Four church members are in different situations, but they all have the exact same question.
Person A is a leader of his church. Because he wants to help lead his church in being the church God wants it to be, he has been studying the Word and asking himself: “What does the ideal church look like?”
Person B is a member of her church. However, she is frustrated. She does not believe her church is being all that God wants it to be. She is trying to sort between the concerns that are just her personal preferences and the things that are truly important to God regarding His church. So, Person B has been asking herself, “What does the ideal church look like?”
Person C is looking for a new church. Maybe he is new to the community. Maybe he has been attending a church for many years but has reached a point at which the best thing to do is seek a new church. But looking for a church is so hard! There are so many churches out there of many denominations, various sizes, different emphases. How does Person C pick the right church for his family and himself? What should he be looking for in a church? “What does the ideal church look like?”
Person D is involved in launching a new church. She and several friends attended a church planting conference, where they were convicted that it is more important than ever to be establishing new churches, and that new church evangelism is one of the best ways to reach lost souls. So, Person D and her friends have formed a core group to raise up a new church. The core group’s first step is to identify what kind of church they intend to be. What is their mission? What are their core values? What will their new church bring to the table that will advance the cause of Christ in their community? “What does the ideal church look like?”
Four different Christians in four different situations, each asking the exact same question: What does the ideal church look like?
ESSENTIALS, STRATEGIES AND PREFERENCES
I think a lot about that question. I have been thinking about this question since I accepted God’s call to the ministry more than 40 years ago. Over the years Norma and I have been involved in new churches, turn-around churches, churches more than 100 years old, suburban churches, rural churches, foreign churches, cell churches, churches of various denominations. Our church experience is rich and broad and varied.
What does the ideal church look like? There are many, many correct answers to that question. However, perhaps all of the answers can be divided into three categories:
• Essentials: There are some things that are essentials for every church, whether new or old, large or small, foreign or domestic. Scriptural mandates. Minimum requirements. Non-negotiables. For example, every church should uphold the gospel of Christ. Every church should turn to God’s Word as its ultimate authority. What are other essentials for God’s church that transcend time and culture?
• Strategies: Many details about a church depend upon circumstances: the community, the culture, the church members, the identity of those to be reached, etc. We might call these strategic considerations. For example, it continues to be a good strategy in modern America to have a Sunday morning large-group meeting that is open to the public. The Scriptures never mandate such meetings, but they have been a fixture of our culture for a long time and continue to be useful in training believers and reaching the lost. However, in some places, such as countries where Christians are persecuted, it may be a better strategy to have secret meetings in people’s homes, as was the practice of some 1st century churches. What are some values that may not be essentials but may be good strategies in the goal to be an ideal church?
• Preferences: Many things about a church are strictly personal preference. There may not be anything wrong with that. There are a lot of different people out there; maybe it takes a lot of different churches to reach them all. Some churches prefer a formal, quiet, reflective worship service. Some churches prefer an informal, noisy, interactive service. Which is right? Maybe in God’s eyes both are fine. Different kinds of churches reach different kinds of people. What are some preferences that might contribute to achieving the goal of being an ideal church?
My current context is Edmond, Oklahoma, a comfortable suburb of Oklahoma City, where I live and go to church. What does the ideal church look like in Edmond, Oklahoma, in 2013? What are the essentials? What are the best strategies? What are the most desirable personal preferences?
THE PERFECT CHURCH
Of course, there is no such thing as a perfect church. And if there was a perfect church, they wouldn’t let me attend, to prevent me from ruining things. However, every church should have the goal to be all that God wants it to be, and every Christian should want to be part of a church that has that goal. It is impossible to achieve any goal without first identifying the goal, making it as specific as possible, and envisioning it in our thoughts, our hearts, and our prayers. Every church leader and every church member should have that: a very specific vision of the ideal church to which we aspire to be.
WHAT DO YOU SAY?
What does the ideal church look like? Would you help me answer that question? I would love to know your thoughts. What does an ideal church in an Oklahoma City suburb in 2013 look like?
We can probably easily identify 20 or 30 or 40 values that an ideal church would embody. Some are Scriptural mandates. Some are good strategic values considering our community and culture. Some are just personal preferences, but we all have them, so we might as well acknowledge them.
What are one or two such values that occur to you? Whether it is an essential or a strategy or a preference, what do you think the ideal church looks like?