A healthy church: Well-balanced.

“These you ought to have done without leaving the others undone” (Matthew 23:23).

Ask the acrobat about balance.  Walking the tightrope far above the circus ring or bouncing around the “balance beams” without a strict attention to balance, nothing works.

The lever is about balance.  Riding a bike demands balance.  Standing upright and walking. Weighing out gold on a scale.

A business will want a balance between credits and debits, income and outgo. It will try to find the right balance between research and development, between product and personnel.

Before our plane left the gate, the pilot made an unusual announcement.  “Ladies and gentlemen, since we have so many empty seats, it’s important that we balance our load.  We need ten of you to get up and move toward the rear of the plane. Take any seat past row number 15.  Thank you very much.”  (In nearly 50 years of air travel, I heard that announcement one time.)

Balance in nature is vital to survival of life on the planet.  Plant and animal life must be kept in relatively constant proportions, we are told.

“There needs to be one more Beatitude: Blessed are the balanced.”  –Warren Wiersbe

The key word is church health is balance.  A healthy church is balanced between….

1) The one and the many.

God so loved the world (John 3:16), the whole bunch of us. Yet, He calls you by name (John 10:3).

Either Charlie Brown or Lucy Van Pelt–I forget which–said, “I love mankind; it’s people I can’t stand.”  A healthy church will find how to do both.

An unbalanced church may love missions but neglect its own neighborhood.  It raises big offerings for missionaries but puts no premium on members witnessing to their neighbors or volunteering at the homeless shelter.

A minister friend who survived a series of health crises, told some of us later about a decision he had made. From now on, he would spend more time with individuals.  “Before, I did not have time for individuals,” he said, “but only for groups of people, for large numbers. I see now what an error that was.”

The gospels present Jesus in both ways, spending quality time with individuals such as Nicodemus (John 3), the woman at Jacob’s well (John 4), and Mary and Martha (Luke 10), and yet, with appropriate attention to the large crowds.

2) The Word and the Work.

Some Christians prefer to lock themselves in and study the Word while neglecting the field outside the door. They would rather spend hours on their knees praying for the unreached than to invest the same amount of time in ministry across town.

A healthy church knows there is a time to sit and study and a time to stand and worship, and likewise there is a time to leave the church building and take the good news of Jesus into the neighborhoods, trailer parks, and housing projects, the offices and the homes.

A preacher friend started a church that meets in homes.  He laughed at the name his small group had chosen for themselves: “Doctrinal Studies Baptist Church.”  Without knowing anything more, we might be concerned they are doing the “word” but not the “work.”

There is a real sense, of course, in which teaching the Word is obeying and doing the Word.  But that in itself is not enough.  HIstory is littered with sad tales of church people who did religion well but neglected what Jesus called “the weightier issues” of justice, righteousness, and mercy (Matthew 23:23).

3) Love and hate.

What we support and what we oppose will tell volumes about us.  There is a time to love and a time to hate.  Franky Schaeffer wrote a book titled “A Time for Anger,” urging God’s people to develop some backbone and resist the encroachment of wickedness and complacency.

The so-called Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas is noted for what they oppose. If they have ever espoused anything, I’ve not heard. (Some have pointed out that they are not a real church with an actual location, worship services, etc. I have no personal knowledge of their setup.)

Other churches may brand themselves as centers of love. They advertise their “open door, loving arms” policy.  In an attempt to welcome everyone and show love to all, some have lost all standards of righteousness altogether.  They are out of balance.

4) Present and Future.

I’ve known churches devoted to Bible prophecy and little else.

The old line about some who are so heavenly-minded they are no earthly good is not far off.  It happens, just as the opposite does.  You may hear this line from some who have little thoughts of Heaven: “The destination is not important; what counts is the journey.” I nominate that as the dumbest statement ever.  No one boarding a plane at the local airport would say such a thing. “Our blessed hope” is a constant theme of God’s Word.

“Now is the accepted time.” “Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness.” May we find the balance between now and henceforth!

5) Insiders and outsiders.

This is the critical balance between the Lord’s flock (church members) and the community (unchurched, needy, the lost, etc).  In Leviticus 19, the Lord repeatedly tells Israel they are not to have two sets of laws, one for the insiders and one for the foreigner.  “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Some see the entire work of the church as evangelism.  A young man in my church called to ask if I could see to the needs of a couple he had led to Christ a few weeks earlier. He said, “Followup is not my gift. I’m a soulwinner.”  I tried to show him that Scripture does not allow for a distinction between the two. We are sent “to make disciples,” which means (among other things) that we stay with the new believers to ground them in the faith. And the best person to do that is the one who led them to Christ.

Those who tend to the evangelism-is-everything end of the spectrum are known to say, “Christ sent us as fishers of men, not keepers of the aquarium.”  That line will provoke a chorus of amens in an evangelism conference, but it’s dead wrong. Our Lord told His disciples to “feed my sheep” (John 21:15,16,17) and to “shepherd the church of God” (Acts 20:28).

I have known churches that baptized hundreds of “converts” a year but because of their failure to disciple them, continued to run small numbers in attendance. They were out of balance.

6) Laughter and sorrow.

“There is a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance” (Ecclesiastes 3:4).

The chorus that says “Every day with Jesus is sweeter than the day before” is a half-truth. Sometimes following Jesus is really really hard and while always right, often uphill, painful, lonely and burdensome. (See Matthew 10:16ff.)

It’s a wise individual who knows when laughter is out of place.  Scripture calls on us to “rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15).  The Lord’s children were not sent as party-poopers who stifle all laughter and shut down all fun or as good-time Charlies who rebuke the tearful and hurting. There is a time for each, and it’s a wise disciple who knows what time it is.

7) The high and the lowly.

Jesus Christ died for the rich and powerful just as He came for the poor and powerless. Some churches discriminate against the wealthy in the same way some rich congregations turn a deaf ear to the cries of the needy.

No one who knows his Bible and loves people wants to turn the moneyed and influential people away from the church.  They too are welcome, but should not be given favoritism, a command of Scripture every bit as important as the one to bless the poor and needy. (See James 2:1-7).

“You shall not be partial to the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty” (Leviticus 19:15).

8) The hometown and the world.

“…both in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).  It’s a strong church that can keep its fields in balance.  Most churches today, it appears, spend 90 percent of their income on themselves and devote an equal amount of energy and attention on meeting the needs of their members.  Meanwhile, the missionaries often hurt for support and brothers and sisters in depressed economies struggle to survive.

As a young pastor, I was trying to lead our people to make the decision to renovate our aging structure, a project requiring something short of a million dollars.  Someone suggested I call on a certain church member with deep pockets. “Charles will not give to missions,” I was told. “But if he can see what his money is going to, he’s interested.”  I suspect Charles has plenty of company in that.

In reading old minutes of our church business meetings, I was fascinated by an incident in the early 1900s.  A minister informed the people of a request from a Texas church for a small offering, ten dollars I think.  The congregation voted to send that amount.  Then, said the minutes, “the church’s largesse was put to a test.”  Someone said the church needed to take care of its own needs before “sending money off to Texas.” After a discussion, they voted to spend several thousand dollars on renovating their fellowship hall.

9) Exegesis and application.

We want to know what the Word says and what it means.  We appreciate a good Bible teacher who can bring in insights from the Greek or Hebrew or from ancient culture. But ultimately, we need to know what it means for us today.  Somewhere in the Old Testament we read of God’s people standing for hours listening to the reading of Scripture, followed by the priests “giving the sense” of what they had heard.

My wife and I used to team-teach an auditorium Bible class. We sat on stools before two microphones and addressed 80 or 100 people scattered across the worship center.  People teased that “Brother Joe can tell you what the Hebrew says and Miss Margaret will tell you what it means on Tuesday.”

Without application, the teaching is incomplete. Without someone opening the Word and preaching it, the application is rootless.

Balance. It’s such a constant concern.

I have sometimes had a problem with vertigo, a condition of the brain, I suppose, in which something gets out of kilter and throws you off balance.  You need help in standing up straight and in walking.  We’re told that the inner ear is often involved. My E-N-T doctor prescribes a little pill and a couple of days later, I’m back to normal.

We need a pill for some churches.

There will always be tension between the two as the church fights to keep its balance.

There will likely not ever be a time when any church has it all down pat and no longer has to stay alert, stay focused, and keep working at this.  And that’s good.  This fallen world is no friend to grace.  We who follow Jesus Christ have chosen to swim upstream in a downstream world.  It will never be easy. “We who are in this body do groan.”

When NASA sends a rocketship into space, they do not try to aim it on the launch pad. The first object is simply to get the ship outside Earth’s gravitational pull. Then, they fire smaller rockets for mid-course corrections.

The church will always be doing mid-course corrections.  If it doesn’t, mark it down in big letters that it will get off course and be lost to any usefulness to the Savior.

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