Some time ago, I received a question via private Facebook message that made me stop and ponder. The person said something like, “I think I might be in an unhealthy church environment right now. But before I leave, how am I supposed to know what a ‘healthy’ church looks like?” I answered her question the best I could at the time. However, I still found myself pondering that important question. I even threw it out at our local pastor’s prayer group. I dare say that their response was very similar to my own. As I was, they were caught a bit off guard by such a simple but direct question.
I think the hesitance of a seasoned pastor to quickly answer this question is caused by the need to reflect on past experiences and current situations. As we reflect and evaluate, we find ourselves asking more questions like: What is the Biblical definition of a healthy church? What does “healthy” look like? And probably the most important question for each of us, “Is my church healthy?”
I will be the very first to say that I certainly do not have all the answers. However, I am willing to ask the hard questions and I am willing to wrestle with answering them. I think there is definite value in the wrestling and reflecting. So… in my wrestling and reflecting this is what I have come up with so far. I have tried to keep my thoughts as simple and concise as possible.
Here are my reflections on what a healthy church looks like:
- A healthy church is centered around authentic relationships that have real depth. These relationships extend beyond Sunday mornings. Authentic relationships require time, trust, love, communication and grace.
- A healthy church practices discipleship and realizes that discipleship is much more than a sermon, class, or a program. Authentic discipleship requires authentic relationships. I like to say, real discipleship happens when “life rubs up against life.” This is how Jesus did discipleship.
- A healthy church experiences organic evangelism. Organic evangelism happens because the Christians who make up the church are maturing and are naturally reaching out to those around them. This is not because of a top notch evangelism campaign or a flashy church sign, it is simply natural. Keep in mind, this growth does not need to be explosive -and it is probably better if it is not. Some of the best church growth is… s-l-o-w. That large oak tree in your back yard did not get there over night, -but the weeds around it may have. Think about that.
- A healthy church has a plurality of New Testament leadership. Call them elders, deacons, or just “the leadership team.” The label that is used does not matter. What matters is: there is more than one or two of them, they are clearly biblically qualified, are gifted to be elders, take the role very seriously, are in authentic relationship with each other and are accountable to each other. BTW, you cannot be accountable to someone you are not in authentic transparent relationship with.
- A healthy church is diverse. Diverse in its people. Diverse in age. Diverse in opinions. Diverse in experience. Diverse in it’s creativity. And diverse in the expressions of the people who form the church. God made us all different; if he wanted us all to be the same, he would have made us robots. I believe a healthy church celebrates the diversity of its people rather than forcing everyone to be the same.
- A healthy church is governed by Grace AND Truth. If all we focus on is the grace of God, then “anything goes” and our sin nature reigns. If all we focus on is the law and rules, we become legalistic pharisees who are constantly casting stones at each other. I have seen both extremes and neither one is healthy or God honoring. However, if we allow the Holy Spirit to govern us by grace AND truth a beautiful thing happens. -We begin to be transformed into who God created us to be. The theological termed used to describe this process is called “sanctification.” Sanctification naturally happens in healthy churches as well as healthy people.
- And obviously, a healthy church is a group of people who are in relationship with God. Meaning than that prayer, the Word and worship are practical parts of their everyday lives and continuously steer them along the journey of following Jesus.