5 More Signs of a Healthy Christian Church (Part 2)May 22, 2016 03:02AM ● By Bonnie Lyn Smith
Last week we discussed 5 Signs of a Healthy Christian Church in an effort to take the pulse of our churches and discern whether they are healthy or suffering from dysfunction: toxic dynamics, wrong teaching, or unbalanced leadership.This series is not intended to determine metrics for church growth. It serves more as a checklist to measure the heart, practice, and biblical integrity of our individual Christian churches. Be sure to revisit our starting point in last week’s faith column, but here’s a quick recap of the first five points covered:
- Christ is the center of conversations, preaching, teaching, programs, prayer, worship, and all decisions.
- Conviction (repentance) and grace are both present.
- The church welcomes and includes children, individuals with special needs and disabilities, and the mentally ill. This takes place from the top down.
- There are sinners, still working through their sanctification, in the church.
- The pastor is not a solo act. He is accountable to his denomination and/or affiliation.
6. Leadership (elders) is not assumed lifetime leadership and, where appropriate, switches out on a cycle, much like political officials do in the United States. The elders are not the pastor’s “yes men.” They add value and balance to both decision-making (administrative) and ministry.
Multiple times in the New Testament, as Peter, Paul, and the rest of the apostles were building the early church and spreading the gospel after Jesus ascended into heaven, Peter and Paul would visit churches around the region and write them letters, shepherding them with accountability. When they would come, they would “assemble the elders and apostles.” It was a clear model for eldership today.
1 Peter 5:1-5, ESV, Apostle Peter writing
The elders who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed:
Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock; and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away.
Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to [your] elders. Yes, all of [you] be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for "God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble."
When elders are elders for life, a scary-narrow focus takes place within the church. I have seen this firsthand. Unchecked leadership begins to shape the church body with its personal agenda. With or without intention, it becomes a church run by a few with too much control, no longer able and/or willing to see the greater picture and vision of its particular church fellowship and its role within the larger Body of Christ.
When this happens, areas for improvement and growth are not recognized or taken into consideration. Church business becomes “managed,” with damage control becoming its key way of functioning, and that leads to defensiveness, insecurity, and a lack of shared identity as a church body among the congregants.
It not only greatly limits the vision for the church to reach people, but it also keeps the Body of Christ from fully using its complete set of gifts as intended.
Furthermore, the pastoral team and elders should not be controlling but should live exemplary lives, allowing their church body (Body of Christ) to serve with its gifts and talents.
Titus 1:6-9, ESV, Apostle Paul writing
If anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination.
For an overseer, as God's steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined.
He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.
7. The church is emotionally and relationally safe. The pastor and leadership do not break confidentiality, sharing gossip to justify any of their own actions or why someone has left the church.
If you ever hear a pastor or ministry leader discussing other people in a way that is not edifying and does not bring honor or glory to Christ, lovingly confront it. That is not godly leadership. It might be a weak moment—we all have them—but if they are not repentant or they repeat the pattern, I would not stick around.
Ephesians 4:29, ESV, Apostle Paul writing
Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.
8. The pastor is available to his congregation and/or dispatches a pastoral care team who is.
In a healthy church, the pastor does not avoid interacting with his church body. Do ministers of the Word need a break now and then? Yes. But if they run for the hills each time they walk away from the podium each Sunday, I’d be wary of how much servant-leading they’re really interested in doing.
John 13:3-5, 12-17, ESV, Apostle John narrating
Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist.
Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, "Do you understand what I have done to you?
You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am.
If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet.
For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.
Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.
If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.
Good teaching/preaching and pastoring are not the same skill set. If your pastor is ill-equipped or does not desire to truly pastor his flock, at the very least, the church should name a leader for pastoral care/family ministry. If no leadership of any kind is interfacing with the congregants, or there is consistent partiality toward certain members, members of the church cannot be fully fed and tended to, nor can they grow in their faith as a church body.
Proverbs 27:23, ESV, King Solomon speaking
Know well the condition of your flocks, and give attention to your herds.
James 2:9, ESV, James, brother of Jesus speaking
But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.
9. The pastor exercises transparency and humility.
While certainly pastors should not air all of their laundry out for all to see, they should not be completely self-protective either. A pastor who cannot share a few of his own struggles from time to time or receive prayer is lacking a humble posture—one in which we are all called to remain in order to receive from the ever-flowing well of Christ’s grace and mercy.
Pastors who cannot offer their own history with God—both the struggling points of faith and the mighty presence of God—run the risk of being unapproachable to their church body. A church remains in the same posture as its shepherd. If that posture is closed-off and unavailable, then its members will be just as limited in their growth and sharing fellowship together.
2 Corinthians 6:11-13, ESV, Apostle Paul writing
We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians; our heart is wide open. You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections. In return (I speak as to children) widen your hearts also.
Humility points other sinners to Jesus and protects the pastor from being worshipped.
Titus 2:7-8, ESV, Apostle Paul writing
Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us.
10. The church believes Jesus still hears prayers, answers, and performs miracles today.
A church that does not believe in the miraculous work of Christ continuing today is a cessationist church. It is very difficult to grow in one of those congregations. While a church should not promise prosperity or miracles, it should acknowledge that Jesus can and does act today.
His answers for each of us are according to His plan. We don’t want to promise His will for Him, but we also don’t want to crush hope. He is a living God. His Word is alive in us. My son and I are living proof that miracles certainly do happen; we were healed of several food allergies (my son) and decades of chronic migraines (me) in the name of Jesus.
If your church does not believe Jesus can still work powerfully to restore us today, redeeming lives and healing hearts, bodies, and minds, ask yourself what your faith is in: a defeated Christ or a risen one?
Jesus is searching our hearts to do amazing works in us. Don’t miss it!
James 5:14-18, ESV, James, brother of Jesus speaking
Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.
And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.
Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.
Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth.
Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.
We will return one more time to this series next week.
What do you think?
Do you have anything to add?
Author Bonnie Lyn Smith writes about parenting, marriage, mental health advocacy, special education, faith in the valleys of life, the healing cloak of Jesus, drawing healthy boundaries, relational healing, renewing our minds, walking with a Holy God, and much ado about grace. Join the conversation at Espressos of Faith.
Her book, Not Just on Sundays: Seeking God’s Purpose in Each New Day, offers anecdotes on all of these subjects and Scripture for each situation as well as Book Discussion Questions for deeper exploration.