Summer is here! That glorious season filled with ice cream, beach towels, bug spray, sun tans, baseball, summer camps, and … summer vacation! Getting away from the pressures of work and the daily grind can be an incredible gift of God’s grace. But as you get away, don’t neglect the normal means of grace either. Don’t take a vacation from church attendance!
For years our family has made it a habit to attend church services even while on vacation. There are many reasons why I’d encourage you to do this, but that’ll have to wait for another article. For now, I want to share a few resources that may help you find the right church to visit while you’re away. But before you dive in, please remember the goal in this is not to be critical but careful. We are not called to be the divine judges of other local churches, but we do want to exercise care in choosing the right congregation to visit. If it’s wise to be careful before choosing a new restaurant, doctor, or mechanic, isn’t the same true for visiting a new local church? Besides, you’re probably only going on vacation once this year. Don’t you want this visit to really count?
While it’s not a sure thing, these steps have helped us find faithful churches to visit through the years.
Step One: Narrow the Field
Begin by narrowing your list of potential churches to visit. There are several church search tools that we’ve found helpful. First, check out the 9Marks Church Search. This is a list of churches around the world that claim to agree with the ministry’s vision of healthy churches marked by biblical theology, biblical preaching, meaningful church membership, biblical leadership, and more. Churches on this list tend to be Baptist (even if it’s not in their church name). If you’re unable to find any prospects there, you could also try The Gospel Coalition Church Directory. These are churches that identify with the ministry’s vision for Gospel-centered ministry and mission. Here you’ll likely find churches that agree with us on first-level doctrinal issues (e.g., the Gospel), but perhaps not on all second-level doctrinal issues (e.g., baptism). Churches on this list tend to be Presbyterian, Baptist, and non-denominational. Finally, as long as your vacation keeps you in the USA, you can check out the SBC Church Search. Every church listed here will be a sister Southern Baptist church.
Step Two: Check Their Beliefs
Once you’ve found a potential church to visit, check out their website. Many church websites have a section where they list what the church believes. Once you find that section, look at what the church claims to believe. Many Baptist churches may list statements of faith like The 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith, the New Hampshire Baptist Confession, The Abstract of Principles, or The Baptist Faith and Message 2000. Each of these are strong theological statements that align with what we believe at PBC. Presbyterian churches may list The Westminster Confession of Faith. The Belgic Confession, or The Heidelberg Catechism. Although we Baptists would disagree with our Presbyterian brothers and sisters on a few points here and there, most of us would find strong points of agreement on the most important issues in these statements.
Now of course it’s fine if the church doesn’t reference one of these documents, but you may want to do a bit of careful reading through their beliefs. Of most importance will be their beliefs on essential issues. Ask yourself a few questions as you read through their beliefs. Do they believe the Bible is the inspired and inerrant Word of God? Do they believe Jesus is truly God and truly man? Do they believe Jesus is the only way of salvation? Do they believe we are justified (declared righteous) by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone? Do they believe in Jesus’ substitutionary death and bodily resurrection? If you’re not able to answer yes to one or more of these questions, you may want to look elsewhere.
Step Three: Hear the Word
It’s sad but true: some churches don’t live out what they claim to believe. Praise God for churches with a strong statement of faith, but if you have time you may want to dig just a bit deeper to ensure the church preaches what they believe. If the church has sermon video or audio available, take some time to listen to one of their sermons (Perhaps that’s something you can do while you’re driving or flying to your destination!). As you listen to the sermon, ask yourself a few questions. Does the sermon teach me about Scripture, or do I just learn more about the opinions and ideas of the preacher? Does the main idea of the passage seem to be the main idea of the sermon?Does the sermon point me to my need for the grace that can only be found in Jesus? As you answer these questions, you’ll get a better idea of what to expect if you visit. If it’s obvious that the preaching isn’t what it should be, repeat steps one and two again.
Step Four: Worship Intentionally
Finally, once you’ve found a church to visit make sure you worship intentionally while you’re there. Pray for God to speak to you through His Word. Look for opportunities to encourage the saints there to remain faithful (after all, wouldn’t it bless you if a guest went out of their way to encourage you at your church?). Ask God to use your visit to remind you what it’s like being a guest at church, and through that to help you be more sensitive to guests when they visit your church. And above all, ask God to use your visit to deepen your love for Christ and His Gospel. And who knows? Perhaps that Sunday gathering will be the best part of your vacation.
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