As I have the privilege of teaching at homeschool conferences around the country (California, Iowa, and Virginia to name a few), I have had the privilege of talking to hundreds of families. For the most part, these conversations have been very encouraging. However, there is one thing I’ve learned that is not encouraging at all. Many believers out there who have committed their lives to home discipleship are desperate to find a healthy church that shares, nurtures, and teaches their doctrinal convictions. In conversation after conversation people ask me (a total stranger who in some cases has never even been to their town) if I know of any “good” churches in their area. As I have processed these conversations, I have noticed a recurring pattern. These families are looking for churches that 1) preach and teach sound doctrine; 2) support, promote and practice home discipleship; 3) are led by godly, manly elders, and 4) practice church discipline. (note: this is not meant to be an exhaustive list, but a response to specific questions posed to me in recent weeks)
A CHURCH THAT PREACHES AND TEACHES SOUND DOCTRINE
Perhaps the most common complaint these families have is that their churches do not preach or teach doctrine. Unfortunately, this complaint is not an isolated one. It seems doctrine has fallen out of favor these days. Statements like, “doctrine divides,” or “we just need to love Jesus and love people” seem to dominate the landscape of modern American Christianity. Many churches try to avoid doctrine as much as possible believing it may hinder “evangelism”. Of course, the type of evangelism that ignores doctrine is one of the root causes of the current crisis in evangelicalism (people claiming a born again experience, but lacking a biblical worldview, or any evidence of actual regeneration).
When families make a commitment to teach their children at home, one of the inevitable consequences is the need to teach Bible and doctrine. As a result, many of these families quickly become aware of the lack of doctrinal teaching in their churches. When a homeschool mom is using more complex theological words with her eight year-old than she hears from her pastor on Sunday morning, there’s a problem!
Regrettably, some churches actually reject the idea that the pulpit is an appropriate place for such doctrine. The argument goes something like this: 1) Sunday morning is for ‘seekers’, 2) we will make ‘deeper’ teaching available to believers on another day, and 3) those who reject this idea are non-evangelistic, selfish, legalistic, pietistic, divisive, or just plain ol’ mean (ok, so maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration). After all, our purpose for existing is to reach the lost, isn’t it? (cue the stringed instruments and pictures of the flames of hell)
A CHURCH THAT SUPPORTS, PROMOTES, AND PRACTICES HOME DISCIPLESHIP
Another thing these families long for is a church that supports, promotes and practices home discipleship. One refrain I hear frequently at homeschool conferences is, “When I teach my children at home all week in an effort to (among other things) avoid certain kinds of influences, I feel like a hypocrite when I drop them off in youth Sunday school where the often get the exact same garbage they would get in Caesar’s indoctrination centers” (ok, so the last phrase is mine).
Before you write these folks off as ‘holier than thou,‘ take a minute to think about what they’re saying. We’re not talking about the way the young men and women dress, act and talk (though these are serious issues); we’re talking about the very content and context of what is taught in these places. If you don’t believe me watch this and listen to what Ken Ham’s research has uncovered about the harm done to the faith of young people by much of the modern Sunday school movement.
A CHURCH THAT IS LED BY GODLY, MANLY, BIBLICALLY-QUALIFIED LEADERS
Unfortunately, many of these families are struggling under ungodly, unbiblical leadership. Sadly, about half of America’s pastors lack a biblical worldview. And a great many look nothing like the requirements laid out in 1 Timothy 3, Titus 1, and 1 Peter 5. I told the story in Family Driven Faith about the woman who was on the pastor search committee at a large church in our area who didn’t even know these passages existed (nor had the committee even spoken of them as they discharged their duty of finding a pastor for their mega-church).
These days, people are more interested in a man’s ability to draw a crowd, or be “relevant” than they are about his grasp of doctrine. One church seeking a pastor through an online service asks:
Are you a proven leader? Are you an authentic, transparent Christ follower who can communicate God’s word in a dynamic and relevant way? Do you have a passion for reaching the the un-churched? Are you disturbed by how so many people find the church irrelevant to their lives? Can you engage with the culture in a region heavily influenced by generations of denominational history?
I don’t imagine they scoured the Bible to find these attributes. What exactly is “an authentic, transparent Christ follower?” Where does the Bible require a man to be “dynamic and relevant?” Since when does being disturbed over the fact that sinners in rebellion against almighty God “find the church irrelevant to their lives” constitute a qualification for a pastor? And what exactly is “denominational history” anyway? Unfortunately, this is precisely the kind of thinking that drives many churches in their quest for relevance and growth. As a result, pulpits are filled with men who are far better at putting together a PowerPoint presentation than they are at “exhorting in sound doctrine.” (Titus 1:9)
A CHURCH THAT PRACTICES DISCIPLINE
Recently, I encountered two women at two separate homeschool conferences whose husbands were in desperate need of church discipline. The home education movement (like the Christian community at large) is filled with hurting people. Making the decision to withdraw our children from Caesar’s schools is no panacea. In fact, doing so often highlights problems that we didn’t even know were there. Many people think their children are doing just fine until they bring them home only to discover a horse of a different color.
The same is true for marriage. Many a couple has experienced tremendous stress as they attempt to make a transition from running in ten different directions every day to actually sharing life together in close quarters. Sometimes, the results are not pretty. As such, it is crucial that the Christian community play a vital role in supporting these families. The two women with whom I spoke were in the midst of marriages that were in bad shape. Both were experience emotional abuse; one may have been physical. I asked both of them the same question, “Where is your church in all of this?” Unfortunately, neither was part of a church that was willing to hold their husbands accountable.
As R. Albert Mohler has noted,
“The decline of church discipline is perhaps the most visible failure of the contemporary church. No longer concerned with maintaining purity of confession or lifestyle, the contemporary church sees itself as a voluntary association of autonomous members, with minimal moral accountability to God, much less to each other.”
I’m not suggesting that church discipline is a fix-all. However, there is no way these women should be walking through their difficulties alone. Men who identify themselves as Christians, attend church regularly, and sometimes even serve as leaders, are abusing, neglecting, and/or walking away from their families without as much as word from the church. This is simply not right. These men must be encouraged to “live with [their] wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.” (1 Peter 3:7 ESV) There is an epidemic of unprotected women in our culture. The church should be a place where that pattern is broken.
A CHURCH THAT’S HARD (NOT IMPOSSIBLE) TO FIND
While I am weary of hearing tales of weak, unbiblical, unorthodox, worldly churches, I am not without hope. I know it is hard to believe, but there are a number of great churches out there. I am privileged to know wonderful, biblically qualified pastors across this land who preach sound doctrine, promote family discipleship, and practice church discipline. Unfortunately, most of them toil in obscurity since this type of ministry is not usually accompanied by the kind of numerical growth that has come to define ‘success’ in contemporary ministry.
I wish I could tell you that there are men like this in every community, but that would be a stretch. In fact, our church has seen an influx of people from across the country who have moved to Houston to be a part of the work God is doing here. But whatever the case, do not lose hope. God has not left his people alone. Apparently, Paul had to remind people in his day of this same truth:
“I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! For I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he appeals to God against Israel? “Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life.” But what is God’s reply to him? “I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. (Romans 11:1-6 ESV)
Keep praying. Keep searching. Keep trusting the Lord. There are good churches out there. No... I don’t have a list of the ones in your area (so please don’t call or write asking for one... you know who you are). Nevertheless, I have to believe they’re out there. And between the internet, conferences, denominational publications, and word-of-mouth, they can be found. If not, the Lord’s people still have permission (and a mandate) to plant new churches. Or in a worst case scenario... move. We uproot our families for better jobs, better houses, and better neighborhoods. Why not move for a healthy church? Of course, just like jobs, houses and neighborhoods, their is no guarantee that a healthy church will be exactly what you think it is.