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What to Look For in a Church

by Pete Snow, Assistant Minister at Christ Church Mayfair

 

I’ve met a lot of newcomers over the last few weeks. Lots of them are ‘church shopping’: they’re new to London and want a church, but are spoilt for choice. Here I try to lay out some biblical criteria for how to choose a church, or how to advise someone you know who’s choosing a church. There’s a gentle warning, and then three criteria.

choosingchurch

It’s like visiting Waitrose…

The threat is this: there’s a lot of choice! London is full of churches - praise God - and I doubt you could visit all of them in your lifetime, let alone in your student years. I think it’s worth us knowing that, in history, it’s quite a recent thing to have a choice of churches. It’s also unusual in the world today: most Christians are glad to have a church within striking distance and a trained pastor to lead them. We’re pretty spoilt in London.

You could think of the choice this way: for Christians down the ages and in the world today, church is a bit like shopping at Lidl. Part of Lidl’s supermarket genius is that they often just have one product: so if I want some ham, I walk up to the meat shelf and choose the one variety of ham that they stock. If you go to Waitrose, on the other hand, and you want some ham, prepare to be wowed! Would you like Wiltshire breaded ham or honey roast ham? Thick or thin? Cured or smoked? Do you prefer your salami Italian or German? What choice! The church situation in London is like choosing ham in Waitrose.

apples

So be warned: there’s lots of choice! Enjoy it, but be aware that churches vary wildly in what they offer (e.g. Acts 20:28-31, 1 Tim. 1:3-7, 2 Pet. 2:1-3, Rev. 3:14-16). The church reformers identified three marks of a true church: 1) preaching of the word, 2) administration of the sacraments (baptism and the Lord’s Supper) and 3) the exercise of church discipline. I believe in these, but church shoppers find them hard to test. For instance, if a sermon was mostly right, was it a true sermon? Where’s the line? If I disagree a church’s infant baptism policy, are the sacraments truly administered? Should I avoid the church because of it? If church discipline wasn’t exercised well in one pastoral case, does that rule out the church as a viable option from now on?

3 questions to ask

I’m going to give you three which are easier to test. Note that they are not ‘What type of coffee does the church serve?’ or, ‘Do I know the songs that the church sings?’. They’re more important than that.

1) “Will God be magnified here?” (Worship)

God is great. If a church doesn’t help you appreciate that, then it isn’t a very good church to go to. In Matthew 28:16-20, when he early Christians see Jesus they worship him. He has all authority in heaven and on earth, and he calls all nations to acknowledge it.

So ask yourself, will God be magnified here? Will He be great in my mind, after I spend time here? Or, as my Bible college tutor once asked me, “Will God be bigger or smaller in your vision by the time you leave here?” I don’t just mean the sung worship (although that’s part of it); I mean I want a church that helps me in my whole life of worship to appreciate God and to love Him more.

I like the story of some American tourists in the Victorian era who came to visit churches in London. They went to the church of a famous minister and left saying, ‘What a great preacher!’ The next Sunday they went to Charles Spurgeon’s Metropolitan Tabernacle, and they went away saying, ‘What a great Saviour!’ I want a church that helps me see that, because God is great.

2) “Could my friend come here?” (Witness)

Eternity is real. Again, in Matthew 28:19 Jesus makes the claim, “All authority has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples…” That’s the gospel message, that Jesus made them and rules over them and will judge us one day, for better or worse. Only faith in Christ will count then.

So a second question to ask myself when choosing a church would be, “Could my friend come to this church and hear that Jesus Christ is Lord?” Does that message get enough air time in the services and sermons and small talk? And practically, does the church meet in a place that I can reasonably get to? With the best will in the world, it’s hard to persuade any friend to accompany you across London on 3 Tubes, a bus and a Boris bike.

3) “Will I grow here?” (Nurture)

People are weak. In our honest moments we know that, and the Bible is frank about it too. With a final look at Matthew 28 we see that Jesus expects all disciples to be baptised and taught to obey his commands (19). I take it that baptism is a one-off event to show that we are following Christ, and that teaching goes on and on and on. With that in mind, a good question to ask myself about churches is ‘Will I go on and on and on growing here as I’m taught all that Jesus commanded?’

We’re not naturally mature, so we need the Bible (Eph. 4:11-13). In particular, we need also word ministers to teach us the Bible, so that you are ready to go out into the world and be ready to serve God whatever walk of life you choose (Eph. 4:12).

In a similar vein, none of us are naturally holy, so we need church discipline. Actually, I want a church that will kick people out if they have to, in order to bring me to repentance (Matt. 18:15-20, 1 Cor. 5:1-5).

Finally, we are not naturally lonely, so we need fellowship. (e.g. Acts 2:42, 4:32). This, of course, is one of the great benefits of being a Christian: you not only have God as your Father but innumerable believers as your siblings. This is not only receiving companionship but serving others’ needs (e.g. Mark 10:45). I remember the phase of life where I first discovered that there were other Christians who I could walk alongside. I realised I can’t walk the Christian walk alone, nor do I want to.

 

I pray that as you enjoy the wealth of churches London has to offer you’ll be able to ask, “Will God be magnified here, could my friend come here and could I grow here?” And may God give you a church where the answer is emphatically “Yes!” to all three.
This material was originally delivered as a talk at our student night, Student Knowing God, in October 2016

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The Holy Spirit

  • How should we expect to see (feel?) the Spirit at work in our lives?
  • If I can’t prophesy / speak in tongues, does that make me a poor Christian?
  • Who? What? How?
  • If he is God, how is he differentiated from God? If not, what is he?
  • What are the gifts of the Holy Spirit?
  • What is the function of the Spirit in relation to Jesus?

These are just a few of the questions that we were asked about the Holy Spirit. So we thought we'd spend three weeks thinking about:

Baptised in the Spirit (Simon Pedley)

Filled with the Spirit (Simon Pedley)

Gifts of the Spirit (Simon Pedley)

(Left-click to play, right-click to download. All the handouts are in the PDF below.)

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It’s all about Jesus

What could be better to spend a month thinking about at the start of a new year than Jesus Christ?! Everything - the world, your degree course, human history, the Bible - really is all about him if only we had eyes to see. Listen along with us, and get a new vision for the Jesus who is all in all for you.

(Left-click to play, right-click to download. All the handouts are in the PDF at the bottom.)

It's all about Jesus (Simon Pedley)

Jesus our Prophet (Simon Pedley)

Jesus our Priest (Jon Arnold)

Jesus our King (Rob Chapman)

 

"I am an historian, I am not a believer. But this penniless preacher from Galilee is irresistibly the centre of history." (H. G. Wells, renowned author, 1866-1946)

"Jesus of Nazareth, without money and arms, conquered more millions than Alexander the Great, Caesar, Mohammed, and Napoleon; without science and learning, he shed more light on things human and divine than all philosophers and scholars combined; without the eloquence of school, he spoke such words of life as were never spoken before or since, and produced effects which lie beyond the reach of orator or poet; without writing a single line, he set more pens in motion, and furnished themes for more sermons, orations, discussions, learned volumes, works of art, and songs of praise than the whole army of great men of ancient and modern times." (Philip Schaff, Historian of the early church, 1819-1893)

"I know men and I tell you that Jesus Christ is no mere man. Between Him and every other person in the world there is no possible term of comparison. Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne, and I have founded empires. But on what did we rest the creation of our genius? Upon force. Jesus Christ founded His empire upon love; and at this hour millions of men would die for Him." (Napoleon Bonaparte, French military and political ruler, 1769-1821)

"He was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. He grew up in still another village where he worked in a carpenter’s shop until he was thirty. Then for three years he travelled and preached. He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never had a family or owned a house. He did not go to college. He never visited a big city. He never travelled more than two hundred miles from the place where he was born. He did none of the things we usually associate with greatness. He had no credentials but himself.

He was only thirty-three when the tide of public opinion turned against him. His friends ran away. He was turned over to his enemies and went through the mockery of a trial. He was nailed to a stake between two thieves. While he was dying, his executioners gambled for the only property he had on earth, his coat. When he was dead, he was laid in a borrowed grave through the pity of a friend.

Two thousand years have come and gone and today he remains the central figure of the human race and the leader of mankind’s progress. All the armies that ever marched, all the fleets that ever sailed, all the parliaments that ever sat, all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of men on this planet so much as that One Solitary Life." (James Allen Francis, church minister, 1864-1928)

"As a child I received instruction both in the Bible and in the Talmud. I am a Jew, but I am enthralled by the luminous figure of the Nazarene....No one can read the Gospels without feeling the actual presence of Jesus. His personality pulsates in every word. No myth is filled with such life." (Albert Einstein, celebrated theoretical physicist, 1879-1955)

"A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to." (C. S. Lewis, writer and Oxford Professor of English Literature, 1898-1963)

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Big words that end in TION

The Bible uses lots of big words, and this term we're getting into seven of them that all end in  -tion. The point isn't to learn new things so we can show off how clever we all are. Each of these seven words describes one aspect of what God has done in saving us in Jesus. So this term we want our hearts to grow in love for the one who has given us...

Election (Richard Criddle)

Regeneration (Rob Chapman)

Propitiation (Nathan Richards)

Justification/Imputation (Richard Criddle)

Adoption (Dave Wakefield)

Glorification (Simon Pedley)

(Left-click to listen, right-click to download. For all the handouts, click below)

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Joel resources

Welcome to the book of Joel for our Bible studies this term! If you missed our first week, I suggest that the best way to get your head into this mini-prophet is:

  1. Take 15 minutes to read him through a couple of times with a pen in your hand to mark things that strike you.
  2. Listen to the introduction talk below (13 minutes)
  3. If you've never seen a locust, watch the videos to get a feel for just how horrible they are.
  4. Come along next week when we'll be diving into chapter 1 together!

 
Introduction to Joel (left-click to play, right-click to download)


 

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Enjoying the Bible

How would you teach a toddler to like eating honey? Read them the ingredients list? Describe how you feel when you eat it? Teach them about taste buds and neurons and pleasure centres in the brain? Rubbish! If you want a toddler to like honey  just give them a spoon and let them taste it!

God's word is "sweeter than honey" (Psalm 19). So tonight we dipped in a spoon to have some tastes and see if our appetite for the Bible grew. This isn't one to listen to on the go - we spent three blocks of ten minutes by ourselves during the session to enjoy God's word, so to taste the sweetness for yourself you'll want to pause the recording and open your Bible.

Enjoying the Bible (left-click to play, right-click to download)

 

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