Searching for a church to serve, grow, and prayerfully become a member of can be a stressful endeavor. I’ve been through that experience a couple of times since I’ve been a believer. It was even more of a challenge after I married and we had to look for a church in which we both felt connected. We started with a long list of things we “wanted,” but ended up narrowing down our list to what was very important. The question that guided our search was, “What are the essentials of a healthy Bible-believing church?” Once we looked at what was important to the apostles – prayer and attending to the Word – we knew that we had to look for a church that proclaimed and taught the Word of God. I thought our search would be easy after we arrived at that conclusion, but it was far from easy. We knew what the gospel was, but it didn’t seem as though the churches we visited preached the finality of the work of Jesus on the cross.
Once we found a church that taught the Scriptures we were relieved. We finally found a home – but we both felt uneasy. The leaders were preaching God’s Word, the music was God-centered, and the people were nice, so what was our problem? Maybe we were just too worldly and this church was spiritual. We could not pinpoint the problem, but we were so uneasy that we left before we made any significant relationships. It always bothered me that I could not articulate why we left.
This past week I started teaching through the book of 1 Thessalonians in our family devotions. Though I’ve read this book every year, I’ve never really studied it. The most eye-opening thing about this book so far is that it is a great manual for how healthy churches are suppose to function. I’ve always studied the Pastoral Epistles for my ecclesiology (the study of church doctrine), but I’ve discovered that 1 Thessalonians is also an excellent source for church doctrine. It was in chapter two where I found my answer to what made us feel so uneasy about that church we left three years ago.
In 1 Thessalonians 2:7, the apostle Paul stated that they (Paul, Silvanus and Timothy) proved to be gentle among them (The Thessalonians) as a nursing mother tenderly caring for her own children. In 2:11, he also compared their leadership to a father, who exhorted, encouraged, and implored them to walk in a worthy manner of the God who called them. That was it! The church we left was preaching God’s Word, but the leadership was not gentle. They seemed overbearing and they gave the appearance of leaders who were “lording (their leadership) over the flock” (1 Peter 5:3). They were not gentle as a shepherd is with his sheep.
So is Bible-teaching and preaching the only criteria for a healthy church? No. A healthy Bible-believing church must preach the Word AND have gentle and caring elders who exhort, encourage and implore Christians to walk worthy of the God who calls us into His own kingdom and glory.
Brian L. Spivey… D.O.C.