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Adventures with Larry & Caleb: How Did You Choose a Church?

Upstream co-founders Larry McCrary and Caleb Crider are living in very different places: for Larry, Madrid, Spain; for Caleb, Richmond, Virginia. Along with their families, they’re not just teaching Tradecraft missionary skills, they’re also applying them. So we wanted to tap into their unique experiences and at the same time parallel their local and global perspectives. So “Adventures with Larry and Caleb” will be an ongoing series throughout the year where we ask them one mission-related question at a time. Here’s the question for this week:

How did you choose a church?

Larry McCrary

Funny you should ask that question—we are actually looking for a local church right now! Being committed to a local national church is extremely important for us and our work.

We happen to be in a place where there are some national Evangelical churches even though the number of Evangelicals in our country is quite small. Some would say it’s less than even one percent of the population. We have been visiting several in our city and talking with some of the pastors. It’s not that we’re trying to find the one that best meets our needs. It’s not really about us at all, though honestly it’s hard not to let some of your own needs prevail. So here are some things we are considering:

  • We want the church to be gospel-centered in their approach to teaching, ministry, and community. We are not concerned where it meets or how large it is.

  • We want the church to see themselves as a church (no matter how small it may be), being committed to reaching their neighborhood, their city, and the world. So often in underserved areas, the churches can develop a mentality that they always remain a mission point and will never be able to actively participate in the Great Commission by sending out their own people.

  • We want to be part of a church that desires and plans to plant other churches that plant other churches that plants other churches…

  • We want a church here that has a heart for all of the people in the city. There are many immigrants in our city and we want to be part of a faith community that embraces the challenge of loving, accepting, and engaging with all of those around them.

  • We want a church that is in our neighborhood so we can more actively share community and mission with them.

  • We want a church that is indigenous to the culture around them. Sometimes churches overseas can look a lot like churches in the states, but simply in a different language. Have they adapted to their culture? Do they have national pastors and leaders? Do they sing songs that connect with their culture or are they translations of songs from another culture? We feel that indigenous churches will more naturally reproduce than churches that are not.

Caleb Crider

One of the strangest aspects of starting life in a new city is finding a church. For us, church isn’t just a place to go on Sunday mornings; it’s a ministry team, our spiritual family. So the idea of finding a new one was daunting.

Many churches promote themselves as though we should choose a church according to how good the programs are, how awesome the worship band is, or how entertaining the pastor may be. But after seven years of living in Spain and another five in Portland worshiping in homes and studying the Bible in pubs and coffee shops, we didn’t care about those things. Here’s the list we used to help us navigate the decision:

  1. Theology is the foundation. It’s very hard to have true fellowship with people who aren’t convinced of, say, the sufficiency of scripture or the exclusivity of Christ. To some extent, research about what a church believes can be done by searching the church’s website or by checking out the social media accounts of church leaders. We did a fair bit of this before we moved to Richmond, and it really helped us narrow down the list of potential church homes.

  2. Philosophy helps us operate as a team. We want to surround ourselves with a group of people who share our love of the city and our desire to be part of positive urban social change. We would much rather spend of our time working to actually make a difference than trying to convince partners of the need. Of course, this is rooted in our personal sense of calling and our broader understanding of mission. After all God has done in our lives, a church that doesn’t see itself as being on God’s global mission (at home and abroad) simply isn’t for us.

  3. Proximity makes church real. For us, church is the people who go with you on mission in the city. You can’t do this with a bunch of strangers who live across town. You have to see them more than just an hour a week, and in settings other than a worship service. A key part of this is incarnation; it is a powerful thing to worship alongside people who live in the same kinds of places among the same kinds of people. We just have a strong affinity for families who hang out with unbelievers, get involved in community events, and send their kids to public school.

  4. Relationships are bridges. It seemed silly to us to ignore the relationships we already had with people in Richmond. I was invited to Movement Church by coworkers that I knew and trusted. To be honest, their endorsement (of the church to us and of us to the church) had a huge impact on our search. And then God blessed us with a strong friendship with Movement’s pastor, Cliff Jordan, and his family.

  5. Finally, despite our lists and preferences, I think God calls us to membership to specific churches. While we would prefer to belong to a church that lives like us and understands where we’re coming from, ultimately, we go where God leads us. The church is the body of Christ; God’s organization of His people on His mission. We look to the Lord of the Harvest to provide all we need in a church family.

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