Play a word game with me. What comes to your mind when you read the word church? Do you picture a steepled building, dark wooden pews, crosses, offering plates? Do you hear hearty singing? Or does church trigger childhood memories of wiggling through sermons, playing tag on the parking lot, and Sunday school teachers telling stories about Samson and David and Daniel and, of course, Jesus.
Or do you experience again the flat taste of the bread and the sweet taste of grape juice at communion? Do you remember a particular Sunday morning when a sermon gripped you as though you were the only one in the crowd, or the day you became a Christian through baptism? Or does church sketch other pictures on your mind? A wedding, funerals, evangelistic services, going forward, committee meetings, suppers served in Tupperware dishes, that time at camp when you determined God would have all of you.
When you read the word church, do you have good feelings? Like laughter? Warmth? A quietness? Acceptance? Happiness? Awe? Love? Closeness to God? Or are your feelings negative? Like boredom? Anger? Confusion? Guilt? Rejection? Does church remind you of arrogance, hostility, manipulation, anger, or irrelevance? Do you think of it as a poor substitute for a picnic or a ball game?
Church dredges up memories and emotions from deep within you, doesn’t it? Some are healthy, some painful, most somewhere in between. Have you noticed that when Christians think negatively about church, they think of “them” not “me”? Church is an institution out there, a group apart from them.
But we are the church, aren’t we? You and me. We may have a personal faith, but we can’t have an individual faith. We can’t be Christians by ourselves. Every Christian, to be complete, must be a member of a body of men and women who are followers of Christ. Therefore, whether we are part of a vital, growing, glowing assembly of believers depends in some measure upon us.
If we hope to make a difference in our churches, we need to know what a healthy church looks like. More important, we need to know how sick churches can be made well. What would you say constitutes the foundation of a healthy church ministry? Many slogans suggest ideas, but wouldn’t you agree that the Word of God and prayer are fundamental? They are two of God’s greatest gifts to us. In them we find comfort, direction, and hope. In them we discover God through his Spirit. In them we grow in our relationship with our Savior. In them we learn about where we have come from and who we are to become today.
Scripture and Prayer Are Essential — Yes, the Scriptures and prayer are the bedrock of our existence as Christ’s followers, yesterday, today, and forever. Both the study of reflection on, and obedience to the Word of God and the cultivation of our relationship with the Almighty One in prayer are to permeate our experience and expression as Christians.
In a recent survey of 1,899 Christians, most people strongly agreed that local churches should “be prayerful in all aspects of church life and ministry” as well as be “reliant upon God’s power and the authority of his Word.” With nine points being the highest, prayerfulness got a mean score of 8.71, and God’s power and Word got a mean score of 8.84. Strangely, though Scripture and prayer are highly valued, they are more often promoted than practiced. We not only need to reinvigorate our congregations toward greater biblical literacy, but we must reevaluate our traditional view of prayer meetings and introduce prayer into every context of the ministry.
Biblical Analogy of Health — Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mk. 2.17) People in rebellion to the basics of God’s laws are spiritually unhealthy. Churches that ignore God’s fundamental laws are spiritually unhealthy. But what are those fundamental laws?
Paul wrote to Titus, “You must teach what is in accord with sound (hygiainõ) doctrine. Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound (hygiainõ) in faith, in love and in endurance.” (Tit. 2.1-2 ). Paul implies that the teaching that produces spiritual health is indicated by several moral characteristics. Paul then illustrates how this spiritual health could be seen among individual Christians.
But what are we looking for in healthy churches today?
1. Loving Relationships
“People feel included.” “People spend lots of time together.”
“People have a sense of being a family.” “A healthy church is where you feel loved.”
“People put each other first.” “People hug each other.”
“There is a sense of connectedness.”
2. People spend time in God’s Word
“They are given biblical instructions.” “They read their Bibles daily.”
“Biblically focused.” “Bible based.”
3. Exemplary and Equipping Leaders
Role Models Knowledgeable in the Scriptures
Spiritual or Spirit-filled Empowers, delegates, or encourages participation
Other Definitions of Church Health — by Peter Steinke, Healthy Congregations: A Systems Approach
A Sense of Purpose Effective Conflict Management
Clear and Direct Communication A Mood of Energy and Optimism
Mature Interaction between Leaders and Members
Patience for Healing Focus on Healing Resources
Leadership Principles from Jesus (Matthew 23)
Knowledgeable in the Scriptures (v. 1) Personal integrity (v. 3)
Sensitivity to others’ weaknesses in obedience (v. 4)
Humility (vs. 5-10, 12) Servant-minded (v. 11)
Just, merciful and faithful (vs. 23, 24)
Leadership in Healthy Churches
Either/Or Thinking Takes a stand
Tries for “quick fixes” Increases self-awareness
Resists insights Changes self
No self –awareness Tolerates differences
Looks for blame Sets clear goals
Coerces/Manipulates Accepts challenges
Seeks to eliminate those who cause him anxiety
The Health Challenge
Our challenge isn’t to make Christ’s church healthy. It must be remembered that first and foremost, the heavenly body of Christ is healthy. Paul told the Ephesians, “In him the whole building (i.e. the heavenly church) is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. (Eph. 2:21)
Our challenge is to urge churches and her Christian leaders to recognize that Christ is working to build her up…live obediently to Christ’s teaching…live as a Spirit indwelt community.
Again Paul told the Ephesians, “And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” (Eph. 2:22)