"...I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." Matthew 16:18
Jesus was crystal clear – his church is a prevailing church. Finding a prevailing church is critical to your relational strength, emotional health, and spiritual trajectory – your life depends on the church you choose. Although a prevailing church is never perfect, it is God honoring and mighty. The church has historically been battling through “the gates of hell” and the spiritual forces aligned against the gospel and growth of God’s kids is palpable.
In light of the battle and high stakes of our souls, it’s critical to choose well the church you will make your home among the broader church around the city and the world. Here is my Top Seven list when looking for a church. Many subtle characteristics will make your church a great home but never compromise when it comes to these:
- THE LEADERSHIP IS HUMBLE – Humility must be the foundational characteristic of leadership. It doesn’t mean that we look for weak or groveling leaders but rather those who stand in the confidence of Christ. Humble leaders point to God and find confidence in God's wisdom more than their abilities and experience. They both acknowledge personal calling and examine their lives. Striving to align their lives with God's standards of leadership. When the church has humble leadership, it builds confidence in the lives of the people and reflects the very nature of Christ. I Peter 5:6, I Timothy 3:1-16
- THE ENGINE IS PRAYER – Prayer is communication with our God who loves us, sent his son for us, and desires us to talk with him. Prayer moves the hand of God, and millions of stories are known of people praying and God moving. Some churches aim to make plans and have God stamp his approval – often bathing our plans in prayer. When prayer is the engine of a church, we find that God gives birth to our vision, direction, and sets in motion his blessing because he is guiding. Prayer is the most challenging discipline of our day but also the most vital. I Timothy 2:5, John 14:13-14
- THE VISION IS GOD-SIZED – Vision is not a contemporary phenomenon. When God’s revelation to people is received, it causes people to come alive. Vision in the church must, by nature, be more significant than any one person or group of people. A God-sized vision forces us to our face and causes us to cry out to God in complete dependence. When we pursue God’s more excellent vision to reach a city, country, or world that is in the clutches of sin and pain, it causes us to take no glory when we see successes along the way. A vision that is God-sized ushers in God-sized praise when little victories are achieved. Proverbs 29:18, Jeremiah 29:11
- THE GOSPEL IS PREACHED – Gospel preaching is more than bringing people to the point of salvation. The gospel is a call to a new and living way. It is calling people forward, on their knees, living in dependence on Christ and standing in his righteousness – self-righteousness has no place in God’s church. The gospel is a message of joy, not condemnation. Jesus condemned hypocrisy and saved sinners. The preaching of the gospel must be done with kindness and compassion because that’s how God saves lives. There is no more excellent message on the planet than the gospel. It will never go out of style, and if offered in mercy, it can melt the hardest of hearts. John 3:16-17, Romans 1:16
- THE ATMOSPHERE IS LOVE – Atmosphere is a worthy thing to look for in any church. But the prevailing feel must be love. Love is the first fruit of the Spirit listed in God’s word. Love conquers all. It offers to heal those in pain and turns wounds into sacred scars. The Holy Spirit is guiding us into all truth, and Jesus said it’s to our advantage that he be at work among us. When love is filling the atmosphere, we are in step with the Holy Spirit. Love is more than words. Love is an action that respects each person, believes God for great things, and moves to build up the church to be radiant. People will remember little about aesthetics, talent, and great words, but love will leave a mark that will last for eternity. Galatians 5:22-23, I Corinthians 13
- THE MESSAGE IS GRACE – Grace is the single most defining aspect of transformational messages. Many churches have fallen for the bait of Satan. When grace is lost, rules and codes of conduct take center stage. Many of these manmade rules, often unspoken, aim to control people. Grace invites people to be under the control of God. Grace walks people into freedom in Christ. A church that preaches anything less than grace brings fear and condemnation. Grace is not the license to live however we might like. It’s the call to live in the power of God – the ultimate life to live. A church with grace as its message from the podium to the parking lot will fill our cities with people who shine brightly. Ephesians 2:8-9, Galatians 3:1-6
- THE FOCUS IS DISCIPLESHIP – Focus is where a church is aiming. Discipleship is the focus that all of God’s kids are in process, on a narrow path, and that this path must never be walked alone. Discipleship walks with people on the way to maturity. A church that disciples knows that even Christ’s disciples stumbled and failed at critical moments. But it helps each other up, dusts off knees, and walks forward believing that the God who began this great work will complete it. Discipleship will use the Bible as its manual, identify leaders that are just a step ahead of others, and humbly offer to help each other take that next step with Jesus. A church that makes disciples is destined to become a prevailing church. Luke 9:23, Ephesians 4:11-17
There is much more that could be said, and you may have some that come to mind. But these are my Top Seven things to look for in a church. What should you do? The goal is never to be judgmental, but exercising judgment is essential. And here’s the real kicker. You must first be committed to living out these very attributes – starting with humility.
The church will always be imperfect, but it’s the greatest institution on earth. Find a prevailing church and then jump in – be a vital part. I had a wise mentor tell me a number of years ago, “the church is a beautiful mess,” and it is, jump in and make it more beautiful.