A Former Pastor Goes Church Shopping
And he wrestles with the advantages and disadvantages of mainline and nondenominational churches.

How does a former pastor choose a church? That is the question Andy Rowell and his wife are facing after their relocation to a new community. The process has opened their eyes to the differences and blessings of denominational and nondenominational churches. Although they've still not made a decision, Andy shares his reflections on the process so far.

"Occupational hazard," that is what my wife and I call it. We cannot help but thoroughly analyze churches we visit. My wife and I both have M.Div. degrees and have served as pastors. So when we need to pick a new church, overanalyzing churches is almost inevitable - an occupational hazard.

A month ago we moved to Durham, North Carolina so I could begin the 4-5 year Doctor of Theology (Th.D.) program at Duke Divinity School. We have visited seven churches in the last six weeks here and have not yet made a decision on where we will attend.

Our backgrounds are mostly in churches and institutions that were nondenominational or interdenominational - where denominational affiliation was played down. But around Durham, many of the churches that have been recommended to us are mainline churches. They are led by pastors that are theologically orthodox, yet the style of these mainline churches is different from what we are accustomed to.

In our vigorous Sunday lunch discussions, my wife and I have been impressed by aspects of the mainline churches we have visited. On the other hand, there are things we miss about nondenominational churches.

It seems to me nondenominational folks and mainliners can learn from each other. In that spirit, I offer a few summary points of our Sunday lunch discussions.

The Top Nine Things I Appreciate about Mainline Churches:

1. The leadership of mainline churches does not center so much on one person ? the pastor. When a senior leader leaves, there are mechanisms for finding a new pastor including trained interim pastors.

2. Mainline churches have a greater appreciation for Christian history. The liturgies of the mainline churches reflect the thought and deliberation of several centuries of Christians. Many evangelical worship leaders say whatever springs to mind.

3. The worship services at mainline churches have intellectual substance. The liturgies at mainline churches are usually very rich theologically. Someone has taken the time to craft the words of the liturgy carefully.

4. Mainline churches care for the poor and are more aware regarding social issues. Though evangelical churches are coming around, they have been slower than the mainline regarding racism, care for the poor, empowering women, and care for the environment.

July 26, 2007

Displaying 1–10 of 38 comments


November 27, 2007  9:54am

When reading this article, I was reminded to my journey in finding churches. More importantly, it allowed me the opportunity to look at my Church now and see where we stand in this list. We get into a mindset, usually postmodern, that if people want to come to our Church, fine, but we aren't going to cater to each and every whim of society just to be popular. The other spectrum is that we need to go out and reach anyone and everyone; postmodern. The problem with lists is that it groups Churches into an either or situation. I agree with many of the statements, but I would suggest that there are a few comments that are so general that they really take liberties with the labels being used. The first issue, I don't know what "Mainline" is? Are we talking "denominational" churches? If that is the case, I think that we have taken the list for "mainline" and really substituted the idea of a premodern mentality to is. Non-denominational sure looks like a postmodern mentality. The reality is that the difference between denominational and non-denominational is the organizational and authority foundation. A list that people would use to "shop" for a church, completely depends entirely on the individual. I think that from a Church there are certain things that you must identify: 1. What is your doctrine? What are you willing to hold to no matter what; "fight to the death over". What are opinions and really open for interpretation? 2. What is your mission? What is the purpose for your Church. For us evangelize and edify. 3. Who are you called to minister to? What are your target groups? What does your community need from your Church? 4. What does your Church need to do to make that happen? Evaluate your programs, areas of ministry, missions. Do they all fit into your vision. I believe that one key factor that Churches cannot forget; we are called to serve Jesus Christ. This means that the truth should not be watered down. Too many people look at what a Church can do for them, instead they should look for a Church where they can serve. People need to feel wanted and people want to feel needed.

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November 09, 2007  7:56am

The list is very well thought out. As someone who has been a pastor in both nondenominational and denominational churches (PCA), I would say that the list is fairly accurate. By the way all of you people saying that this author is not being "spiritual enough," please list your ideas of spiritual observations and activities.

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Aussie Christian

October 02, 2007  6:49am

I don't mean to be critical but I find some of these observations of the writer rather shallow. I appreciate both mainline/nondenom churches but to compare largely from an earthly standard (better websites??, get real) is quite trivial. Surely there are more spiritual dimensions to benchmark both groups.

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Marques Evans

August 27, 2007  8:55am

I would say to you brother that scripture contradicts all of your points. In the scheme of things concerning the Kingdom of God and the Body of Christ, none of that matters. You don't shop for churches, you look for people who exemplify Christ's nature(Gal 5) in the earth and that happens through fellowship (Acts 2). It's about connecting to the ekklesia in an area and not forsaking that fellowship (Heb 10:25). Pray, seek, connect and disciple.

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John M. Crowe

August 17, 2007  3:56am

Brent, You are correct that knowledge is not unscriptural. The Bible calls us to love God with all our heart and with all our mind. We don't turn our brains off when we become Christians. Historically speaking revival and renewal movements in America tend to display an anti-intellectual outlook. Often this is in reaction to heavy intellectualizing of Bible truth devoid of one's heart. One goal of the Methodist movement was to join together two which have been separated for so long: i.e. vital piety and sound knowledge.

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August 15, 2007  5:50pm

I am amazed at the blatant anti-intellectual comments from some of those posting comments. As believers we are given a mind that is being renewed. The scriptures encourage christians to develop their minds. Knowledge is NOT unscriptural. This is part of a modern gnosticism that falsley divides the world into spiritual and unspiritual activities. Evangelicals (I am one) are famous for downplaying the value of formal education. That is nothing but sheer laziness. The disciples spent three years in intensive training with the master. To refer to them as uneducated (and therefore more spiritual) is just silly.

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John M. Crowe

August 14, 2007  11:02pm

Lynn, I noticed that Ian Johnson also spoke to this subject also on July 29. I was being factual also with a bit of passion. Some facts that mainline people do not know nor do some evangelical churches. Why highlight mental illness at all? From my perspective that only adds to the stigma which society is improving some in but Churches are largely in the Dark Ages about. Unless you have walked in my shoes, don't talk about 'em The ordination process is more about overall readiness, giftedness, etc. for the life and work of an ordained minister. The psychological tests include, but are not limited to just personality/mental health issues. I like the ordination process because it is like an internship in becoming a medical doctor. I did notice that in Andy's comparisons that he changed from nondenominational evangelical to evangelical. Most and particularly older evangelical churches do have an ordination process that is not just start your own church. The older evangelical churches include the Lutheran Missouri Synod, AME, AMEZ, CME, Assembly of God, Church of the Nazarene, Evangelical Free Church of America, Evangelical Methodist, Free Methodist Church, Presbyterian Church in America, Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, The Salvation Army, The Wesleyan Church and more whose names I do not know.) There are some evangelical seminaries,like Asbury Theological Seminary, who require the MMPI for its applicants. The last I heard, Duke did not require the MMPI to screen its Divinity School applicants. My own experience in the church is rather broad. Baptized a Roman Catholic with some influence from both that denomination and my mother's Presbyterian Church, I spent my high school and college years in non-denominational then evangelical places. When I entered seminary, I found that I was really more at home with methodism than either of my parent's or step-parent's (Lutheran/Episcopal) denominations. I'm no longer a pastor having become disabled in 2003 after starting as a pastor in 1983. I learned an important lesson from other clergy during my first years. We all have common problems no matter what denomination or non-denomination, Pentecostal, Holiness, or Charismatic. So, take your pick. You will find that church people are church people and beneath the surface are about the same. I also remember what a pastor's widow told me "over the years you will meat some of the most gifted and some of the most messed up people (speaking of clergy). That is true of clergy and church members. John

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Andy Rowell

August 14, 2007  11:25am

Dear Commenters, Thanks for your insightful comments. I think I agree with all of them to some extent! My article stated a number of generalizations and you have pointed out that there are many exceptions! Thanks for arguing with each other a bit too! I like blogs for just that reason: you can put out some generalizations and then get feedback on them. In particular, I think many of you are correct that: (1) we need to keep praying for God's guidance in finding a church; (2) that service and gifting are more important than education;(3)God can certainly use people with mental illnesses as the Bible certainly attests! I am thankful for the variety of commenters and readers represented here at Out of Ur. Some of you are serving in evangelical churches, others Eastern orthodox, others mainline, others nondenominational, others seeker churches, others Evangelical denominations. That made this conversation particularly rich. Two other small comments: (1) I would like to say that the title wasn't mine! The phrase "Church Shopping" . . . makes me squirm! My original title was: "To Denom or not to Denom . . . Picking a Church: Mainline vs. Nondenominational (and what they could each learn from each other)." But I am glad that the Out of Ur editors picked a controversial title to get people's attention. :-) (2) No, we haven't picked a church yet. Feel free to keep commenting and I will come back here periodically and see what else I can learn. Grace and peace, andy Andy Rowell Th.D. Student Duke Divinity School Blog: Church Leadership Conversations

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August 13, 2007  2:26pm

And I thought the "struggle" my wife and I were having to find a decent church-home in our area was challenging. Reading all this makes me think casting lots might be the best method. :) It's a good thing Jesus loves us in spite of our denomination, orthodoxy, methodology, mental health, M.Div. or ability to impress. Maybe we should just "Bless the LORD" and get on with it.

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Lynn Hill

August 13, 2007  12:52pm

John You wrote in response to Andy's comment "The ordination process in mainline denominations usually screens out the mentally ill." "When you get to heaven, please tell this to Martin Luther. He was mentally ill. He spoke about and wrote about his struggle with depression freely and instructed clergy concerning pastoral care of the mentally ill". I enjoyed reading your comments John and learning some new information, however, (unless I've missed something) I didn't take Andy's comments as a personal attack of those with depression or mental health issues, simply a factual statement of how most ML churches handle the ordination process.

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