Another good book that I have perused recently, one which I read some time back, is MacNair’s and Meek’s The Practices of a Healthy Church. Drawing upon Scripture and on personal experiences, they wrote the book to help churches and their leaders to evaluate and consider just how healthy their particular healthy church really is.
The excerpts below provide the gist of the material, which may also provide you with some things to consider or even spur you on to getting a copy for yourself.
-D. Thomas Owsley
Assess your church’s health, using these questions from the text:
1. Are we open to change in order better to conform to God’s will for us as a church?
2. Are many of our members evidencing spiritual growth?
3. Do we as a congregation eagerly anticipate God’s blessing on our church, including His adding to our numbers?
4. Do members sense that their elders both care for and lead them?
5. Do members sense that their own spiritual gifts are engaged and deemed worthwhile?
6. Is the importance we attach to Scripture evident in all our meetings and ministries?
7. In our corporate worship, do we sense the presence and power of the living God?
8. How is the community different because of our church’s presence in it?
9. Have we specified a vision and plans to achieve it that realistically reflect our gifts and situation?
10. Are disagreements within our church relatively minor?
The definition of church as the presence of Christ on earth also indicates what a good church is. A good church is one which accurately represents Christ to the world, one which is a healthy spiritual organism, fully embodying this mystical union. Moving closer and closer to Christlikeness, “growing up into the Head, that is, Christ,” is what the Bible says the church is supposed to be doing. p. 24
This means that the church needs to overcome a natural perception, in order to be to the neighborhood the earthly presence of Christ. Unless we relate personally to people, our very presence will antagonize them. p. 27-28
One church I served as a consultant typified a maintenance mentality. Ostensibly, they wanted to hire a youth director, thinking that an influx of young people would enable this congregation of people over sixty-five years old to maintain their existence (note the word maintain!). At bottom, they really wanted to stay the same, avoid change, and preserve the status quo. But they knew they were dying, and that threatened their commitment to maintenance.
Had they hired such a youth director, that person would have quickly discovered real opposition to his or her use of the facilities—the church wanted to preserve them, too! They didn’t want the building worn out. Can you imagine a church not wanting to use its building? Strange as it sounds, it can be a strong temptation. You know as well as I do that a building should be used, not just on Sunday, but as much as possible. The more a church’s facilities are used, the more that church can serve the Lord. p. 30
The mission of the church is to fulfill God’s will on earth. God’s will for the church consists of the Great Commission, which Jesus gave shortly before He ascended to heaven…. p. 31
To disciple is to seek to influence someone else to accept Christian beliefs, namely the truth of the Word of God. Every time the Word influences the world, society, culture, families, or individuals, because a church or church member has communicated it, we should refer to it as discipling. p. 32
Some years ago, after conducting a workshop on church health, I spoke with a minister who came forward. He was weeping quietly. He told me that during his time in seminary, he had grasped the vital significance of the Reformed faith. In a homiletics class, he had raised the question of its role in his prospective ministry, especially in his preaching and teaching. He told the professor about the old and rather lifeless church that had recently called him as pastor. “What should characterize my preaching in order to lead the church into vitality?” he asked the professor.
“Preach the Reformed faith,” the professor told him. “When people hear it, it will revolutionize them.”
This pastor did just that. For the next ten years he made the Reformed faith the hallmark of his preaching and teaching. He taught and preached it as the revolutionary power that his church needed.
However, no move toward spiritual vitality ever occurred. Now he bitterly expressed his sad realization to me: “I wish someone had told me ten years ago to make the Bible the hallmark of my ministry!” p. 55-56
What we must avoid is an improper use of our system of beliefs. We use a theological system improperly if we consciously or unconsciously expect it to bring spiritual life. Scripture, and only Scripture, brings spiritual life. p. 57
We should strive in our worship services, and especially in the preaching of the Word, to make the Bible a living expression of Jesus Christ. Our teaching must enable members to know their way around the Bible. It must challenge them to obey what the Bible says. It must equip them to ferret out and apply objective implications, and discourage them from making selective, subjective applications. But above all, hearers should walk away not simply having been chastised or commanded, not merely with more Bible content, but having met Christ afresh, having appropriated His forgiveness, provision, and power. p. 72
Healthy Practice #2: The church must engage in regular vibrant worship to God as the ultimate motivation for personal and corporate growth. p. 79
The greatest benefit of light fellowship is that it creates the opportunity for the Holy Spirit to develop deeper, spiritual bonds within the body. The word fellowship, a translation of the Greek word koinonia, carries with it at least four concepts: deep, fulfilling relationships (I John 1:3), a unified body of people (I Cor. 1:9), communication (Gal. 6:6), and communion (I Cor. 10:16). p. 85
Perhaps we can best express the essence of worship by saying that it is a deep-seated longing, a thirsting for God that is satisfied as He reveals Himself to us. Worship thus contains two basic elements: the soul’s thirst for God and God’s self-revelation. p. 89
Listeners are offered reasoned support, but not authoritative support for what God calls us to do and be. Absent is any sense that God’s revelation is being declared. Logic should confirm and commend the declaration of God’s Word, but it should never replace it. God the Spirit indwells and works through His authoritative revelation. To replace proclamation entirely with persuasion or logic deprives hearers of the possibility of God’s power in their lives.
Criticism can also inhibit preaching. If a pastor feels threatened by possible criticism from a segment of his congregation, his ministry of the Word will be hampered, and the presence and power of the living Lord will in that measure be restricted. I observed this in one church in which I sensed a certain degree of fear under the surface of the worship. As I discussed this with the pastor later, I learned that a third of his session espoused theonomy, an interpretation of the Old Testament with which he disagreed. Whenever he entered the pulpit, he feared their criticism: “They’re going to tell what I did wrong.” He was exhibiting fear and restraint in conducting the service, and in that measure the powerful and active ministry of the Lord was obscured. pp. 98-99
Throughout human history, God has used worship, an encounter with Himself, to motivate action as well as to glorify His name. The prophet Isaiah’s experience (Isaiah 6:1-8) is paradigmatic. He had a vision of the Lord “seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. He saw God surrounded by angels who demonstrated and spoke of God’s holiness, shaking the temple and filling it with smoke. p. 100
The elder encourages believing church members to be what God intends them to be: priests (I Peter 2:5), who utilize their gifts for the common good (I Cor. 12:7), so that Christ’s body is “joined and held together by every supporting ligament” (Eph. 4:16)—a people who “always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body” (2 Cor. 4:10). Paul expresses the elder’s God-given passion to catalyze the church’s growth in godliness: “We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me” (Col. 1:28-29). p. 130
Throughout these discussions, I’ve maintained that healthy, biblical leadership enhances rather than represses members’ involvement. p. 171