August 5, 2018

A Time To Look Ahead

Greetings Friends:

Whenever a Pastor prepares a sermon there is always more information left on the desk than is included in the sermon shared with the congregation.  If that were not so, the congregation probably would not stay for an extra thirty or forty-five minutes.  Here are some additional thoughts to follow up on my sermon here at South Meridian on Sunday, August 5, 2018.  I would suggest that there are eight essential qualities of a healthy church.  The eight qualities are not original from me but I have added personal commentary to help flesh out these thoughts.  I hope you find this thought provoking.


Leaders of healthy, growing churches concentrate on empowering other Christians for ministry.  Persons are equipped, supported, motivated and mentored, enabling them to become all that God wants them to become.  Pastors, rather than handling the bulk of church responsibilities on their own, invest the majority of their time in discipleship, delegation and multiplication.  Through gifted and prepared persons, God’s energy, not human effort and pressure, is released to set the church in motion.


The role of church leadership is to help its members to identify their gifts and to integrate them into appropriate ministries.  When Christians serve in their area of giftedness, they generally function less in their own strength and more in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Thus, ordinary people can accomplish the extraordinary.


The point which separates healthy growing churches and unhealthy non-growing churches is how they answer the following question:  “Are the Christians in this church on fire?  Do they live committed lives and practice their faith with joy and enthusiasm?”  Spiritual passion and just routinely performing one’s duty are mutually exclusive concepts.  Knowing and obeying “pure doctrine” alone does not produce healthy Christians or healthy churches.  When members learn to live their faith with contagious enthusiasm and share it with others, the result is a healthy, growing church. 


Structures should serve people and not people serve structures.  Healthy churches find ways to build flexibility into its structures.  They are structured around the spiritual gifts of members and the resultant ministries that grow out of these spiritual gifts.  Healthy churches also find a way to be flexible in how time is structured, i.e. when events (Sunday School, Worship, Bible Studies, fellowship, meetings) are scheduled.


This quality has no direct relationship to the on-going debate and struggle within the wider church over tradition vs contemporary styles of worship.  One specific style of worship is not a quality of healthy churches.  A healthy church is marked by worship services that are an inspiring experience for the participants.  Inspiring in this context comes from its root word inspiratio and means an inspiredness which comes from the Spirit of God rather than human bias, preference or planning.  Whenever the Holy Spirit is truly at work, the Spirit will have a concrete effect upon the way a worship service is conducted including the entire atmosphere of the gathering.  People attending truly “inspired” worship typically indicate that going to church is fun.


Holistic groups are groups that go beyond just discussing Bible passages to practical application of its message to daily life.  In holistic groups, members feel free to bring up those issues and questions that are of immediate personal concern.  It is in these groups that discipleship most effectively develops.  Much of the essence of true church life is worked out in small groups.


Not every Christian is an evangelist since that is a specific spiritual gift granted by the Spirit and developed as other gifts.  However, every Christian has the responsibility to use their spiritual gifts to serve non-Christians.  The most effective way in which this is done is not through developing “manipulative programs” where pressure is put on non-Christians.  Rather, the point is to use already existing relationships as contacts for evangelism.  The number of natural contacts outside the church in “the world” is already large enough to provide a “field white unto harvest” for the Gospel.  The key is to identify the need and speak the message of the Gospel of Christ into the need.  And, in the words of St. Francis, “only if necessary, use words.”


There is a highly significant relationship between the ability of a church to demonstrate love and its long-term growth potential.  Healthy churches have a measurably higher “love quotient” than stagnant or declining churches.  Hospitality, positive regard, affirmation, acceptance, grace, laughter all mark a growing church.  Unconditional love expressed in practical ways has a divinely generated magnetic power that is far more effective than most structured evangelistic programs based primarily upon verbal communication.  People do not want to hear us talk about love; they want to experience how Christian love really works.


These concepts are taken from Part I of Natural Church Development:  A Guide to Eight Essential Qualities of Healthy Churches by Christian Schwarz, ChurchSmartResources, 2000.

The way to become a healthy 
ffective church is to set the
sails and let the wind of the 
Spirit provide the energy.