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A Healthy Bodygreg

By Greg Wiens

 

There are many types of Christ followers in the world, and thus there are many types of churches. They can be healthy, sick, growing or declining. What makes the difference?

 

In 1 Corinthians, Paul deals with arguably one of the unhealthiest churches in the New Testament. He writes, "I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow" (3:6). One responsibility of leaders is to help produce healthy churches, and trust God to produce the growth.

 

Accepting that premise leads us to at least two important questions. How do we produce healthy churches, and what does a healthy church look like?

 

There are a few key characteristics of a healthy of a church, but treating them is as complex as treating illnesses in the human body. The most common description Paul uses to describe the church is that of a body, or a living organism.  He writes, "So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body" (12:12). If one thinks of the church as a living organism, then each church body is unique as each human body.

 

For years I resisted my physician’s desire to put me on medicine for high cholesterol. I am a runner and all other indexes pointed to good cardiovascular health, but he wanted to treat me by the numbers. Last year I endured a long and intensive test to prove that their concern over the cholesterol numbers don’t apply to me. As he reviewed the results, the cardiologist to me, "If anyone else wants to put you on cholesterol medicine, tell them to jump in a lake!" My cardiovascular health is more complex than a simple cholesterol index. 

 

This is true of churches also. The health of a church is more complex than a couple of measurements might indicate. Just as there are a myriad of causes for depression, back pain, head aches, joint pain, weight gain, dizziness, and heart trouble, there are many reasons for churches to have splits, moral problems, declining attendance, an aging population, financial troubles or congregational bullies.  

 

The health of a human body, an individual Christian and a church community (body) is complex.

 

Secondly, churches are not completely healthy or completely sick. Churches have elements of health and sickness in them.  For instance, in 1:4-9 Paul praises the church for what they are doing right, and then in 1:10-17 he begins to address things that they are doing wrong. The church in Corinth, and in our churches as well, are “mixed bags”.

 

Through my study of the New Testament and my work with churches around the world, I believe that there are four facets of health: Salvation, Transformation, Multiplication and Self-sustainability. 

 

Salvation

Healthy churches are led by people who are in a vital relationship with Jesus and they are committed to helping others know Him as Savior and Lord. When churches lose their passion and efforts to see people come to Christ, sickness settles in.

 

Transformation

Healthy churches encourage people to mature in their relationship with Christ. Believers are becoming like Christ in their relationships, actions, thoughts and perspective (3:1-4). As believers are transformed, their faith community is transformed as well. This attribute is both personal and communal.

 

Multiplication

Healthy churches work to see the Kingdom of God expanded beyond their own community. This is what Paul is teaching them as he gives instructions on how to collect and send money to other churches (16:1). A priority for the church should be starting other reproducing and transforming churches in and far beyond their community.

 

Self-Sustainability

Healthy churches fulfill their mission of advancing God’s kingdom as they are able to sustain themselves. This is part of what Paul is addressing in chapter 16. Far too often churches overextend themselves by adding buildings and enlarging the number of paid workers to levels the congregation cannot easily sustain with finances and volunteers. These churches become frustrated, weak and impotent. Healthy churches are committed to doing what God calls and equips them to do, which may be quite different from the church down the street.

 

If disciples and church leaders lose their focus on staying healthy, these four facets will fade. The “what” never changes, but the “how” continually does.

 

Prayerfully reflect on what you can do to see these characteristics be more evident in your life and your church.

  • What can you do to reach people with the message of Christ?
  • How is Christ transforming your life and using you to transform others?  
  • How are you personally helping support and plant other churches?
  • How can you help your church and others be self-sustaining?

 

The prayer is healthy and growing churches and disciples. This is never easy, but it is how we bear fruit that brings God glory and advances His Kingdom.  

 

 

About the Author

Greg Wiens has been an engineer, pastor, statistics professor, consultant, and denominational executive.  Now he is the Chief Catalyst of Healthy Growing Churches, which has a passion for helping churches be more effective and healthy.  He loves challenging people to be healthy.  He has been married to his wonderful wife, Mary Kay for 38 years, and has 3 children who are all married and 7 grandchildren (and still counting!).

 

 

A Word From James

God choses to teach us valuable lessons when we are unhealthy. But that is not the land that we are created to live in. With the help of the Great Physician, let’s get healthy and run with Jesus in His mission to lost and hurting people near and far.

  

 

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