By Jonathan Moseley
Finding a church home can be intimidating. Being a new person is not easy, but the risk is worth the reward because you are embarking on a journey that will lead to rich relationships and an ever-deepening relationship with Jesus. As you consider whether to connect more deeply with a particular church, consider these three questions:
Do you hear Jesus & the Gospel in the messages?
Christians have a message called the gospel, which literally means Good News, and it is different than the messages we hear everyday. Most of the messages you’ll hear during the normal course of life include either self-improvement (follow these steps, keep these rules, try this new thing, keep in mind these tips, etc.) or self-affirmation (do whatever makes you happy, do you, etc.).
Self-improvement calls for change accomplished by one’s will power. The difficulty is that we often don’t have enough strength to fully implement the change we seek. We make resolutions but we fail to carry them out. Even when we do see an improvement, give it time and we’re after another one. We’re always updating versions of ourselves only to find we’re still missing something. The constant need for improvement becomes wearisome and exhausting.
On the other hand, self-affirmation is acceptance of ourselves as is. This is attractive because it lets us off the hook from the hard work of changing. We see ourselves as good and either deny or downplay our flaws. Yet, these flaws we ignore end up negatively affecting our closest relationships, sometimes even destroying them.
The Christian gospel is neither self-improvement nor self-affirmation. The Good News of Jesus in its simplest form is this: Jesus died on a cross and was raised back to life by the power of God. These other two messages that we briefly discussed focus on ourselves and keep us from God. But the very reason Jesus came into the world was to restore our broken relationship with God and to satisfy the punishment our offenses merit. Jesus lived perfectly—wronging no one—and fully pleased God in all he did. There is no improvement needed in the life of Jesus. Instead of trying to make ourselves better by our own efforts, we can rest from our striving and trust in all Jesus did on our behalf. He moves us away from evaluating ourselves—and the guilt and shame that follows from our failures—and helps us find our sense of worth in being included in what he has accomplished. In this, we find comfort when we fall short. At the same time, he confronts the delusion of not needing to change. Jesus loves us by accepting us as we are, but loves us enough not to keep us there. We do seek change, but we don’t seek it by our own willpower. We’re not left on our own to see it through. The power of God that raised Jesus back to life is the same power we are given and rely on to see us change in ways that make us more like Jesus himself.
I spent a lot of white space on this. The next two questions are significantly shorter. But if I can be perfectly honest, a church without the gospel is not a church. Ultimately, the Gospel is a message that shifts our hope away from ourselves and onto God. This is the most important thing you can listen for when you’re looking for a church home.
Does the church have an outward focus?
We believe there is greater gladness to be found when you live to meet the needs of others than living only to meet your needs. As God’s children, we know God will provide for us in ways that will help us live for him. Because we know God cares for us, we are freed from the fear of lack and also moved to seek out opportunities to serve and bless the city.
JFK famously said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” Healthy churches take on that same kind of attitude. They don’t have a consumer mindset. They don’t look to feed off their community, instead they are enthusiastic to find ways to invest and seek the good of their neighborhood. If you find a church that compassionately cares about the brokenness around them and aims to be a transforming, loving presence in their context, you’ve found a church you can call home.
Can I make a difference here?
We believe God has wired every person with unique passions, gifts, and interests that have not been put there by accident. God has gifted you in unique ways. The gifts we’ve been given take an ugly turn when we use them to make us look good. But we step out into all we were made to be when we use these gifts to point to a gracious Giver. We believe a church is like a body—every person has a place they fit and every person has a part to play. In other words, every follower of Jesus has a people they belong to and a meaningful part to play in God’s kingdom. Find a church that helps you grow by moving from being a consumer to being a contributor.
I want to end encouraging you as you search for a church you can connect with relationally and spiritually. You might have a lot of questions, your story might be filled with twists and bumps, and your experiences may have caused a little hesitancy in your heart to trust. Please know this, Jesus welcomes questions, wants to heal any brokenness you still carry, waits patiently for you in your seasons of doubt and uncertainty, and walks with you through times of trial. The best church you can find is one where the people remind you of him. And believe it or not, they exist all over Boston, and all around the world.
Jonathan Moseley is the Associate Pastor at Renewal Church.