7 signs of a healthy church
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?
Ten Secrets to Successful Missions
Luke 10:1-20 records that Jesus sent out 70 people to go on a mission trip, going in pairs to towns and villages where He was about to go. Apparently it was very successful, because we read in verse 17, “The Seventy returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.’” And Jesus replied in verse 18, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a lightning flash.”
What made their mission so successful? And how can our mission work and the missionaries we pray for discover the same power in their ministry?
This passages gives us ten secrets to successful missions. Here they are. Open your Bible to Luke 10, and notice these ten truths:
1. Multiplication. (v. 1) Use everybody, not just professional clergy. The Lord commissioned the 12 apostles in Luke 9:1-6, but here he sends out 70. Multiply your ministry. Use volunteers.
2. Teamwork (v. 1) He sent them in pairs, not alone. We can be so much more effective by working together, and it is a testimony to our unity in Christ to work in teams. Southern Baptists believe in the Cooperative Program as an excellent strategy, as thousands of churches pool their resources to support missionaries.
3. Prayer (v. 2) Before sending them out, He told them to pray for workers for the harvest. When Jerry Rankin was president of the International Mission Board, he spoke at Ridgecrest Baptist Assembly and mentioned that the IMB has recently appointed our first missionary to serve openly in Albania. After the service, a woman came up to Dr. Rankin, crying. When she gained her composure, she said that seven years before, she had read that Albania was the most atheistic country in the world, and she called the IMB to ask what we were doing there, only to learn that Albania was completely closed to missionaries. So she went back to her ladies’ group in her church, and asked them to pray for Albania. “For seven years we have been praying for Albania!” she wept, and Dr. Rankin wept tears of joy with her. (Jerry Rankin, To the Ends of the Earth, p. 57-58)
4. Expect opposition (“like lambs among wolves”). (v. 3) A Christian pastor took a group of school children whom he was teaching, for a walk. The Secret Police dogged them at first, but when they went into a zoo, they left them alone. He led them to a lion’s cage and gathered them around so he could speak quietly. He said, “Your forefathers in the Christian faith were thrown to wild beasts like these. They died gladly, because they believed in Jesus. The time may come when you also will be imprisoned, and suffer for being a Christian. Now you must decide whether you are ready to face that day. With tears in their eyes, each in turn said, ‘yes.’ It was the last class he taught before he had to leave his country. (Richard Wurmbrand, God’s Underground. Cited in “The Last Class,” The Voice of the Martyrs, February 2013.)
5. Commitment (v. 4, 7-8) If you care too much about your personal comfort (“money-bag, traveling bag,” “eating what they offer,”) you will become discouraged. If you care too much for sightseeing and socializing (“don’t greet anyone along the road”), you will lose your focus. When William Carey arrived in India, his wife was sick, he face financial hardship, and he was so lonely that he wrote in his journal, “O that I had … an earthly friend to whom I could unbosom my soul!” (Mary Drewery, William Carey, p. 74.) Andrew Baldwin, who ministers to an unreached people group in London, England, says, “This also emphasizes the need to move out in faith and in total dependence on God. Some people insist on having everything in place and being totally prepared – preparation is good, but as the leader who first recruited me to Turkey wisely said, if we waited till we felt completely ready, we’d never go!”
6. Look for a person of peace (v. 5-6). “Shalom” means more than just peace; it means wholeness and health. A person of peace was a person who fully receives the missionary. This is a person living in the culture you are reaching, who welcomes you, receives the message, and can be a bridge between you and your target culture. When Lottie Moon was serving in China, she learned of a village ten miles from where she was, that was open to the gospel. There lived a man named Dan Ho-bang. He had heard from another missionary that Jesus could remove sins from people. Then he learned that Lottie Moon was teaching about Jesus. Mr. Dan sent three people to invite Miss Moon to preach the way of Jesus in his home. She went, and great crowds of people came to the home to listen to the gospel. It became possible, because of Mr. Dan, a man of peace. (Catherine B. Allen, The New Lottie Moon Story, p. 171)
7. Show and tell the gospel (v. 9) In other words, meet their physical needs and also their spiritual needs– by sharing the gospel. While we always have the authority to share the gospel, often they are more receptive to hearing it when we show that we love them in a practical way. But beware: don’t use service or meeting physical needs as an excuse to not share the gospel. Servant evangelism alone is not a substitute for preaching. James Harvey is a missionary to an unreached people in Nashville, Tennessee. He says, “people use it [servant evangelism] as an excuse to be lazy and non-strategic in declaring the gospel message up front with people in their first meeting/encounter, whether it’s a waitress at a lunch meeting, a worldly relative at a family reunion, or a lost co-worker they pass by every day.”
8. Don’t take rejection personally (v. 10-12). If they reject you, they are actually rejecting Jesus, not you. You’re only accountable for sharing the gospel; you are not accountable for their response. When Lottie Moon first went to China, the Chinese called her a “devil woman” because she was a foreigner. She patiently responded, “Do not curse me. I am a human like you.” It took time for them to even accept her. (Catherine B. Allen, The New Lottie Moon Story, p. 158.)
9. Celebrate spiritual victories. (v. 17-19) When the 70 returned with joy that the demons submitted, Jesus rejoiced with them that Satan was being defeated. Whether you experience small victories, such as a person listening to the gospel, or great victories, such as a person coming to faith in Jesus, it is always reason to celebrate God’s work.
10. Find your greatest satisfaction in your own salvation (v. 20) Jesus reminded them that the greatest rejoicing was that their own names are written in the Book of Life. If you have been obedient to your call to be on mission, you will always be successful, no matter what numerical results you see in your lifetime.
A famous artist was asked to paint a picture of a dying church. One would expect that he would paint a small congregation in a dilapidated building. Instead, he painted a beautiful edifice with a rich pulpit and magnificent stained glass windows—and near the door, an offering box marked “Missions,” with the contribution slot covered with cobwebs. (Charles R. Swindoll, Swindoll’s Ultimate Book of Illustrations & Quotes, p. 378.)
It’s very true. If the church of Jesus neglects mission, the church will die, for the heart of Christ is a heart for missions. But if a church will follow the words of Christ for missions listed here in Luke 10, that church will be alive.
Which kind of church will we be? What kind of missionary will you be?
The tale of two church cats
Copyright 2012 by Bob Rogers
This is the story of two different cats that tried to get into two different churches in the dead of winter. The first cat was in south Georgia. The second cat was in North Carolina.
The Georgia pastor worried about the cat that he had often seen hanging around the church grounds. It was an unusually cold night from south Georgia, well below freezing, and the pastor feared that the cat might not survive. He went to the sanctuary to check on his feline friend, and sure enough, the cat was huddled next to the front door. The pastor cuddled the cat in his arms and took him inside the warmth of the worship center. Then he asked himself, “Now where do I take him?”
He could not think of a good place to put the cat, so he left the cat in a senior adult lady’s Sunday School classroom. The next day, when he went to check on the cat, the classroom was torn to pieces! Drapes and chair covers were ripped open by the cat’s claws.
The cat in North Carolina was a totally different story. He noticed a window slightly open to the boiler room of a church, so he climbed inside. Soon afterward, the custodian noticed the window ajar, and closed it. About a month later, the custodian noticed an awful smell coming from the boiler room, and when he went to check, he found the cat had died inside.
Both stories had a bad ending, but I smell a more important spiritual lesson in these stories. I wonder, what if the cats had been people? There are many desperate people, who need to come inside the church to experience the warm love of God’s people and the hope of faith in Jesus Christ. However, if we let them in, they will bring their problems with them, and they may make a mess. Would we rather they be shut out and just die?
Excuse me, I think I need to go crack open a window.