Choosing a Church
Some recently asked how to find a good church. Let me give you some guidelines.
- Pray and ask God where you are to be.
- If you get no direction, start visiting.
- Don’t drive down stakes till you hear direction from God.
- Don’t keep going back to a place you like hoping God will approve it
- If God directs, even if it involves distance or something you don’t like, do it
Let me give you some history
My wife and I married in August 1967. We had been going together to a church near her home, about 50 miles from our new home in York PA. We stopped going. We tried a few other churches but found nothing that really impressed us and at the time we were not grounded well enough in God that we sought Him continually till we got an answer.
In December 1968 we had our first child and we were going to a church in York for about six months. It was a good church but it was in an area that was having problems. Within the next year two people were killed in that section of York in race riots. Only recently was the mayor of York placed on trial for the one death. We backed away out of concern.
A year later my wife’s mother was in the last days of her life, dying with cancer. The church we had previously attended was kind to her and we decided to visit one evening to say thanks. On the way home, in fact I can still tell you where it was my wife looked over at me and asked, “You know what we have to do?”
I answered, “Yes.”
And the next week began 10 years of attending and participating in a church that was over fifty miles from our home. We attended enough Sundays to get Sunday school pins most years and made it to most Sunday evenings and Wednesday evening services. God was good. We were growing in Him and we were learning His word. Through the gas crisis of the seventies we managed to keep going.
Then one Sunday in the fall of 1979 our pastor mentioned that there was a church we should look at near our home. The church had started an ACE school and through it he got to know about this church. He gave us directions, they made no sense and we dropped it. A few months later my wife was taking one of her nephews to a dentist appointment in an area of town, near us but not a place we frequented. When I came home she told me she knew where the church was. We had not felt led of God to move so we simply put it on the list of places we would check if “it snowed heavy” some Sunday morning. We filed it till the week after Christmas. With no snow in the forecast we went past the church that night and picked the service times off the board.
We woke the next morning to four inches of snow. Certainly this had never stopped us from going to Fayetteville before. But we had said, “If it snows.” I am not big on fleeces, I have seen people taken wrong too often but this was not to move, this was to visit. So we went. Quite frankly, I was not excited about the church when I found out which one it was. I knew of it from the 50’s when it was built. It had had problems from its inception. My dad was asked to wire it when it was built, the time of the year did not give him time to do it and the men were angry with him because he would not do it (thirty miles from our home, during the season and free of course). Let me clarify this, my dad did wire at least 5 other churches for free but they all fell outside his busy season at work. During that time he worked over 70 hours a week. The place had a bad feeling to me.
But over the next two weeks God started to work on me. The pastor was a fine teacher of the word. He was the college where the previous pastor had been middle school. No offense to our previous pastor, he was maturing the saints. We needed to move on. Our former pastor saw only one aspect of that, the wear and tear on us with about six hours of driving each week. His love for us transcended the desire for one more family in his congregation. I believe God has blessed him for that. He was obedient to God in releasing us.
We started there in January 1980. God blessed. We were able to be used and to learn. Then in December 1983 the company I worked for transferred us to Morton I and church hunting became a new thing.
The first Sunday we were there we had no direction from God or anyone else. We picked a church, the Assembly of God. We visited. Loved the service. But on the way back Jefferson St. from the church I looked over at Dee. “Guess what is going on there.”
“They are getting ready to get rid of their pastor.”
“We don’t want involved in that do we?”
God didn’t lead us to go back and we didn’t.
We got lots of advice, very little help. The welcome wagon gave our name and address to the churches and representatives showed up.
One group of well-dressed, important-looking men showed up one night. As I was taking the one man’s coat (it was February and it is cold in Morton IL) he said, “I’m sure you will like our church. A lot of important people from Caterpillar go there.” I worked for Cat. But I worship God and where the important people from Cat worship is not my concern. I would love to worship with them – if they worshiped (and I am sure Bob Gilmore, one of the former Vice Presidents does worship God but I know nothing about others) I would not mind worshiping with them.
Another group showed up and I left them talk. By the time they left I was sure God was not directing us there.
We visited a United Methodist Church and felt we would eventually get the left foot of fellowship if we went there. Again, God did not provide any strong direction.
We visited an independent church. The pastor was out that morning, one of the men preached and when he got done someone got up and tore his sermon (which was a good teaching) to shreds. Exit the Brandt family. Six months later there was a split there. We missed it.
Then one of my co-workers suggested we try Trinity Mennonite. Now here is a family that has been Pentecostal headed for Mennonite land, long dresses, bonnets, beards and black hats, black bumpers on the car and the like. That was the picture we had. My kids, usually pretty obedient threatened a revolt. But we somehow felt it was right and we went. They had Sunday School on Sunday evening and we hit that first without knowing.
It was good. And over the next few weeks we learned that these were Charismatic Mennonites (fancy that) and God was showing himself powerful in their services. And God seemed to be telling us to stay. So we did for the remaining time there. And when we left it was a time of sadness.
We returned to our old church in York and in this I am not sure we ever sought God in what to do at that time. We may have missed Him in that. But he blessed from 1987 till late in 1997. Things had happened in the leadership and the church had changed focus to one I could not support. They were pushing to create a mega-church and I just wanted to see people find Jesus. Church size didn’t matter to me, bigger was only better to me if it meant more people finding Jesus. If it resulted in a mega-church I would have been there to help but a mega-church wasn’t my goal. We were relieved of some duties and we resigned others because of harsh words about us because we were not with it. I prayed in late 1997 to be permitted to leave, without God giving his approval.
Late 1998 found us there doing some technical items (producing a TV program of a Christmas program that still airs on Community Access at times). When that program was finished I helped strike the set, gathered up my things and walked out the back door of the church. When it closed behind me God spoke, “You’re not going back.” Ten minutes later I walked in at home and my wife looked up, “We’re not going back, are we?” Yes, God speaks to my wife too. Usually He says the same things to her that he does to me. When He doesn’t we assume one of us is filtering His words. After nearly twelve months of asking to leave I quit asking and in two months, when the time was right, he released us.
The next Sunday we visited another church. God pointed us there and then told us to stay. We stayed till about Easter 2003. During that time we visited the old church one time to see a visiting minister we liked and I had one of the worst nights in church I have ever had. I knew I was wrong. God was tweaking me to move for about two months before I caught on. The church he was pointing to was the new one built by the church we left in 1998. I kept telling God. “You said, “you are not going back.”” After some dialog I got strong direction. “It isn’t the same church.” I reminded God that the building move made no difference. I got the word, “It is not the same church.” And it was not. It took me a couple weeks to get my head on straight and move. We are still there in December 2005. I see no reason to move at this time. But I am reminded that in no move we made I saw a reason more than two months before the move and the longest times were the physical relocations, not the ones God directed in his timing.
Maybe this will help someone – God does speak today if you keep the background noise down and your will in line with Him.