bits from bob....
I have been a regular and diligent student of church dynamics for over two decades, trying to understand the relationship between the church and the culture around it, and how the church influences its surroundings. I have watched and contributed to the conversation, from my studies of Baby Boomers to more recent studies of small churches, rural churches, older churches, and enduring churches. As a minister and a teacher of ministry, I have sought to understand effective methods of evangelism and missions, the changing role and methods of effective preaching, small groups, leadership dynamics, and effective applications of team dynamics.
As I read and evaluate contemporary studies of the church and ministry, I sense that in many places we are no longer certain what kind of church we are called to be. Do we want a healthy church, a growing church, a missional church, or all three? Should every church expect to grow? Should every church try to grow? Do healthy churches automatically grow? Are growing churches automatically healthy? Perhaps we should emulate the emergent churches, SIMPLE churches, house churches, or cell churches. Have we missed the target? What would happen if we simply recommitted ourselves to being faithful followers of Jesus? What if our goal were the development of faithful churches?
When we become ambivalent about the nature of church we are called to become, we also become fuzzy about the nature of effective ministry. This article focuses on characteristics of healthy, faithful churches. A future article will ask about the implications for effective ministry.
Several years ago the "Christian Chronicle" researched and published numerous articles concerning growing churches. At the risk of oversimplification, I suggest five characteristics of faithful churches. These are drawn from studying the nature, actions, and fellowship of the churches described in Scripture, and correlating those studies to the nature of our contemporary world and culture.
The faithful church is a worshiping community. The church that sees itself as a spiritual faith community of God's people is God-dependent and God-worshiping. Church is not a human enterprise. The task and goals and priorities of the church are not of this world. Putting God at the center leads to meaningful, inspirational, God-touching, spiritual worship characterized by thoughtful and meaningful time shared—-not just ritual or liturgy. A first characteristic is that the faithful church looks upward.
The faithful church is evangelistic. This unselfish outward look is reflected in evangelistic and missions efforts. This church, both corporately and in the efforts of individual members, looks for opportunities to spread the gospel, whether domestic or foreign, whether in strengthening existing congregations or planting new ones. The faithful church looks outward with the eyes of God because it has first looked upward for its marching orders.
The faithful church is a faith-nurturing community that develops genuine disciples. The church’s commitment to a biblical identity, mission, and purpose is reflected in solid teaching and preaching based in the Word of God. Faithful churches are theologically solid, know what they believe, and with moderation avoid extremes. The preaching is relevant and applies to contemporary life. The faithful church helps its members look inward.
The faithful church is a ministering and serving community, following the example of Jesus. Its ministry is balanced, looking outward as well as inward. This church knows how to contextualize ministry, adapting to ever-changing circumstances. Ministry is relevant, meets needs, and does not shun diversity. Life-changing ministry that serves communities, empowers local congregations, and strengthens families is the norm. The faithful church looks around to find opportunities for ministry.
The faithful church is a sharing, involved community. A deep fellowship that connects members and gives every member an opportunity for mutual ministry is the goal. This church is relationship-oriented. This biblical focus helps assimilate new members, involves every member, ministry and involvement, and builds trust. The picture is clear: "people caring for people" demonstrates Christianity best.
In summary, the faithful church exists because those who make up the church are faithful, committed Christians. The faithful church is possible because its members are faithful Christians, loyal to Christ. This church is characterized by shepherds that shepherd, deacons that deacon, members that member, preachers that preach, and teachers that teach.
If every Christian were like you, would the church be healthy? Would the church be faithful?
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