The title to my post is a question that was asked on another blog. Actually, they are linked up to someone who is holding an essay contest with that as the topic. I'm not entering any contest, but I thought it a worthy question. I basically asked myself this question for a good long while before we finally started attending a family integrated church. We've been to a variety of different churches and while I'm sure I could stand to spend more time really searching this question out, I'm pretty sure I have a good hold on what a congregation that is following Jesus should not look like. Church politics, backbiting/gossiping, cliques, spiritual dependancy, and worldy attitudes should definately be in the "not" category.
To start with, I'd like to say that I don't intend to offend anyone, but topics like this are very sensitive and most people automatically adopt a defensive stance whenever someone starts sharing an opinion that may be different from theirs. I personally think it's a good thing to question what you believe every once in awhile. Revisit standards and convictions and study them out again. Finally, know that God tells us in Romans 14:5, when it comes to disagreements about convictions, "Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind." Of course, a good starting ground for being fully persuaded is to study.
All that being said, one of the first things I think one should look at when considering a ministry, and whether or not it is following Jesus, is why the church meets. I know there are tons of churches out there like this, but I don't really think the church should be designed to "Get people in so you can tell them about God." When we read about Paul and the other disciples sharing the gospel with other people, it was out in the world, in every day life. I'm not saying you can't get saved in church, and if you can get people to visit, that's great, but it should not be the main reason to meet. I know some churches would argue that this is not really the main purpose of their meeting, but when you are constantly admonished to go out and visit/knock on doors in order to "get people in", and you hear a salvation message every single Sunday morning (and often, at other times as well), your claim that church isn't for that purpose loses it's believability (is that a word?). I've heard preachers like this say that in order to truly grow in the word you have to attend all the meetings; meaning of course, Sunday school, and Wed. and Sun. night. Too often I've heard these same preachers spend Sun. and Wed. evening service berating those present about church attendance dropping off during those times (Side note here - why are they fussing at the ones that are there? If that's what they're worried about, shouldn't they being saying that to the ones that only come on Sun. morning?). So, sadly, not a whole lot of teaching gets done. I believe the main purpose of the church should be the growth of the breathren. It should be for instruction, edifying, fellowship, and occasionally for rebuke or correction. The teaching should challenge and occasionally convict us. It should arouse our curiosity. It should be designed to increase our understanding of the Word, and consequently, our spiritual growth. Mature Christians are much more apt to feel comfortable sharing the gospel. I know that when I was new in Christ, I felt inadequate to effectivly share the gospel. I certainly didn't know as much about the Bible as I do now. I know there are some that are gun-ho right from the start, but sometimes they overwhelm people in their enthusiasm. Some of the best, most effective witnessing I've seen has been from mature, grounded christians. This is where I feel I should make reference to my earlier comment about spiritual dependancy. Spiritual dependancy is created in churches where the pastor/preacher is the be-all-end-all when it comes to the ability to understand God's word. I know I'm not formally educated when it comes to the Bible, but most of it is fairly plain and easy to understand. Pastors cripple a congregation when they insist that you should always look to them for understanding about the Word of God. They should be teaching, discipling, and encouraging us so we can study and understand it for ourselves.
Another quality of a congregation that is following Jesus, is helping each other. The members should be there for one another spiritually and physically. It is really the church's job to care for the "widows and orphans", as well as others in need. We are at a point where everyone has given that job over to the government and it has not turned out well. With things as they stand, it is difficult to rebound from this, but a Christ following congregation should do what they can. I have actually attended a church that provided for widows that had no other family support. Even when one of the widows had several children, the church provided her lodging and money for food and utilities so she could stay at home and teach her children. It was a beautiful thing to see, but many churches are steeped in debt, making this a near impossibility. It is difficult learn faith in God for provision, even if your pastor preaches this, when the church itself keepings running out to the bank to get funding for every new addition, or new vans/buses/whatever. The church I mentioned above that provided for widows also built their new church themselves - literally - as in, the men, and extended family members, built the new church building after the church had saved money for the materials. They made do with a building that was really too small for the size of the congregation until the new one was finished.
A Christ following congregation will also have parents that are obviously trying to raise their children up, "...in the nurture and admonition of the Lord." Eph.6:4. Men who have taken seriously their jobs as head of the house. Women who are committed to training their children. Parents who do not abdicate their responsibility to teach their children about God to the church. In this same vein, a Christ following congregation will have decent conversations. Not that every conversation they have will be spiritual, many won't. But the things they talk about won't be full of the world. Suggestive comments and gossip have no place. There may be plently of talk about day-to-day life, but who's winning American Idol and which store has the best sales on won't dominate the discussions. In other words, you will see something on the outside that lets you know they are trying to live a life dedicated to the things of God. I definately don't want to see people who are decidedly different inside church than they are the rest of the time.
Personnally, I don't think liberalism or feminism have a place in a Christ honoring congregation. Being Christ like is dying to self, not spending the preponderancy of your time worrying about your own personal rights. It also does not see government as the solution for all social woes.
This is certainly not a comprehensive list, but it was the begining of what I was looking for in a congregation. I want to see some evidence of Jesus in the people I see in church. I don't want it to look like "a country club for people who claim to be christians", as I've heard it described.
I'd love to hear what others think about this.
PS If I did this right, there is a link to the blog that is holding this contest when you click on the title of the post.