bits from bob....

Church Vital Signs

by Bob Young
[permission is given to reprint with credit noted]

In many places I go, the church is in trouble. I visit some congregations that are growing in number or at least holding their own, but a far greater number of congregations are struggling, decreasing in attendance little by little, smaller than they were ten years ago, financially strapped, operating in maintenance mode, barely able to keep house, doing little outreach, and without significant financial involvement in missions. One must ask, "Why?"
Some would say that it is the result of a disinterested world. Others would observe that we have failed to keep our youth. Still others might cite any one of a number of popular "reasons" that are commonly given.
I suggest that these reasons are not reasons but are rather symptoms. Why is there less interest, why are fewer youth involved? What common threads can one identify to explain the current state of the church in North America?

If the doctor wants to know the physical health of a patient, he measures the vital signs. In Revelation 2-3, the letters to the seven churches suggest that churches also have vital signs. "You have a reputation that you are alive, but you are dead." How could one tell that a church is dead? What are the vital signs? When could one say, "Without these, the church is really dead"?

To assess physical life or physical health, we could measure things like brain activity, respiration, heartbeat, blood pressure, and temperature. These five measurements are basic and essential. The physical body is in trouble when brain activity is impaired or absent, breathing is not normal, the heart is not beating properly, blood pressure is too low, or temperature is too low. In fact, without brain activity, breathing, heartbeat, blood pressure, and temperature, a person is dead. With regard to the physical body, we have learned how to artificially sustain life in the absence of one or more of these functions--we call it life support.

Each of these "vital signs" has a parallel when we consider the spiritual body, the church. Just as we can know that the physical body is not healthy or is in trouble by the measurement of the vital signs, so also we can tell when the spiritual body is in trouble by reading the "vitals"--spiritual factors that have parallels in the physical body.

The church is in trouble when there is no brain activity or no thought. Too many churches and too many Christians are just going through the motions without thinking. The church must receive and fulfill the instructions of the head, Jesus Christ. The church directed by Jesus and his word must be thinking constantly about what it should do to be God's presence and to fulfill God's purpose on this earth. How would you evaluate the brain activity and thinking in the church where you attend?

The church is in trouble when there is no breath. It is interesting that in both Hebrew and Greek breath and spirit are the same word. When the physical body is not breathing, it is dead. So also, when the spiritual body, the church, is not breathing deeply of the Holy Spirit and his constant presence, that church is in trouble. Without breathing-without the Holy Spirit, the church cannot exist. How would you evaluate the breathing of the church where you attend?

The church is in trouble when there is no heart beat. The heart provides the force that spreads the blood through the body, but in too many cases churches are trying to exist without the blood of Jesus coursing through the veins of the church. The message of the cross is not central and is seldom preached. Christians have little sense daily of the continual cleansing of the blood of Christ. The church has lost its confidence in the blood of Jesus to save, suggesting that there may be other options for salvation in the religions of the world. In a church where there is little focus on Christ and his sacrifice, the very heartbeat of Christianity-the gospel of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ-has been removed. The church is in trouble because it has failed to proclaim the gospel, failed to apply the gospel in its own life, and failed to take the gospel to the world around it. How would you evaluate the heartbeat of the church where you attend?

The church is in trouble when it has no temperature. The church is Laodicea was in trouble because it was lukewarm. The church that is cold and indifferent to the things of God six days a week is in trouble. Health is a constant concern-not just a Sunday concern. The church must be on fire for the Lord. How would you evaluate the temperature of the church where you attend?

In the physical body, problems with the health factors mentioned are often suggested first by symptoms. In the spiritual body, the factors mentioned also have symptoms.

  • Without brain activity and careful thought about God's plan for the spiritual body, the church is just going through the motions. The connection with the head has been lost.
  • Without the breath of God's Holy Spirit, prayer is lacking and there is no spiritual vitality. Without spiritual vitality, there is no spiritual activity. A frequent temptation is to substitute the superficial and the secular. How many churches look like they are breathing because of the superficial, secular activities that occur when there is no real spiritual activity or life?
  • Without a heartbeat, without a sense of the saving grace of Christ, the church succumbs to legalism as an artificial life support system, rather than focusing on the grace of God accepted by faith. The church with no grace and all legalism may appear to be functioning, but the system is being artificially sustained.
  • Without spiritual fervor, there is no spiritual temperature. The church becomes cold and lifeless during the week and hardly recognizes that what is occurring on Sunday is not the result of fire in the bones.

    The church would be healthier and do better if it were to restore prayerful thought about how God's purpose can be worked out in the life of the church, a sense of the presence of God's Holy Spirit, a sense of the gospel of God's grace, and the fire of God within the bones of the church. People would be amazed and attracted. May it be so!

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    Last updated August 16, 2011