Not long ago some friends traveled from another state to visit us in Tupelo. During supper the wife asked me a question that seemed to come out of the blue: "What would your perfect church look like?" She caught me completely by surprise, and I realized that a) no one had ever asked me that before, and b) I had never given it any thought. So I did what I always do when I'm stalling for time. I mumbled something or other. But she wouldn't let me off the hook. After awhile a few things came to mind, and then a few more.
In retrospect, it's a very good question because there is no "right" answer. If you travel around the world, or even around the U.S., you soon discover that Christ's church comes in far more than Baskin-Robbins' 31 flavors or Heinz' 57 varieties. Even in the New Testament, you can clearly see that the church took different forms as it spread from the womb of Judaism in Jerusalem across the Roman Empire. In seminary students write papers about the definition of a "true church," which isn't exactly what the question seeks. The question asks the person to combine biblical truth with church history, good theology, personal experience and cultural preferences to come up with a "perfect" church. And of course, we've all heard the old line, "If you ever find a perfect church, don't join it. You'll ruin it." There is no perfect church this side of heaven, and even if there were, it wouldn't stay perfect very long. So any attempt to describe the perfect church is doomed to failure from the start, which is what makes the exercise so fascinating. Since the question can't be perfectly answered, everyone gets a free shot.
Here is the list I came up with, more or less in this order. I should add that the order doesn't matter. This is just what came to mind as we ate supper with our friends at Chili's in Tupelo several weeks ago.
1. Strong elder board
2. Commitment to strong Biblical preaching/teaching
3. Warm worship that touches the heart – life transforming – variety of styles
4. Strong prayer Ministry – variety of opportunities
5. International emphasis – Outward focus to the nations more than an inward focus.
6. Evangelism – creative ministry outreach in community to reach people for Christ
7. Diversity of people – Multi ethnic/economical/social (What heaven will look like.)
8. Training center for ministry – discipleship including teaching of doctrines. Mentoring.
9. Attempt bold, big things for God. Not afraid to fail at times when doing this.
10. Attitude of cooperation toward other churches and the whole body of Christ.
11. Using cutting-edge technology for ministry.
12. Community and caring relationships – ABF’s. small groups, etc.
13. Opportunity to use spiritual gifts in ministry.
14. Ordinances taken seriously.
15. Unity of church preserved through church discipline.
16. Not afraid to ask for high commitment. Giving, involvement in church ministries, etc.
17. Balance between congregational involvement/elders/staff.
I hadn't looked at that list again until just now. Still seems pretty good to me. I think I would add the importance of flexibility in the way the church does things, simple church structure (as opposed to being committeed to death), desire to multiply through church planting around the world, high standards for teachers/elders/pastors, providing a clear path for spiritual growth, willingness to make tough decisions and not trying to please all the people all the time.
I suppose you could find many of those things in many churches. And I am very aware that I have left out many important elements. What are your thoughts? What would your perfect church look like? Use the Comments section to share your ideas.
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About Dr. Ray Pritchard
Dr. Ray Pritchard is the president of Keep Believing Ministries, in Internet-based ministry serving Christians in 225 countries. He is the author of 27 books, including Stealth Attack, Fire and Rain, Credo, The Healing Power of Forgiveness, An Anchor for the Soul and Why Did This Happen to Me? Ray and Marlene, his wife of 37 years, have three sons-Josh, Mark and Nick, two daughters-in-law--Leah and Vanessa, and two grandsons--Knox and Eli. His hobbies include biking, surfing the Internet, and anything related to the Civil War.
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