I recently heard a message delivered by our new SBC President, Bryant Wright, speaking in a chapel service at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His audience was primarily seminary students, many of whom were already serving as pastors and leaders, and others who would do that at some point.
Wright took as his text Acts 2 and he unfolded a number of characteristics found in that chapter of God’s Word explaining what a healthy New Testament church looks like. We have an abundance of churches today, but most of those churches have serious health issues!
The first characteristic of a healthy church is Spirit-Filled Leadership. Too much is done in the flesh. That which is done in the flesh has no lasting spiritual benefit. We have sadly mechanized almost everything to the point it can be done without God. Then we wonder why God does not bless.
Secondly, Spirit-filled preaching must be the main-stay of a healthy church. Not emotionally charged preaching, nor preaching that entertains, but preaching what exposits the truths of the Word. It is preaching that is true to what God said!
Third, in a healthy church people are actually coming to Christ. Baptism is the only way membership statistics are kept in the New Testament. There were no Servant Keeper computer programs, or membership profile cards or anything like that. It was baptism as an external expression of an internal change.
Fourth, there is a desire to be together (fellowship). There is an afterglow and a hunger for more. There is a desire to spend time with one another both inside and outside the church. When everyone rushes to their cars or refrains from taking advantage of opportunities for further fellowship, there is a sign that a church may be unhealthy in the realm of fellowship.
Fifth, deals with the breaking of bread together (Lord’s Supper). He points out that we Baptists do not do a very good job of handling the Lord’s Supper. Ideally it should be a very special time – a high point in every church, but so often it is treated as anything but special. The service may even be poorly attended.
Sixth, there is a devotion to prayer. A healthy church is deeply and genuinely committed to prayer. There is far more than mere “lip-service” being offered, but true, spirit-honoring prayer takes place on a regular basis.
Seventh, there is awe and wonder about what God is doing in the life of the church. There is silence when the holiness of God comes upon a people. There is an ever growing awareness that God is present and His holiness surrounds. There is a consistent feeling of being in His presence.
Eighth, there is a voluntary sharing with one another. Material possessions and money are the downfall of the modern church. We possess a lot of stuff and we are not about to part with it. Instead, a healthy church recognizes all that one has, truly comes from God. A healthy church recognizes that material possessions mean little compared to God.
Tenth, unity (being of one mind) is evident. You do not teach unity. You do not push unity. Unity occurs when everyone has the same purpose in mind. The church’s “one purpose” is the mission of the Gospel. Unity comes as a “by-product” of healthiness. The focus should not be on unity or we will never get there. But, if we all focus on Jesus, we can get there!
Eleventh, the early church had both large and small groups. Small groups are not cliques, nor factions but rather sources of fellowship and mission within the larger body. These are essential for preventing persons and families from falling by the way-side. Within these smaller groups true discipleship takes place.
Twelfth, the early church had gladness and sincerity in their hearts. Unfortunately, churches are too often filled with sad faces. The early church experienced gladness and joy because they were once a people who had no hope, but not were a people who did have hope. We still have that same hope! Many church services are as dead as 3:00 in the morning with no visible signs of gladness.
Thirteenth, a healthy church praises God together. Their hearts overflowed with praise. They were not battling over songs and worship styles; they were lost in wonder, love, and praise! They could not “praise” and “complain” at the same time – they could not maintain a spirit of praise and malcontent simultaneously!
Lastly, we see the result. The Lord was adding to their number daily. A healthy church is one that is growing. One in which God is adding to the numbers. Healthy churches attract healthy believers, but unhealthy churches either attract no one or they attract unhealthy persons.
The question we all need to answer is, ‘what specifically am I going to do to enhance my church’s health?’ Taking a long, hard, honest look may be surprising. Will you take a look?
Pastor Allen Raynor
First Baptist Church, Broomfield, CO
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