Several weeks into our journey it became clear that God wanted us to focus in on what a Healthy Church looks like. At first that seemed like it would be difficult to ascertain when we’d only be sharing a matter of hours with each church. As God would have it, it wasn’t hard at all. I’m not sure that we’ve seen one perfect church healthy in every way, but we’ve certainly seen clear examples of health (and unhealthy) in many of the churches we’ve visited.
One thing we know for sure is that Healthy Church isn’t defined by any one denomination. In fact, those who point to their denomination as proof their church is healthy, or more “right” than any other, are actually revealing a certain lack of wisdom and health. At one of our group interviews we were asked if we’d encountered any surprises or disappointments on our journey so far. I shared that there had been only a couple of each. I recounted one story about a church so steeped in a bitter debate over a single issue of doctrine it has crippled the church to the point of closing. Several members of the group expressed sorrow but then commented, “Well for sure it couldn’t have been a ________ church.” In fact, it was.
It’s time for us to acknowledge that when Jesus comes back we’re all in for a few surprises. NONE of us can prove that we’ve got it 100% right. Perhaps God planned it that way to keep us from becoming obnoxiously prideful. If only it did.
One of the most obvious symptoms of “un” health in present day church is the fact that from one church or denomination to the next we’re not only divided but we can be quite divisive. We love to tell others that they should come to our church because it’s the “best” church around.
“God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6). You know who else resists the proud? Everyone. If you’re part of a church that has an air of superiority please understand that you are cultivating a member’s only club, not a sanctuary for people who need God.
Size isn’t a good indicator of health either. Some churches are big because they’re awesome and some are big because they’re awesome at tickling your fancy. Some churches are small because they’re dead or dying and some are small because God needs them to be so; for a reason or a season.
We still have a lot of research to acquire and sift through, but like cream that rises to the top we are already seeing qualities that seem to produce tangible evidence of health in a congregation. Here’s what we’ve found so far:
A Healthy Church is a small or large group of garden variety people who are excited about gathering in the presence of the The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit. They worship God in Spirit and Truth and Love. The long-timers love the short-timers and together they enthusiastically welcome those still looking for a place to belong. They come to learn and be encouraged and they come to teach and encourage others. They share in the responsibilities of preparing for service and caring for the church. They understand that a disciple who isn’t a servant and a servant who isn’t a growing disciple are one legged runners hard pressed to finish the race.
In a Healthy Church divorced and Single parents are singled out…to receive a double measure of support, encouragement and practical help. The children are cared for and invested in even by the people who have none. The widowed are not forgotten and the elderly are sought after for their wisdom and advice.
They work together to serve the world BEYOND their parking lot and wholeheartedly give all the glory to God. They actively feed the hungry, clothe the naked and comfort the lonely and the sick. They understand though they can’t be IN church all the time they ARE The Church…all the time.
In a Healthy Church people are led by pastors and elders who also worship God in Spirit and Truth and Love. They are passionate about the Word of God and wholeheartedly endeavor to transfer that passion to those who came to learn.
These leaders bow low before the Lord on a daily basis and seek His direction for the congregation that has been entrusted to them. They continually nourish their own Spiritual life, and are constantly concerned with the Spiritual health of their church. They lead by example and nurture their staff in the way they want staff to nurture those they serve. They have not forgotten that they are sinners saved by Grace. Nor do they forget that they have an enemy constantly plotting their undoing. They create an environment that promotes transparency and they live in full submission and accountability to one another.
They’d gladly do what they do for no pay, but humbly receive a fair portion of the harvest because it is healthy and it is right. They pray. They really pray. They sincerely put their trust in the Lord and are faithful to keep their word with Him. Everyone knows who they are married to and who their children are because the place and the priority of their family come before any and everyone else.
They pray for their congregation and continually challenge them to grow. They may not know every member personally, but they sincerely would if they could.
They magnify God’s name rather than their “brand”. They support other churches AND other denominations and honor them publicly from the pulpit. They resist the attitudes that come with competition and popularity and teach their congregation to do the same.
They strive to be great teachers not great speakers. They are committed to what they believe but don’t believe they have all the answers.
They look for signs of Spiritual Maturity and leadership and enlist those people into the ministry. When they see signs of Spiritual Immaturity they intervene and bring correction when necessary. They don’t ignore the church gossip or passively wait for the trouble makers to go away. They actively counsel them, correct them and call them to all that Love requires.
They raise up and send out leaders to start more churches. They give generously from their storehouse of people and provision trusting God at His word that those who give their life away will gain it. (yes, we found someone who does this!)
A Healthy Church gathers for a purpose, not for an hour.
Is it possible to find such a church? It’s a tall order. Churches are led by imperfect people and that’s okay. God knows what He’s doing when He calls someone into ministry. So why do we have so many unhealthy churches? Why do we have so many unhealthy church leaders? You tell me. I’d love to know what you think!
In His love and service,