Since my blog entry last week in which I suggested that church health rather than church size was what we need to strive for, I have had several people ask me the same question.
What constitutes “church health”?
Great question. What does a healthy church look like?
There have been an untold number of books written and seminars taught on this subject but I am going to go back to the words of Jesus to provide an answer.
The Great Commission
Shortly before his return to heaven, Jesus met with his followers and told them what it was that he wanted them to do (Matthew 28:16 – 20). He gave them their marching orders so to speak and this has been the mandate for the church ever since. As church leaders we have not always done a good job of carrying out the mandate but the Great Commission still defines what it is that the church is to be doing.
There are four verbs in the Great Commission that spell out the task that the church has. The church is to go; it is to make disciples; it is to baptize; it is to teach. Of those four actions, only one in the original language is in the form of a command. The other three are participles which describe how the command is to be carried out. These three actions draw their significance from the command.
The one that is the command and therefore the main focus of the passage is the verb “to make disciples.” The challenge for the church is to determine what it needs to do in order to produce disciples of Jesus Christ.
Randy Pope, senior pastor of Perimeter Church, states in a video on his website that he likes to ask church leaders if they have a plan for growing disciples. He has discovered that in most cases churches don’t. They know that the Great Commission is there. They believe that it is still the mandate for the church but they have no idea how they are going to fulfill it by developing members into fully committed followers of Jesus Christ.
What is a healthy church?
So what then is a healthy church?
A healthy church is one that is fulfilling the Great Commission by bringing people from the point at which they first express an interest in the gospel to that point at which they are fully committed, fully functioning followers of Jesus Christ.
I have a sermon that I love to preach that I have entitled “Comfortable Christians or Radical Disciples.” Many of our churches are filled with comfortable Christians who are enjoying the benefits of the Christian life without ever stepping over the line to become radical disciples. Jesus preached radical discipleship. My question is: “Can we do any less?”
Over the next four weeks in my Thursday blog I am going to look at what I have called “the four directions of disciple making.” Each of these builds on the other and each is absolutely indispensable to the disciple making process. If we fail to lead our members in any of these directions, we have failed in fulfilling the great commission.
First, we need to lead people in an upward direction. Everything flows out of a dynamic, living relationship with Jesus Christ. Without that relationship nothing else matters.
The second direction that people need to go is inward. Christian living is all about changed character. It isn’t about keeping rules. It isn’t about becoming better leaders. It isn’t about having our needs met. It is all about being changed into the likeness of Jesus Christ.
The third direction is aroundward. I have to confess that that is a word that I made up myself because I couldn’t find one that fit this third point but now I have come to like the word. Becoming a disciple happens in the context of the church. The Christian life is never meant to be private. In fact we can only move in the first two directions, when we allow people in the church to become part of the process that God is using to change us into disciples.
Finally there is the outward direction. When our relationship with Jesus deepens, when we become more like Jesus through inward transformation, when we allow other Christians to help us in our discipleship journey, then there will be a natural outflow into the community in which God has placed us.
A healthy church is one in which people are moving in all four of these directions and in so doing are becoming radical disciples who are making a difference in their churches and communities.
Let me leave you with a paraphrase of a quote from Bill Hybels.
With thousands of comfortable Christians in our churches we will make little change in the blocks surrounding the church building but with a handful of radical disciples we can change the world.