Thursday, April 16, 2009

how would you define a healthy church?

My good friend, Gibby, asked a question on Facebook recently that got my motor running. (Thanks, Gibby!)

The question was: "What does a healthy church look like? How do you define a healthy church? Describe that for me."

My answer:

Good question, Gibby. I’d like to make a case for mission as the organizing principle of healthy church. I don't know how I would "define" healthy church, but (though "church" does need more than "mission") I do know that healthy church does not exist without mission. (In fact, I would go so far as to say that, if a church is not on mission together they cannot be called "church", full stop.)

I think it is interesting that if a church is on mission together all the observations we make concerning the necessity of healthy worship, fellowship, forgiveness,and the avoidance of institutionalism (etc) are colored a different way.

When churches become serious about mission, worship takes on a different aspect.

When a local body of believers really take on mission wholeheartedly: Yes, mistakes will be made, feelings will be hurt (because much is being risked), but that's where forgiveness, humility, patience, compassion and mercy will come into play. There's no fellowship like the kind of fellowship that results from being on mission together.

In the context of mission, the different spiritual gifts will be discovered and utilized.

"Discipleship" becomes more meaningful and “making disciples” becomes more effective in the context of mission. In fact, discipleship doesn’t happen without mission. (I’ve noticed, by the way, that we tend to use the word “discipleship” as equivalent to “Christian formation” but leave out the “Christian vocation” part of following Jesus. When we “disciple” someone nowadays, we tend to leave out the bit where Christ calls us to be his witness by words of hope and acts of mercy and justice. In this way, we’ve made being on mission together an option to discipleship. But discipleship, by definition, necessitates mission. If we do not take up his mission, we are not his followers.)

I think it’s worth considering that the chief reason the church gets skewed (with in-fighting, institutionalism, selfishness, mean-spiritedness, etc) is because “we’ve got too much of ourselves on our hands.” That is, we spend so much time thinking about ourselves and forget that there’s a world teetering on the edge of hopelessness that needs very much for us to impart the fullness of hope that Christ offers. It has been my observation that we tend to think of “church” as…

-Bible Study/Teaching

These things are not bad and we want all these things to be marked by love. When that doesn’t happen and there is in-fighting and etc we say, “We don’t have a healthy church. What’s wrong?” And then we get to work on how we can love each other better so we can “worship, learn and fellowship” with one another with a clean conscience. My take is: a church that leaves out mission is like a church that leaves out love, for love cannot grip a church without mission.

If we let mission serve as the organizing principle for “church”, I believe we’ll find the antidote to our sickness. True, we’ll still need to do more things to take care of the Body (like worship, Bible study and fellowship), but at least we’ll have overcome the disease and have a fighting chance at life--real life, abundant life.

As Christians, we are not here as individuals for each other as a group; rather, we are here as a wounded group for a wounded world. When we really learn that, we’ll live in love together. And when we learn that, we’ll be healthy.


Andy said...

Well said. I remember always hearing the analogy of the Dead Sea as a way of expressing what you're saying. The Dead Sea is dead (in part) because it only receives and never gives. It has a lot of input, but no output. May the Lord give us all a focus on others.


Andy Walker

Troy said...

That's a great analogy, Andy. Thanks for sharing that. I had never heard it put that way before and what you've added makes the idea more memorable.