“… but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else.” I Thessalonians 5:15b (NIV)
Where can a good church be found today? Do you know a really good church? Is there any left? I would submit the answer is, “Yes”, if you are looking for a good church based on biblical principles and not just personal preferences. When our personal preferences become submitted to biblical principles and biblical perspectives, we can see there are indeed really good, even great churches in our community. I believe I Thessalonians 5:12-20 give us some clues as to what a really good church might look like.
First, and I mention this first just because it happens to be first in the passage, the church has a respect for its church leadership. You can hear that respect reflected in how these leaders are promoted in printed literature, how people speak about them, how people are flocking to their Bible study classes, and how their character is spoken of with respect. This applies to both vocational ministers and lay leaders alike.
Second, there is no tolerance of those who are idle or disruptive (unruly). I have heard said that every church membership has these folks on the church roll. My response is, “Why?” If they are not engaged in ministry in some form why are they claiming membership? The work of the Kingdom of God is not a spectator sport. My suspicion, from a few decades of experience in ministry, is that some of the idle are also the disruptive. Pressed to account for what they do in the church, the idle might even say that to be a disruptive contrarian is their ministry. That is pure foolishness and I suspect is the heart of why many born-again Christians find it a challenge to find that good church for which they have so earnestly sought.
When searching for a good church, ask the question, what happens if there are disagreements? Is there a biblical process for church discipline and accountability? Look at the faces of people in the churches you visit. Are people looking at each other? Listen. Are happy, cordial, greetings being exchanged?
Next, look at what ministries are being engaged. God’s Word says the church is to encourage the disheartened and help the weak. There is a big world outside the church doors that is looking and longing for authenticity in ministry. The day of a church playing at church with programs that are all aimed internally is past. The really good church is looking for those who need to be encouraged and ministered to with the love, grace, mercy, and compassion of Jesus Christ. It is where a church’s witness to the world becomes real. A church with an effective witness through ministry outside its doors is not only a good church but a great church.
Does the church have the reputation of infighting? God’s Word says in a good church people are not looking for payback if they are wronged but look for doing good toward each other.
Isn’t it interesting that Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:44 to do good to those that hate you, to love your enemies, to bless them that curse you, and pray for those that despitefully use and even persecute you. How much harder can it be to love and forgive a brother or sister in Christ than an enemy? In a good church the members do good toward each other by forgiving and being forgiven.
Finally, a good church has a joyful, prayerful heart. You can’t keep a good church down. They face challenges together, pray together for the Lord’s will and direction, and praise the Lord in all circumstances. Their unity is built on the person, the sacrificial love, the unmerited grace, of Jesus Christ.
Now, all this said, if you find Mr. Goodchurch, you may not want to join it. If you find the perfect church, the moment you join it, it is not perfect any more. Good churches do exist who place the biblical model of church as outlined in scripture as their goal. What makes a church truly good, perhaps even great is they receive imperfect people into a community of imperfect people serving a perfect Lord. Their desire is to serve Jesus Christ, honor His Word, and love us and forgive each of us despite the imperfections we bring to the community of faith. When you see forgiveness and grace as the hallmarks of a local church, spend a little more time praying about that one. That may be the really good church you have been looking for.