We visited more than 15 churches in our first year in Nashville. I was traveling to preach each month, so not every weekend was open to attend a church in the area. Visiting so many churches may not have been a wise strategy in our search for the church to which we would commit ourselves. Godly friends offered counsel such as, “Pick three churches and visit each three times.” But I kept leading, or pushing, our family to visit a bunch. I enjoyed the unique expressions of the body of Christ and meeting church leaders in our new city.
Nashville has many great churches. We were fed well by incredible teachers, welcomed by loving volunteers and ministered to during “the search.” But it was not long before “the search” began to feel dirty, like we were being moochers, like we just kept hopping from place to place receiving without giving. At lunch one day, Kaye and I admitted it felt like we were becoming the people we never wanted to be—the folks who just show up on the weekends and aren’t really invested in the community of faith.
I longed for the search to be completely supernatural. I wanted the moment in the car where Kaye and I would look at one another and simultaneously say, “This is the one.” I know that has happened for others, but it didn’t happen for us.
Pretty soon, we developed what we never wanted to develop: a list. We felt we needed a filter to stop us from becoming perpetual evangelical first-time church guests. Besides praying for a place where I could preach/teach some, here is what was on the list (in no particular order). A church that would:
Teach in a way that crushes my soul: I was not looking at the name of the teaching series, the video bumper before the message or how the preacher was dressed. We wanted the weekend worship services to help us become more holy, and we know the Word sanctifies us. So we looked for teaching that would confront our sin, refresh our hearts with the grace of Jesus and quickly take us to the pure and faultless Word.
Help me love my community: As a pastor on staff in Miami, I often woke up thinking about Miami and praying for the area. All of a sudden, as a person with a “regular job” in the Nashville area, I woke up thinking about my role. I am being vulnerable now, but I didn’t quickly develop a sense of burden or responsibility for my city. We wanted a church with a clear passion for the community, one that would help us love and serve our community.
Love and feed my kids: We know we’re the ones ultimately responsible to disciple our kids. We don’t want to outsource that responsibility to a kids’ ministry. At the same time, we wanted our kids to be cared for by loving and godly adults, and to receive teaching that points them to Jesus. We want them to grow up loving church.
There are many things that did not make the list. We never focused much on worship style, church size or where the church meets. Some things not on the list are still very important. Yet some things not on the list are merely unimportant things church leaders waste an incredible amount of time and energy thinking about.
I do believe healthy churches take people to the sacred text and preach Jesus because only He can transform us. And they help their people develop a burden for the local community/city as a response to the grace of God. And they take seriously the privilege and responsibility of investing in the next generation.
Over the next few weeks, I will share some random lessons/reminders for church leaders based on our church search.