Looking For A Jesus Shaped Church

When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”

And they said, “Some say John the Baptist; others, Elijah; still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

“But you,” He asked them, “who do you say that I am?”  Simon Peter answered,

You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!

And Jesus responded, “Simon son of Jonah, you are blessed because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and

On this rock I will build My church,

And the forces of Hades will not overpower it.  I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth is already bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth is already loosed in heaven.”
-Matthew 16:13-19

What do you look for in a church?  We know that a church is not a building, but a group of people.  Those people who are the church, are gathered around Jesus Christ as Lord, Messiah, the Son of God.

When I was a small child and my parents were looking for a new church, the number one attribute they sought was Christian education.  They were impressed by the emphasis on Christian ed. that our new church had.

Both the church we left and the new church we joined believed that Jesus is Lord.  That is the center,  But how does a church function, live and breathe, act, be, become and do; based on "Jesus is Lord"?

All churches that believe that Jesus is Lord do not have to look alike and emphasize the same things.  The NT does not have a model for what a perfect church is or what the right emphasis is, other than the cornerstone of Jesus as Lord.

Every list or advice on what to look for in a church should begin or have as it's foundation, that Jesus is Lord.  The question becomes, "If Jesus is Lord, then what is your church going to look like, be like and function like?"

What if Jesus is the blueprint for the church?  He calls people to become like him.  He is the head of the church and the Spirit of God is the orchestrator, conductor and chief imagineer.

What is it that we need to have in a church that we are going to be a part of?

Jesus said, "I will build my church".  It is important to keep in mind that Jesus is and has been building his church.  And every church on the landscape today is not necessarily a church that Jesus built or is building.

Jesus is saying that his church is based on the foundation that He is the Messiah, the Son of the living God.  If a 'church' teaches, believes or proclaims otherwise; they simply are not a part of the church Jesus has or is building.

And Peter is not the foundation of the church.  Peter's proclamation, inspired by Jesus' Father, is the foundation.  When we look at individual churches, we want to look at what they are built on and that gives us a clue as to if Jesus built it or is building it.

I think that the foundation or cornerstone that the church or any particular church is built from (should be built from) is "Jesus Christ is Lord, Messiah and Son of God".  With that settled, what does a church look like and function like?

I looked for lists, that try to answer that question.  And I found a church that I think does a great job of describing what to look for in a church.

Here are five examples of lists, with some comments.

Church One (pastor-centric?)

  1. A church where my family will be regularly fed by God’s Word. 
  2. A church where I am convinced the care of my soul will be a priority. 
  3. A church where my family will experience meaningful Christian fellowship and accountability. 
  4. A church where I can serve God’s people and use my gifts for its benefit.

My questions for this sort of church:
  • Is the church a feeding center?  
  • Is this a pastor-centric view of church?  
  • Are we consumers or disciples in Christ?  
  • Did Jesus come, so that we could serve him in church?

Church Two (Biblical)

9 marks of a Biblical church:

  1. Expositional preaching.
  2. Biblical theology.
  3. Biblical understanding of the gospel.
  4. A biblical understanding of conversion.
  5. A biblical understanding of  evangelism.
  6. Biblical church membership.
  7. Biblical church discipline.
  8. Biblical discipleship and growth
  9. Biblical church leadership.

My understanding is that the people of this church's camp are concerned about churches without the Bible.  There are so called churches that just do not value or believe in the Bible.

We do want to be people of the word and Biblical illiteracy among Christians is a bad thing.  But, the living Word, Jesus Christ, is really the center of the church, of Christianity.  We do not worship the Bible.

I believe:
  • We can miss God, with our faces and eyes in and on the Bible.  
  • We can memorize or think we know what is biblical, but misrepresent God.  
  • We do not study and understand the scriptures to be Christians or church members. 
  • But, we will love the word and live it, breath it and study it, discuss it and talk about it; 
    • Because of our loving relationship with the living God.

Church Three (not sure if you are Christian)

"Top 10 Things to Look for in a Church;"
  1. Community
  2. Commitment
  3. Involvement
  4. Worship
  5. Beliefs
  6. Graceful and Truthful teachings
  7. Evangelistic Aims
  8. Biblically based Teachings
  9. Clear Gospel Message
  10. Traditions

This list is very different than the previous one.  I do not doubt the author is Christ centered or based on Jesus.  But the church that Jesus builds is overtly Christ like.

The author of this list might say that Jesus and "Jesus is Lord" is a given, but we have no way of knowing, without the list saying it.  And the mark of an inauthentic church is that Jesus is not Lord there.

When I look for and look at a church, I am mainly looking for one thing:  Christ.  Jesus Christ is Lord.  People in Christ.  The love of Christ.  Christ in people, their hope of glory.

Church Four (church centered church?)

"10 Qualities to look for when Choosing a Church":
  1. Is this Church Centered on the Gospel of Jesus Christ? 
  2. Does This Church Stand Firm on Sound Biblical Doctrine? 
  3. Is the Bible Faithfully Preached Week after Week? 
  4. Is the Worship Biblical and God-Centered? 
  5. Are the Leaders Biblically Qualified and Mutually Accountable? 
  6. Do the Leaders/Pastors Shepherd the Sheep? 
  7. Does This Church Practice Biblical Church Discipline? 
  8. Does this Church Equip Its Members to Serve God? 
  9. Does This Church Community Have a Culture of Grace, Love, and Peace? 
  10. Does This Church Have an Outward Focus—Missions, Evangelism, and Church Planting?

Lots of good points in this list.  But we, as the church and overseers of the church, can get so caught up in the church, that we do not see the forest through the trees.  There is more here about the church than who is inside its members and building it.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is number one.  But what is the Gospel?

Is the Gospel the message of the cross and about what happened there and the invite to appropriate that into our lives?  Or is is the gospel of Jesus Christ, that Jesus preached and we are to preach, teach and live in; the gospel of the kingdom of God?

The church that Jesus Christ is building today, is built on and through the Gospel of the kingdom.

It is popular today to use Paul to interpret Jesus and his message, even if we do it subconsciously or unintentionally.  We say we are all about Christ, but we preach a Pauline Gospel, that Paul himself did not preach.

(See notes at the bottom.)

What is Paul's message in one short sentence, from all his writings?

I would say: "A man in Christ".  A man in Christ has seen the cross and his savior thereon.  He sees the death and resurrection of Christ and he has Christ in him, as King; because now, for him, Jesus Christ is Lord.

Church Five (Jesus shaped church)

Crosspointe Community Church, in Michigan has a long list.

Here is their shorter list:

What to look for in a Church:
  1. Jesus is the focus of the church and all its teachings
  2. The church believes that loving other people is the most genuine and accurate representation of our love for God
  3. The Church believes that All People Matter to God no matter their race, nationality, income level, education, or political affiliation
  4. The Church believes that forgiveness, grace, and mercy is the deepest form of love towards other people; especially when it's demonstrated to our enemies
  5. The Church believes that God's Values are not the same as the world's
  6. The Church believes that God is concerned about His Truth and not the traditions of mankind
  7. The Church lives out its Commission to spread the Good News (Gospel) of Jesus Christ to impact the entire Community (people, environment, & institutions)

The longer list:

What to look for in a Church:

  1. The name, person, and works, of Jesus Christ are regularly focused upon, spotlighted, and promoted (John 17:1-5, 24-25, 2 Corinthians 4:5)
  2. People are being invited to join God’s family: publicly, privately, and regularly and people are accepting these invitations (Joshua 24:14-15, Acts 2:40-41, 46-47, 5:14)
  3. People’s salvations and growth in Jesus Christ are considered more important than traditions, dress styles, and/or musical styles (Philippians 2:3-11)
  4. The church is growing in their recognition, acknowledgement, and participation in evangelizing their local communities (2 Corinthians 5:18-20, Matthew 28:18-20, Acts 1:8)
  5. God’s Word and the learning of God’s Word is continually and regularly promoted and taught (John 1:1-5, 2 Timothy 3:16-17, Psalm 119)
  6. All people at your church feel comfortable, accepted, cared for, and loved by those who attend. (Mark 12:28-34, Romans 12:13, 1 Peter 4:9)
  7. Believers who have been part of God’s family are regularly challenged to grow in their fellowship with God and allow God to grow them to be more like Christ (Ephesians 4:14-16)
  8. The pursuit of truth is regular, continuous, and persistent (1 Corinthians 13:6, 2 Corinthians 4:2, 13:8, John 1:17, 3:21, 4:23-24, 8:31-32)
  9. Forgiveness should be promoted and practiced (Ephesians 4:32, Matthew 5:7, 6:12, Romans 2:1)
  10. The freedom of grace in Jesus Christ is promoted and not the slavery of the law of Moses (Romans 5:20-21, 6:15-18, 22-23, 8:1-4 )
  11. Satan doesn’t like what is going on and will continually try to subvert the work and impact of the church (Revelation 12:10-11, Genesis 3:15, Ephesians 6:12, 1 Peter 5:8-9, 1 Chronicles 21:1, Zechariah 3:1-2, Matthew 4:1-11, Luke 4:13, Matthew 16:23)
  12. The people have an increasing capacity to recognize Satan’s work and don’t allow his schemes to cause them to waver from God’s work (Matthew 7:15-20, Proverbs 28:11, John 10:3-5)
  13. They are more concerned with the approval and praise of God and not the approval and praise of men (Galatians 1:6-10, 2 Corinthians 10:17-18)
  14. The congregation gets its identity from their love of God and not the name of their building (John 13:34-35, Matthew 22:35-40)
  15. They share their financial resources generously with those in need and in order to promote God’s program of adding to His Kingdom (2 Corinthians 8:1-7, 9:6-7, Deuteronomy 15:7-15, Acts 2:42-47, 4:32-35)
  16. God’s finances are handled responsibly, reported to the congregation regularly, and are done in an “open” atmosphere (Philippians 4:10-18, 2 Corinthians 8:1-6)
  17. Teachers and other leaders are identified through prayer, information gathering, and careful consideration; not by popularity votes (1 Timothy 3:1-13, Philippians 4:6-7, 1 Samuel 16:6-7)
  18. There is no congregational uproar over minor issues of preference (1 Timothy 4:1-5, 2 Timothy 2:23, Mark 7:6-8) 
  19. There is no congregational uproar over how people dress other than the biblical mandate of propriety (1 Timothy 4:1-5, 2 Timothy 2:23 Matthew 15:8-9, Mark 7:6-8, 1 Timothy 2:9-10)
  20. Disputes are attempted to be settled biblically through loving dialog and mutual submission; not by gossip (Matthew 18:15-17, 2 Timothy 2:23-26, Romans 1:29)
  21. Leaders are encouraged and supported. New leaders are identified and trained. (Romans 13:1-5, Hebrews 13:7, 17-18, 1 Timothy 3:1-13)
  22. All styles of music which promote God’s Word and bring glory to Him are welcomed (Psalm 150)
  23. Creativity is encouraged and not discouraged (Psalm 20:4, Gen 1:1, 26-27. Exodus 31:1-5)
  24. There is no distinction over “types” of musical instruments that bring praise to God (Psalm 150)
  25. Leaders have private meetings about private matters and the discussions stay private (Proverbs 11:13)
  26. God, the Creator of the Universe, is not portrayed as “old”, “stodgy”, or “boring” but is portrayed as always working, caring, concerned, loving, exciting, interesting, and relevant to every single human life and the rest of His creation (The entirety of Scripture)
  27. While fun is not the ultimate goal of your church, certainly people of all ages can enjoy and have fun while in worship, fellowship, and learning. Worship, while not necessarily a pep rally is certainly not supposed to be a funeral either. (Exodus 15:20, 2 Samuel 6:12-22, Psalm 30:11, 149:1-4, 150:1-6, Luke 15:23-32)
Crosspointe community church

Their ministry philosophy is: "All people matter to God"

Their core beliefs are:

1. God exists
2. He matters to us greatly
3. We matter to Him greatly

Their core purpose:

1. To grow in our love for God and one another
2. To discover God's design for our lives
3. To introduce others to the Gospel of Jesus Christ
4. To mature as fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ
5. To bring God glory in all we do

Notes: For further reading

Paul's Gospel and Caesar's Empire, N.T. Wright
Paul and Caesar, A New Reading of Romans, N.T. Wright
What is The Gospel? (video), N.T. Wright
N.T. Wright, Scot McKnight and the Gospel: Compared and Contrasted
Jesus vs. Paul, Scot McKnight
Jesus, Paul and The Gospels, James D.G. Dunn
The King Jesus Gospel, Scot McKnight