A few months ago I read an article of a young woman who had left the Westboro cult. The individual interviewing her wrote a very fair and intriguing stance on her experience there. I think what stuck out to me most was how this young woman believed the environment she was in was healthy She believed she was genuinely helping others with the brainwashing teaching of the cult. She was oblivious to the unhealthy atmosphere she was in.
No local church is perfect. They all have their flaws because they are all made up of flawed individuals. If you read this article trying to figure out how to find the perfect church then you are out of luck. The perfect local church simply does not exist. However, I think there are some churches that can have an incredibly unhealthy bent towards views. This post is by no means comprehensive, and I would not even say each of these points alone would justify concern, but it should get you thinking. Here are some warning signs to pay attention to when looking for a local church.
1. The “Take my word for it” pastor. This is a dangerous one. You should always want a pastor that urges you to search the Scriptures for yourself. If a pastor is actively indulging you in just keeping to your weekly sermon fix then you would be in a very stunted spiritual life.
2. They ignore evangelism. A local church is not one that meets with its doors closed on Sunday morning. There needs to be outreach. There needs to be a passion for the lost. The church is not a club. When you are looking to get involved in a local church I urge you to ask about the churches vision on outreach. What do they want to see happen in their community? How are they going to accomplish that?
3. They are “untainted”. Sadly some local churches struggle with realizing that there are strong dedicated believers outside their church walls. Even people who disagree with them on small issues are incredible followers of Christ worth partnering with. Christianity can be made more exclusive than it actually is. This leads to point number four.
4. Legalism. This is a hard one to define. People often call something legalistic when it is not. People make the mistake of confusing personal sanctification with legalism. Legalism is essentially adding to God’s Law. We mess with the rules and put our personal moral standards on everyone else when Scripture is vague or even simply silent on the issue. Legalism says there is only way exact ay to do things. There is only one way worship can be done. There is only one way Scripture can be taught. There is only one way to do a church service. There is only one way to do a Bible study. Legalism often worships tradition of God.
5. KJV only. I realize I may step on toes with this one. I have zero problem with people preferring the KJV as their personal translation of choice. Whatever works best for you. However, if you take it a step to far in saying that KJV is the only inspired version of the Bible then there is a problem. This is beyond Biblical. If you are looking into a local church where this is the predominant view then expect to see this as just the tip of the iceberg over a host of red flags. Proclaiming one Bible translation as the sole inspired version is heresy. Some take it further than others. I have know of some who believe Jesus Christ Himself preached out of a KJV Bible. It’s just something you don’t want to get mixed up in.
6. Programs: numbers over purpose. I love good ministry programs. I love having healthy Christian fun. I love playing games. However, sometimes a church can be all fun and games, but miss the bigger purpose. What is the purpose to the programs the church has? Is it outreach? Training? Discipleship? I remember in High School there was an activity planned for the youth group. It was a ski trip. Our youth pastor told us this was for the purpose of inviting our friends to join us in the group who otherwise might not come for a regular Sunday night event. The end of the sign-up deadline hit, and all he had were kids in the youth group sign up so he canceled the event. Plenty of them got ticked, but he explained that in this youth ministry everything will be done for a purpose. It wasn’t about just having fun in our little club. We weren’t a youth group. We were a youth ministry. I’ve tried to have that same attitude ever since.
7. Truth with no love. You don’t want to get involved with a group that adds offense to the Gospel. We are told to speak truth in the world, but we are also told to be smart about it. It is so important to realize that local churches like these mean well. They are genuinely tying to help people. Be careful though as this attitude can become very contagious.
8. Love with no truth. his attitude is equally as contagious and equally as dangerous. To many local churches have adopted a social Gospel. The social Gospel is not the Gospel. The social Gospel tells us nothing about Jesus Christ. It tells us nothing about the need for Jesus Christ. It is simply about meeting the needs. Meeting the physical needs without dealing with the spiritual needs will not have the eternal impact needed. These churches also have the best of intentions at heart. These two red flags require such a delicate balance that can only come from depending on Christ fully.
Again, this is by no means a comprehensive list. I would not even say any one of these issues constitutes need to leave or not choose a church. However, I have known many looking for churches, but struggle with knowing what they are looking for. I have seen many get wrapped up in local churches that are simply not healthy for their spiritual growth. I wish to leave you with one prevailing thought. Any church struggling with these issues can change with the power of Christ. As I said, no church is perfect. If you find yourself leaving a church with major issues do not condemn it with your thoughts. Pray for them. Pray that God would bring healing and correction. This is Christ’s church. Any local body he submits under his authority can be changed. This is not a church bashing post. This post is a warning, but also a post of hope. Just as Christ has changed wretched sinner like me, He may also change a local body needing course correction.