Searching for a new church

By Don Koenig

 

My last article talks about why I left my church. I give several reasons but mainly I could not endure the teaching of their new pastor. As a follow-up, I decided to write what I experienced in my quest for a new church in that area. Since the pastor was fired one month after my search began I did not actually leave the church I was a member of but I have since relocated and no longer attend there. Some may find what I experienced in my search for a church during this period useful.


Let me start with the past churches we visited when we moved to this location in the Ozarks of Missouri. For two years after we moved we attended a very small rural neighborhood non denominational neighborhood church. It lacked a real pastor and many other normal functions of a church so after two years we started looking elsewhere although we liked the neighbors who attended and ran the church. We visited four or five churches and I explored several others by word of mouth and the Internet but we did not visit all of them. First let me give some background of the area and the churches and why most of them I ruled out to start with.

We lived in the Ozarks.


Most of the churches are Baptist, Pentecostal, Church of Christ, Word of Faith, Christian, Methodist, Presbyterian and Catholic. In addition, there are a few non denominational churches. I ruled out amillennial churches from the start so that eliminated Christian, Methodist, Presbyterian and Catholic. I have attended amillennial churches for extended periods in the past and even was a member of a Presbyterian church for years but their position on Bible prophecy and replacement theology is a major issue of contention that I now want to avoid.

 

I have attended Pentecostal and Charismatic churches as well and I know their agenda. The largest Pentecostal denomination takes a position on tongues (as being the only evidence of having the Holy Spirit) that is loony. I simply cannot be in a denomination that is so blind. I have also seen first hand the excesses said to be led by the Spirit that go on in many Pentecostal and charismatic churches. I do not want to be part of that can of worms again (I would go to Calvary chapels if you can really put them in the Charismatic camp but there are none at this location).

 

The Word of Faith churches are clearly heretical so there is no way that I will attend there.

 

I was a Catholic when I was young so I know all about that religion and the gospel of salvation through good works and one's merits they teach. Since their salvation theology and other theologies are incorrect and convoluted there is no reason to attend there.

 

The Church of Christ is a mixed up bag; some are cults and others are just very legalistic and controlling, most do not allow musical instruments. I think any church that can be so blind about music and baptism has missed the boat on many other issues as well, so they are out of the picture.

 

In the Ozarks that pretty much leaves me with the Baptists and non-denominational churches. Any non-denominational church that I know of that is not truly strange was over an hour away, so I did not want to explore them.


 

For us to go to the remaining churches where we might have some reasonably close neighbors we were limited to the Baptists. We visited a number of southern Baptist churches in the area and generally were not impressed. We finally did find a good one and attended it for about two years until we moved to the next county. For some reason the next county had mostly "Free Will" Baptist churches. They are very controlling and unless you tow their line, your salvation is not assured nor is your membership. They also are usually very small churches with part time pastors that have little if any formal religious education. For those reasons, I ruled out Free Will Baptist churches.

 

That again left us with only the Southern Baptists in this area. They continually are high on my list although I do have a few disagreements with some of the man-made doctrine many preach from their pulpits as if it were scripture.

 

We visited about half of the Southern Baptist churches within a half hour of where we live when we moved to that county. We almost joined one church until the Pastor started making it clear that he thought only the King James was a correct translation. He was a part time pastor and very bright but obviously He was a little near sighted in areas of translations of the Bible.

 

Another Baptist church we visited a couple of times was the church of the frozen chosen. There were only four or five men in Sunday school, no one including the teacher knew the Bible, and he even admitted it. The biggest voice in the group obviously was well grounded in conspiracy theories. The music worship was more of a death march. The pastor was a nice guy but I could not attend that church for the other reasons.

 

One church I checked on the Internet. I saw mostly white hair in the church pictures. We really did not want to join a church of such an advanced age group. All of these three churches had weekly attendance under 100. The few other Southern Baptist churches in the area had much less attendance than that and had only part time pastors. When we visited the one we did join and and attend we had to travel almost a half hour. It was quite different from anything else around where we lived. It had a weekly attendance of 250 and a pastor with a doctorate. They even had a contemporary service although the selection of songs needed some help in my opinion.

 

For the reasons given in another article we got a new pastor at this church and he is why I started this latest new search. I hope it will be educational.


My first search for a new church was the evening of the day I decided to quit my church. I visited a church that I suspected was a Word of Faith church. I wanted to check it out to make sure that I was not wrong about them. I arrived early and looked at the material posted in the back and there was no longer any doubt in my mind that it was a Word of Faith church so I left before the service started. I was then about to check out another church but when I drove by and saw only a few cars I knew I did not want to be attending here.


Since I already pretty much exhausted this area on our search when we first moved to this county, I decided the next week I would visit the largest Southern Baptist church in the largest town within a hour drive. The church I visited the next week had a weekly Sunday morning attendance near 1000. The service started well with a lively upbeat spin on old traditional songs along with some modern songs. They had an organist and a drummer and a worship leader that really got into it. This obviously
was not the First Church of the Frozen Chosen. The church actually had an active choir and the bulletin indicated they had many things going on.


After the songs the Pastor made a direct appeal for men to go to the Promise Keepers rally that was named “T
he Awakening”. The rally was advertised, “to help men design a plan that will empower them to impact their world”. The pastor said he believed that Promise Keepers was the greatest group for men, and wives should encourage their husbands to attend the rally. I have some problems with his assessment. I believe Promise Keepers is a mixed bag of good and bad teaching. Anyway, I came there with an open mind and was not going to judge the church on their view of Promise Keepers. Many pastors are on the Promise Keepers bandwagon. I think few pastors have ever researched the mostly Pentecostal dominionist theology of the leadership. They just believe since it gets people on fire for Jesus (for even a short emotional period) it is something to endorse. I am not going to argue that point because I am not sure the jury is in yet on this group. Much depends on the path this group takes in the future and the theological positions the leaders end up pushing.


Next, this fairly young pastor with all gray hair gave his sermon. It was said to be a continuing series but he did not say what it was founded on. The sermon was titled, “
How God turns you Into a Leader”. The example given was Gideon. The pastor proceeded to tell us how Gideon was a failure and how God turned him into a powerful leader by affirmation (by having the angel call him a mighty warrior). Now where have I heard this jargon before? Could it be from the purpose driven drivel of Rick Warren? Warren pretty much said the same thing in his book “The Purpose Driven Life”. Later in the sermon, the pastor makes the same errors as Rick Warren when he said foolish things like "Jesus needed affirmation and He got it when God audibly spoke to Him" in the hearing of others. Jesus made it quite clear that any audibility was for the sake of others and not for Himself. Jesus was God and He talked with the Father face to face. He did not need audible affirmation! There was now little question that this church was being led down the purpose driven path.


Later in the sermon, the pastor tells us that
Jesus got affirmation after he was tempted in the desert for 40 days. What nonsense! Jesus was tested in the wilderness but He asserted His Father's authority over the Devil. God can not be tempted, for tempting implies the possibility of failure. Jesus could not fail! He was God! He did not need some kind of affirmation from the Father that He was God's Son because He already knew God was His Father from time everlasting! Jesus proved he was God because God can not be tempted. That was the whole point of the testing to prove that Jesus was the Son of God. No mere man could have withstood that testing. The testing certainly was not so Jesus would receive affirmation to prop up His fleshly ego. I came to the conclusion this pastor had little discernment and he is just copying Rick Warren's heretical materials and corrupting his flock for the sake of numbers. There was no way that I could attend this church!


Even the sermon flyer in the bulletin had Rick Warren's fingerprints all over it. It was full of scripture verses selected out of any real context just to support the bogus pop psychology theme of the sermon. Notice even the topic of the sermon is all about how “you” can be turned into a great leader. All of Rick Warren's theology is all about “you” and how “you” can become someone greater on the earth even though in his book he contradicts himself and says it is not about you.


Thanks to Rick Warren, Robert Shuller, Dr. James Dobson and others like them this pop psychology garbage has become a
plague on what once were good Bible believing churches. A plague of Insanity has arrived big time in the Southern Baptist churches folks! Call "Lifeway"! and ask if they can throw the denomination a life line against this disease to stop it in its tracks. But, lets be realistic, from the drivel Lifeway has been printing for Southern Baptists to read and study on Sunday, I think they already caught the disease long ago and are actively helping to spread it.

The following week I went to the First Southern Baptist Church located in a town 22 miles from where I lived. It is a few miles from the church I was attending and it is located in a town of just over 1100 people.

 

This church has a membership of around 200 people and a weekly Sunday morning attendance of about 100. The church was composed of all age groups and even had a singles program. I suspect the bulk of the membership is several generations of a handful of families who settled in the northern Ozarks of Arkansas.

 

The people seemed to be friendly and the worship service began rather uniquely for this kind of church. They had the words to a song of worship on the wall and the pastor and a couple of other men played keyboard music. However, that modern flare only lasted for one song. All the rest of the songs were out of a very old hymnal even though the Baptist hymnal was also in the back of the pews. Obviously, this congregation was accustomed to the old hymnal and its songs. Change comes hard in these parts. I had trouble reading the small print in the dim light even with reading glasses. Most did not use the hymnals because either they had the words memorized or like myself they could not read the print. By the few voices that I heard singing, the second scenario was most likely to be true. Certainly, the worship music in this church has room for a lot of improvement.

 

The Pastor was a man of around 50 who badly carried enough weight for two men of his height. When one's gut is down to knee level it does not take a physician to figure out that this man will not be preaching much longer if he does not lose weight.

 

He spoke on the "sermon on the mount" and explained it was a message to Jesus' disciples about how they should strive to live in the kingdom. I think he did a fine job getting his message across in a common sense down to earth way that people who grew up in the Ozarks can understand. I did not have any problem with what he said in his sermon and I am certain that this pastor will not be carried away by every new doctrine that comes along.

 

Actually, I think this is a fine family church and the families that attended it will continue to attend it until Jesus comes. I think they have a fine pastor who will not lead them down the wrong path. However, I simply do not see myself fitting in that church. I think it would be almost impossible for an outsider to have any influence in a church where deacons and leadership come out of large families with men who grew up in the area and in this local church. I think if I made some comments as an outsider in Sunday school my remarks would be taken wrong or would be over most people's heads. Thus, I would have to remain silent in the church and mainly just be a pew sitter. I also do not plan to live in this area long enough to establish the long term relationships required to be trusted by the elders in this church.

 

My final thoughts on this church is that it is a good church but unless we somehow settle here for good, I can not see a real reason to attend other than to listen to some good teaching. I have to admit, being from another area of the country, I did feel like a square peg in a round hole in that church. If I could not find something more suitable in the area, I would reconsider.

  

The following week I decided to visit the other smaller Southern Baptist Church in the town where I had been attending.

 

The church is rather small. It had about 60 people in the service. I notice that many little towns have more than one church in the same denomination. This is probably because of a church split somewhere down the line.

 

When I walked in the church, I immediately noticed a few things. The church had a picture of a Norwegian as the centerpiece of the church. I am sure they think this is a picture of Jesus but it is not. In the flesh he was Jewish and no man knows Him according to the flesh anymore anyway. The church also had a church Covenant on the side wall in the left front of the church. It had to be at least 6 by 4 foot. I am against unbiblical church covenants. It would make much more sense to have a copy of the Ten Commandments on the wall that will show people they miss the mark and need Jesus to save them then it does to have a man made church covenant that nobody will keep and that will only lead them to self-condemnation. This stumbling block should never have been set up. The scriptures are clear about oaths.

 

Many people noticed I was new (that is not unusual when there are 60 people) and shook my hand and welcomed me and we exchanged names. The service began with all the men going to a room to have a short word of prayer. I noticed they used New King James and had that version in the pews. That was fine with me because I prefer the New King James version over the recent translations most Baptists use.

 

The pastor was very young, very tall and good looking. He was also very personable, articulate and intelligent. He did not fit the image of a pastor in the Ozarks. He was much more like a young Billy Graham. The service started with a song out of the Baptist hymnal. The church had a small but well packed choir but I could not separate their voices from anyone else in the church. After the song, everyone made a circle and held hands and a short prayer was said. I think I caught on that it was their thing to do this month. We sang another song and then went through the traditional Southern Baptist hand shaking ritual. After this, three teen-age girls sang a very nice contemporary Christian song.

 

The pastor of this church is a dynamic speaker and he was either speaking from his heart and/or he had the speech memorized. I saw no notes. This pastor has been at that church for three years but last week they agreed to pay him enough so he could become their full time pastor. He spoke on the need for unity in the church. He also spoke on his vision for the church. Unity and everyone getting the same vision is fine if the things that you unify on are biblical and in the will of God. Actually, much of what he said is exactly where I think the church needs to go. He spoke about reaching those who do not fit in and about starting home fellowships. However, he said some things that also concern me.

 

A good part of his sermon was on tithing. Like usual, the scripture in Mal 3:10 was used to justify this position. This scripture is clearly to natural Israel. If one wishes to include the Church in this passage then the Church must fit what was said in context and must do all that Israel was instructed to do. In the prior verse, it says His people are cursed. Is the Church that is redeemed by Jesus also cursed as stated in the passage? It is amazing how teachers will pick and choose passages to prove their point but leave out the passages that in context would demolish their point. The tithe was not just giving ten percent to the storehouse as those who love to quote this passage claim. Sure, the word tithe means 10 percent but there was more than one tithe in Israel. The tithes for Israel actually added up to about 23 percent of their increase, not just ten percent. Rather than get into a long discussion on tithing here, here is a link to an article about tithing that I recently wrote. Do not get me wrong, I am not against giving 10 percent of one's income or even more back to God but teaching that the tithe is for the Church cannot be supported by the clearer scripture passages to the Church.

 

Another issue that concerned me is that he talked about the leader of the church having the vision and that the congregation should more or less go with his vision. That is fine if the leader is following God's will and the local church can agree on this direction. However, three times the pastor mentioned that he might not be there to see his vision for this church fulfilled. Once he said God could take him somewhere else in a few weeks. I do not know if he was hinting that he is job shopping or if he was just saying that no one knows the future. Nevertheless, as young and dynamic as this man is, I simply do not see him staying in this small church in this small town very long. It is wonderful that he wants the church to start doing all these fellowship type of events, but if he leaves, so will his vision for this church whether he wants to believe that this is true or not. If he really was given a vision by God for this local church body as he said, God would have him stick around long enough to see it through.

 

One small issue is that at the end of the service he pressures people to come up front to pray (as if God is more present in the front of the church or as if God is more present near where he is). I think that comes from his upbringing but the Church needs to realize that God dwells in His people and not in certain areas of the building that they gather in.

 

After the service I asked him if he was premillennial. He said more or less that he is how it all pans out. That answer drives me nuts, I have heard it so many times that I am sure they teach them to say this stupidity in seminary 101. It tells me they think everything is now about church unity, scripture applications for living and relationships, and they can not be bothered about correct doctrine. He said he grew up premillennial and he is not amillennial. He did not say if he was not postmillennial but I suspect he was. That view is becoming predominant in those who have bought into the church growth movement and I think he is in that camp. I then asked if he believed that Bible prophecy will be literally fulfilled, He said yes, but when I mentioned replacement theology where the Church is said to have replaced promises to Israel he drew back and said we can discuss that issue later. Obviously, anyone who actually embraces premillennial dispensational theology would have immediately said they do not believe the Church replaced Israel!



 

My view is what is there to discuss with him? Either you believe God keeps his unconditional covenants to natural Israel or you make most unfulfilled prophecy passages mystical and apply them to the Church. You then also make the words of God's prophets meaningless prattle. On the other hand, the third possibility is one does not know enough about these theologies to discuss it. I gave him my card about this Bible prophecy website and told him, "after you read it you might not want me here".

 

That is where I left things. If I knew where the pastor is planning to take this church, if he was planning to stay, and if he was going to teach premillennial theology, I probably would attend here. If he is really interested in new attendees with my views he would have looked up my website and contacted me but he did not. The church as a whole seems pretty good and the people of that church genuinely seem to like each other.

My Search ends

The following week I ran into a leader of the Church that I still had membership in. He told me the new pastor was fired because of some differences in doctrine between that pastor and the church leadership. Whatever the reasons for this pastor being fired, I commend the leadership for realizing that he was not the right man to pastor this church. Because this pastor left I remained a member of this church until I relocated to another state a couple of months later.


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