What is the best and most biblical way to define a “healthy” church?
Should a church be considered “healthy” when it is doing well financially or when large crowds of people are coming to the meetings? Perhaps a church is “healthy” when the majority of its growth is from new converts, or when it has a strong foreign missions program? Is an effective children’s ministry or youth program the key element for “health”; or perhaps the fact that the church engages well with the culture? Clearly, there are many different things we could focus on.
Biblically, how should we define a healthy church?
In the New Testament, the church is compared to the human body (e.g., 1 Cor. 12). When a part of someone’s body is not functioning properly, that person is, by definition, sick or unhealthy. Thus, a simple definition of a “healthy” human body is one in which every member is functioning properly. In the same way, a healthy church is, quite simply, one in which every member is functioning properly.
There are many popular, and valuable, models of what constitutes a “healthy church.” For example, a healthy church will have inspiring worship, need-oriented evangelism, loving relationships, etc. If every member functions properly then the local church will have all these components.
But, what does it mean to “function properly”? In Ephesians, Paul shares a clear revelation of this:
From Him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. (Eph. 4:16)
There are three things that each member must do in order for him or her to be considered “functioning properly.”
First, each member must “grow.” Personally and directly connected to the life of the Head (“from Him the whole body…”) each member of the church must grow in spiritual maturity. In the church around the world, we’re not doing too badly in this regard. Many Christians do take personal responsibility for their own spiritual lives. They know that God has called them to grow, and not to remain spiritual babies.
Second, each member must serve, or “do its work.” Every member of the church is a “minister”; we all have a calling from God and the corresponding gifting. For the last couple of decades, there has been much teaching on “finding your gifting,” etc., and the church has improved considerably in this regard. Many believers now have a clear vision for their own personal involvement in the ministry of their local churches. Of course, “serving” does not only involve “official ministry activity” but, even more importantly, also serving one another in the broad, practical context of daily life and relationships.
Third, each member must “build” others: “the body builds itself up.” This has been the critical missing element in many churches. We have not taken deliberate, personal responsibility for building others. Usually we “delegate” that responsibility to others. So, for example, the children are taught spiritually at Sunday School, the new believers go to discipleship class on Tuesday night, the emerging leaders are sent off to Bible school, etc.
However, biblically, we all have responsibility to build others. Parents are responsible to build their children (Eph. 6:4; Deut. 6:4-9; 11:18-21). Existing believers are responsible to build the new disciples (Matt. 28:19-20). The older women are responsible to build the younger ones (Tit. 2:3-5). The mature men teach the younger men (2 Tim. 2:2).
A healthy church is one in which every member grows, serves and builds others. We must have all three. And all three must come from life – the indwelling life of Christ in each believer’s life (John 15:4-5; Eph. 4:16) as he or she grows, serves and builds.
This is a profound paradigm shift for many believers and churches. It is a shift away from a program mentality to a people mentality. However, if we can create a church culture in which every believer takes responsibility to grow, serve and build, our churches will transform their worlds!
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