Frequently at my house I am accosted by a sobbing child demanding a band-aid. To my children, a band-aid is pretty much a cure-all for any physical pain they experience. They usually end up with their band-aid, but during that process it is my job to assess the reality of their overall health. Is it a minor cut that a hug, kiss and band-aid will take care of? Or, are we headed to the emergency room (again)? Usually, I can make that assessment very quickly because I know what a healthy child looks like. The more I understand health, the more quickly and accurately I can evaluate the health of my children.
The same principle is true of the church. While most of us are faithful and careful in evaluating our own health and the health of our children, I’m afraid that we’ve adopted a “just wing it” mentality when it comes to the health of our churches. I recently posted some Thoughts on the Healthy Church because I believe the biggest reason for this is that we do not understand what a healthy church looks like in a very practical way. To help remedy that, I’ve compiled some characteristics of a healthy church.
- Authority of God’s Word – a healthy church holds to God’s Word as its ultimate authority. The issue here is really two-fold. First, God’s Word absolutely must be the final authority for faith and practice. Secondly is that this fact of Biblical authority must be clearly communicated and demonstrated in the church. Saying that the Bible is authoritative is not enough – it must be demonstrated in the actions of the church.
- Love – as the Bible says in 1 Peter 4:8, “Love covers a multitude of sins.” No church will do anything perfectly, but I think it is critical that a church demonstrates Christ’s love. This includes showing love to those outside the church and not just to those inside the church. We certainly don’t want to be a part of a church that is fighting among itself, but we also don’t want to associate ourselves with a local church that is known as hateful and antagonistic toward outsiders (whether that be unbelievers or Christians who are different than us). Healthy churches live the love of Jesus.
- Great commission driven – A healthy church takes seriously the call to reach the nations. Some obvious indicators in this regard would be the missions budget, personal involvement of congregation in missions through trips or various means and evangelistic emphasis. However, some other key factors would be attitudes toward change, innovation in worship, awareness and accommodation of target audience, involvement in the community and interaction with culture. Healthy churches are not driven by their preferences, desires or traditions, but by a desire to reach the community and the world with the message of the gospel.
- Biblical decision making – This can be easy to miss, but it is critical. Here’s why – one cannot know every detail about a church before joining. It also isn’t possible to know everything they might do in the future. However, you can discover the process for making decisions and that will reveal a great deal. Churches should use the Bible for practical guidance in making decisions and beyond that should have a clearly spelled out vision or purpose to which they hold themselves accountable.
Remember that no church is perfect, but a healthy church will exhibit these characteristic as a normative part of their identity. As believers we must first recognize these characteristic principles and then we must prioritize and practice them. Let’s look past the band-aids and make an honest assessment of first our own hearts and then our churches.