My family and I recently moved to Arizona from Alaska. We are, again, engaging in the process of having to start many things, all over again. New friends, new jobs and… a new local church.
I started writing this article a few days ago for me to understand, personally, what I am looking for in a local church. After a few paragraphs I stopped and went on to the next thing. However, my family and I went to visit a church nearby. It was big beautiful building in a very large property. The church seats a few thousand people; I guess we came in when one service was ending and the next one was about to begin. A few very smiley folks were directing traffic in the parking lot to avoid any confusion. The place was packed; people everywhere; mostly Anglos.
As we walked in, I noticed a couple of big screen TVs showing some soccer games. I don’t even know how to describe it, but it was like a small portion of a mall up in there! In one session they were selling the coffee; in another sessions food and then there were tables; I saw folks eating, drinking coffee and carrying on all kinds of conversations. The ushers were on point; they definitely did not make us feel like we were ignored.
We then walked into the big sanctuary as videos were playing before the service on three, almost movie theater style, screens. Oh, it was loud and so hip! Finally this man, who only identified himself by his first name, welcomed folks to the service, he then cracked a joke and, as people laughed, he walked off the stage and the music from the live worship team started. The worship team looked like pop stars; wearing jeans and, I noticed one of them wearing the adidas sweat suit, you know, the real cool one; all black with the white lines on the side. So cool!
Thankfully, as soon as the worship team started, I received a phone call. I did not know if it was a car salesman or a neighbor telling me that my dog Luna was wondering around the neighborhood. See, just the other day, as I was getting ready to practice my golf game at the Encanto Golf Club, I got a phone call from another neighbor that my dog was in front of my yard. That time, it was my fault as I left the gate open. Before we went to church today, I left Luna in the backyard, after making sure the gate was close. Well, Luna got out again, so I left the service to go and get my dog and meet this other neighbor. This time Luna dug under the gate and got out. This neighbor was also very kind. As I brought Luna in, I received a text from my wife that the portion of the message in the service was been delivered via video.
As I arrived back at the church, I caught the end of the video. I am guessing they have one service with the pastor live and they record that video for the rest of the services. I thought to myself; what in heavens is that? You are going to tell me that out of the thousands and thousands of people in this church there is not one man or one woman who can preach or teach the Word live? Are you serious? The pastor or whomever this man was ended the video and released the congregation; no prayer, no ministering to anybody, not calling anybody to receive the Lord, NOTHING! I saw the people then walked out like robots and many gathered at the “mini mall” in front of the church for coffee and food. By the way, they had free food for first-time visitors. Amazing!
There are so many things wrong with this approach to church that I probably could write a book about it. I left that church irritated and, believe me when I tell you; I am not going to join that one. See, there are many topics in the Bible that are difficult to understand or, simply not revealed to us at this particular hour. After all, the Bible itself tells in First Corinthians 13 that we know in part. However, when it comes down to the church; the Bible has a lot to say. I will go as far as saying that everything we need to know about the proper modus operandi of the church; in other words, the way the church should function, is already in Scripture.
On this article I will just touch on a few points. First, why am I even writing this article? Because since April of 1997, when I gave my life to Jesus, I have seen a terrible pattern in the modus operandi of the church; the hyper emphasis on some areas and the ignoring of others.
You have denominations emphasizing on making Saturdays the most holy day of the week, you have other denominations teaching Jesus only; no Father and no Holy Ghost, is all Jesus. Other focus on the Baptism of the Holy Ghost with a hyper emphasis on speaking in tongues. Others, no matter what they preach about on Sundays, the altar call will be to the lost. Most problematic for me are denominations that totally ignore the fivefold ministry. They pick and choose between these five ministries and, what many of them have in common is that, they ignore the apostolic and the prophetic office. Even more troubling is how the Holy Spirit is about ignored.
We do the same Sunday after Sunday, already dictating what is to be preached with weeks and months of anticipation and, there is never a divine interruption, a true welcoming of the Shekinah glory of God. Then we wonder why folks are bored with church and not changing.
The church is not perfect; we all know that and, if we doubt our imperfection, all we have to do is look at the person in the mirror. But praise God that He is perfect, and His Word is perfect. The Prophets and the Apostles who wrote the Scripture were also imperfect. However, make no mistake about it; they were instruments who were used to write the infallible Word of God. When we open that book, we called the Bible, we will find inconsistencies in translations, but the Word itself describes perfect theology and perfect doctrine.
Let me now make a few points concerning the church according to the Bible; the church that I am looking for.
The Church MUST be Biblical.
We must remember that, at the center of our nature as disciples of Christ, is God’s Word. Jesus stated in John 8:31, “if you continue in My word then you are truly disciples of Mine.” New American Standard Version (NASB). The foundation of church doctrine and theology was given to us by God through the prophets of the Old Testament, the Apostles in the New Testament and Jesus as the cornerstone (Ephesians 2:20) The Bible also tells us, specifically, that
All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NASB)
Without the Scripture we can’t effectively teach according to God’s standards, we can’t rebuke when rebuke is needed, we can’t correct errors, nor can we properly train and equip folks for the work of ministry.
Honor the Holy Spirit
This may sound strange and illogical to you; but it is possible for ministers to be great teachers of God’s Word, yet, totally ignore the Holy Spirit. When we convince ourselves that the effectiveness of our ministry is based not on us and our abilities, but on the anointing of God, we avoid making the mistake of engaging on unanointed ministry. There is a flow, there is a now Word, there is something that the Holy Ghost wants to do with particular people at a particular time. The Holy Ghost is at work all the time. Is not for HIM to flow with us, is us flowing with HIM. Jesus gave us that example in his relationship with his dad while on this earth. In John 5:19 Jesus tells us a fundamental principle in ministry,
Therefore Jesus answered and was saying to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner. (NASB)
Jesus understood that he did nothing without the Father. Today as believers we must have the mindset that we do nothing without the Holy Ghost. Nevertheless, I have seen a nasty divorce taking place in many churches. It is the divorce of the Word of God and the Holy Ghost. What I mean is that some denominations or, self-proclaimed, nondenominational churches either focus on the Holy Ghost while ignoring the teachings of God’s Word or, focus on the teaching of God’s Word with no sensitivity to the Holy Ghost. We can preach a message straight out of Scripture concerning salvation; however, it may be a situation where everybody you are ministering to is saved, but they are struggling with condemnation, guilt, not feeling worthy, etc. While your message on salvation was biblically sound, you miss the voice of the Holy Ghost who wanted to minister to these folks according to what they needed at the time.
The foundation is God’s Word (Ephesians 2:20); however, we must honor and welcome every activity of the Holy Ghost. Without the Holy Ghost we have no church and we have no ministry. Now, I know there is a lot of craziness out there with folks doing things supposedly led by the Holy Ghost when they are only led by their own emotions and selfish agendas. However, if we go back to the Word as our foundation, we will be able to correct a lot of that foolishness. Second Corinthians 13:1 tells us, “…Every fact is to be confirmed by thetestimony of two or three witnesses.” (NASB)
Everything that is spoken or done in the church or, in our lives for that matter, must be confirmed by God’s Word and by two or three witnesses. This is the measure that is taken to avoid errors. Errors are not reasons to avoid the Holy Ghost all together; that is a trick of the enemy. We must never divorce the Word of God from His Spirit; we need them both vitally and, we must be bold to point out inconsistencies and unbiblical matters that are presented as truth.
Honor the Fivefold Ministry
Many are only honoring the Pastor-Teacher and, at times, the Evangelist. However, without the apostolic office there is no order and the tendency will be to water down, add or take from God’s Word. When we read the apostles letters we can see that they were constantly dealing with false doctrines. On the other hand, without the prophetic office we are also missing some key elements in the church. First Corinthians 14:3-4 tells us,
But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort. 4 Anyone who speaks in a tongue edifies themselves, but the one who prophesies edifies the church. (NIV)
When we take away the prophetic office from amongst us, we take away the opportunity of strengthening our folks through the prophetic ministry, we open doors for an epidemic of discouragement and we also keep people away from finding healing through the comforting anointing of the prophetic flow. Lastly, when we take away the prophetic office, we weaken our people as we take away the prophetic flow that brings edification to the church.
In conclusion, as I search for my new local church in this wonderful state of Arizona, I have learned a few things through my years of experience in ministry. I am not jumping into the first church I find; I learned my lesson in Alaska. I will visit churches, pray and look for specific things that are now non-negotiable to me.
I am not joining any church that is not biblical; I am not joining any church that dishonors the Holy Ghost and, I am not joining any church that ignores the fullness of the fivefold ministry. I also should add that, as a divorcee myself, I will not join any church who treats divorcees as second-rate citizens. Divorce is a sin and a failure; however, is not and unforgeable sin. (I have a lot to say about this) The specific modus operandi of the church is clearly described in Acts 2:42,
They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. (NASB)
Beloved that’s the real church, the church of the Bible!