[Philthreeten](http://philthreeten.blogspot.com/2006/01/family-portrait.html) (who was kind enough to point out that I couldn’t possibly be actually reading his site, since my link to him was wrong) has a nice article up on what too look for in a new church. He paints an excellent picture of the key features in a properly functioning thriving church ought to look like. However, I don’t know that I agree with him that finding a “good” church is the same thing as finding the “right” church to join.
[David Wayne](http://jollyblogger.typepad.com/jollyblogger/2005/11/the_church_as_a.html) recently pointed out that being a part of the church necessarily entails being a part of a “particular gathering of particular people,” that is, being a member of an actual congregation. He was setting himself up against the idea that you can be an atomistic Christian without local affiliation, and in that sense, I’m behind him all the way, but when it comes to actually locating said church, it’s important to recognise that we are also members of the church as a whole.
The members of the church, in any local congregation, are the primary ministers. (Roles of leadership and administration – the pastor, the teacher, the evangelist – are given to the church for equipping, but the actual life of the church is that “which every joint supplies.”) Philthreeten gives a great description of sort of the minimum ideals of what the church ought to be, but it is precisely the job of every individual Christian to attempt to achieve these goals. So when looking for a church, it might just be a mistake to try to find one that’s already “there”. Wouldn’t there be some advantage to joining a congregation that wasn’t achieving these features so that you might be able to contribute more vitally to their achieving them? We know that there are no perfect churches, but assuming you found one, what advantage would there be in joining it? If the primary purpose of every member of the congregation is to contribute to the life of that congregation, why shouldn’t it be that we should look for the church in the community where we can make the greatest contributions with our gifts?
Of course, there’s still a slight caveat: suppose you find such a church, where what they need is exactly what you and your family can contribute, but the thing that they’re missing is the very thing that they have no interest in getting. They have no interest in “reclaiming the community”. Church leadership is dead set against it. Surely you should never join that church. Or maybe you should. Maybe it is precisely your set of spiritual gifts which may be the tipping point. Your very presence may help this congregation to adjust toward being what the church ought to be. Who’s to know?
For that matter, who’s to know which particular church in town is the exact church where your contribution will be the most vital? For that matter, who’s to know if there isn’t a church two towns over which has such a desperate need for your family’s contribution that the entire body of christ would be better off if you went there? Who’s to know?
I’m a Charismatic, so I think there’s a very simple solution to those sorts of questions: ask. Surely God is the only one who can know such things, and surely he has a vital interest in the development of the body of Christ. Surely he is eager to tell. But [Tim Challies](http//www.challies.com/archives/001444.php) thinks that God isn’t particularly interested in this line of thinking, that God doesn’t really care about where we are as much as our motives for going there, and [Philip Johnson](http://phillipjohnson.blogspot.com/2006/01/broadband-at-last.html) seems to think it’s sinful to attempt to determine the will of God on any matter by any other means than scriptural exegesis. I don’t know what to say to Tim, since it seems to me to be a conradiction to believe on one hand that God has predestined each of our lives to the extent of determining who will be saved, and that he guides us all by his providence, and to believe on the other hand that He has no particular interest in what church we go to. But for Phil, I hope I have an answer:
If any man lack wisdom, let him ask.
Surely everyone can agree that we can always ask for wisdom. And surely no one would argue that God has no desire to give it. (I think Tim Challies says something along these lines in his post as well, which of course to me seems to present another contradiction.) It’s my mom’s default answer for almost any question you might put to her, and it was what she said when we were [looking](http://www.neumatikos.org/?p=771) for our church in Massachusetts. We were down to a decision between the church that looked the most like what we imagined we’d be comfortable with, and a church that would require more work and whose culture we were less familiar with. Both churches were “good” churches by Philthreeten’s criteria. We ended up with the church that was less convenient, and we’ve been very happy with that choice ever since. But more importantly (and contributing to the “happy” factor), we are confident that we are where we ought to be.
I guess my point is “ask not what your church can do for you, but rather ask what you can do for your church” with the caveat that you actually ask, and that you ask the right Person. If you don’t believe that God will speak to you directly with the information that you need, surely you can rely on him to give you wisdom. I mean, if you, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things (like wisdom) to those who ask him?