Pastoral Perspective with Greg Albrecht: “What should I look for in a church?”
What should I look for in a church? I am loving your emphasis on the inclusiveness of the Triune God, his love and grace. Over the past 35 years I have had a long journey through Baptist, evangelical, Calvinist and charismatic churches. I am feeling more free in Christ than ever before. Thanks for your great teaching!
1) For many years I searched official teachings and practices of denominations – at first, I confined my search within the Protestant world. I parsed through evangelical churches – by the way, many evangelicals call themselves non-denominational, but they are, nonetheless, of the same garden variety as each other. I searched Calvinism, researched charismatic Protestant churches, attended a few Calvary Chapel services – talked with pastors, denominational leaders and attended some (not all, obviously) churches. My list of brick and mortar churches attended includes United Methodist, Lutheran (of many stripes) and Congregational churches – along with Amish, Mennonite and Anabaptist. Finding problems and shortcomings, to my way of thinking, with all, I then delved into Catholic and Orthodox, again carefully researching and attending some services. Again, I found the primary affiliation and loyalty to institutional tradition, customs, creeds, traditions, liturgy and practices reign supreme, relegating Christ to a lesser place in my opinion.
2) Our ministry at PTM is absolutely Christ-centered. We are not affiliated with nor do we support any church or denomination. After all, it would be illogical to wholeheartedly support any denomination because within any denomination there are healthy pastors/priests and congregations, and unhealthy ones, sometimes even toxic. We do not attempt to rank or rate brick and mortar churches – not our mission. If one determines to attend a church building, and beyond that, to become a “member” of one our advice is “let the buyer beware.” We are not against an institutionalized expression of faith, but we are against what the vast majority of these institutions and certainly their members wind up saying (overtly or covertly) – “we are better than others” – the sense is that they are the “only” game in town. I find such exaggerated truth claims blasphemous – God can be and is wherever he wants to be. I find such religious pride anti-Christ – it is rabidly and extremist, it is pro-religious institution and wars against Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, who, like the wind, blows where he wills (John 3:8).
3) Therefore, PTM/CWR neither supports/urges nor condemns/forbids attendance, affiliation or membership in a brick and mortar, legally incorporated religious institution. We minister to people who attend a brick and mortar and are members of a religious institution, by their choice, and we minister to people who have been “de-churched” and who, by their own decision and for a variety of reasons, will never walk through a church door again. In the institutional church world, we have readers and listeners in virtually all the churches/denominations I mentioned above – and we have many, as just mentioned, who are religious refugees, and follow Jesus apart from institutionalized religion.
4) We have people on our staff and on our board who are members and ministers in several different churches/denominations – and we have people, like myself, who are nones (I have no brick and mortar affiliation) and dones (I am done with institutionalized religion). We do not discriminate for or against healthy, Christ-centered institutional expressions of faith or faith known and experienced outside of and independent of an institution. I do not accept or reject contributions, input, wisdom or teachings of an individual, author, pastor/priest based on affiliation with institutionalize religion (or lack thereof) – religious “outfits” or “clothing” or “costumes” individuals choose is irrelevant to my faith. My standard of faith is Jesus.
5) Most of all, I believe the decision about whether or not to attend a particular brick and mortar building is a personal decision. For me, the decision to attend or not is like whether to make a cup of coffee at home or go to Starbucks (like trees, only God can make a coffee bean). Some reject brewed coffee and insist on instant, others believe coffee is bad for you and drink tea instead, and some just drink water. Those decisions are not part of our identity in Christ. All of the denominational arguments and energy expended to increase or maintain “market share” are counterproductive and perhaps even detrimental to the kingdom of heaven. Why not preach Jesus and “let” him unite and use us, as part of the universal body of Christ of which he is head? I believe people who religiously have lunch at Taco Bell as well as those who religiously frequent McDonalds as well as those who refuse fast food and prefer to cook at home can be part of the body of Christ, but their physical circumstances, cuisine, creeds, recipes and liturgies do not determine their place in the body of Christ. Most of all, the church is not a place we go, the universal body of Christ, the church, is what we are, by the grace of God.
Hope this helps clarify our mission, which we often summarize as faith alone, grace alone and Christ alone – all Jesus all the time.