Over the last several years I have been visiting local churches as a means of connecting with fellow believers. I realize that no church is perfect, as people are involved, and where people are involved, there will be imperfections. As I have thought about the teaching in mainline churches, there are four things that I think make a church vibrant and relevant.
First, the teaching from the pastors/teachers should be Yeshua (Jesus focused) and anchored in the Hebrew Scripture. I have asked pastors when was the last time they taught from the Hebrew Scriptures, and many have said they can’t remember the last time. There is something fundamentally askew with a church that ignores 80% of the Bible.
I have attended churches where one need only bring a New Testament, as that is the only text the pastor finds relevant. If the Hebrew Scriptures were the only Bible Yeshua read and lived from, then should we try to improve on His example? If a pastor avoids, denigrates or teaches that the Hebrew Scripture is irrelevant, that should be a red flag!!
Second, a vibrant and healthy church is one where discipleship is fostered. From my perspective the concept of discipleship left the mainline church a long time ago. If the pastors do not model and encourage discipleship, it is likely that it won’t happen. Discipleship is where older men invest individual time with younger men and older ladies invest time with the younger ladies.
Yeshua gathered around himself 12 guys and taught them privately over a three-year period. If the church is to ever regain its power, it will have to rediscover the concept of discipleship. Discipleship requires spending time talking with each other and a willingness to invest resources into the lives of others to make them grow. Just as children need the nurturing help of parents, so new believers need those with more knowledge and maturity to invest in their growth.
Third, a church must have encouragement and modeling from the pastors regarding outreach to others in need. Churches that become focused only on their own needs and issues become stagnant. We are most like Yeshua the Messiah when we are looking for people in need and then actively working to meet that need.
When I attend a church that is only focused on meeting its own needs, I know that I’m not in a healthy place. If we are willing to look around, it should not be difficult to see a world that is hurting and in need of healing. I am not saying churches need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to outreach. Find a group or organization that is doing the right things the right way and then partner with them. I have never seen a church that reaches out to others in need become unhealthy. On the contrary, churches that find creative ways to help others not in their own community of faith thrive.
Fourth, I would caution attending a church that believes in “replacement theology”. Replacement theology teaches that all the promises and covenants given to Israel have been taken from them and given to the Gentile Church — thus the replacement.
Interestingly the church wants the benefits of the covenant (salvation/deliverance) but not the responsibility of the covenants (obedience to commands). In my estimation the Gentile Church has cut itself off from the richness of Israel, the Jewish people and understanding the faithfulness of G-d to His covenant people Israel. Churches that have a low view of Israel and their role in the future should be a massive red flag.
Replacement theology does serious damage to the whole of Scripture and, in essence, is an attack on the veracity and integrity of G-d. If G-d makes a promise and then reneges on that promise/covenant, then how can He ever be trusted again?
I will continue to visit/attend mainline churches, as I want to connect with other believers even if we have a gulf of differences between us. I would encourage my brothers/sisters in the church to visit us. I believe we have something to learn from everyone, and we need to have our thoughts and actions scrutinized by those who really care about our spiritual health.
It is my desire to see every church be a healthy place where the children of G-d can grow to be everything He wants them to be. When churches become dysfunctional then growth is stunted, and eventually they die. One can drive all around the area and find churches that at one time were thriving but now are a distant memory.
Take inventory of the church you attend. Do they have numerous means of reaching out to others in need? Do they disciple those young in the faith by one-on-one mentoring? Do they teach “replacement theology” and studiously avoid the Hebrew Scriptures? All of these (and a few more) are signs of a churches sickness or vibrancy.