Meeting with a community of believers is an important aspect to Christian life. We often talk about these meeting spaces as “churches”. In this episode, we talk about the purpose of church and how to go about finding the right community. Daily Christian community happens in our local groups. But all believers are also united as one big church, what Scripture calls The Body of Christ. It is a great challenge and immense joy for Christians to discover how to serve and be served by a community of believers.


How do I pick a church?

Mark: Okay, so one of the things that I struggled with personally, when I first came to the Lord, is I know you’re supposed to go to church. And I think some people decide where to go to church because the people who introduce them to the Lord and shepherd them along the way, they’re in a church and it’s local. For me, I wasn’t like that because a lot of my journey to faith was with you and me. I lived hundreds of miles away from you, and at the time I was in a different state. So, where do I go to church? It’s kind of a weird thing. And I think, when I talk to people who have been Christians their whole lives, they never even think about this. They grew up in a church, maybe they’ve even been church shopping, they separated from their family, went out and found their own church, but it was real normal. I can tell you as a new Christian, it’s intense, it’s intimidating. First of all, I’m gonna go to a place where I don’t know anybody. I don’t know the difference between churches, I don’t know the difference between denominations. Like, do I go to a Methodist Church or a Presbyterian Church? 

Tim: What am I supposed to be looking for? 

M: There’s pastors and ministers. I know it seems weird to people who are Christians, lifelong Christians, but it’s complicated. Also, I can tell you on just a super personal level, it’s super intimidating. What’s expected of me when I walk into a church? Can I be anonymous and just kinda hide in the back and nobody will know I’m there? Which, for me, this would be very comfortable. And so there’s a whole bunch of stuff around that. So I guess my first question to you guys would be: Okay, I’m a new Christian, how do I figure out what church to go to?

T: Well, first, I just wanna comment on how crazy it seems to me that you would be intimidated. You make a living out of going into intimidating places.

M: Yes, absolutely. 

T: And you’re never intimidated. 

M: Correct.

T:  So I guess what you’re saying is “That’s because I know that arena, and this is an arena I know nothing about.”

M: Exactly. 

The word “church”

T: Okay, and I think what we can do, Joey, is we can talk about what the Bible tells us. That’s kind of the point of this, what does the Bible actually tell us? Because a lot of the things that you experienced are cultural manifestations. And everything always happens in a cultural context, which is fine, but what are the actual Biblical guidelines? I think that’s what we can start with. And we might start with the word “church.”

Joey: Yeah, the word church is in scripture as ekklesia, which actually means just “assembly or gathering.” So you talk about this question and there’s so much to unpack here, but even the idea of where we go to church is part of that cultural thing we’ve made into like a building, a location that you go and visit. But I think the way the Scripture talks about it is church is where believers assemble. So you are the church. This is church happening. And so some of it is going to a church on Sunday morning. I think in its best conception, it’s meant to be sort of a gateway to help you become the body of Christ, to help you learn what that looks like. But unfortunately, we’ve too often made it just this kind of one-off during the week you go to. You’re at church then, but then, oh great, you get to go back and do everything else the rest of the week and not participate in the Kingdom of God. 

M: I gotta poke in there because you said a phrase that new Christians will hear and it’s weird, it doesn’t mean anything to us, which is “to become the body of Christ.” So what do you mean by that? 

What does body of Christ mean?

J: Yeah, that’s just the term that scripture uses to refer to the church, to the people of God, the body of Christ. If you think of Jesus as the head, and Paul unpacks this in a lot of his letters, then we are His body. We all operate together. So again, to go back to ekklesia, we’re assembled together. The arm needs the leg in order for us to operate so I can’t do the work of the Kingdom of God by myself. I need to assemble with the other believers to work in a community together.

T: The church is the people, not the place. 

M: Okay. 

T: In our culture, we think of the place as the church.

M: Yeah, definitely.

T: We have the sign out front, you know, X, Y, Z church, like that address is the church. And that’s not Biblical at all. That would be a meeting place for the church, and the church is actually happening all week long. I would say the most fundamental organizing unit, Biblically, of the church is when Jesus says, “Any time two or three are gathered together, I’m there with you.” Okay, well, if Jesus is there, he’s the head of the church, then that’s a church meeting. Anytime you have two or three, well, when can you have that?

M: Right now.

T: Now! In your home and when you’re talking to your kids. So, church is happening all the time. In the Old Testament, there was no Sunday meeting that was set up when Israel first began. There was the Sabbath day that they kept holy and that they probably did things on this Sabbath day that were spiritual worship things, but I’m not aware of anything that’s prescribed. It’s prescribed to leave that day apart from work. It doesn’t prescribe go to a meeting and go to work. What is prescribed is all seven days, and this is Deuteronomy 6, part of the covenant God had with Israel. “All seven days, all day long, teach the ways of God, which are the ways that work, to your kids all day long and speak of them in everything you do.” So that, I think, is really more the proper thought of church. We do life together, and we speak of life in a biblical way, which is what works, all day long, every day, and that is the church in action. And so that’s one part of it. The other part is an intentional gathering to a specific purpose. And so that’s what we typically call church, but the church is actually this group of people, this organic body. But there is a command to intentionally assemble. So getting those two things separated is an important part of really understanding this. Does that make sense? 

M: Yeah. It does. And I think this was important for me and it was kind of a weird transition to learn that, “Okay, wait, I am part of the Church, meaning the body of Christ, the broader body of believers worldwide. So we’re all part of the body of the Church, the body of Christ.” Now, let’s separate that from, “Okay, now there’s a building, there’s a place where I can go worship with other people, how do I decide where to go?” And that has multiple pieces to it. There are small churches, large churches, we hear people talk about mega churches today. Some people hate them, some people love them. And then there’s the denominational part of it. How do I choose a denomination?

The purpose of church

T: Well, I think the first thing is to talk about the purpose. We always default to the There-Here-Path in everything we do, right? So what’s the There? And the biblical admonition for assembling is for very specific purposes. Alright, and what are those purposes? Well, Hebrews 10 says, “Do not forsake the assembling of yourselves together like some do.” So it’s a command. Like, some people don’t assemble and that’s a bad idea. It is a good idea to assemble and it tells you why. “To stir one another up, to love and good works. And all the more as you see the day approaching, the Judgment Day.” So, that’s packed with a lot of stuff, right? But here’s the reality of it: as you go through the day, you’re interacting with believers and you’re interacting with the world because we live in the world, and the world is always inundating you with “do things the wrong way,” that’s self-destructive. You just get immersed in it, you can’t help it, because we live in the world. So you can start losing your resolve because you start absorbing the stink of the world. And what that passage is doing is saying “You need to immerse with people who will stir you up to love and good works.” So what is that? That’s the way of our best benefit that we’ve talked about, so what that tells us is we need encouragement to go that way, you can’t do this on your own. You need that encouragement. So what I would say the first thing you ought to do is not say, “Where should I go?” Okay? “What am I supposed to do? What rules am I supposed to find?” We talked about that. You should say, “Okay, where can I go to get this function for me?” And everybody’s different, everybody’s different.What stirs Joey up may not stir me up, and I might need three different things that stir me up and he may be good with one.

Different denominations

J: Yeah, I agree. The reality is, I’ve been going to church my whole life, and this is a complicated thing for lifelong Christians. I was a minister. I grew up in a church and then I started getting jobs in churches, and I ran into this reality when I stopped being at the local church, and I was like, “I gotta figure out how to pick a church.” I’d never done that in my life, I just sort of inherited them. But I think Tim’s right. And another thing I think people get wrong is there is no perfect church. They’re all imperfect. Mega churches, house churches, they’re all imperfect because there are people in them. So they’ve all got a level of imperfection. And I know people who really struggle and leave churches every 18 months or so because they start to see the cracks or the imperfections. If you are trying to find the perfect place, that’s gonna be difficult. But I think Tim is right. Any place that you can go to that encourages you, that stirs you up, and I would add the most important thing—this really hit home for me, during Covid–the most important thing when you go to church is finding other people who believe in Christ that you can share life with. So when Covid happened and we were watching our church online, it just didn’t feel the same. Well, that’s because all of the people that I talk to and I see when I go there, I’m not interacting with. I can watch or I can listen to podcasts of great sermons, I can listen to worship music all the time, and there’s something different about assembling together with people that I know and that I’m sharing life with. So I would say any place that you can go and feel that stirring to move deeper into the kingdom of God and to participate in it. And to find people to partner with you in it; and to your comment earlier, I think there’s a certain–maybe Tim would disagree with this–but I would say there’s a certain element of being alright to just kind of sneak in the back and get yourself oriented a little bit. But in the long run, I gotta be honest, you can’t do that forever. You can’t hide in the back if you want this thing to be something that’s gonna really transform your life. If you want to be a part of the kingdom of God, you’ve got to start participating in being active. Find a place that stirs you and moves you into that direction and helps you find people, I think that’s the best barometer to use.

Cultural sense church vs. the real deal

T: My guess is that your actual experience at church started with your organization and the people in your organization, that’s when you first started experiencing it.

M: Yeah, you know, it’s interesting. Because my recollection of this is, at some point, I asked you a question and I said, “You know, I don’t go to church.” And your response was, “I think you go to church every day.” Which didn’t make any sense to me. This ties to this idea of the church being the body of Christ, right? And so in our organization, there are millions of people. There’s hundreds of people I interact with on a daily basis. 

T: Most of them are believers. 

M: Almost all of them are believers. But it’s more than that, we’re talking about church things. We’re talking about Jesus Christ, we’re talking about the Bible. The references are made, we have prayer warrior teams in our organization. 

T: Are you trying to get people saved?

M: No, it’s because it’s just who we are. It’s what works.

T: So let’s do what works, right?

M: Exactly, and that was kind of an important revelation to me. And I think about this all the time, because to be honest with you guys, I’ve been a Christian nine years. We don’t really have a church that we belong to. 

T: In the cultural sense.

M: In the cultural sense, the building that we go to every Sunday, 

T: But you do church all the time.

M: Constantly, every day, 

T: Because it’s this organic thing.

M: So for us, we’re still exploring churches in the cultural sense, and we struggle with a lot of things. One of the things you said to me in the beginning that was super helpful was you told me you were worried that when I went to church, I’d be disappointed, and I asked you why, and you said “because there’s people.”  It didn’t make sense, then you said, “Look, there’s sinners in church, there’s greedy people in church, there’s egotistical people in church, every kind of person you meet everywhere else is in church also.” Right? And so that was actually super helpful. You talked about, you start to see the cracks in church and then maybe I don’t like this church anymore because the pastor said a few things I don’t like, or there’s some ego in some of the staff or whatever it is. Well, that’s just human stuff. And then for me, part of it is also you just walk in the door to the church and it doesn’t feel right to you. For you, because, like you said, there are so many different styles. One of the things that I struggle with a little bit in church, in a lot of the churches I’ve been to, it’s like a rock show. The first 15 minutes, half hour, it’s loud music, its lights, and I’m thinking, “I came to study the Word, I’m not sure what I’m doing here. If I want to crank up the stereo at home, I’d crank up the stereo.” Sometimes I feel guilty about that, sometimes I’ll sneak into church after the worship music because I’m not enjoying it.

T: That’s mainly an age thing, I would guess. 

M: Yeah. But, you know, I’m a rock and roll guy. I like loud music. But just not in that context necessarily. 

We’re all ministers

T: Well, that’s why there’s so many different applications. But I think the big point is, when you gather and you’re intentional and you’re stirring up, that is a church function. Now, you said something that, I used to be a minister, okay? You actually used a cultural reference that’s not Biblical. 

J: Right. 

T: And you’re pretty committed to this other way, which is how powerful this paradigm is, because everyone’s a minister.

M: Right. and what you do specifically now, you’re still a minister

T: Yeah, you’re still a minister. In fact, that’s another function that the Church is supposed to have, for the different gifts to come together so that you have all the manifestations that you need to have a good team. And you need each other in life as a team sport. So you need each other. And I’ll just read this verse that’s kind of famous for people who study this sort of thing. It’s Ephesians 4:11, “And He, Jesus himself, gave some in the body to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers for the equipping of the saints, for the work of ministry.” So we could go into what all those gifts are. Suffice to say, different people have different strengths. The purpose of those strengths is to equip everyone to do the work of the ministry. So what are we supposed to gather together to stir one another up to? Love and good works. Why love? Because, other people’s benefit, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” that’s the core teaching of Jesus. And that’s what we were commanded to do in the Great Commission. Okay? That’s not a lone ranger function. That is something that we need to help with because we’re people and we have natural greed and all those things. We’re supposed to be correcting one another. That’s what “stir up” means. Correcting one another, love and good works, because the love is not supposed to be passive, it’s supposed to be in action. And you need all these functions to do that. So all of us are the ministers. And what we’ve done with, again, this institutional idea of the church as a place, and the ministers are the professionals, we have professional ministers, that’s not biblical. Now, it’s okay to call them ministers because they are. It’s not okay to say they’re a minister and I’m not. We’re all ministers. Because what’s a minister? A person that does ministry of love and good works.

M: That should be all of us. 

J: Yeah, I was in youth ministry. My job was youth minister at a church in Nashville, and I had a parent who was really frustrated with something we had done. And they were yelling at me and they through out this comment that has always stuck with me. They said, “I bring them here so that you can teach them how to be a good person.” But it’s this idea of like, and I didn’t say it, but the immediate thought in my head was like, “I send them home for the same reason.” 

T: That’s great.

The way we think about church

J: But yeah, I think what is a real danger in terms of the way we think about church, and I think what you shouldn’t do is go into a church thinking, “Do I like this pastor?” Because there is such kind of a cult of personality that happens in churches and the whole identity of it is like this is the professional guy up front, and if I like him, then basically we’ve reduced our participation in the body of Christ to approving another person and supporting that person wherever they go, rather than being stirred up together and participating in it. So look for a place where you can participate in and can be stirred up within the community, not just a place where it’s like, “I like what this guy says,” because again, in 18 months, he’s gonna start saying something you don’t like. And then your whole reason and conception of what the value of this place leaves. But even more importantly, during those 18 months, whether you like or dislike the guy, you’re not being stirred up, you’re not being activated, you’re not being a minister the way that the Bible calls us to. 

M: I would say, from a very practical perspective in my experience, Betty and I have actually enjoyed and still enjoyed church shopping. It sounds kind of funny, but we like visiting different churches. And when we moved to a new area, on a Sunday, we would try to hit three services. We’d do an early service, a main service, and a late service on a Sunday. And it was a great time. A big, heaping filling of the Lord and the Word, which is fantastic. We get to try out a bunch of different stuff, meet a bunch of new people. And, if you go to church, one of the things you’re gonna find when you walk in, in most churches, if you’re a new person and you identify yourself as a new person, there are gonna be people who wanna help you out. They want to integrate you into their church, they’re gonna be very welcoming and loving. It could be kinda overwhelming sometimes, and again, I agree. There’s no problem sitting in the back and just being anonymous, if that’s what you wanna do. But I would encourage people to shop around and find a place. And it sounds funny and touchy feely, but find a place that feels like home. And part of it is the pastor, can I relate to what this guy is saying? Part of it is, does the crowd seem like my kind of crowd? Like I would fit in here? Am I gonna find people that I can feel comfortable with sharing my life with? Because Church, ultimately in the body of Christ sense, is intimate. And so you’re gonna end up in relationship with people, you wanna be in a place where you can feel at home.

T: Well, you’re actually saying something pretty important. You know, the church, again, is not the 45-minute formal service. That’s not church either. It’s not the building and it’s not that event. It’s the people.

M: Right. 

T: And you can’t be stirred up, I can’t be stirred up unless you connect with the people fully. 

M: Right.

T: And you can be inspired. But to really serve with other people, you gotta connect at some point.