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/ Songbook.ManuelAdam.com February 28th, 2005 Newsletter!
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Acts 2:37-42 - The Fellowship of the Believers
37When the people heard this, they
were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles,
“Brothers, what shall we do?”
38Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized,
every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of
your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
39The promise is for you and your
children and for all who are far off–for all whom the Lord our God
40With many other words he warned them;
and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt
generation.” 41Those who accepted his
message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their
number that day.
42They devoted themselves to the
apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and
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Membership in the Church by Pastor Dodds (Covenant
OPC, Grove City)
In today's world of multimedia, there is no substitute for the
visible church. In today's world of non-commitment, Christians
are called to commitment. Learn about the importance of church
membership in this sermon.
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Choosing Your Church
The Ten Things That Matter Most
By Joshua Harris
The first time Curtis saw the congregation at our church he wasn’t too
excited. “As a black man I had always enjoyed the comforts of
segregated churches,” Curtis told me later. “When I walked in here,
all these folks were singing and had their hands raised to God.”
Curtis paused and a playful smile spread across his face. “Man, there
were so many white hands in the air I thought it was snowing!”
In spite of his misgivings, Curtis stayed for the meeting. He even
came back the next Sunday. He was drawn to the teaching and the depth
of faith he saw in other singles at the church. He decided to stay and
become a part of this fellowship.
Not that the choice was easy for him. “It had never crossed my mind to
go to a church that was predominantly white,” he says. “When you’re
black in this country, with all of the history of racism, apart from
the saving knowledge of Jesus, your blackness is sometimes all you
have left. It totally defines you. But God showed me that I was a
Christian first and a black man second. The gospel had to define me.
Being in a place that preached and lived the gospel had to be the
If you’re ready to decide where to go to church—or not sure if the
church you’re attending is where God wants you—you may be faced with
difficult choices as well. A lot is at stake. Most of us have a lot of
options. And most of us have a lot of preferences, too.
So how do we decide what matters most?
The wisdom you need to choose a church is a little like the wisdom a
person needs to choose a spouse. For example, it’s not wrong for a
woman to want to marry a man with blond hair who likes Italian food
and hiking. But it would be foolish to place these preferences over
the priority of him being truly converted and growing in godliness. In
the same way, it’s not wrong to want a church with a lot of people
your age or to prefer a certain style of worship music—but these are
secondary concerns. Curtis’s example is helpful. He chose a church
based on the criteria God’s Word gives—not just on his preferences, or
what felt comfortable or familiar to him.
In the same way, we need two different lists when it comes to
selecting a church—a “must-have” list and a “that-would-be-nice” list
of qualities in a church. In this chapter, I want to help you with your
Use these ten questions to help you explore and understand a church
you’re considering. They work whether you’ve been there for two weeks
or ten years. This list isn’t exhaustive, and some of the questions
will take time to process. But they can help you hone in on the issues
that matter most.
1. Is this a church where God’s Word is faithfully taught?
“The kind of church you want to be a part of,” writes Donald Whitney,
“is one where, when the Bible is read at the beginning of a sermon,
you can be confident that what follows will be built upon it. God made
our hearts, and only He knows what we need most. And He made our
hearts for the Word of God. Nothing nourishes us like His message.”
A God-glorifying church is governed by God’s Word. Paul tells us in 2
Timothy 3:16 that “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable
for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in
Be careful here. At first glance, most churches will appear to teach
God’s Word. You’ll see it printed in the bulletin, written on the
walls, or sprinkled through the services. But these references to
scripture don’t necessarily mean a church is submitted to God’s Word.
Some teachers start their messages with the Bible, but it’s only a
jumping off point to share their own opinions. I should know—I used to
be one of those teachers! I used to build entertaining messages around
engaging illustrations, stories, or ideas I had. I always peppered my
messages with Scripture. But Scripture wasn’t the meat of the message;
it was only the seasoning.
Since then, God has mercifully helped me to grow in my understanding
of faithful preaching. I’ve learned that the best thing I can do for
my church is to build a message on the teaching of a particular
passage of Scripture—to draw my points and emphasis from the points
and emphasis of the passage. This approach, often called expositional
preaching, can be expressed through many different personalities and
presentation styles (and it doesn’t have to add up to long, difficult,
or boring sermons!). The driving principle is that God’s Word has the
authority. The preacher’s task is simply to unleash what it has to say
to God’s people.
So your first priority is to look for a church whose teaching is
driven by a confidence in the authority of Scripture.
2. Is this a church where sound doctrine matters?
Acts 2:42 says that the first believers “devoted themselves to the
apostles’ teaching.” Today we have the apostles’ teaching passed down
in the Bible. Doctrine may sound like an intimidating word. But it
simply means what the Bible teaches about any given subject.
Therefore, a church in which doctrine matters is one that values
biblical truth, knows what it believes, and is guided by these beliefs
in the way it functions.
Sound doctrine is always under attack. Paul tells us in 2 Timothy 4:3
that “the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching,
but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers
to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the
truth and wander off into myths.”
These days, doctrine is often derided by people who view it as
divisive and unnecessary to living the Christian life. Some people
pride themselves on not being concerned with the specifics of what
they believe about salvation, sin, the work of the Spirit, and other
doctrinal issues. A friend who attended a large conference for youth
workers told me that the host started the event by walking on stage
and declaring, “It’s not about doctrine! It’s about Jesus!”
I consider this a sad and misleading statement. We don’t have to
choose between caring about doctrine and loving Jesus. The two
pursuits are not opposed to each other. In fact, they are inseparable!
We can only grow in our love for our Savior as we learn more of who He
is and what He has accomplished for us. A concern for truth doesn’t
take us away from a deeper relationship with Him. It leads us closer
to Him, in greater worship, adoration, and obedience.
I agree that you can find churches that hold to their doctrinal
positions arrogantly or unwisely. Or that use secondary doctrinal
issues as a way to be exclusive or condescending toward others who
disagree with them. I hope you’ll never fall into this kind of
attitude. We can love truth deeply without being unkind or proud.
Look for a church that clearly knows and defines what it believes—a
place where the statement of faith actually makes a difference. If
this is the church home for you, you should be able to agree with this
statement on its major doctrines.
If you’re looking for a book that can add insight to your Bible study
on doctrine, I highly recommend Bible Doctrine by Wayne Grudem. This
book covers all the major doctrines—of God, man, Christ, salvation—in
a way that’s easy to understand. Shannon, who often uses it in her
devotions, has found that Grudem’s teaching infuses her heart with
love for her Father in heaven. A helpful teaching tool like this can
also clarify your own doctrinal convictions as you look for a church
3. Is this a church in which the gospel is cherished and clearly
The gospel is the Good News of Jesus Christ’s perfect life,
sacrificial death for sinners, and glorious resurrection and
ascension. It’s the story line of all of God’s Word—a holy God has
mercifully made a way for sinners to be forgiven and accepted through
the cross of Christ.
I grew up in a Christian home, but for many years of my life the
gospel wasn’t a central focus. In fact it was all rather fuzzy. I knew
Jesus loved me. I knew He wanted a personal relationship with me. I
knew He wanted me to be a good person.
It wasn’t until God brought me to a church that clearly proclaimed and
cherished the gospel that I learned how the work of Christ for me
functioned practically in my daily Christian life. I could only relate
to God on the basis of His grace. My good works didn’t earn my
standing before God; Jesus had earned my standing before Him. I wasn’t
just a lovable guy in need of a personal relationship; I was a sinner
who needed to be rescued from God’s just wrath by the death of Jesus.
Focusing on this sweet truth made grace truly amazing. It helped me
when I was struggling against sin. It helped me to readily forgive
About choosing a church, Charles Spurgeon once said: Do not go where
it is all fine music and grand talk and beautiful architecture; those
things will neither fill anybody’s stomach, nor feed his soul. Go
where the gospel is preached, the gospel that really feeds your soul,
and go often.
C. J. Mahaney, the pastor and friend who has coached and trained me in
ministry, has taught me the primacy of the gospel in my personal life
and in leading a local church. He has taught me that the gospel isn’t
just for getting saved—it’s the defining reality we need to live in
every day of our lives. That’s why I highly recommend his book The
Cross Centered Life to help you understand what it means to cherish
and live in the good of the gospel.
And for help in understanding how a focus on the Cross shapes a
church’s approach to ministry, I recommend D. A. Carson’s outstanding
book The Cross and Christian Ministry.
4. Is this a church committed to reaching non-Christians with the
Jesus commissioned every follower to go and make disciples (see
Matthew 28:18–20). So make it a priority to look for a church that not
only celebrates the gospel, but also reaches out to the unsaved in the
community with this same Good News.
Without an emphasis on evangelism, a church becomes selfish and
ingrown. But also be aware that some churches can become so
preoccupied with being relevant to the surrounding culture that they
lose all distinctiveness. But the clear message of the gospel should
never be altered to make it more marketable. People separated from God
by their sin are never served when a church places relevance above its
mission of faithfully proclaiming the Gospel.
5. Is this a church whose leaders are characterized by humility and
On my twenty-first birthday, my dad wrote me a special letter in which
he encouraged me to find men I wanted to be like. “Then sit at their
feet and learn from them,” he wrote. It’s good advice. No pastor is
perfect, but when it comes to evaluating a church’s leaders, you want
to find men you can trust and whose example you can follow.
First Timothy 3 lists the qualifications for pastors: A leader in the
church must be a man who is above reproach, sober-minded,
self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, not violent but gentle, not
quarrelsome, not a lover of money. Notice that the qualifications
relate mostly to the quality of his life. It’s been said that
pastoring is a character profession. No amount of skill, leadership
ability, or communication skills can replace godly character. Look for
a church where personal character is of higher importance than title,
position, or outward success.
I’ve found that the most effective leaders view themselves first as
servants. And leaders with integrity keep themselves accountable. They
don’t view themselves as being immune to sin, but build safeguards
around themselves financially, morally, and in every other category to
keep themselves from compromise. They see themselves as servants of
the Great Shepherd—and live in light of their accountability to Him.
6. Is this a church where people strive to live by God’s Word?
No church can claim to live out God’s Word perfectly. What’s important
is to look for a church that is seeking not only to believe rightly,
but also to live rightly. It’s possible for a church to be doctrinally
sound but have a culture of total apathy when it comes to applying the
truth of God’s Word in everyday life.
Our faith in God and our desire to honor Him with obedience and
holiness will effect everything—from how we conduct ourselves at work
to how we speak to our children at home. If it doesn’t, something is
That means that the church you’re looking for will seek to build a
culture and community of both hearing and obeying God’s Word (see
James 1:22). It will seek not only to win converts, but to make
disciples by helping them to mature in godly living in every area of
7. Is this a church where I can find and cultivate godly
We all need relationships where we can receive encouragement,
accountability, and care. And an essential part of living out God’s
Word is being connected to other Christians.
Does the church you’re considering provide settings where you can
enjoy biblical fellowship, mutual encouragement, and application of
Scripture? This will look different at different churches—some have
official small-group structures; others don’t, but achieve the same
purpose through other means. What matters is that godly relationships
happen. And of course, these kinds of relationships usually take time
Finally, think about whether you’ll be able to invest adequately in
the relationship opportunities the church offers. No matter how great
the church, if you live two hours away you’ll be very limited in your
ability to be a meaningful part of the community. The local church you
choose should indeed be local.
8. Is this a church where members are challenged to serve?
Pastors are not supposed to be paid professionals who do ministry in
place of their members. Ephesians 4:11–12 tells us that pastors are to
“equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body
of Christ.” That means you should look for a church that equips its
members to serve and minister, and then challenges them to do so.
I want to caution you about how you apply this criterion. I’ve met
people who evaluate opportunities to serve in a very self-centered
way. For example, they’re motivated to serve, but only in their
preferred way. If you don’t make this opportunity available, they
leave in a huff. When you think about it, that attitude is funny: True
service means giving cheerfully to meet someone else’s genuine
need—and the most important need probably isn’t the server’s need to
serve in a particular way!
My advice, then, is to make sure you’re not evaluating a church
primarily its capacity as a stage to showcase your gifts. Look for a
place that will challenge you to care deeply about the needs of
others. Then be ready to do whatever it takes to meet those needs.
9. Is this a church that is willing to kick me out?
This priority might sound old fashioned to you. But there’s a hard,
important truth here. When a person who claims to be a Christian lives
in a way that blatantly contradicts all that it means to be a disciple
of Christ, a faithful church’s responsibility is to begin the process
of removing that person from membership and to treat him or her like
an unbeliever in the hope that he or she will repent and ultimately be
restored (see 1 Corinthians 5; 2 Corinthians 2). This is not harsh or
abrupt. This practice is called church discipline and was instituted
by Jesus (see Matthew 18).
Why should you be excited about the potential of being expelled from a
church? I gain a wonderful sense of protection in knowing that if I
committed a scandalous sin and showed no repentance, my church
wouldn’t put up with it. They would plead with me to change. They
would patiently confront me with God’s Word. And eventually, if I
refused to change, they would lovingly kick me out.
Remember that the purpose behind church discipline is first to
restore. Four hundred years ago Menno Simons wrote: “We do not want to
expel any, but rather to receive; not to amputate, but rather to heal;
not to discard, but rather to win back; not to grieve, but rather to
comfort; not to condemn, but rather to save.”3 So church discipline is
an expression of love. It’s a way to try to restore a sinning brother
as well as a way to protect the witness of the church.
After all, the power of a church in a community starts with its
example. As our generation knows too well, hypocrisy destroys a
church’s witness and leaves its message discredited. A church
committed to glorifying God and reaching the lost world will not only
have membership, but will clearly define what that membership
requires. It will want to be able to answer clearly anyone who asks
who is truly part of the church and who is not. Discipline is also
important when someone begins spreading false teaching. In these
cases, discipline guards the church against the damaging effects of
So look for a church that will not only welcome you into membership,
but will lovingly hold you to your commitments as a Christian—a church
that will love you enough to put you out of fellowship for the good of
10. Is this a church I’m willing to join “as is” with enthusiasm
and faith in God?
I’ve often advised men and women not to marry someone if their
unspoken plan is to change them “into the person they ought to be.”
Ask anyone who’s been married more than a year. It just doesn’t work.
In your church quest, ask yourself, “Can I joyfully and fully support
this church’s leaders, their teachings, and the direction they have
set?” Please don’t join a church because you think God has called you
to overhaul it! Humbly recognize that you have your own sin to deal
with and that you won’t succeed anywhere as a self-appointed leader.
Find a church you can be excited about. Of course, you’ll want your
church to grow and improve (as you yourself hopefully will!). But if
it’s the one for you, you should be ready to join it “as is”—that is,
join it with faith that God is at work. Leave your gripes and
complaints at the door. Those attitudes will only detract from your
experience, limit your involvement, and weaken the church’s unity.
Your Attitude Counts
Let me encourage you not only to ask the right questions about the
churches you visit, but to ask them with the right attitude. Approach
every church you visit with humility. Pray for every church you visit.
Ask God to help you see the good in each church. Even if it’s not the
right church for you, remember how much God loves the work of a church
even when it’s being carried out imperfectly.
And don’t get stuck in church-hopping, church-shopping mode. Do your
best to find a good church as quickly as possible. If you’re feeling
overwhelmed by too many points, boil them all down to three:
• You want a church that teaches God’s Word
• You want a church values God’s Word
• You want a church that lives God’s Word
These are the nonnegotiables.
You won’t find any church that perfectly meets all the qualifications
we’ve discussed (you certainly won’t find “perfect” at my church!).
But be encouraged. Churches that are committed to growing in the right
ways do exist. They are out there. They’re not confined to one
denomination or “worship style.” God is at work around the world. And
these churches need committed and selfless men and women to join them
in their mission for Christ.
This chapter was difficult for me to write. I don’t want anyone—least
of all a fellow pastor— to think I’m setting myself up as a judge of
other churches. At the same time, the foundational elements that we
have explored are scriptural and truly important. If they’re
completely missing, a church isn’t merely imperfect; it’s disobedient
and dishonoring to God.
The sad fact is that bad churches are out there. These are churches
that have abandoned the authority of God’s Word or who selectively
apply it. These are churches that have neglected the gospel or added
to or distorted it.
It grieves me to say it, but there are some churches I would strongly
encourage you to leave. I want to say that clearly because the last
thing I want is for this book to be used to convince any person to
stay in a bad church. We are called to be committed to the church. But
sometimes that commitment involves leaving an unbiblical church.
What should you do if you’re in a bad church and need to leave? My
encouragement is to make a priority of leaving humbly and as helpfully
as possible. Refuse to participate in gossip about members or the
leaders in the church. If you’re a member, communicate your concerns
to the pastor and your points of disagreement. Look for ways to point
out examples of grace and to encourage them. Ask to hear their
perspective. Your goal should be to leave in a way that is gracious
and honoring to God.
What if there aren’t any good churches near you? First, pray that God
would strengthen and refine the churches in your area. And don’t let
your situation excuse you from participation. Find the best church you
can, and then throw yourself into learning and serving there. Again,
don’t set yourself up as the “long-awaited bringer of change.” Serve
humbly. Serve the leadership. Ask God to use you.
If you’re still in a setting where you don’t feel you’re growing, it
may be time for you to move to another area to find the right local
church. People pick up and move for a higher paying job without anyone
questioning their decision. Why shouldn’t we consider moving to place
ourselves and our families in a local church where we can reap
invaluable, eternal spiritual benefits? I don’t encourage this
lightly. It’s a decision that will take a lot of patience, prayer,
counsel, and consideration. But I can speak from personal experience
that moving for the right church is something you won’t regret. In
fact many people I know who have moved for the right church only
regret they didn’t do it sooner.
If it’s impossible to move, then trust that God can grow you and use
you right where you are. Participate in the best church you can find;
then if necessary supplement your spiritual diet with biblical
preaching from other sources—online or on CD or tape. Read good
theological books like the ones I’ve recommended throughout this
The Best Days of Your Lives
And don’t give up. A good church is worth waiting for, praying for,
and searching out. God is faithful. He’ll provide the right church
home for you in His perfect timing.
When God brings you the church family He has for you, cherish what
you’ve been given…and don’t let go. Because you’ve finally found the
place where you and your family are going to enjoy the best days of
That’s what the next chapter is about.
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This excerpt is from the book "Stop Dating the Church" by Josh
Harris and is taken from
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Feeding Sheep or Amusing Goats? by Charles Spurgeon
The devil has seldom done a more clever thing than hinting to the
Church that part of their mission is to provide entertainment for the
people, with a view to winning them. From speaking out as the Puritans
did, the Church has gradually toned down her testimony, then winked at
and excused the frivolities of the day.
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