Enough to Discipline You
The church does not exist to affirm people living in sin. It is not love to allow someone to continue in blatant sin without correction. In fact, churches that open their doors to people running from other churches because of sin are bringing down God’s anger on the whole congregation. A little leaven leavens the whole lump (1 Cor. 5). We are commanded, in love, to exercise church discipline on those who have strayed in doctrine or in life.
Most likely, people have no idea what church discipline is today because the practice is assumed to be unloving and vindictive. Should a sheep, however, run away from Christ into a life of unrepentant sin, the love of God should be demonstrated by the church’s willingness to “leave the ninety-nine” and go after the wandering sheep through loving discipline.