I believe one needs to assess three overarching concepts when looking for a new church. They are:
1. Your personality.
2. The emotional and spiritual maturity of the church.
3. The theology of the church.
(This is part 3 in the series, Leaving A Church While Loving The Church. Read all the articles in this series.)
About a year ago Donald Miller wrote a blog post titled, I Don’t Worship God by Singing. I Connect With Him Elsewhere. He explained that he now doesn’t go to church often, which is what his readers mostly focused on, but his intent in the article was really about learning style. He talked of how it’s hard as a kinesthetic learner to connect in church.
I agree it’s hard, but churches and traditions do exist that take into account a variety of learning styles. Unfortunately, some of these traditions may not always fall into what you feel comfortable with theologically. But, many churches (especially non-denominational ones) are moving toward integrating more than just singing and preaching into their worship services.
A great book on this, and to help you find your own style, is Sacred Pathways by Gary Thomas. He lists nine ways people connect with God, what he calls “Sacred Pathways.” They are: Naturalists, Sensates, Traditionalists, Ascetics, Activists, Caregivers, Enthusiasts, Contemplatives and Intellectuals. Here’s a link where you can take a test to find out what you are.
I suggest, once you know your top sacred pathways, you try to find a church that offers good opportunities for you to be active in those ways.
Emotional and Spiritual Maturity
We all know emotional and spiritual maturity is important but we don’t always think about it. Sometimes it’s hard to tell right away if a church, or person, is mature. Sometimes it’s abundantly clear.
One of the issues for judging maturity in a church is that the first people you meet, the loudest people, the seemingly friendliest people may actually be some of the least mature in the church. And maturity is often something that people can fake—at least for awhile. Unfortunately, you may have to hang around for a bit to really see what’s what in this department.
Here’s my list of some things to watch for:
- What leaders say, especially in a spur of the moment comment rather than a planned sermon or talk.
- See what happens if any disagreement occurs.
- Do people want to be there?
- Do staff members get along?
- Do people on staff have any theological education? This shows patience, stick-to-itiveness and a priority for taking this church thing seriously.
- Are people able to express their own ideas without being shutdown?
- Does the church seem to have a history of people leaving or sticking around?
If you want more on discerning maturity, I’ll suggest two books. I love all of the resources from Drs. Cloud & Townsend, but as I mentioned in an earlier post, the book, Safe People, is especially applicable in this situation. And, while geared more towards church leadership, The Emotionally Healthy Church, by Peter Scazzero is also a good resource.
Some people don’t think theology is important. In reality, if you believe something about God, which everyone does, you should know what you believe and act accordingly.
It’s helpful to use what Albert Mohler coined as “Theological Triage.” While I don’t always agree with how he implements the triage of his theological concepts, the backbone of the structure is sound.
Mohler says in his article:
- First-level theological issues would include those doctrines most central and essential to the Christian faith.
- The set of second-order doctrines is distinguished from the first-order set by the fact that believing Christians may disagree on the second-order issues, though this disagreement will create significant boundaries between believers. When Christians organize themselves into congregations and denominational forms, these boundaries become evident.
- Third-order issues are doctrines over which Christians may disagree and remain in close fellowship, even within local congregations.
As I outlined in my first article, these are the concepts I believe as first-order doctrine:
- The concept of the Trinity. (Read more on my views of this being the primary doctrine.)
- Jesus Christ as fully God and fully man.
- The spiritual lostness of humanity.
- The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of our sins.
- The inspiration and authority of Scripture.
Third order doctrines, as outlined by Mohler, would be things you should not ever divide over, the petty things that don’t matter. If you find a mature church, these third-order issues won’t cause much dissension.
The real question you need to answer for yourself is what you believe about second-order doctrines. As I mentioned in my second article, a second-order doctrinal issue arose for me when my church switched from a generally Baptist denomination to an Assemblies of God denomination. Among a few other doctrines, I couldn’t get past the belief in Baptism of the Holy Spirit. Since it’s an essential part of Assemblies of God doctrine, I didn’t feel right about staying in that congregation.
A great resource for finding out more on doctrine is Zondervan’s Counterpoint series. Each book tackles a different theological topic. Several experts each write a chapter, all with a different viewpoint, and then the other authors get a chance to respond.
Here are a few of the topics I’d suggest starting with. These second-tier issues have divided many denominations and churches:
In my next article I’ll talk about my personal experiences actually trying out new churches. So, keep reading and leave comments.