Copyright 2017 by Bob Rogers
Outreach magazine publishes a list of the 100 largest churches in America and the 100 fastest-growing churches in America.
But when we read about the church in the New Testament, we don’t read Paul reporting to the church that when he left Ephesus they were running 200 in Sunday worship. Instead of talking about numerical growth, he emphasizes spiritual growth. So why don’t we?
Instead of so much emphasis on church growth, we should talk about church health. So what makes a church healthy, anyway? Paul gives us a full description in Ephesians 4:11-16.
1. Leaders who equip
“And He personally gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers…” (Ephesians 4:11, HCSB)
Just as healthy medicine requires a good doctor to make a diagnosis, healthy churches have leaders who equip their members.
In this verse, the last two leadership gifts are indispensable to local church health. In Greek, the terms go together, “pastor-teacher.”
Pastors (translated “shepherds” in the ESV) bring guidance and comfort to the flock of God.
Teachers instruct the church in correct understanding of the Bible and Christian living.
Notice in verse 12 that these leaders have the purpose of training, or equipping, the church to do their work.
If a church is going to be healthy, it must have a pastor/teacher who is feeding the congregation God’s Word on a consistent basis.
2. Members who serve
“… for the training of the saints in the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ…” (Ephesians 4:12, HCSB)
Just as good hospitals have nurses everywhere who serve, healthy churches have members who serve. Churches that grow rapidly from sensational entertainment often burst like a balloon and wither away. But when members serve, they reproduce healthy growth.
The “saints” are all the believers. “Saint” means a “holy one,” and every believer is called to be holy and set aside for God’s service.
It says the saints are trained by the leaders so that the saints can do the work of the ministry. So all members are called to serve.
3. Unity in the faith
“… until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son…” (Ephesians 4:13a, HCSB)
Just as medical staff work in coordination during a surgery, healthy churches are united and cooperate. Unhealthy churches are divided and refuse to cooperate. Notice the two ways he says we are to be united: by doctrinal faith (“in the faith”) and by personal faith (“and in the knowledge of God’s Son”).
Remember the lesson from Noah’s Ark. It may stink sometimes, but we have to stay together, because we’re all in the same boat!
4. Growth measured by Christ-likeness
“… growing into a mature man with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness.” (Ephesians 4:13b, HCSB)
We take vital signs to check physical health: temperature, pulse, respiration, blood pressure. Too often, churches measure themselves by numerical growth, but that’s the wrong vital sign. A tumor can grow, but it isn’t healthy. And some churches explode and then die down. Others grow and grow in numbers, but they are attracting people for entertainment or because their standards are lax, and people are not being discipled.
Notice that verse 13 gives the correct measurement of real growth: “a stature measured by Christ’s fullness.” That is our measurement of growth: are we like Christ? If our budget grows but we spend our budget on a bowling alley for church members instead of helping the hurting and sharing the gospel, we may be growing in numbers but not in Christ-likeness.
Healthy churches measure growth by being more like Christ.
5. Teaching that provides stability
“Then we will no longer be little children, tossed by the waves and blown around by every wind of teaching, by human cunning with cleverness in the techniques of deceit.” (Ephesians 5:14, HCSB)
The last thing a sick person needs is a “quack” doctor. Likewise, a healthy church guards against heresy and false teaching. Instead, the Bible is so consistently taught, that the members aren’t tricked by “quack” preachers and teachers.
Years ago, a powerful wind storm blew an oak tree on the youth building of the church where I was pastor. The tree had shallow roots, and when the winds came, it fell. A healthy church that teaches the Bible is like a healthy tree with deep roots. It doesn’t fall under the pressure of false teaching.
6. Honest and loving relationships
“But speaking the truth in love, let us grow in every way into Him who is the head– Christ.” (Ephesians 4:15, HCSB)
People often say to their physician, “tell it to me straight, doc.” They want a doctor they can trust who cares enough to be honest with them. Healthy churches have honest and loving relationships. “Speaking the truth in love” means that we are honest with each other, we speak the truth, but we are also loving when we do it. We don’t just try to please each other. If something’s wrong, we deal with it, but we always seek to deal with it in love. That’s challenging, but it’s vital to having a healthy church.
7. An environment that encourages involvement
“From Him the whole body, fitted and knit together by every supporting ligament, promotes the growth of the body for building up itself in love by the proper working of each individual part.” (Ephesians 4:16, HCSB)
A hospital strives to maintain a healthy environment, washing hands, putting on gloves, etc. Healthy churches create an environment that encourages involvement. “From Him (Jesus) the whole body, fitted and knit together… promotes the growth of the body…”
Many people think that it doesn’t matter if they are involved in the church or not, that the church won’t miss them if they are gone. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
A healthy church is a church where misfits can fit in. A healthy church is a place where the displaced can find a place.
This world is in desperate need of healthy churches in every community. Christian, are you allowing God’s Spirit to work through you to make and keep your church healthy?
Deep Mentoring: Guiding Others on Their Leadership Journey, by Randy D. Reese and Robert Loane is a guidebook for Christian leaders on why and how we should mentor future leaders. Deep Mentoring is a deep book. It is not an easy read, but it is well worth reading. The book is scholarly, yet practical; academic, yet full of pithy quotes and illustrations.
Reese and Sloane divide their work into three parts. Part One is entitled, “Noticing God’s Already-Present Action.” In this section, the authors show how we need to slow down enough to pay attention to people and their needs. Part Two is, “Learning from Those Who Have Come Before Us.” This section takes the reader through the stages of life. They give a powerful explanation of how important it is to know a person’s background to really understand him or her. Then they show how our roles change from young adults who are actors to middle adults who are actors who influence others, and how we should finish well as influencers. Part Three, “Guiding the Formation of Others,” shows the techniques that Jesus used to influence others, and then lays out a plan for the reader to do the same. Each chapter of the book includes specific exercises for the reader to apply to his or her mentoring relationship. Four appendices at the end of the book give practical tools that the reader can come back to and use again and again through the mentoring process.
I bought this book because I have a desire to lead my church in greater discipleship of believers through mentoring. After reading the book, I have an even greater desire for mentoring, and many new tools for the journey.
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