Regarding this whole church health series…
It’s easy to look at the 9 characteristics of a healthy church and think, “Yep, that’s nice, but it’s never going to happen.” Even if you’re not quite that defeatist, the list is pretty daunting. It’s easy to look at the challenges of truly living the Christian life and feel that you are beaten down before you even start.
Let’s put a little bit of perspective on this, shall we?
These are not characteristics that we are going to reach overnight. Churches took 2012 years to get unhealthy. We’re not going to flip a switch and fix it. It takes a lifetime–and then some–to develop as disciples of Christ.
In fact, the word “disciple” implies a process of learning. We are lifetime adherents to the teachings of Christ, which means we are constantly becoming more educated and adept at following those teachings. And the more we learn, the more we realize how much more there is to know and do.
When we look at the nine church health traits, it’s critical to see that they get more challenging as we move down the list. This is how the process of discipleship works. As we are given more knowledge and wisdom, life in Christ presents us with more challenges.
Do not look at these as overwhelming tasks, because they are not intended to fit our appetite for DSL-speed answers. We are challenged to begin working and striving for healthy church. Some will come quickly and naturally, while others will take time.
More than anything, keep the lines of communication about church health wide-open. A few blog posts and sermons are just the beginning of the process. Keep challenging one another–lay people, volunteers, and clergy–to work for health rather than bulk!
Church health is like physical health: It takes energy, effort, and occasionally a trip to the emergency room. Every now and then, it requires some bitter pills and nasty cough syrup. But at the end of the day, we’ll be better off by doing our exercise, filling ourselves with the right things, and taking our medicine.
The final three:
…filled with individuals who, as we fail, confess honestly and repent earnestly for the sake of the individual and the body. Have you ever known that person who limped or coughed or threw up for days before going to the doctor? And they always say, “I’ll be alright.” No, they won’t, unless they get honest about what they need to do to get healthy.
We can’t keep saying, “We’ll be alright” as the church, and hope that our “sickness” will just pass. If we want to get healthy, we have to be honest about where we are, and where we need to be.
The world, both Christian and otherwise, has had enough of “The Show.” People are tired of feeling like they have to hide from their sins in order to avoid the eyes cutting at them across the aisle. We are weary of “Prayer Chains” being gossip chains. We are fed up with someone coming down during the invitation hymn, only to have people look and wonder, “What’s wrong with them?”
If we can confess openly and honestly to God, then we should be able to confess openly and honestly in front of the people of God. If we want to build true community among believers and invite others to be a part of that community, then honesty about who we are is imperative.
You can try to make people think that you’re perfect all that you want. Soon enough, they will find out the truth, and the only person that you will be fooling is you. Better to tell the truth and admit that you are just like everyone else, trying to get better as you go.
…filled with individuals who, when it comes to holiness, acknowledge honestly where they are and pursue actively where they ought to be. After we recognize our illness, we have to be willing to do what we can to get better.
Holiness is a difficult concept to pin down. Some believe that we have to achieve a level of holiness, if not perfection, in order to be saved from our sins.
We believe that we strive for holiness because we are already saved in Jesus Christ. We trust the Holy Spirit to open our eyes and see our heart for what it is. We then look to the scriptures, to the Spirit’s guidance and to one another for accountability to begin struggling towards who Jesus Christ calls us to be as His disciples.
…filled with individuals who celebrate their freedom in Christ seriously and responsibly. Let’s be honest. We have a hierarchy for our sins. We will chastise the person who smokes a cigarette or visits the neighborhood bar. But we chastise them by gossip, rumors, judgment and generally enjoying the fact that we “caught” someone in an act of sin.
Freedom in Christ allows us to recognize that not everyone’s morality works on the same scale. We will disagree with fellow brothers and sisters about whether or not it is okay to have a beer or go to an R-rated movie. We have to follow what conscience, scripture, and the Spirit lead us to do on such matters.
But we don’t expect everyone else to agree with us on those matters!
On the other side of the coin, believers must always acknowledge that they are free from sin but belong to Christ. Everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial (1 Corinthians 6:12). If we bring doubt, harm, distress or discord through our actions, then it is better not to act.
Understanding our freedom in Christ means that we are willing to wait for others to grasp that they are free. If something that is not essential to us (an adult beverage, a movie, etc.) causes pain in others, then better to walk away and focus on what really matters. The love and the unity of the Body of Christ comes FIRST.
Consider a simple formula that I first heard from an Episcopal priest: In the essentials, UNITY; in the non-essentials, CHARITY; and in all things, LOVE.