Church, Complementarianism, Throwback Thursday, Worship

Throwback Thursday ~ Six Questions for a Potential Church

Originally published March 27, 2015church questions1

Have you ever had to look for a new church? Even with recommendations from godly friends, it can be hard to know which churches and pastors are doctrinally sound, and, of those doctrinally sound churches (because you certainly don’t want to go to one that isn’t doctrinally sound), which ones would be a good fit for your family.

There are lots of great articles out there with good, probing questions you should ask about the theology and doctrine of a church you’re considering. (I would recommend this one, this one, and this one. Also, make sure you understand these doctrinal issues and that the church you’re considering lines up with Scripture on these issues.) However, there are times when the answers to these types of questions don’t give you the whole picture of what is actually going on in a church on a day to day basis. In other words, sorry to say, a church can give you all the right answers on paper (or on their web site), but their practices don’t mirror those answers. Additionally, there are some non-doctrinal issues that are important to know about that questions about soteriology, baptism, biblical inerrancy, etc., won’t give you the answers to.

My husband and I are currently looking for a new church for our family. Since we are Southern Baptist and somewhat familiar with the handful of Southern Baptist churches we’re looking at, we already know the answers to the most important questions (the inspiration of Scripture, the divinity of Christ, the way of salvation, etc.) But I want to zoom in a little more on the finer points of belief and practices of these churches, so here are some questions I might ask the pastor of the church we would potentially join.

1. Which Christian authors have had the biggest impact on your life, beliefs, and ministry?

When I ask this question (and look over the pastor’s shoulder at the titles on his bookshelf), I’m listening for the names of authors and pastors, living or dead, that I know are committed to sound biblical doctrine. If I hear a name like Joyce Meyer, TD Jakes, Andy Stanley, Steven Furtick, Perry Noble, Rick Warren, Beth Moore, or any Word of Faith or New Apostolic Reformation personality, I’m going back to ask more probing doctrinal questions. If I hear multiple names like those, I’m outta there.

2. Are you/this church complementarian or egalitarian?

Now you may not be familiar with those terms but any Christian pastor should be. It is a current issue in evangelicalism, and it’s part of his job to stay abreast of such things. I’m not looking for a pastor to be an expert on this topic, but he should be familiar with the terms and have a working understanding of the issues at play as well as the applicable Scriptures, and he should embrace and practice complementarianism as the biblical position.

Because I have been given the right “on paper” answer to this question in the past only to find out later that the church’s practices didn’t match up with its profession, I will probably ask the follow up question: “In what positions of leadership are women currently serving? Do any of them hold authority over men or instruct men in the Scriptures?” If I hear that women are (or would be allowed to in the future) teaching co-ed adult Sunday School classes, giving instruction during the worship service, serving on committees in which they hold biblically inappropriate authority over men, etc., that’s problematic.

3. Can you give me some examples, from any time during your career as a pastor, of church discipline issues that have arisen and how you have handled them?

I’m looking for three things here. First, what does this pastor think constitutes a church discipline issue? If he thinks it’s necessary to discipline a female church member for wearing pants instead of a skirt, that’s an issue, because he’s disciplining someone who’s not sinning. If he doesn’t think it’s necessary to discipline church members who are unmarried yet cohabiting, that’s an issue because he’s not disciplining people who are sinning. Church discipline should only be exercised over unrepentant sinful behavior.

Second, is he afraid to exercise church discipline? Generally speaking, someone who has been a pastor for many years and has never handled a church discipline issue is either woefully ignorant of the biblical requirement of a pastor to rebuke those in sin, or he is afraid to rock the boat because he might get fired. Both of these are huge red flags.

Third, how does he exercise church discipline? Does he follow the steps outlined in Matthew 18 and other Scriptures with a heart to see the church member repent and be reconciled to Christ and the church body? Is he harsh and condemning? Is he firm enough in his resolve to carry all the way through to disfellowshipping a church member if necessary?

4. How much oversight do you (or an associate pastor or elder) have over the women’s ministry at this church?

With this question, I’m trying to find out how much the pastor knows about what’s actually going on inside the women’s ministry (if they have one) and how much responsibility he takes to make sure all teaching and activities are in line with Scripture. Does he research and approve all teaching materials before a women’s Bible study commences? Does a women’s ministry director have complete autonomy over all materials and activities? Are all of the women in leadership positions in the women’s ministry godly and spiritually mature? Would any of the women’s ministry leadership raise a stink if someone showed them from Scripture that a Bible teacher whose materials they use or a women’s ministry activity they enjoy is unbiblical?

5. Does the music ministry at this church follow a minister of music model or a concert model?

There’s nothing wrong with Christian concerts per se, but my husband and I feel strongly (notice, I did not say “the Bible says”) that the worship service is not the place for one. We believe that a minister of music, preferably one who is ordained to the ministry, should lead and take responsibility for the church’s worship in a pastoral role. He should be trained in the Scriptures, preferably at seminary, in order to rightly handle and apply them to the music portion of the worship service and other music programs. He should also be trained in music theory and conducting so that he is able to lead in the practical aspects of music.

By contrast, we do not believe that making the music portion of the service like a concert, in which a band gets up and plays in a dark room with a laser light show and a smoke machine and the congregation can sing along if they want to, if they happen to know the songs, and if they are able to follow the ad libbing of the lead singer, is conducive to worship. We believe this tends to make the worship band into entertainers and the congregation into spectators, whereas the minister of music model fosters an atmosphere of “we’re all pulling together to do the work of worship as a unified body.”

This is not about contemporary music versus hymns, it is about one worship model versus another. It is our conviction (again, not a biblical mandate, but our strongly held conviction) after more than two decades in music ministry ourselves, that the minister of music model – regardless of the genre of worship music used – is the one most conducive to strong, biblical congregational worship. So this is something we’re going to want to know about, even though it is not necessarily a doctrinal issue.

6. Do you preach topically or expositorily or both?

Topical preaching is when the pastor selects a topic to preach on (parenting, money, etc.) and uses biblical passages that apply to that topic to form his sermon. Pastors who preach expositorily usually preach through a book of the Bible from beginning to end before moving on to the next book.

Both are valid forms of preaching as long as God’s word is rightly handled and applied. However, it has been my experience that pastors who preach exclusively topically have more of a tendency to lift Bible verses out of their context in order to make them fit the topic they’re preaching. This is usually not as much of an issue for pastors who preach expositorily because they are simply preaching the Word, verse by verse, in its context.

Additionally, expository preaching gives church members a better understanding of Scripture and how it fits together, and exposes them more thoroughly to a wider range of biblical truth than exclusively topical preaching does. Therefore, I am looking for a pastor whose preaching style leans mostly towards expository, but who isn’t afraid to preach topically if he believes the church needs instruction on a certain topic.

 

So, those are some of the questions I’m thinking about asking. What questions would you ask when considering a new church?

14 thoughts on “Throwback Thursday ~ Six Questions for a Potential Church”

  1. Having left our church in 2014 after 12 years because of several doctrinal problems, we appreciated articles like this. Although very trustworthy sources led us to our current church, and we immediately saw a marked improvement contrasting with the church we’d left, we wanted to ensure that we were joining a church that we could trust to be faithful to God’s Word. A commitment to church membership should never be taken lightly.

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  2. We thought we’d finally found a church. Unfortunately the music increasingly became shallower with contemporary totally eclipsing doctrinally sound hymns. The new pastor is veering from expository to topical. Plus after two plus months of attending main services only we’ve appeared in the members directory!

    I’m going to start looking again. This is a very difficult thing to walk out.

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    1. to: Continuingtobloom – perhaps they added you to the directory to include you in the church family and give others access to how to contact you. I’ve seen that done, and in fact, we are not members of the church we currently attend and are included in the directory. Maybe you and your husband might want to consider discussing these concerns with the pastor or an elder before you leave? just a suggestion.

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  3. Those are some good points that you have taken the time to write. Laser light and smoke machines? Haha – I keep hearing about those kinds of thing and I don’t recall I’ve ever been to one of those “services.” On your second point, would you give an example of what you consider a woman giving instruction in the service, and also what you consider a woman having authority over men serving on a committee? Thanks in advance!

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    1. Sure, I’d be glad to. These are both incidents I personally witnessed.

      a woman giving instruction in the service

      I once watched a woman who had headed up that year’s Vacation Bible School get up to give a little report to the church on the week’s activities- how many kids had come, what they had been taught, how many of the families they had been able to invite to church, etc. Personally, I have no problem with a woman standing up in the worship service to let everybody know what went on at VBS last week, or something like that. The problem with this particular woman was that instead of keeping it to a VBS report, she veered off onto a rabbit trail and began doing what I can only describe as preaching to the congregation, complete with instructing them on how they should obey this and that Scripture.

      a woman having authority over men serving on a committee
      My husband is a minister of music, and at one church we served, a certain woman served as the head of the personnel committee as well as the choir secretary. Choir secretary- no problem. Head of the personnel committee might or might not be a problem depending – from church to church – on the duties and authority of the person in that position. This particular woman saw herself as my husband’s and the pastor’s boss. She had no qualms about telling my husband what to do or not do, and once viciously berated him for something she didn’t like.

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      1. Thanks Michelle. Both of those situations seem like the type of women you are describing have strong, perhaps even controlling personalities. Do you think that the pastor in the first situation (VBS school reporter) had an idea ahead of time that the woman would do that? And, in the second situation, same question – did the pastor address the situation?

        I concur that things should be done Scripturally on committees and other areas in the church. I’m not so sure that the pastor and elders always have knowledge ahead of time of situations like you wrote about. Sometimes they are surprised!

        So, would you have a problem with both men and women being on a committee and a woman being the chairperson of the committee? Even a Personnel or Pulpit Committee? I’m considering that often women have more time and organizational skills to do these jobs, unless there are many retired men in the church.

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      2. In answer to your first two questions- “no” to both. Regarding women heading committees that men are on, it really just depends on the committee and how much authority that position gives her. That’s going to vary from church to church.

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  4. Great article and so helpful. We really struggled leaving a church we had been at for over 3 years. After visiting 16 churches we had found this one. The pastor is an expositor, most everyone was warm and welcoming. We attended small group and that started out well. Then into the last part of the second year things started changing. The music was more like a rock concert and the worship leader using music that was not Biblical and had started his own band (secular) outside of the church. The small group became huge and emotional women began using up all the time so that there was no study. My husband was ridiculed by the pastor. Then more and more guest speakers were preaching in church (although it was great to have Steve Lawson one of those times) but our pastor was gone more than he was there. There were lots of changes and the older men were starting to be pushed out and young men put in their place and one in particular that should have not been teaching others. I had to talk to the woman who held the women’s “Bible study” because of the book she was using was along the lines of Beth Moore. The pastor had no idea what they were studying. I tried talking to the worship leader (that didn’t go well). As long as he “felt” the songs were scriptural that was all that mattered.
    All that to say, it is not easy to walk away. We finally did and it has bothered me for a long time. This article has really shown me we did the right thing. And sadly many more have left. Thank you for making our decision clearer.

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    1. I’m so sorry y’all had to go through all of that, Susan. Unfortunately, that’s not the first time I’ve heard that kind of story. I hope you will find a great, doctrinally sound church to join with :0)

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  5. Michelle, thanks. I would ask how they hold pastor and elders accountable? Do the elders have unamious descisions and pray to that end before bringing them to a congregation. When elders arent unified biblically then divisions are built in back rooms. Are pastors over elders or are they a team of men who study the word.? Yes it should be obvious but it isnt these days.
    Seems so basic but now today id ask the pastor of what bible would you hand a new convert and why? (The passion bible, RUN, RUN, for numerous reasons) How does the pastor study for his sermon? (Listening to christian rock music and reading a book asking God what should i say? this am, (when its 9:30 in am). RUN, RUN, RUN. Simple things who is God how does he talk to you. Oh lord help his answer be, through the word it is alive and reading, studying and memorizing allows God to change me.

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  6. I recently read Mark Dever’s book about a healthy church. It is divided into what he refers to as “essentials” and what he feels is “important.” There are three essentials. My question refer to the “important” things should be desired, however, not every church is going to meet these all the time, and perhaps even some young churches are growing in these areas. What if is church is doing all the essential things rights, however not all the leadership is being done correctly? Do you encourage someone to join and get in there and share and disciple others and try to be a light?

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