Does Your Congregation Fit The Biblical Standard--by Timothy A. & Kimberly B. Southall
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If the world were a perfect place, and Christ's church was unified and behaved the way God intended, then finding a congregation wouldn't require any work or thought at all. For there would only be one congregation in each geographical location. However, we know the world is not a perfect place, and Satan has certainly taken his toll within the body of Christ. As a result, there are countless divisions within the church, and each Christian family must search for the congregation which comes the closest to fitting the biblical standard for the Christ's church. The following list itemizes some of the questions one should ask himself when searching for a "home" congregation or when trying to bring a congregation closer to the biblical standard:

1.  What "doctrine" does the congregation follow?
Is the Bible the congregation's sole basis for doctrine or has some man-made theology been slipped in? Is God's Word, in its entirety, the final authority on everything within the congregation? (Matthew 4:4; 1 Timothy 1:3-11; 1 Timothy 6:3-5; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Timothy 4:2-4)

2.  What leadership does the congregation have?
Is the biblical standard for leadership-evangelist, elders (also called pastors, shepherds or overseers) and deacons-being followed? Do the men in those positions truly meet all the requirements set forth in God's Word? Is the evangelist really evangelizing? Is it his top priority to seek and save the lost? Does he preach the whole truth and nothing but the truth? Do the elders truly have a desire to "shepherd the flock"? Do the elders teach? Do they set an example for all others? Are the deacons true servants within the body of Christ? Do these leaders manage their own families well? Do they attend all worship services, Bible classes, and other activities unless they have a valid reason not to? Is the congregation governed without favoritism? Are you willing to place yourself under the authority of these leaders? (Acts 20:28; 1 Timothy 3:1-12; 1 Timothy 5:21; 2 Timothy 2:23-26; 2 Timothy 4:1-5; Titus 1:5-9; Hebrews 13:7, 17; 1 Peter 5:1-4)

3.  Are the older women leading the younger women?
Are the elders' wives and other Godly, mature women the ones who lead the women's fellowship or Bible study group? Are the mature women sharing their wisdom in matters of marriage and child-rearing with their younger counterparts? Are the younger women able to go to these mature Christian women for counsel when they need it? Do the mature women assume the role of Sunday school teacher so that the younger women can have the opportunity to mature themselves? (Titus 2:3-5)

4.  Is biblical church discipline used when necessary?
Do the leaders and members use and support the use of discipline as set forth in the scriptures when it is needed? Is church discipline used in a consistent and fair manner and without favoritism, regardless of the offenders or the sins involved? Once church discipline is exercised and the offender has repented, do they also then welcome the repentant individual back into the congregation and give them the support needed? (Matthew 18:15-17; Luke 15:11-32; 1 Corinthians 5:9-13; 1 Corinthians 6:1-4; 2 Corinthians 2:5-11; Galatians 6:1; 1 Timothy 5:19-21)

5.  What sort of reputation does the congregation have?
Is the congregation (and its members) known in the local community for its Christ-like qualities? Or is the public aware of the congregation's "dirty laundry" and the bickering which goes on "inside"? Does the congregation set a good example within the community and make others want to come to Christ? (Matthew 5:16; 1 Corinthians 10:31-33; Ephesians 5:1-16; Colossians 4:5-6; 1 Peter 2:11-12)

6.  What is the purpose of the congregation?
Do all of the members know what the purpose of the congregation is? Is the purpose of the congregation in accordance with the church of the Bible? The purpose of the church, according to the Bible is five-fold:

Are all of the members in agreement and actively working toward the purpose? Are most of the congregation's funds being spent toward the purpose? Any division in this area makes a congregation ineffective, leaving it defenseless against Satan's attacks.

7.  Are the members seeking to be like Christ in all that they do?
Could an outsider tell by their daily lives that they are followers of Christ? Do others know that they can always depend on the members of this congregation to be honest and trustworthy? Do they strive to obey all civil laws? Do they spend their time and money in ways which would be pleasing to Christ? Do they treat their own families the way they should? (Matthew 5:16; Romans 12:1-2; Romans 13:1-7; 1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1; Ephesians 5:1-2; Ephesians 5:22-6:4; Colossians 3:18-25; Titus 3:1-2; 1 Peter 2:13-17)

8.  How do the members treat each other?
Do they truly care about one another? Do they encourage one another? Do they lend a helping hand when it's needed? Do they point out sin to a brother or sister in a loving manner so that repentance can be achieved? If a brother or sister is verbally attacked, do they come to their defense or do they join in with the attacker? Is there harmony within the congregation? (Galatians 5:22-6:2; Philippians 2:3-16; Colossians 3:12-17)

9.  Is the worship service designed for all members?
Is everyone welcome, regardless of their background? Is the "order of service" such that everyone can participate? Is it designed to suit one age, ethnic, or cultural group while ignoring another group or is an effort made to keep things balanced? Are the members mature enough to sing a few songs which might not be to their particular tastes so that others can be uplifted? (Acts 10:34-35; Galatians 3:26-29; Galatians 5:26; Colossians 3:16-17)

10.  Is everyone expected to serve?
Is every member encouraged to use his or her talents and spiritual gifts? Is everyone expected to serve in some way in order to build up the body of Christ? Do the leaders help individuals who might be confused about their place in the body of Christ? (Romans 12:3-8; 1 Corinthians 12)

11.  Does the congregation help the needy?
When someone in need requests assistance, does the congregation strive to supply that need? Is the congregation prepared to meet most anticipated needs or are they "caught off-guard" when needs arise? (Proverbs 14:31; Matthew 10:40-42; Matthew 25:31-46; Hebrews 13:1-3)

12.  Are the activities designed to build up Christ's church?
Depending upon the size of the congregation, there may be mid-week Bible studies, men's fellowship groups, women's fellowship groups, youth fellowship groups, etc. on various weekdays. Are these all designed to bring those involved closer to Christ, or are they just social activities designed to keep people busy or entertained? (Ephesians 5:19-20; Colossians 3:16-17)

13.  Is the congregation sensitive to others or does it show favoritism?
Is everyone welcomed with the same enthusiasm, regardless of their background? Does the congregation care about those who might be different than they are? Is it sensitive to the individual who is widowed, divorced, a single parent, a child whose parents have divorced, or those who are "financially impaired"? Do any of the activities exclude someone who might like to attend? For example, is a Valentine's Day banquet held for couples only and exclude the widowed, divorced, and those who have chosen not to marry? Is there a Mother/Daughter banquet which leaves out a girl whose mother is deceased or a Father/Son banquet which leaves out a father who has four daughters but no son? Is there a youth trip planned which requires $20 per child so that the poor children in the congregation are unable to go? (Acts 6:1-6; 1 Timothy 5:21; James 2:1-13)

14.  What is the status of the youth?
The youth are tomorrow's church. Are they treated with that importance? Are there classes and activities designed to make them grow in Christ? Are arrangements always made for children when parents are expected to attend adult functions within the congregation? (Deuteronomy 6:6-7; Proverbs 22:6; Matthew 19:13-14; Mark 10:13-14; Luke 18:16; Ephesians 6:4)

15.  Is the congregation growing?
Is the number of members increasing? Do as many leave the congregation as join? When anyone leaves the congregation, does anyone notice or care? Do most express concern to those who leave? (Matthew 18:12-14; Luke 15:3-7; Acts 2:42-47; Acts 4:4; Acts 9:31)

The congregation of which one is a part is vital to one's spiritual life. As with the old saying, "You are the company you keep," the congregation you belong to affects every aspect of your life. Therefore, if you are searching for a congregation, take your time and choose very carefully, and even then things may not be what they seem. If you are already dedicated to a particular congregation which doesn't "measure up," make every effort, in prayer and in action, to bring it in line with God's standard for the church before seeking another home congregation.

Copyright © 1999 Timothy A. & Kimberly B. Southall. All rights reserved.