Tammy and I sat in a service recently and listened to believers in a local church give spontaneous testimonies. It was evident from what the people said that they had been shepherded. Their pastor had taught them to love Christ and the Word of God. My heart was so refreshed! When we got in the car, my wife immediately commented on the substance of their testimonies. It was a beautiful indicator of a healthy church.
But, what makes a church “healthy?” Is it size? Absolutely not. Just because something is bigger does not mean that it is healthier. (Our own physical bodies remind us of this truth!) Health starts beneath the surface and comes out in so many ways. Only the Great Physician knows who is truly whole and who is sick (Matthew 9:12; Revelation 3:17).
What if we visited the office of the One who knows everything? What would His diagnosis be?
I would encourage you to spend some time in 1 and 2 Thessalonians. The church at Thessalonica has been called the “model church.” This does not mean that they were a perfect church – there is no such thing! My grandpa used to say that if you find a perfect church you should not go there because you would mess it up. Local churches are made up of sinners who all need the constant grace of God. But there are signs of health that can be observed.
It is my conviction that so much the Creator built into the natural world is an object lesson for spiritual truth. The church is a “body” (1 Corinthians 12:12-27), and, as such, can be healthy or sick in varying degrees. Permit me to suggest 8 signs of spiritual health in a church:
- Attention is given to the heart. Remember that the heart is the key to everything else (Proverbs 4:23; Matthew 12:34). Healthy churches place the priority on addressing heart issues and not just peripheral ones.
- The body is being fed good food. We know that the Word is nutrition for the soul (Jeremiah 15:16; 1 Timothy 4:6). Preachers must feed the flock, but the people must themselves learn to feed on the Scriptures every day!
- The church is exercising faith. Diet and exercise always go together (1 Timothy 4:7-8). In feeding on God’s Word we are taking in what is necessary for good health; in application we are working out that truth in everyday life. Faith is not something we hold – it is something that we must use. Like a muscle, if it is not used it will atrophy. Godly churches are churches where the members are seeking to live out the truth of God’s Word between Sundays (James 1:22-25)!
- Sin is being purged. Living organisms must eliminate. Purging is necessary for good health, and only as we deal with the cancer of sin can health be maintained (2 Timothy 2:21).
- Each member is growing and functioning. Churches only grow collectively as each member is growing personally!
- The life of Christ is being formed in believers. Healthy churches look like Jesus. In the words of Vance Havner, they should reflect the Christ within them and not the culture around them. This is the great goal of the church (Galatians 4:19).
- They are reproducing. Healthy things reproduce. Individual believers should be reproducing themselves in the lives of other disciples of Christ (Proverbs 11:30). The church body should desire to reproduce other local churches in other places. Healthy churches must multiply.
- There is strength to endure adversity. Health does not ensure that hardship will not come, but it prepares us for the difficulty. The Lord’s strength sustains church bodies through the most challenging circumstances. If you want a good example, read the book of Acts!
You cannot decide for others, but you must decide for yourself. Ask the Lord to make you a healthy Christian, and He will use you to make your church a more healthy church. The health of a church is not left up to the pastor. It is something that all of us must take seriously every day.