The books on how to build a healthy church are flying off the printing presses these days. Seminaries are holding conferences and consultants are finding fertile fields for their congregational therapies.
I do not have a set program–and precious little expertise, probably–on restoring the health of a church so much as I have a heavy burden for it.
I’ve served all kinds of churches and been used of the Lord to restore the health of at least two. As you surely know, the Lord never likes to waste experience.
I’ve seen the damage sick churches can inflict in a community and want no more of it ever again. An unhealthy church can destroy the reputation of Jesus Christ throughout its area of influence. An unhealthy church perpetuates itself by bringing up a new generation of wrong-headed members who spread their poisons to other congregations.
An unhealthy church turns people against the truth and inoculates them against the overtures and ministries of a healthy, normal church.
An unhealthy church sucks the life out of missions by cutting off its support of missionaries in order to keep themselves afloat to the bitter end.
Recently, a pastorless church asked me to come for a “renewal weekend.” Now, that term can mean anything, but the leadership was clear on what they had in mind.
They said, “We are not inviting the community to this. They’re certainly welcome, but we’re not ready to have a harvest time. We need to get ourselves straight.”
They sent me a number of subjects such as unity, health, effective evangelism, and leadership in order to guide my prayers and planning.
Rather than the sanctuary, we would hold all but the Sunday morning session around tables in the fellowship hall. They would serve lunch at noon and refreshments in the evening. The attire and the approach would be strictly informal.
We met twice a day, at noon and at 6:30 pm, for three days, Thursday through Saturday, and concluded with the Sunday morning service.
I’m not going to try to encapsulate here what we covered in seven sessions, except to lay out the general plan. My heart’s desire, you will not be surprised to learn, is for three or four more churches to invite me to do something similar. I’d like to do this until I get the hang of it, working the rough edges off the material, and then turn it into something of lasting benefit to other churches.
Here is the layout of the seven sessions.
With an easel at the front of the fellowship hall, I wrote on a huge Post-It poster paper the theme of this particular session and the texts we would be using. We torn the page off and stuck it on the wall. At the start of each session, we reviewed the previous sessions, referring to the posters.
Texts: Jeremiah 33:3 Isaiah 43:18-19 Matthew 9:16-17 and Revelation 21:5
“IF YOU DON’T LIKE CHANGE, YOU’RE GOING TO HAVE A REAL PROBLEM WITH JESUS.”
I spoke of the new things the Lord is continually doing in the world, in His church, in our lives. We make our jokes about people in the church resisting anything new and innovative, but that’s overstated. Check the parking lot and you’ll see no 1948 Packards. No one is wearing clothing from the 1950s. We like new things, but not all at once. And we need to be given good reasons.
Texts: Matthew 16:18 and Acts 20:28; Matthew 25:40 and Hebrews 6:10
“WHATEVER YOU DO TO THE CHURCH, JESUS TAKES PERSONALLY.”
Whether it’s persecution or contributions or ministry, the Lord takes personally what we do to His Body. That ought to motivate us to take care how we treat the Church.
Text: Romans 12
“THE BEST KIND OF CHURCH IS A HEALTHY CHURCH.”
Romans 12 lays out a terrific blueprint for a healthy congregation: each one committed to Christ, each using his/her spiritual gifts in the right place of service, and loving relationships among the members.
Texts: Acts 2:42-47 and I John 1:7
“AFTER THE GOSPEL ITSELF, THE BEST THING YOUR CHURCH HAS TO OFFER IS CHRISTIAN FELLOWSHIP.”
A fellow can sit at home in front of the TV and worship, pray, give, study, sing, even get saved. The one big thing he cannot do is fellowship with other believers. Most churches ignore this extraordinary benefit which they have to offer, for which people are craving, and which costs them very little to build and maintain.
Text: Acts 6:1-7
‘THE GOOD THINGS A SICK CHURCH WILL DO OCCASIONALLY AND ACCIDENTALLY, A HEALTHY CHURCH WILL DO REGULARLY AND PURPOSEFULLY.”
A healthy church will trust their leadership until given a good reason not to, will deal with problems promptly, will act in a unified way, will bear fruit, and will bless its community.
Texts: Luke 6:27-36 and Matthew 5:43-47
“LOVE IS SOMETHING WE DO.”
Scripture never speaks of love as an emotion; it’s always an action. Jesus said those who love Him will keep His commandments. To love others, even our worst enemies, means taking these four actions: do good, bless, pray, and give.
Text: Habakkuk 3:17-19; Hebrews 11; and Mark 12:41-44
“ANYONE CAN BE FAITHFUL WHEN THINGS ARE GOING WELL. A HEALTHY CHRISTIAN DOES IT REGARDLESS.”
A healthy church is a ‘regardless’ (or however) congregation. Doing the right thing in spite of circumstances and negatives is the very definition of faith.
The Sunday morning service in that church saw a hundred people or more on their knees at the altar. Two young men came on profession of faith during the invitation.
This unusual service seems to have blessed the congregation and encouraged the leaders. It surely meant a great deal to me.
I’m convinced God’s people must rise up and take the lead in order to become a healthy congregation.
I’m also convinced that the health of a congregation is similar to humans in that it is not a permanent state. We are always in flux. A church is either healthier today than yesterday or it is in worse shape.
There are degrees of health. Some people are healthier than others. Some of us are healthier today than we were last year.
We must not demand or expect perfect health before our church can do anything. Nor must we expect that healthy state to maintain itself without constant vigilance and faithful work on our part.
I’ve shared this story before, but it fits here….
Pastor Richards grimaced as he watched a particular man join his church. He knew from another pastor that this fellow had been a constant thorn in the flesh in his previous church and would demand watching lest he stir up strife here. Richards told me what happened.
Within a year, that new member made arrangements to meet with one of the deacons. As they chatted casually, the new fellow said, “Well, what are we going to do about this church?” The deacon said, “Not a thing. This is a great church!” And that ended the conversation.
That, I submit, is a sign of a healthy church: it rejects the efforts of sick minds and shriveled souls to infiltrate the leadership and wreck the good thing the Lord is doing there.
God gives us healthy churches.