Luke 10:25-29; John 4:24; 10:25-30; 17:21-23; Acts, chapters 2 and 4; Romans 1:16-17; 12:1-3; Galatians 5:22-23; Ephesians 1:10; Philippians 2:5-8; Colossians 1; James 4:8-11
Is Your Church Healthy?
A healthy or successful church is not about church growth or numbers for it is much, much more. It can be small, less than 50 members or big, more than 50,000 members. A healthy church can be a very small group of people who are struggling to keep afloat, or it can be exploding with new people. It can be found in a dwindling town, such as in a Midwest coal town, or in the heart of a big city. It can have many elements stacked against it, such as being in a town with too many churches, or in the liberally harsh environment of a new mission field or in the heart of San Francisco. It could have just weathered a moral breach by a key leader or suffered a tragic loss. The healthy church can even see its membership slipping away. And of course, the healthy church can be exploding with hundreds and even thousands of people, such as those in India and Korea.
So, what is a healthy church and what does this mean for you? Our contemporary society today sees a successful church as one with a large campus and big facilities, and one with lots of programs that dwarf the other churches in its city. If you think this is a sign of a successful church, then you are one among most leaders and Christians in America today, and as I once believed and taught as a church growth consultant. However, this is not what Scripture tells us a healthy church is. In fact, a healthy church can be made up of just a few families; it may never see growth, and may actually be in decline. And, a diseased church can have a large and nice campus; they can have several thousand people participating in programs we would all envy. However, the health of the church is not in the numbers, or in the building, or in the programs. It is because of who the people are in the Lord, and what they are doing with His call.
A healthy church is one that is poured out to our Lord. It practices the love of our Lord through worship, teaching, learning, loving, caring, praying, and outreach. It is a church that chooses to be a bag of marbles with different colors and sizes and all working together, each marble seizing its call and exercising its gift for the game. But, in our case, it is not a game. Rather, it is a very serious matter that is joyful. Have you ever tried to play marbles with just one? Not much fun, is it? To play your best, you need more than one, each with a purpose and direction. In spite of that, a lot of churches choose to be the lone marble. Such a church really cannot be used to play any marble games, not because there are too few, but because the marbles just do not get along. Yet, the more marbles you have working together, the better you can play. And the "more" is two or more gathered in His name, people working together for a common purpose with vision and strength, all striving to give God the glory.
We must not fret about how big we are, but rather how we are. We cannot have the gathering of more people as our only goal and purpose because this is not what God has called us to. Yes, Matthew 28 gives us a mandate to make disciples and to teach. But, if we interpret that as only bringing people into the church, then we are shortsighted. Yes, we need to invite people, but it is what we do with the people that God has given us that are the primary role and purpose of the church. We have to be a better "how" if we truly want to receive the Lord's blessing and be all that we are called to be.
Place this Stethoscope from Scripture to Your Church's Heart
The first church was, "devoted to the apostles' teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, prayer; and everyone was filled with awe."
This stethoscope is used to hear heartbeats from your church devotion, teaching, fellowship, and breaking of bread, which means community and doing it all in love. What does the stethoscope "hear" from your church? What is your church devoted to? What and where are your awe and wonderment? These will be the questions, and if answered honestly, will be the measuring rod to the health of your church. This passage in Acts gives us the purpose, vision, and call of the Church, both as a whole and individually. Not just a certain church down the street, but your church, and all churches together as one body. The healthy church looks like Acts 2! This means we look like we are devoted to Christ and His call, we are teaching effectively, we are in fellowship and community with one another, we are forgiving and honoring of one another, and doing all we do in love. We also look like people who are focused on prayer and our growth in Him. It is not just what we look like-it is because we are. And we do this, with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. The healthy church can be your church; perhaps it already is, or maybe it needs to be reformed. So, strive to catch that AWE, that passion and devotion to our Lord and the reason for our being!
Most churches that are failing did not wake up one day and just decide, "Hey, let's fail." They did not start off with "me first" intentions, ignoring our Lord's call. They probably did not choose a purposeful direction of being critical and condescending to one another, and especially not with non-Christians. They did not write their mission statements with a "how to do the disdainful disposition," or hold seminars on modeling attitudes of puffed-up pride! There was a process that led up to the point of decline and apathy from a starting point of new birth and excitement. There was a point where the first love became clouded, and other dispositions took over the role of the church. Just as the divorcing couple did not go into their wedding with the vision and plan for the divorce, or say in their vows, "say, in five years, let's become so miserable that we will divorce and live frustrated and disillusioned lives." Here, too, was a process that went from the love and excitement of newlywed bliss to bitterness, criticism, patronizing, defensiveness, and withdrawal, and finally, the decision to end the relationship. It has been my observation that the causes of marriage failure are the same as with church failure. The two relationships have the same perimeters for what works and what destroys. The church is a community of relationships-with one another, with the world, and most importantly, with our Lord.
The process begins with love and excitement for the ministry, the new birth for the new Christian, or the new church start for the seasoned Christian. It can happen being in a healthy church, or being in a non-healthy church, never having experienced anything else. But, at some point, the committed Christian who has received the election of our Lord, trades in that first love for a "lemon" of sin. Somehow, the love and passion slowly dwindle away as other things creep their way into the place of that excitement. And these "things" are the diseases of apathy, gossip, pride, legalism, slander-the list can go on and on. These form the relationship killers of bitterness, criticism, condescending attitudes, defensiveness, and withdrawal. These are the sins that take the joy away from others; it is, in fact, stealing from God Himself. These were not the precepts that the church was founded upon; these diseases were not in the vision of her planters, just as the divorce court was not on the wedding planner of the couple getting married. Yet, it happened, and it keeps happening.
We may have started to come near to God, and we received the promise that he will come near to you, but we decided to engage in a process that caused us to let go of what we had. We have let the double-minded mindset take over the plan and purpose that God gave us. We must recapture the call of that first love, with all of the excitement and vigor, for our Lord. We must humble our pride before it is too late. God is not the One who always holds us back; it is usually our refusal to reach out for the faith He has given us and build it up so we can seize the opportunities He gives. It is we who refuse to exercise our faith and grow.
We must understand the importance of our reverence to Christ. We come before a holy God. He is not just a pal or friend or guide-He is our Savior and our Lord (2 Cor. 5:16; Rev. 2-3). A healthy church is all about who Christ is and what He has done. He is not just a Savior and/or best Friend; He gives us life, holds our lives, and will judge our lives. He is the One who overcame life and death for our benefit, and when we seek to run His church our way, we embarrass and dishonor Him and His Way. He has the keys in His hand, as the door to knowing Him and making Him known is only locked from our side. We have no need to fear our future when He is our Light, Guide, and Lord!
This understanding of who He is will help us be people who are humble and people He can use. One of the central themes of humbleness is if we do not do it, God will. God asks us to "humble yourselves" for the essential reason that if we do not, He will, and when that happens, it may just be too late. If we do not start to reform our churches to be as they were designed and destined to be, then it will be too late. The doors will close just as has already happened in most parts of Europe. The church once flourished there, but apathy and disease took over and now her pews sit empty in the mist of a confused and decadent culture. We cannot just visualize what a healthy church can and should look like; we must act on it to make it happen. A healthy church is not just a question of believing in Christ, but of doing what He has called us to do with trust and obedience. A healthy church is not about our comfort or what we can experience, but about being people of faith and maturity and being what we can be for His glory.
If you have spent any time at all observing churches, then you have seen what takes place. And, if you have spent any time in the Scriptures, then you know what Christ has called us to do. Many times these two are in conflict. I have personally seen the results of what happens when we do, and when we do not follow our Lord-when we do not humble ourselves. So, the choice is up to us; we are given choices in life, options to follow. We can see for ourselves the church that is worshipping the Lord, caring and loving one another, steeping itself in prayer, and reaching its neighborhood and world for Christ. Conversely, we can see the church that is full of strife and conflict. The church that has given up its call to be in Christ and substituted it with their own inclinations and agenda results in people leaving the church, bitter and disillusioned. Too many Christians have traded their election of grace for advertisements of hostility, thus they have forgotten the main thing. As a result, the disillusioned world has confused the strife of Christians for the care of the Lord, thus seeing an uncaring God by seeing His uncaring people and leaders.
I was at a youth pastors conference a few years ago and heard a story that really caused me to shutter and think. It was a story of a teen who tried to join a youth group; he was small and awkward, and seemingly unlovable. None of the other youth would have anything to do with him. The youth pastor invited him to a fun youth trip to an amusement park, a supposed fun and community- building event. The other kids shunned him; the youth pastor himself did not recall if he spent any time with the new kid. Instead, he spent all of his time with the popular kids. No one would pair up with this new kid, or reach out to him, because they considered him undesirable and unlovable, so he roamed the amusement park all by himself. He was a skinny loaner whom no one wanted to befriend, and his name was Brian Warner.
A shy, reclusive, timid youth that no one wanted to show and model the love and care of Christ because they were too busy in their cliques, too busy pretending to be a Christian, singing the songs and discussing the spiritual things but not implementing them because it was inconvenient. It got in the way of their private agendas. So Brian left disillusioned. This was perhaps his one last hope for receiving care and love. There was no Christ-like outreach from the people who are called to be the best at it. Since love and care was not presented, Brian received none.
He grew up and changed his name. He took the first name of a famous actress who committed suicide, and a serial killer for a last name. His name became Marilyn Manson. He is the favorite of the two teens who killed all those youth in Columbine, and the various other school shootings, the one who so many youth listen to, finding life totally hopeless and unmeaning, and some even ending up killing themselves!
What if the youth group had reached out to Brian? Would he be a great Christian singer attracting the youth who feel hopeless, attracting the two teens in Columbine to live for Christ, instead of killing for Satan? We may not know until the Day of Judgment what could have happened, but we do know what did happen, and we do know what we should have done as Christians. We know what Christ calls us to do. We just all too often choose not to. How different our world would be if just one person in a youth group in Florida had reached out to a seemingly awkward and unlovable kid….!? How different and better would our world be if you and your church did as we are called to do-to be truly loving and caring, presenting those Christ-like characteristics?
Just how different our world would be if our churches collectively were doing as we are called, if we just would get off the pews, and get in Christ! Remember this important point: being a Christian is more about expressing our new life in Christ and less about seeking what we want.
A Healthy Church Looks Like This in Practice
A healthy church will worship Christ first and foremost. A healthy church will enable its people to connect with God and then connect with each other and then connect to their community with the cause and power of Christ. To accomplish this, a healthy church will equip and encourage its people to grow deeper in their faith and walk with Christ and further help them facilitate their godly impact onto others. In so doing, expand God's Kingdom by becoming and developing wholeheartedly, fully-engaged followers of Jesus Christ!
For this to come about, a healthy church will be biblically oriented, active, and focused on Jesus Christ. A healthy church will know and practice the supremacy and centrality of Christ so it glorifies, trusts, and worships God wholeheartedly. A healthy church will be passionate for Christ and then for one another. A healthy church will be genuinely learning and growing in Him. A healthy church will encourage one another's spiritual formation and be able to bring into being and equip disciples with a teachable spirit who know Him and desire to make Him known. A healthy church will connect with others and in so doing develop vital relationships, working and growing in the Fruit of the Spirit. When a healthy church is functioning, it will be better at mobilizing its people by their spiritual gifts. Our healthy church will be an effective, generous steward of all He gives us individually and collectively. Then, our healthy church will have a mission and purpose and be engaged in intentional evangelism, missions, outreach, and meeting key community needs, all led and envisioned by called out, effective, empowered servant leaders who are Kingdom oriented. Sounds like a mouthful, but this can be you in your church, leading others!
We have a responsibility to be obedient to His Word and carry out His call. When we do not carry out our call and duty to be in Him and act within His character, it will be costly. We must ask ourselves what our inactivity will cost us, and to those around us. When we do not accept our responsibility, the cost will build up and may even overwhelm us. Not because God is without compassion and love, but because we refuse His compassion and love, or we refuse to share His compassion and love. The cost we may accrue is the cost of lost opportunities, "what ifs," and what could have been. The comparison is of a church that is flourishing and being used by God versus the church that is closing its doors after decades of being there (in a physical building form) but not really being there (for the community and use by our God.) A church can "be there" with facilities, but "not be there" with heart felt worship and poured out teaching. Or, it can "be there" as a club, but "not be there" as a church. What are you costing God? Is your church a haven of lost opportunities, or a haven of rest? Is your church surrendered to His will and holiness, or to self-seeking motives and desires?
Summarizing What God Calls Us to Do
God calls us to distinction and to Himself. There is nothing we could ever do to earn our grace or place in heaven. There is no program, ministry, outreach, or person saved that could ever earn or add one tiny immeasurable amount to His love for us. So, does this mean we sit in our chairs and do nothing? Well, lots of people think so, or at least they act like they think so. Our faith may not have a price tag attached, but there must be a response that shows the fruit of what He has done.
We need to wake up to our call and our responsibility, to give a response and reason for our faith. Yes, we can just sit in a pew and do nothing, receiving our heavenly award in the after life to come. But, will we receive a "well done, good and faithful servant," reasoning for our election, a response of love to His love for us?
Did you know that God calls us to be a lover? Not like the lovers we see portrayed on TV or in the movies or in romance novels. God calls us to real love that is a response to who He is and what He has done in us. We are based and rooted in Him so we are able to respond to those around us as our Lord has responded to us. So many Christians will see their faith as a self-centered journey that involves them and God alone, even though the Scriptures say otherwise. Our faith may come as an individual choice to receive His election and grace, but we are still in community with one another. It is like going up to a person who was just in an auto accident, and saying, "gee, you are hurt," and then just walk away. "No need to bother to call for an ambulance." "They are not my responsibility." "It is just God and I. "
That individualistic thinking is imaging a God who is different that what is revealed to us in Scripture, and replacing Him with our selfish inclinations and laziness. We are not "Lone Ranger" Christians. We are part of a posse, part of a community all working, learning, and serving the same Lord and God together. Remember, even the Lone Ranger had Tonto, and their focus was to help others. He did not ride alone. Our faith must be in community, as we are the body of Christ, and not parts to ourselves. Are we responding to the privilege we have in Christ by honoring Him? Or, do we try it alone, our rationalizations serving as our "savior?"
Are we His sheep? Do we hear His voice? If so, do we respond and follow? God calls us to Himself and to love Him and one another with the love of God. God calls us out of our self-love pride that mutes our effectiveness and purpose and changes us so we are effective and purposeful for Him. So, we need to ask ourselves how is my love life? How is our love for our Lord and the response of love we are to have for one another? We are the sheep of the Lord, and He has given us endless love and care. He gives His sheep endless life and abounding fellowship with Him. He gives us His perfection and His protection, gathering us in to the fold of His wings, as a hen calls her chicks. Giving us the confidence and support for us to stay away from the dangers of the world, protecting us from Satan's grasp while we engage the world for Christ. Christ perseveres in us, modeling to us how to persevere in our walk with Him and our call to one another.
Our shepherd desires for us to be true and faithful because He is that way with us. This is our call to be true and faithful in our love, in our care, in our walk, and in our talk.
So, are we hearing the voice of God? Are we practicing the centrality and supremacy of Christ? Are we? If not, where is the call? What do we need to do to build His kingdom church? As Christ bore witness to the Father, so we are called to bear the care for one another and bring it back to Him. We cannot be as the so-called "expert of the law" and debate whom our neighbor is, thus excusing us from our responsibility. Nor, can we ignore the sheep in our care, ignoring our Lord's call. Yet, so many churches do.
Consider this: how we see others, whether it is a spouse, child, friend, boss, or stranger, will be the measure of how we see our Lord and how seriously we take our faith. What if we were measured by how we see others? What if this is how Christ sees us? Not a very pleasant prospect, is it? Fortunately, grace covers us¾His amazing and loving grace for which we could not venture to do anything to earn it, be acceptable, or receive anything eternal except damnation.
We are to forsake our pride, arrogance, and selfish nature and receive our Lord with joy and eagerness so we can help build His church as He has called us to do! Remember, the doctrine of Scripture and the call of our Lord will cut "against the grain" of our pride and will. We are fallen, but He will lift us up, as our Lord is our shepherd, guiding us His way and showing us the way of the shepherd, the way of love and care.
Too many Christians only see the church as a consumer entity, which becomes "what I can get out of it." But, are we reciprocating that care or are we just catering to our clique and ourselves? We cannot expect others do be the "doers" while we sit comfortably in a pew. We cannot even expect a return on our investment (money given to the church) for personal gain of some sort. The consumer church will become the demise of the church before Satan even has a chance at it. We can utterly eliminate ourselves and achieve total annihilation without any external help from below. God calls us out of the "consumer" mentality and into His reality. Ask yourself if you only see the church as what it can do for you or what you can get out of it.
We do need to be in a church that will take care of us. It is our attitude and determination that will set us apart to either be fully used by Christ, or sit in a pew for our selfish gain and receive our judgment later. I know I do not want that to be me; do you?
There are too many churches that neglect their call, ignore their neighborhood, and burrow themselves away from the call that Christ has given to all of us. There are even churches who target a specific audience or demographic, that is, only the people with whom they are comfortable, and ignore the call of our Lord to reach all people. We have to reform, to get beyond ourselves, our prejudices, and our desires so we can go beyond our felt needs and plans and seize the opportunities to be our best for His glory. We have to see the church as what it was designed and destined for¾a haven of rest, a place of worship, a place of discipleship, and a place of fellowship¾not merely a place of self interests and misplaced piety.
Our Devotion Must be to Christ and not to Ourselves
The biblical model for our church is clearly laid out in Scripture. We may not agree with one another on how to implement His call, or even how to do our government. We may not agree on how we worship or on the subtle aspects of pre-millennial, post-millennial, pre-tribulation, or post-tribulation doctrine. However, those things we must agree on and what we must do cooperatively are found in His Word. It contains the big picture and call to the essentials of what a church is to be, which is acknowledging His supremacy in all that we do.
Understanding His supremacy means understanding His holiness. Yet, holiness is not a part of a lot of churches because we have forgotten why we are there and what the true role of the church is. We have forgotten that the Lord of the universe has called us out and has set us apart for His use. We have replaced His holiness with our own experiences because we have forgotten our call, our definition, and the real biblical purpose. We have been placed in a church for a reason, and one of the main reasons is to be set apart for His purpose and not for our own. This is holiness. We have forgotten our adoption into His kingdom and the vision of what our church should be. We have replaced it with gothic cathedrals with magnificent stained glass pictures and architecture that screams, "God is holy," yet the pews are empty; the teaching and discipleship are forsaken. We have moved the church so close to the consumer we have forgotten what we stand for. We have printed out ideas and motions as "core values" with Scripture that we think rivets His plan to a purpose, yet the people go untaught and continue to spread the disease of gossip and malice. Lust, greed, and power have taken over when peace, grace, forgiveness, and love are to be the route taken.
Well thought out functionally unhitched to the basics of why we do church misleads its members and community and displeases God! Even if the church grows, it is unhealthy church growth and misses the point of who and why we are.
We must see our unworthiness and inadequacy before our holy God and seek His forgiveness and restitution. We must not let our sin replace the call of the church to holiness. We must allow His grace to work within us and through us so we can be the church that is healthy, vibrant, and filled with love. The goal is to have His love and our love, all working together and all surrendered and poured out to holiness and purpose that is not forgotten. The church is about us as the Christians who are in Him, worshiping Him. It is not about our petty needs and us. The church was created for us to house His plan in our lives, to come together in community for worship, fellowship, teaching, and outreach. It is about us because it binds us together for Him. It is not about our replacing His desires and plans for ours, or putting the focus upon us. We are not the main characters in God's drama of redemption, Christ is. Thus, we must realize that the church is about our Lord Jesus Christ and His plan for redemption. It is about our coming together and modeling His character. We are the supporting cast of actors and extras that make the story come alive to those around us. The church is not a place for grandstanding our desires and personalities.
We need to depend on the cross because we fall way short of the expectations, obedience, and the law. Now, with grace, we can go through life empowered and indwelled by the Spirit. When we have a growing relationship with Christ, we can go through life without fear; we can have the comfort of His presence and help build His church as healthy, vibrant, and effective. Our response is passionate devotion and obedience. We cannot be devoted to principles or even doctrine if we are not devoted to the person and work of Christ. Our church is not a cause; it is a Person¾the God and Creator of all things who loves us, who indwells in us, who empowers us, and who guides us according to His purposes.
Our devotion must be to Christ and not to ourselves, not to a principle or to an idea, and definitely not to trends. We cannot pour out our lives for false passion and conviction for a goal that has no eternal purpose, one that does not glorify our Lord. When we run our churches by our personal agenda and principles, we go astray because our principles are not in the Lordship of Christ, they are within us. We become in "breach of the contract," of His covenant of love and acceptance, rejecting it for self-interests that lead us nowhere! We need to receive the love of our Lord from the Holy Spirit, and not allow anything to get in His way!
Remember, your church can be healthy. The question is, what are you willing to do about it?
Richard Joseph Krejcir is the Founder and Director of Into Thy Word Ministries, a missions and discipling ministry. He is the author of several books including, Into Thy Word, and A Field Guide to Healthy Relationships. He is also a pastor, teacher, and speaker. He is a graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California (M.Div.) and holds a Doctor of Philosophy in Practical Theology in London, England (Ph.D). He has garnered over 20 years of pastoral ministry experience, mostly in youth ministry, including serving as a Church Growth Consultant.