We Value … Healthy Churches
Healthy Churches: Four Pillars of Health
This post is part of a six-part series, written by a leader within the convention, on our core values. Our core values show who we are and what motivates us.
We’ve been focusing on our IBC core values here in the last several issues of Highlights. One of those core values is healthy churches. When I was in the U.S. Air Force, they used to refer to health in four distinct categories — they called them pillars — spiritual, physical, mental, and social. Looking at health like this gave us all some way to evaluate just how healthy we were. It seems to me those same four pillars can be applied to church health, too.
Of course, the first pillar of church health is spiritual. Jesus’ mission was spiritual (to seek and save that which was lost); so is the mission of His church (go and make disciples). Of the four pillars, this may be hardest to gauge. But the question we need to ask as church leaders is, “Are we worshiping in spirit and truth?” I’m talking about more than music or clapping or raising hands. Is there a real sense that everything we do as a community is an offering of worship to the Lord? John Piper said, “Missions work exists because genuine worship doesn’t.” In a spiritually healthy church, people are actively engaging in their own discipleship, and they’re excited about making other disciples. As a result, people are regularly getting saved through your ministry. There are times at our church in Aviano, Italy, when “holy hand grenades” are going off in our ministries. And there are other times that…it’s not like that. Spiritual health, I think, is when there are more “holy hand grenade” times than not.
The second pillar is physical health. The church is called “the body of Christ” in 1 Corinthians 12:27, and I love that comparison. In a healthy body, everything works and grows together. In physically healthy churches, there is a clear sense of where God is leading the ministry. Everyone is committed to that purpose. People are excited about the ministry. Regular attenders and members are routinely inviting people, and new people are regularly coming. Two summers ago, we grew cucumbers in our garden for the first time. We had six plants (we had no idea how productive they were). Five of the plants were healthy. They produced so many cucumbers that even though we ate them every day we still couldn’t keep up. One of the plants was not healthy; it didn’t grow and it produced nothing at all. When the church is physically healthy, she is growing — physically and spiritually.
The third pillar is mental health. I’m not talking about mental health in the psychological sense. We all know that Christianity doesn’t require we check our brains at the door. While we may know that, mentally healthy churches act like it’s true. Mentally healthy churches have a hunger and thirst for God’s Word. In a mentally healthy church, it’s okay if your sermon goes a little long on Sunday — the people want to learn the Word and how to apply it. The environment is one that says “Come, let us reason together” so people aren’t afraid to admit they don’t know everything, to ask questions, and to seek the answers together.
The last pillar is social health. Socially healthy churches are ones where real, genuine fellowship happens. Genuine fellowship is not measured by the number of crockpots you routinely see around your church. Hebrews 10:24-25 tells us what real fellowship looks like. That level of fellowship requires an atmosphere of real care and concern for one another. It results in trust and a willingness to open up to one another — to share life together. Another sign of a socially healthy church is one that is actively connecting with her community. Instead of simply hoping “they” will come to “us,” socially healthy churches are “going out into the hedges and highways and compelling them to come” (Luke 14:23).
The Strengthening Churches Core Strategy exists to help churches in the IBC become stronger and healthier. If you would like to talk about some of the tools we have available to help your church do that, don’t hesitate to reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
by Barry Cole
Strengthening Churches Strategy Director and Pastor, Aviano Baptist Church, Italy