bits from bob....

Prescriptions for Church Health: Rethinking the Diagnosis

by Robert J. Young
©, 2002, Robert J. Young
[permission is given to reprint with credit noted]

Is that person healthy? Is that church healthy? Is that preacher healthy? What is spiritual health? Are you spiritually healthy? How do you know? What are the signs? Some may look healthy who are not. If so, we have the wrong diagnosis. In diagnosing, we must distinguish symptoms and causes.
Allow me to begin with a reminder that health for a church or minister requires continuing good nutrition. Our own temptation is not found in "godless, silly myths" such as described in 1 Timothy, but in junk food of different sort, diminishing our capacity for genuine spiritual health. Our temptations is in the secularization of religion, the consumption of pre-digested scripture, the calorie-laden vitamin-less junk food of our modern society--"feel good" books, bland television, empty speeches.

One of easiest tests of faith is the presence of the "fruits of faith." What kind of person, what kind of communities, does faith influence and produce? Faith is embodied, not so much in spoken words nor written words, but in the living realities of human lives, and in the case of Christian faith, in the shared life of Christian community. What does the life of your church look like? If a church is transformed, it requires the example of those who live transformed lives. If the world is to be transformed, it needs the example of those who live transformed lives.

So I ask again, "What does a healthy church look like?" What does a healthy person look like? If you do not know what is normal, you cannot know what is infirm. We ust first see the healthy version. This does not purport to be a complete list of characteristics present in a healthy Christian or church, but it is at least a beginning. Health means (1) growth, the ability to grow, avoiding unhealthy growth, (2) adaptability, and (3) resiliency.

A person attempting a diagnosis would expect to find at least the following three characteristics: (1) God's presence, (2) an evangelistic focus, and (3) proper relationships based on an understanding of the nature of the church.

I challenge you to challenge yourself and other church leadership team members in evaluating your impressions of how "important" the listed areas are in the congregation where you worship. Compare and contrast the perceived understanding of how "effective"you are in enhancing these values in your church.
A healthy church is prayerful and powerful in the following aspects of church life and ministry, is reliant upon God's power and the authority of His Word, and values the things of God. These are reflected in God's presence both in worship and in individual spiritual lives, strong evangelistic outreach, and a strong spiritual body which provides nurturing for spiritual growth, committed relationships for support, and servant leadership for guidance.

I. God's Presence
Perhaps the number one question about spiritual health should be whether God is present. Is the power for living from God? A healthy church is spiritually healthy. We must ask, "Is God present--in our individual lives, in our corporate life, in our worship?" When we worship, will God be there? Visitors come, often with only one question, "Will God be here today?" Will God do anything today? The expectant anticipation of God's presence as the ultimate power of life is the key to worship that is vibrant, expectant, and anticipatory. It is also the key to the daily walk. Do we walk with God? Will we? Do we want to? Is God a part of our lives?
The healthy church actively seeks God's direction and empowerment for its daily life and ministry. In seeking to understand and implement God's will, the church (1) articulates a clear understanding of who God is, (2) teaches the "whole of God," and relates God's nature to the unique challenges facing the third-millennium church, (3) emphasizes a spiritual-reliance instead of a self-reliance, (4) creates enthusiasm about being part of the Kingdom of God things around us, (5) prays for God's guidance and anticipates that God will act, (6) encourages its leaders to be agents of change under God's guidance, (7) desires the fruit of the Spirit for all its members, and (8) seeks the gifts of the Spirit within the Body.
"The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children." (Romans 8:16)

God's presence in our lives has two by-products.

1. God-Connecting Worship
The healthy church gathers regularly as a visible expression of the invisible body of Christ, to worship God in ways that touch the hearts, minds, souls, and strength of the people. Corporate worship is an ongoing reminder of the Lordship of Christ, the power of the Holy Spirit, the redemptive work of God, the truths of God's Word, our need to share the Gospel, and our mandate to serve others in need. Worship includes prayer, adoration and praise, thanksgiving, confession, petition, reading of Scripture, preaching from God's Word for instruction, guidance, encouragement, comfort, challenge, rebuke, baptism and communion, singing songs and hymns that praise God and encourage us as believers, affirmation of those things we believe, and dedication to the service of God in our lives.
Are not these the fulfillment of Jesus' words? "Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks." (John 4:23)

2. God-Focused Spiritual Discipline
The spiritually healthy church is spiritually disciplined. This includes training, models, and resources for members to develop their daily spiritual disciplines. These disciplines include such things as Bible study, personal worship, confession, petition for themselves and others, journaling, recognizing and utilizing spiritual gifts, listening to God's voice, pursuing God's will, growing toward Christ-like maturity, instilling a strong sense of integrity, and growing as a person in body, mind and spirit.
"But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure, then peace loving,, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere." (James 3:17)

II. Evangelistic Focus
The healthy church places high priority on communicating the truth of Jesus and demonstrating the love of Jesus to those outside the body of Christ. Specifically, the church with an outward focus has a sense of the importance of outreach. Therefore the church (1) intentionally communicates the message of Christ in culturally relevant ways to those outside the family of God, (2) commits to the passing on of our faith to the next generation, (3) demonstrates to the world through acts of love, justice, and mercy that God became flesh, (4) welcomes and enfolds a steady stream of new people at all stages of their spiritual journey by seeking nonbelievers, recent converts, enthusiastic young Christians with questions, doubts and struggles, active kingdom builders, and wiser, older Christians, (5) experiments continually to find more effective ways to communicate the Gospel to nonbelievers in the family, marketplace, community and neighborhood, and (6) develops a strategy for global awareness and international mission involvement.
"For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost." (Luke 19:10)

III. Proper relationships based on an understanding of the nature of the church.

1. Learning and Growing In Community
The healthy church encourages believers to grow in their walk with God and with one another in the context of a safe, affirming environment. To accomplish this objective, the healthy church (1) enables people to see Jesus clearly, (2) helps them to know His will for them, (3) equips them to follow Him in all of life, (4) helps each person to find a calling from God, (5) encourages people to discover and use their God-given gifts, (6) provides training to help people in using their giftedness, and (7) provides settings for members together for teaching, prayer, sharing and service.
It does these things through (1) individual mentors, (2) small group Bible studies and discipleship groups, and (3) a variety of other training and learning opportunities.
"Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification." (Romans 14:19)

This commitment to fellowship and the health of the corporate body leads to a basic foundation of spiritual health in the relationships which characterize the genuine church of Christ.

2. A Commitment to Loving/Caring Relationships
The healthy church is intentional in its efforts to build loving, caring relationships within families, between members and within the community they serve. The healthy church understands, models, teaches, and affirms the essential elements of quality relationships and recognizes the needs of those who come from dysfunctional families. The Body serves as an affirming place for marriage and family life, including single adults, senior adults and all phases of family development.
The healthy church then builds relationships within the Body of Christ through (1) modeling authenticity and affirming it in others, (2) sharing lives with one another, (3) caring for one another, (4) open communication, (5) conflict resolution, (6) forgiveness and healing, and (7) bearing one another's burdens.
A healthy church acknowledges and encourages great diversity within the Body of Christ, and teaches its members how to work together, disagree with love and respect, and resolve conflicts. It includes people of different ages, races, ethnic groups, socioeconomic groups, previous church affiliations (or no affiliation), and stages of spiritual maturity.
"This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers." (1 John 3:16)

3. Developing Servant-Leadership
The healthy church identifies and develops individuals whom God has called given the gift of leadership and challenges them to become servant-leaders. The healthy church (1) is led by persons who understand the church's vision, communicate it clearly to the congregation, and facilitate the organization and equipping of the Body and each of its members and ministry groups so that the vision becomes reality, (2) motivates potential leaders by challenging them to serve for the glory of God, (3) develops a sense of teamwork among all leaders, (4) encourages turnover yet stability in leadership, (5) evaluates the church's effectiveness, manages change, and plans for the future, and (6) seeks to unify the congregation behind its leaders.
The servant leadership model when applied to ministry leadership allows the healthy church (1) to create an environment in which men and women with ministry gifts are developed as servant-leaders, (2) to encourage ministries beyond the scope of the "professional" ministry, to involve every member in ministering, (3) to make sure that ministry leadership is shared widely, (4) to work hard to assure that all ministry employs teamwork principles so that members are respected, honored, mobilized, and freed to minister both inside and outside the church, and (5) equips and empowers others to serve in ministry.
"From Him (Christ) the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work." (Ephesians 4:16)

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Last updated June 1, 2004.