"I went to Jerusalem to become acquainted (Gk. istoria) with Cephas" - Paul's words from Galatians 1:18.

The #1 Thing to Look for When Joining a Church

I am often asked, "What's the best way to know whether or not a church is worth joining?"

My answer often surprises people. The measure of the greatness of a church is not seen in the size of the church, nor the missions emphasis, nor the children's or youth programs, nor the style of worship. 

Nope. Not at all.

Neither is it measured by the kind of church governance (e.g. elders, congregational, etc.) nor by the relevant ways the church seeks to make an impact in the community. 

A church is worth joining if the message emphasized is God's love for sinners in Christ rather than a sinner's love for God by commitment.

Think about that for a moment. 

If a person's love for God is always emphasized to the neglect of God's love for persons; or if one is constantly challenged to be "fully devoted to God" rather than the glorious gospel of "God being fully devoted" to His people in Jesus Christ, or if a person's love for God is always questioned and compared to another person's love for God (especially those who lead) through a verbal "measuring of each other's personal holiness," then you should put on those proverbial sneakers and run from that church as fast as possible.

Church leaders who feel it their duty to "get people to love God more" by controlling the movies they see or the books they read or the tertiary doctrines they believe is church leadership that has gone astray. When there is more of an emphasis on the covenant you sign to join a church than the covenant God sealed when He gave you His Son, then you've entered a land of law, not liberty. 

In the New Testament, the emphasis is always about God's love for sinners in Christ. When sinners are captivated and overwhelmed by the unconditional, eternal, and transformational love of God in Jesus Christ, we sinners come to a place of personal liberty to "love others as Christ loves us." 

Listen to John in I John 4:7-11:
7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9 By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. 10 In this is love, not that we love God, but that He loves us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loves us, we also ought to love one another.
The above passage contains an inviolable principle of relationships that many churches miss.

We are only at liberty to love other people as Christ loves us when the emphasis of gospel preaching is about God's love for us in Christ.

So next time you consider a church home,  listen closely to the words of the person on the platform. Those who spend more time controlling and directing the conduct of the people than championing and declaring the love of God toward people in Christ are showing tell-tale signs of a pervasive belief in their "spiritual authority" over people rather than their "gifted service" to people.

The Truth will set you free.

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

Beautifully put!

Jeff

Rex Ray said...

Wade,

I was enthused about this post. I copy-paste, enlarged the letters to 14 font, changed most important points to ‘bold type’, and made ten copies. Then I got to thinking; and would suggest the title would be perfect if it was:

The #1 Thing to Look for When Choosing a Pastor.

Nuff Said.

Wade Burleson said...

Touché, Rex!

Anonymous said...

Pastor Wade your words are so well spoken. You and the ministry at Emmanuel Enid are truly inspirational.

Anonymous said...

Bro. Wade, probably the most important thing you have ever written!

My husband I were discussing something very similar this past weekend. It is so easy to find churches where the music--whatever the genre, no matter--is all "Peter songs." You know, the Lord I will always be faithful stuff. But where have all the songs about how He will always be faithful gone? (Again, not the worship wars. This applies to all genre.) Preaching is all "you must" rather than "He did." In fact, Jesus is rarely mentioned, almost never taught, and one would think the cross never happened.

We've gone from "Jesus saves" to "good deeds save" in my lifetime. WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THE GOSPEL?

Services are now "self soothing" have a happy place moment during the music, then flogging the flock during the sermon, then rinse and repeat.

Whatever happened to making sure the congregation thoroughly understands salvation by grace alone, through faith alone?

Could it maybe be--just musing here--that when we went seeker sensitive as a whole, we didn't just change the methods but also the message? Mankind has always wanted a way to earn God's favor, and since Adam and Eve have not been willing to rely on God plus nothing. Could it be that we went so far into pleasing the worldly sinner that we added numbers to the church but not souls to the Church? And now when the unsaved church member acts, well, unsaved we want to impose a long list of rules?

Back when I was in public high school (yeah, the mud wasn't dry from Noah's flood)we had a 6 week time of visiting all the denominations in our town. Southern Baptists came last. We had been told lists of rules and do this and do this for salvation. When we visited the Baptist church we were not given rules. Being a questioner, I asked why. I was told Baptists did not need a list of rules, because when Jesus saves a person He changes them from the inside out. Doing wrong becomes something we WANT to avoid and doing right becomes something we just naturally desire. Well, tell a teenager there is a "no rules" church and I was intrigued to say the least. (I had attended SBC most of my life.)

But then Jesus saved me and I got it. When you are head over heels in love with someone you delight in pleasing them. And that Jesus would save sinful me, asking nothing of me, generated that head over heels love.

So what we look for now is the "He did" music and preaching and teaching. Anything else is bondage. And we still have no creed but the Bible, and no King but King Jesus.

Thanks for making my day!

Linda

Wade Burleson said...

Well stated, Linda, indeed!

Thanks for sharing.

kt said...

Amen, to this post!I listened to your sermons the last couple of weeks and have listened to many of your online studies. Do not mean to take away from this post's topic at all but wanted to state an observation from listening.
Sinners we all are. so I can only guess that religious leaders or people for that matter who may end up with a millstone tied to their neck are those who only pretend to be followers of Christ.
My struggle is with those who profess Christ yet continue in their illicit deeds or sinful life. Can a religious leader who professes Christ still get rich off the backs of God's people? Can a Christian mislead God's little ones and still not have a millstone tied to their neck? Pick whatever sin or lifestyle and God's grace covers it all.
I am reminded of Paul's saying shall we continue in sin that Grace may abound. God forbid!
Yet we all still sin no matter what (day in and day out).
Praise God for His GRACE for us.

Wade Burleson said...

KT,

Good point - I believe there is a HIGHER accountability for anyone who sets out to "lead" the people of God. It's the reason character descriptions are given in Titus and in II Timothy for elders.

Again, great point.

Christiane said...

"if the message emphasized is God's love for sinners in Christ"

"6For Christ, while we were still helpless, yet died at the appointed time for the ungodly. 7Indeed, only with difficulty does one die for a just person, though perhaps for a good person one might even find courage to die.* 8But God proves His love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us" (from Romans 5)

St. Andrew of Crete wrote of the Incarnation of Christ, this:
"Serving as boundary limit to the law and to foretypes, it at the same time serves as a doorway to grace and truth.
“For Christ is the end of the law” (Rom 10:4), Who, having freed us from the writing, doth raise us to spirit. Here is the end (to the law): in that the Lawgiver, having made everything, hath changed the writing in spirit and doth head everything within Himself (Eph 1:10), hath taken the law under its dominion, and the law is become subjected to grace, such that the properties of the law not suffer reciprocal commingling, but only suchlike, that the servile and subservient (in the law) by Divine power be transmuted into the light and free (in grace), “so that we—sayeth the Apostle—be not enslaved to the elements of the world” (Gal 4:3) and be not in a condition under the slavish yoke of the writing of the law...... Here are the mysteries of revelation! ...... The radiant and bright coming-down of God for people ought to possess a joyous basis, opening to us the great gift of salvation."


I would say for people to look and see if a Church points to Christ unfailingly and teaches it's little ones 'Jesus loves you', and stands at the bedside of its dying to assure them that God is with them now and evermore

If a Church takes loving care of its little ones and its elderly, and is kind to the people in it who have been broken from sin and suffering, then it is likely focusing on Christ, Who did the same, when He was among us.
Look for the presence of loving-kindness towards the ones in the most trouble and towards the most fragile ones, and there you find your answer if this 'Church' celebrates His healing.

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Pege' said...

Wade, Scarce as hen's teeth. :(

Rex Ray said...


Wade,

We believe Baptist’s doctrine is based on the teachings of Jesus and the disciples. Right? How about researching the Bible to see how Catholic doctrine started?

Is your father’s health OK? I miss his blog.

The last thing Paul Burleson wrote on his blog was on January 7, 2017:

“Everyone one was coming to an understanding of things slowly weren't they. Isn't it just like the Lord to allow the scriptures to contain evidence and a record of that continuing struggle for clarity and understanding? One of the many reasons I so LOVE this Divine Record we call the Bible!”

His statement was in response to my comment:

“It’s too bad some Bible writers did not comprehend the love of God as you’ve explained.
“And so my judgment is…we should write and tell them to abstain from eating food offered to idols, from sexual immorality, from eating the meat of strangled animals, and from consuming blood.” For it seem good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay no greater burden on you than these few requirements.”(Acts 15:19-20, 28)
This letter was sent to Christian Gentiles but omitted the words of Peter: “Why are you now challenging God by burdening the Gentile believers…We believe that we are all saved the same way, by the underserved grace of the Lord Jesus.” (Acts 15:11-12 NLT)”

Dwane said...

Good morning, Pastor Wade!

This is Dwane Thomas. My family and I stopped in Enid for worship this last Sunday. We very much enjoyed meeting you and your wife.

Gretchen (my wife) and Geneva (my oldest daughter, and one of your biggest fans) read your book Radically New for most of the rest of the long trip back to Nashville.

We are back home in Nashville now. In truth, we live in Franklin, Tennessee about 20 miles south of Nashville. Knowing that you are a student of history, I am guessing you know about Franklin from the battle that took place here in 1864. I spend most of my time studying Greek and Roman history, but if you ever want the tour of the Battle of Franklin, come on down. I would be happy to take you to the sites.

Feel free to email anytime. My email is dwane@visuallatin.com. My site is www.dwanethomas.com, or thinkoutsidetheborder.com.

It was great meeting you Sunday. Thanks for making us all feel so welcome. My kids are already asking when we can return.

Have a happy Monday!
Dwane Thomas

Dwane said...

Good morning, Pastor Wade!

This is Dwane Thomas. My family and I stopped in Enid for worship this last Sunday. We very much enjoyed meeting you and your wife.

Gretchen (my wife) and Geneva (my oldest daughter, and one of your biggest fans) read your book Radically New for most of the rest of the long trip back to Nashville.

We are back home in Nashville now. In truth, we live in Franklin, Tennessee about 20 miles south of Nashville. Knowing that you are a student of history, I am guessing you know about Franklin from the battle that took place here in 1864. I spend most of my time studying Greek and Roman history, but if you ever want the tour of the Battle of Franklin, come on down. I would be happy to take you to the sites.

Feel free to email anytime. My email is dwane@visuallatin.com. My site is www.dwanethomas.com, or thinkoutsidetheborder.com.

It was great meeting you Sunday. Thanks for making us all feel so welcome. My kids are already asking when we can return.

Have a happy Monday!
Dwane Thomas

Wade Burleson said...

Dwane,

Thanks, my friend! It was wonderful seeing your lovely family in church on Sunday. I'm very familiar with Franklin, Tennessee - been there many times and love the nearby Battle of Stones River Memorial. Glad the wife and kids enjoyed the book! I will be checking out your websites - and you guys consider coming to Enid! Would love to have your family in our fair city!

Wade

roth phallyka said...

We very much enjoyed meeting you and your wife.


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Dwane said...

Hi, Wade. Shouldn't have stopped at your church. Now my kids don't like ours. Heh. :-)

Meant to give you Jackson's contact info.

He is on YouTube here: https://www.youtube.com/user/novacognumfilms
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/jacksonkthomas/
Email: visualstoryproject@gmail.com

Hope all is well. We are already talking about coming back to Enid!

Dwane Thomas