Considering how many Christian freshmen are on campus, I thought it would be useful to write a series of posts on a subject that has been weighing very heavily on my heart for the past four or five months: how to find a suitable church. For me, that subject has involved the related dilemma of how to leave a church which does not suit me, but that will be a post for another series. It’s important, when considering such matters, to understand biblical principles on the matter. So here are three things to keep in mind as you engage in your personal church search:
1. The Church is body of people, not a building.
“The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.” – Acts 7:24-25
“The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” – 1 Corinthians 10:16-17
“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body— Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many.” – 1 Corinthians 12:12-14
This all goes to say that you are not looking for a fancy building, but for a group of people who will challenge, encourage, correct, and edify you. As a member of this body, you are looking for a church that has a healthy balance of members (if it were only feet or only hands would be quite terrifying). If there is a healthy balance, then an extra nose will be appreciated instead of underutilized or overburdened.
2. The Church is bigger than a single congregation.
“And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” – Ephesians 1:22-23
“For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.” – Ephesians 5:23
Christ is not the head of only one congregation. He is the head of the church, of all of the churches – in Ephesus, in Corinth, in Antioch, in Jerusalem – corporately. So the title of this series is a bit misleading: it should be pretty easy to find the church. But it’s a little bit harder as you search for the right congregation to join. (Of course, the “congregation search” doesn’t have the same ring to it, you know? Please forgive my imprecision. Maybe next time it’ll be “Congregation Exploration.” That way we can all feel a little bit like Dora and Diego.)
3. The Church is your family.
“While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. But he replied to the man who told him, ‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.'” – Matthew 12:46-50
“Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God.” – Romans 7:4
“Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity.” – 1 Timothy 5:1-2
Our interactions should be like that of family. If you were moving to a new place, who are the first people you would try to find? Probably your biological family. Christians moving to a new school should be searching for spiritual family first and foremost. When you are trying to choose a congregation, you are looking for one that is part of the family – one that does the will of God. You are also looking for a place that treats each other like family – that greets you as a brother or sister with love. (Though don’t expect too many holy kisses. That’s a little too intrusive into one’s personal space. Go with the side hug to be safe.)
The decision that you make about what congregation to join is very important (as well as when you’re selecting an on-campus fellowship). It will shape your spiritual life and your walk with God during your college career. Above all, remember that you need to be part of a congregation. As my minister Glenn Petruzzi put it, “Saying we can be Christian without being part of a church is like saying we can be a husband without having a wife.” The church is an essential part of Christianity. Paul reminds those in Corinth:
If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’… Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” – 1 Corinthians 12:14-21, 27
You are an important part of the body and you desperately need the other parts of the body. Just as an organ can only survive so long in transport between one body and the next, you can only survive spiritually for a short time transitioning from one body to the next. That being said, you must do your due diligence to make sure that this new body is healthy and the right fit (with the right protein receptors and blood type and all that jazz). So most of all, as you search for a new congregation, remember to “be quick, but don’t hurry.”