Apologetics begins at home. Parents are the first apologist a child should meet and children are the most important disciples a parent may ever have. You probably don’t think of your child as your disciple. In fact, you’re more likely to think of them as your friend, a debatable role for sure.
It is true though. Your children are your disciples and some very important ones at that.
At a young age, they look to you for truth. They depend upon your wisdom when it comes to the things that matter most, and their spiritual well-being has been entrusted to you by God.
Why is it then that so many parents place so little thought into what church they should attend? Even fewer consider the competence of the pastor and the church leadership.
So here are three considerations that each parent should make when choosing a church.
Is the Word preached faithfully? It’s easy to confuse this with “Is the Word preached loudly” or “is the Word opened at all.” Those are not what I mean. Just like a car, loud don’t mean fast and if a preacher isn’t using the Bible at all, why are you even entertaining the possibility of staying?
A pastor should be working his way through portions of Scripture regularly. On occasion he may preach some systematic theology from various passages, but for the most part, the Scripture should be worked through verse by verse, exposing its truth to the congregation.
“The principle that Christian preaching is proclamation of the Word must obviously be determinative of the content of the sermon.”
Too many preachers like to preach topically as their go-to method. It’s way too easy to pick on pet peeves that way. That’s not their job.
Choose a church that values Scripture not preachers. Churches that value preachers rather than God’s Word often find themselves with wolves (John 10:12-13) posing as shepherds. Many so-called pastors fail to convince congregants by exercising oversight but prefer compulsion and coercion. They preach for shameful gain rather than God’s glory. They fail to lead by example yet they domineer over the flock.
“Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.” (1 Peter 5:2–3, ESV)
Allistair Begg gives a great litmus test for these kind of pastors. A man who is interested in his own glory leads with the statement “Don’t you know who I am?” While a preacher who is interested in God’s glory leads with the statement “Don’t you see who He is?”.
If you visit a church and the pastor is faithfully preaching the whole counsel of God, humbly leading the flock, that is a good sign that you should continue your inquiry.
If he seems like a belligerent buffoon or has Narcissistic Personality Disorder, run away!
Are the sacraments being administered rightly? I don’t mean are they using wine or grape juice. I don’t mean are they baptizing adults or infants.
What I mean is this: are they taking the sacraments seriously? Is there a difference or a distinction made between the sacrament and the rest of the service? Is there a flippant attitude? Do they take their own doctrine seriously? Is it business as usual?
The sacraments should never be divorced from the Word, for they have no content of their own, but derive their content from the Word of God; they are in fact a visible preaching of the Word. As such they must also be administered by lawful ministers of the Word, in accordance with the divine institution, and only to properly qualified subjects, the believers and their seed. A denial of the central truths of the gospel will naturally affect the proper administration of the sacraments.
A church that doesn’t take the sacraments seriously or administers them in an unbiblical manner will likely treat God the same. In that case, it’s definitely time to skedaddle.
Finally, is church discipline practiced? The one thing missing from most would-be great churches is discipline.
Discipline broadly defined is teaching and following. Its root word is disciple, which means to follow. Unfortunately, that’s usually where most churches leave it.
There’s more to it. Discipline must include the Biblical process for bringing a brother or sister to repentance. Matthew 18 describes that process for lay people and 1 Timothy 5:19 describes the process as it should be applied to an elder.
Some churches record in meticulous detail their disciplinary process. Others simply list the passages and say that they practice discipline.
It’ll be hard for you to determine whether a particular church actually does practice what they preach because much of it is done in private. What won’t be hard will be when they tell you that we “don’t judge” around here and that “we just forgive people because we’re all sinners.” At that point you should turn, walk directly to the door, and scurry to your car. Mark that one off your list.
Churches that are lax in discipline are bound to discover sooner or later within their circle an eclipse of the light of the truth and an abuse of that which is holy.
How in the world do these three things help me disciple my child, you might ask?
A persistent lack of any of these may indicate a deficiency in other important areas such as doctrine and may even indicate that this is not really a church at all.
Much more than a good youth group or programs, these thermometers can help you determine whether or not this church will help you disciple your children.
Church is not a substitute for your responsibility as a parent, but it should be one of the greatest resources at your disposal. If it doesn’t meet these three criteria though, you will lack in your own ability to disciple them and they will experience privation in their sense of what church is. Believe me, you will both need a good church as they grow into adults.
Indeed, your children are the most important disciples you may ever have.