Characteristics of a Healthy Church

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Characteristics of a Healthy Church

It is important to distinguish between a true Church and a healthy Church. Five of the seven churches in Asia minor were “true Churches” but they had serious health problems. Some were dying a slow and silent death. So, it is important to be able to identify health concerns and to work towards a healthy Church.

An unhealthy Church is like a bottle of soda that has been open and forgotten about for days—it has all properties of a soda, except the fizz. When I was a kid, we used to borrow an old black and white television set at Christmas. We borrowed one to watch the Royal wedding in 1981. That was the biggest news of the decade. I still remember watching the royal processional in black and white. But watching more recent royal weddings in hi-definition colour is another experience completely. An unhealthy church is like the black and white. It has all the essential elements of the picture, the image is there, but there is no colour and no depth, no vibrancy. It lacks the distinctive character of the colour image. There are many churches like this that are still conservative, they have all the components of a “true church” but they are flat, clichéd and colourless. Let me suggest some marks of a healthy Church. 

§  Strong Leadership

Leadership of the Church is no easy task. The Pastor, along with the elders and deacons is called to be a leader. There is a difference between leadership and supervising. Too many pastors are supervisors, simply keeping order and maintaining the status quo. A leader moves the people in a chosen direction. He knows where they need to go, and he takes them there. Some will follow, and others will not, but he will lead on regardless if he has confidence in his purpose and goal.  

Some pastors don’t know what the Church needs, they have no spiritual insight into the needs of the Church. Some see no need for reform or change of any kind, they like to be comfortable, even if it means stagnant. Some pastors know where the Church needs to go, but they do not have the courage to take it there. 

On the other hand, some leaders act more like dictators and drive the people of God rather than leading them. They act like lords over the flock of God (1 Peter 5:3). The Church needs leaders today, not supervisors or administrators. The Church needs men with insight and courage, with wisdom and grace to lead the people of God. 

§  Earnest and Expository Preaching of the Word of God

Expository preaching is the type of preaching that has a high view of the authority of Scripture, is concerned about the flow of Biblical theology (the story of the Bible) and focuses on the text of Scripture. The expositor who comes to the Bible asks, what does this text say? His concern is not,what can I say about this text?

Expository preaching, however, is not like a lecture, where the teacher is giving out mere information. Expository preaching must be earnest, it must have spiritual and physical intensity. It must excite the preacher. This type of preaching recognizes the need for an urgent hearing of the Word, an urgent acceptance of the Word and an equally urgent integration of the Word into the life of the individual. 

The intention of the preacher must be to bring the Bible to the heart and life of the hearer. He is not just a herald, he is a pastor. The Word of God must grip him, draw him in, excite his mind, touch his emotions and change his life—and this then must be transmitted to the congregation.   

§  Church Discipline

Broadly speaking discipline simply means the exercise of authority. This would cover areas like leadership, eldership, etc. However, when we speak of discipline in the Church, we more often mean the spiritual exercise of dealing with sin in the Church, or in the life of an individual. Discipline must be seen as a spiritual exercise. The Church does not punish offenders, it censures and corrects.

This form of spiritual discipline is necessary for a number of reasons; first, that the Church might live to the glory of God. Second, that the Church might be a healthy church, that it would not be hindered by the polluting presence of sin (Titus 3:10). Third, that the offending individual might be admonished, corrected and delivered from the power of sin (Matthew 18:15-17; Galatians 6:1). Fourth, that open sinners might be shamed and corrected (1 Corinthians 4:14) and finally, that others might be warned of the dangers of sin. 

A healthy Church is not a sinless Church, but one that knows how to deal with sin correctly. A church that seeks to maintain the purity of the body, teaching, illustrating and graciously and humbly correcting in the truth. It is a mistake for the Church to think of discipline only in terms of behaviourand not also censure the beliefsof its members. This will prevent “another gospel” being preached in the Church (Galatians 1:8), but also any belief that tends to hard the preaching of the true gospel.      

§  Discipleship

Closely related to the discipline of the Church is discipleship. Indeed, the better the discipleship is, the less the potential for corrective discipline. Discipleship is focused on building up the people—individuals—in the grace and knowledge of our Saviour. 

A healthy Church is not focused on the organisation, but on the people in the organisation. If the parts of the body are healthy, the body will be healthy. The Lord has given us teachers, pastors and mentors in the Church, who can instruct and illustrate the life of Christ for us.  Using these teachers and mentors, there are four ways that we can be disciplined, and we can in turn disciple others in the Church—remember we are “iron sharpen[ing] iron” (Proverbs 27:17). First, we are to be learners, using the mind. Just as we need to nourish the body with food and we need to nourish the soul with spiritual nourishment, so also, we need to nourish the mind with learning.  Second, correction, we must be open to correction and be improvers. Discipline in Church is a form of discipleship.  Third, we are to be imitators. One of the most natural ways to be a disciple is to be a follower, an imitator. We can learn from the experience of old and more mature and worthy Christians. We follow them, in the areas in which they follow Christ. Finally, we are to be inquirers. We are to be interested in learning, pursue knowledge. We should not be afraid to ask questions, to speak to someone. Seek out a mentor, a good mentor.   

§  Vibrant and Deliberate Worship.

Christians are a singing people. The Psalmist says that God places a song of praise in the heart of those whom He delivers (Psalm 40:3). It’s a “new song,” repeated for every new deliverance, and it culminates in the ultimate triumph of glory (Revelation 5:9, 14:3). 

The singing of the Church is praise to our sovereign Creator, Sustainer and Saviour. We must always remember that singing is primarily “to the Lord”(Colossians 3:16; Ephesians 5:19). However, singing ought also to inform us and renew our mind, it ought to move us, to stir us up, to motivate us to greater love, holiness and service. In singing, we are not just giving praise to God, we are receiving gracefrom Him. The hymns we sing like the sermons we hear ought to demand a response. They ought to be theologically weighty, emotionally and intellectually engaging.

In a healthy church the hymns will be culturally and emotionally accessible. In other words, we should not sing the same hymns so often that they become meaningless or limit ourselves to older material because it is “safe.” Church hymnody is a “living language.”  Singing is an emotional experience if we are singing with the spirit and with intelligence, according to 1 Corinthians 14:15. 

§  Active Evangelism

Evangelism begins and ends with the local Church. The local Church is the platform for personal evangelism and on the human and local level this is also the goal – to get people into the local Church where the gospel is being preached (I Corinthians 1:21). The personal evangelist has a high view of the church (Psalm 69:9; John 2:17) and the life of a church in the development and growth of the would-be convert. The local church should be conscientious and see this as a sense of duty; it is this that will keep it in prayer for the Spirit of evangelism and which will in turn maintain the life of the Church. 

The goal of personal evangelism is the kingdom of Christ formed (Luke 17:21) and developed (I Corinthians 9:27) in the heart and the Church of Christ extended on the earth (Matthew 16:18; 28:18-20).  

This brings us back to the beginning—to the local church. Others will be brought into the church and the Church in turn is renewed and extended by others being sent out (II Timothy 2:2). This is a healthy Church—a Church that is excited about the gospel, where believers have confidence to live in the gospel and believe in the power of the gospel to save. It is a church that is excited that others hear the message of the gospel. 

The evangelism of the Church is twofold. First, the gospel is for those who are part of the visible body but are not yet saved. Second, the gospel is for those whom the apostles referred to as “those who are without”(1 Timothy 3:7; 1 Corinthians 5:13).

§  Sacrificial Giving

The Church at Corinth was not a healthy Church. When Paul wrote to Corinth, he was addressing a number of issues, one of which was the financial support of the global work of God (2 Cor. 8:1-15). Paul made it clear that giving proved the sincerity of their love (2 Cor. 8:8). There was nothing new in this request of Paul. The principle of generous giving was well illustrated when Moses was building God’s tent in the wilderness. 

The early Church, some out of “deep poverty” gave generously and sacrificially. They recognized the vanity of this world and earthly possessions and lived for eternity and the good of the Church. This same generosity has been repeated often in times of revival since Pentecost.  


2019-01-21T23:20:03+00:00

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