How do you go about joining a faith community? Are you someone who has moved to a new location? Have you not been a part of a church but feel an urge to fill the spiritual void in your life and to be a part of something greater than yourself? If so, the question of finding a congregation can be somewhat daunting.
As a pastor, I have been asked on occasion for advice as to how to find the right church home, given the myriad of options available. It is not a new concern.
The Gospel of Luke provides an example of people who were church shopping, and it reports the advice that Jesus gave to them. In Luke 7, John the Baptist sent his disciples to Jesus and asked him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”
Just like many modern folks, they were trying to determine where to put their trust. They were looking for a spiritual home where they could put down roots and find direction for their lives. There were many options available; was Jesus the one for them?
Jesus gave a simple but profound response: “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard; the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them.” He urged them to make their decision based on that.
I believe that to be the best advice for us today. Notice what John’s disciples did not find when they visited Jesus. They did not find judgment or condemnation or a place where “good” people can join together with people like themselves to feel superior to the unenlightened of the world. Those things were not what his ministry was about; so if they wanted those things, they were looking in the wrong place.
It follows that if we are looking for those things, we are separating ourselves from the very purpose of a Christian church.
I know that when people are looking for a church home they consider all kinds of criteria such as worship style, size of congregation, location, appearance of the worship space and property, demographics, family tradition, and programs offered. Those are all valid tie-breakers if you find congregations to be equal as far as what Jesus demonstrated.
But the fact remains that the priority in choosing a church home is to see what is happening in that church. Is that congregation making God’s world a better place? Is it serving the neighbors? Is it feeding the hungry? Is it uplifting the poor, the downtrodden, the oppressed and the broken in the world? Do you experience the love of God in that congregation? Does that congregation probe the wonder and the depth of that love? If so, you know that you have found what you are looking for.
The Rev. Nathan Aaseng is a retired Evangelical Lutheran Church in America pastor.