"Proclamation of the "Good News" supposes a witnessing community"
Prof. Howard Snyder, in "Community of the King"
I have been asked by quite a few people to recommend churches where they could visit or potentially attend. One of the troubling aspects of church shopping is that we approach it like we are buying a car. We compare the features of a church, take it for a test spin, kick its tires by asking a few questions, determine its cost/benefit ratio (what is expected from me versus what do I get out it), and then ultimately compare the experience with other experiences until I find the church that meets my needs most effectively. Interestingly, that pattern of selecting a church is neither Biblical or effective. In the same way that we feel guilt when we buy a car that is supposed to meet all of our transportation needs, only to find another car that is faster, more fuel efficient, more aesthetically pleasing, or more technologically sophisticated, consumer based church choosing leads to dissatisfaction.
If you are choosing a church, and you can't get to the church that I pastor (shameless promotion for a fantastic community of God, New Hope free Methodist Church in Rochester, NY, http://www.newhopefree.org/), consider the following prinicples as you choose.
1. Jesus forms communities around calling: The Greek word often translated as church (Ekklesia) literally means "assembly of the called". Jesus literally calls us to communities as places of "believing, bonding, and blessing". We are summoned to a community of people to establish and strengthen the faith of the community, develop strong relationships within the community, and to collaborate with the community to bless our regions. Try asking God where He wants you instead of telling God where you think you would do best.
2. There is no such thing as communion without commission: Communion, or fellowship with God leads to participation of the mission of Jesus to bless and liberate the world through the experience and demonstration of the love of God. The idea that we are "saved to serve" is true. If you are looking to find a community of believers where you can simply passively take in spiritual knowledge and be marginally involved in the mission of Jesus, then you are looking for a club, but not a church.
3. Community defines normal: Your community will form you. The things that are being celebrated in the community are the things that you will celebrate. The things that are valued will become your values. Conversely, you help shape and define the lives of others when you enter into community. You and your life helps to define for others, what healthy looks like.
4. Everything named as church is not really church. Communities of people centered on the person of Jesus Christ: His life, death, resurrection, and mission describes the church. Just as a can opener is not a can opener if it can not open cans, the church is not the church if it does not do what Jesus does. A church is authentic based upon the real experiences of its members with a risen Christ and its ability to faithfully witness (proclamation and demonstration) to that relentless, redeeming, and radical love.
I trust that if you are seeking a deeper relationship with God, that you will understand how important it is to participate in a community of faith. It is within community, that we experience the power and presence of God more fully.
May God bless you today,
Pastor M Traylor