What key things should you look for when you choose a church? And what role do you play in forming a healthy church? It’s not just about being a consumer…
Choosing which local church is going to be your home is a big decision for every Christian. It’s not just where you go on a Sunday morning. Church is where you do life. It should be where you feel at home – where your family are. Ideally we want to find somewhere near by so we understand the community. We want to be able to serve regularly and meet often with the other members in our local church. Critically, it is not just about what church can do for you – it is about how you can be part of making your church a healthy, God honouring body of believers.
Reggie Lamityi outlines the two critical factors to look for. Firstly, is your church really teaching from the Bible? Not just referencing some texts, but really looking to the scriptures as the final authority which determines the agenda and the culture of your church? Secondly, is your church looking outward? Reaching the community around them and thinking beyond their own needs and beyond ‘building their own kingdom.” These are important questions we should all ask and discuss.
However, before you decide to jump ship and start shopping for another church – it’s always sobering to remember that the first place to look for trouble in the church is in the mirror. We are all broken sinners and we all need grace and forgiveness. Blaque and Reggie also give some sage advice on how to raise your concerns with church leadership in a humble and constructive way.
Host: Blaque Nubon
Guest: Reggie Lamityi
Title: How to Choose a Church
Location: South Africa
#TGCAfricaPodcast #Church #Community
Most of the life or life or growth in the church happens outside of the Sunday gathering. I mean the Sunday gathering is a very important meeting where there is clear proclamation of the Gospel and that is where people gather together to worship together. But, most of the life where people read God’s word together, where there is accountability, most of that happens during the week. Where people meet for coffee. Where I get to see how Blaque interacts with his wife, with his family and his kids. Most of that stuff happens during the week.
How to Choose a Church
Hi everybody welcome to the Gospel Coalition Africa Podcast. My name is Blaque. And I am still your host! Still here and we have another special guest. All my guests are special. All the time. I’ll probably find a new adjective to describe my guests. Maybe Reggie you could help us with like new adjectives? Coz you’re learned. You’re educated.
Am I? Ay!
Reggie please tell us who you are where you’re from. Just tell us a bit about your family man. Thank you for joining us.
Well thanks for having me. I am Reginald Lamityi. I am married to Mbali and we have two kids. Are expecting our third at the end of November. So we have two boys at the moment and the third one is a boy aswell. So its going to be a busy home. And… what else can I say? I work for a church as a young adults Pastor. I think that’s about it, about me.
Good man. Where did you grow up?
Where did I grow up? I grew up in Tembisa. So we are from the same township. I spent some time in Kempton Park as well but mostly in Tembisa.
And can you tell us a bit about Tembisa. What was life like there? What kind of church did you go to? If you went to a church growing up.
So, Tembisa is a township and one of the things that’s great about townships is that it’s a very communal area. I mean people just live together. Despite some of the difficulties that you find in the townships such as poverty, unemployment. I think the communal aspect of the township just gets people to get through that. Its one of the things I have loved about growing up in the township. Where your parents, or your family, wasn’t your only family. I mean everyone in your street or your neighbourhood was your family. The next person who is your neighbour was your father. And so you could walk into the next family, hang out there, when your parents aren’t home. Until they get back home. That’s what life was like in the township.
A very communal area. As a kid I went to two churches. One of them is a African Zionist church. The other is a Methodist church. I preferred the Methodist church a bit because of the music. I loved the music. Still love it to this day. Music I think is a big part of not just the township culture but mostly of the Black or African culture. Music is something people love. So, I went mostly for the music. I only went to the African Zionist church because that’s where my mum went. So, I went to church because of my parents. Previously.
That’s cool man – and I know I haven’t introduced our topic but you’ve probably picked it up just from the questions I’ve asked Reggie. So, we wanna now engage more about the importance of the local church. How to pick a local church. There might be people watching this, new Christians, rr somebody who is in a church and they probably feel like, “yo man I’m not supposed to be here, but I just don’t know where to find the right church” – if I should call it that. And so we wanna help people navigate those murky waters. Because we’ve both been there.
Where you are like “I just, you know, I need a good church man! But I just don’t know where to find it! You know?” Or how to even identify one. Like you know a bit about what a good local church is supposed to be. But I think we wanna kind of give you at least a larger scope of things to consider. When it comes to going to a local church. So, I think with that said, can you tell us about your conversion? When did you get saved? When did you meet Jesus? And around that time, for you, how was church? In those early days? How did you say – “yo, now I know Jesus, and that’s the church I’m going to.” Like what is the grid that you were thinking through in those early days?
So, I mentioned that as a kid I went to church for some time. However, about the age of 11 I stopped going to church. And when I got to varsity I was invited by a friend to one of the church events that were happening. I got there and… I mean, one of the ways he got me there is very funny and I would rather not share it! For everyone’s sake! But I went to the church event and I think that is probably the first time I heard the Gospel taught clearly. And from then on I was invited to a number of other church events. And for a period I was invited to a student ministry. It was in the area called Focus. I think in my time there as I sat in week in week out, heard the Gospel being taught. That’s when I clearly… I think I began to understand what it means to be a Christian. What it means that God has come to deal with my sin. So that I can have a relationship with him. And I think then, that’s when the penny dropped. There was one guy who was very – I would say foundational – in those early days. His name is Nic. He spent quite a lot of time discipling me. He met with me weekly, just reading the Bible with me. And I think more and more as I sat down with him, I think it became clear, very clear to me, how I was in desperate need of a saviour. How God had actually availed a way for me to be saved. I mean it just…. so it took a bit of time. There wasn’t a particular day or, you would say moment, that I then said “OK now I am a Christian.” But it took some time. And I would say my conversion happened within a process of perhaps a year.
My view of church then was more of a consumer. That kind of idea. That I’m walking in to… almost walking into a food court. And I am looking around and I’m thinking… “OK I think I like that thing”
“What do I like about this?”
Yeah – what do I like here? These guys… their menu seems to have a couple of things that I like. What do they have? I like the music. Or I like the way this Pastor teaches. I like… So it was different kind of things that I looked at, that I looked for, for the church. None of them which were, you would say, foundational. But it was just that. I was a consumer. I went in – it was about how this church could please me. It was that.
How long did that continue? And what changed? If anything changed?
If anything changed!? That’s a good question.
So within that process of a year, the guy who met with me and discipled me, gave me a very, very good book. It’s a book called “What is a healthy church member?” It’s a 9 Marks book by Thabiti M. Anyabwile – if I am saying that correctly.
It’s a brilliant book. The book just points out what it looks like to be a part of the body of Christ.
So, as Christians, when you become saved, you are not just in isolation. You are not just a solo Christian that is walking around alone. At the church that I presently work at we refer to ourselves as a Redeemed Family of Servants on Mission. So I think that book gave me a clear understanding of what it means to be part of a family. That you are part of the body of Christ and that perhaps as a hand – or an eye – you work together with the rest of the body. And just serving others. And then being on mission with others. As being part of that body. So it got me to think clearly about a number of things. I actually wrote a few down and I will just point them out.
I think from the book I picked out that if you are part of a body you need to have a concern for the other members of the body. You need to have a concern for their spiritual growth. And I think for the most time I thought, “ah man, I am a consumer. I’m coming here, you are making me happy…”
“You guys should care for me!”
Exactly! “I’m God! I’m just here for you guys to take care of me.” Its a performance. But I think when I clearly got that… then I began to have a concern for others – as the book points out.
Aswell, the book got me to understand that you need to have a concern for right, Biblical, teaching. I don’t think that at any of the churches I had gone to previously teaching was one of the main things I cared about. It was mostly music. And just the aesthetics in the church. How the church looks like. So none of those things were really a priority… the teaching of God’s word wasn’t a priority. But I think the book really got me to realise that if you are part of the body of Christ you will care about proper Gospel teaching. That the Gospel is taught clearly. Not only for your own benefit but because there are others that need to hear the very same Gospel that you have been taught. So that, and that you need to think clearly about being a part of a church that has a concern for the community. Serving the community. Reaching out to your neighbours and to your friends as well. And family.
And I think the reason why I became part of the church that I am a part of right now is because I saw those things. That you see there is a concern from others – not just the Pastor. There is a concern for the spiritual growth of others. And that there is also just this understanding that we need to contend for the Gospel. You find that there is a heart to serve the community. And to also reach out to others. So, I think ultimately, it is those things that got me to understand what it means to be a healthy church member. What it means to be part of the body.
That’s good man. The term local church gets thrown around quite a lot. And obviously just from what you described, would you say everything you described sums up what a local church is? Or is there more to that term? Coz I know I had a conversation with somebody a while back, and they got frustrated that I kept on using the term ‘local church.’ And I mean it was for other reasons, but then it got me thinking where I am like, “do people actually even understand what we mean when we speak of a local church?” Can you elaborate for us what a local church is? Is is part of what you have just described to us? Is there more to it?
So I think it is part of what we have just spoken about now. So I think it is helpful when you think of the church that you are able to see… I think in the scriptures as well, the distinction between the universal or Catholic Church and the local church as well. And that when the Bible refers to the body of Christ it’s either referring to both, or a local church or the universal Church. So very often people will say “Oh yeah – of course I am part of the body of Christ. I am part of the universal Church” – with a capital ‘C’. But they will be moving around different churches. Or they will be part of a church that is… now, I will be very careful with this – a church that is probably 30km away from where they are, their neighbourhood. Where they live. So, when you speak of local church I think we need to realise that there is that. There is the universal Church and there is the local church. And you need to then be thinking about a church that is in your, perhaps in your proximity. That teaches the Gospel. And I think the reason why one needs to think about these things is because the church isn’t just there for you. I mean if you look through the scriptures, Ephesians 3, 10, the church… God’s intent is that through the church, the manifold, his manifold wisdom would be revealed. And that’s to everyone. It will be shown. And the way that it will be shown is through the local church. So being part of a local church will then help. So if I have a neighbour who stays right next to me – coz they are my neighbour! If I invite them to church, “hey man, come through to my local church” and if it is a local church, if it is close by, they are able to come through. To become part of that body there. And for you as an individual, it makes it harder to become part of a church where you are serving, where you are being missional, if the church isn’t in the community. So I think one needs to think about yes, we are part of the universal Church. But you also need to think about a local church that you are part of. Believers that you are gathering with. Weekly, regularly. And not just on a Sunday. But people that you are doing life with during the week.
How important is that – like – coz I mean when we speak about the geography of the church, so you stay probably like 5km, 2km away from the church, and part of the reason for that is so you can do life, every other day. How important is that for a believer? Who knows that they are not just going to church to consume, but they also go to serve. How important is that weekly activity, or weekly life?
So it helps to be part of a local church because… especially as a member of the local church, because what you… most of the life or life or growth in the church happens outside of the Sunday gathering. I mean the Sunday gathering is a very important meeting where there is clear proclamation of the Gospel and that is where people gather together to worship together. But, most of the life where people read God’s word together, where there is accountability…most of that happens during the week. Where people meet for coffee. Where I get to see how Blaque interacts with his wife, with his family and his kids. Most of that stuff happens during the week. Very often I think people down play how that’s actually a particular grace that God gives us. To be able to understand not simply the Gospel, but how his church works.
So a lot of the life and life or growth happens during the week. At our church we emphasise the importance of everyone who becomes a part of the church to be part of a life group. Because that is where growth happens. So we want everyone to be part of a life group. To be part of any of our weekly or mid-week meetings.
I mean, if you want to see really where the “one another” that Paul over and over points out in the scriptures, where they happen, that’s where you find it. Where you love one another. Where you bear with one another.
Where this Gospel is put to the test!
Yeah – that’s where your faith in the Gospel is put to the test. That is where it happens. So I would encourage anyone. If you are part of a church where that is not the emphasis, consider coming… speaking to perhaps some of the leaders in the church and asking how perhaps that could be something that is now included in the church. Or even consider finding a church where that is prioritised. Because a church that prioritises that, prioritises your growth. One’s personal growth, as well, is very important to the rest of the body. I think that is something that we often don’t talk about. So maybe as someone, as an individual, you don’t think being part of a life group, or being part of a mid-week meeting, is important. But when one part of the body – the hand – is ailing or hurt, it affects the rest of the body. So when one Christian really isn’t as committed, not only to God but to others, it really does affect the rest of the body.
So I think it is really worth while to consider, “how do I commit myself, not only to God, but commit myself to others as well?” Coz I mean in the scriptures, you read Romans 12. Romans 12 is quite clear about that. That that’s it! You need to have a commitment to God and a commitment towards others as well.
That’s good man. And just before we get to the end, there are terms you used, like universal Church, or the Catholic church. I think it is probably worth elaborating on those terms. So as we speak about the local church and we explained what that is but it is obviously in the back-drop of the universal Church. Other people know a particular church called the Universal Church. Other people know Catholic churches. But you used those terms to describe the Christian Church universally. So would you care to explain what those terms actually mean?
As we said a bit earlier, when Paul uses that phrase the “body of Christ” he uses it to refer to either the local church or the universal Church. Now the universal Church is Christians all over the world, globally. Anyone who has decided to put their faith in Jesus. Christians who gather in different places. But when we see… when we read through the scriptures, what we pick up is Paul writes to particular churches. Whether it is the church in Rome, or the church in Phillipi, the church in Thessalonica. So there is the universal Church but there are also local churches. And those local churches that have particular needs that Paul writes to, to address those particular needs. And you can see that Paul calls them to not only commit to the church globally but the church locally. And I think we do need to… almost think globally about the church. But be involved locally as well. And just get stuck in! So, I think when you say local church you… we are referring to the church in your region. I think you probably have some points as well to point out…?
Yeah! I think it’s that. Coz I remember the first time I heard that as well I was like, “yo what? Universal church? I thought that was a like particular denomination.” But it’s like, no, it’s the global church. And I think it is a beautiful thing. To know that I am connected to other Christians in the world. That the local family I have is part of a global family and its just not us wherever we are. In isolation. But God is concerned and is actually doing bigger things with Christians. Everywhere else in the world. And so it doesn’t matter where I go. I could be in Uganda, I could be in Zambia. I could be in Mozambique, and I will still have brothers and sisters there. We might not be from the same local geography, but globally we are brothers and sisters. I think that is a beautiful thing to know.
It is also a great encouragement. When you go to one of those areas and you find Christians who hold to the Gospel in the same way that you do. Who are as passionate about reaching out to others. It’s a great encouragement for you when you come back home as well. To know that actually we… this isn’t some joke or… we are not just crazy here! But God is doing something great. He is moving by his spirit elsewhere.
And lastly, you have been involved in a church plant. What are some of the valuable lessons you learned. The experiences you got from being part of planting a church? And I think just to close it off… if somebody is out there saying “I’ve heard everything you’ve spoken about. Ok. I like that. I like that. And these are the things I am going to use to try and find a local church.” Can you like just put it all in a box for us? So as you think of your experience, being involved in part of a local church, what can you say? Here is a package – that that away if you are watching this. If you are considering finding a local church. You might be a new believer. Or you might be somebody who’s been having those conversations with your leadership, like “:yo, we need to have weekly meetings” and they are like “nah!” And you are like, “OK cool, I think I need to bounce because I really want to grow. I really want to serve and I really wanna put this Gospel to the test.” Like put the rubber to the road. So yeah, what would you say to somebody like that?
First let’s speak about my experience with the church plant. So the church plant was in the neighbourhood I grew up in in Tembisa. Its a… I mean both Mbali and I have a great passion for the area. And our hope is that God would eventually send us back there. To do our work there. Lots of things we learnt about there. First, that you… to be able to effectively share the Gospel and evangelise to the community you need to have a almost a clear understanding of the community. I think both of us had left the community for a while. And I think one of the things I learnt that is… actually there is a lot more studying of the people that stay there – what are the particular things that they are interested in. Coz those kind of things almost open and give you a door – or opportunities – to be able to share the Gospel with them. Or give you ideas on how as a church you could be able to reach out to them. So, I think there were great lessons learnt. The hope is to eventually go back. Having studied the area a little bit better – and understood the people to be able to reach out to them effectively.
The kind of things to look out for… definitely, one, a clear Gospel or Bible teaching church. That is one of the foundational things. Not simply now clear Gospel proclamation on a Sunday and even in your weekly meetings. None of these need to be formal in any sense. It could be informal meetings with other believers. So a church that prioritises that. That prioritises the growth of the Christians there in the church. So a church that is looking to grow upward. Grow towards Christ. To understand more and more what Jesus is saying. So a church that listens to the word of God.
And two, I think look for a church where there is a desire to serve and reach out to the community. I think a lot of churches are most inward looking. It’s about us and our kingdom – what we can build here. So I think look for a church that is really passionate about reaching out to the marginalised. To those who… those who haven’t heard the Gospel. I think look for a church that is really concerned about that. And, I mean, if you find a church that’s got great gospel music. Great! It’s great if you find that as well.
So great gospel teaching and great community as well. And wanting to reach out to others. Those are the number of things I could point out. Anything else perhaps you could add?
Yeah! So I think I would agree with everything you have said. I would just throw a caution. Coz other people might even use this as a licence to leave their church. You know, they are like, “well we hear this cool podcast – whatever – and plus I am frustrated with my church. I want to leave.” In no way are we saying “just leave your church because you fell like – I’m just bored of this stuff.” Anywhere you go you will never find a perfect church.
I was listening to a podcast a while back and one thing the guy said was “if you think there is a problem in your church, go look in the mirror!” That is the problem with your church! Just the fact that you are there. You know what I mean. And I was like, “Oh smack! Yeah – I’m a broken sinner and when I come into a church I bring all of that with me. And so obviously I would affect the culture of the church. The way the church is inside somewhere. Obviously because I come in with a lot of stuff. And people are coming in as well. So its a bunch of sinners in one space. Do you know what I mean? Clashes will happen – whatever the deal may be. So I think if there is no… if any of the things that Reggie mentioned are not pressing matters – I don’t think there is a reason for you to leave your church. But I mean, just coz you are bored, or just because the music sucks. Or whatever. I don’t think those are good reasons for you to leave your church. I think if they are not teaching about Jesus. That!
Coz I have heard people say – “no my church is a Bible teaching church.” And what they mean is that we open the Bible. But we actually open the Bible just to reference what we actually wanna say! So we are reading our agenda into the Bible and not letting the Bible set the agenda for our church. So I am saying, when we say a ‘Bible teaching church’ is that the scriptures are the final authority. The scriptures govern the agenda of the church. The culture of the church. The model of the church. The philosophy of the church. Whatever the deal may be. The scriptures govern that. And it’s not like the scriptures are just the other thing that we do – just coz we are Christians.
So I would just throw that caution. We are not saying leave your church. Just coz you are bored – alright! But this might be a helpful thing for you to say. “Oh cool, lets actually start having serious conversations with the leadership – cause the stuff that you guys have spoken about I do not see in my church.” Yeah, I don’t know if you would add anything to that?
So I would really recommend getting this book “What a healthy church member is” – I think that is the title. By Thabiti M. Anyabwile. The book – you would spend mostly around R120, R150. And it is a short read. I think if you are really concerned about the church that you are in and you’d really like your church to show these kind of marks. The guys from 9 Marks have written beautiful stuff about what the church is and what the church should look like. So you can go to their website as well and check that out.
But I think if you get that book then that book would really encourage you in the particular church that you are in to start having those kind of conversations. Coz it will help you to be more clear on how you can share these concerns with your Pastor. Once you think clearly about the kind of church that you want to be part of.
That is good man. Thank you so much Reggie. I really appreciate it – thank you for joining us. And please pardon all the planes that were flying – I don’t know why there are so many planes flying around today! But yeah, thank you for listening. Thank you for watching this. Do listen to all the other Podcasts and subscribe to our channel. For our podcasts you can subscribe to our YouTube channel as well. Do follow The Gospel Coalition Africa for articles, for many resources that are on the website. And recommend all of these to people in your circles, in your churches, in your family. To kinda have good conversations around the things of the Lord. So thank you for that – and yeah – follow us on all our social media as I said. We are out. Grace and Peace. Thank you.