The Twelve Characteristics of the Healthy Church
These are the 12 characteristics that form a church that pleases our Lord. Each of these distinctions are extremely important; however I feel I placed them in a hierarchal arrangement. That is the first one is more important than the second. And the first one begets the second that begets the third and so forth. So each one when practiced is also dependent on the characteristic that preceded it so it can birth the one that follows. But if you leave out any one of them your church will not function as God intended it to. They all build from one another and synergistically combine to be the church Christ called. For example I was on staff at a church that had solid doctrine and Bible teaching, Biblical uncompromising worship, but they refused to incorporate some of the other vital characteristics. Thus, even though they had the solid foundation of the Word, the rest of the house was not built and so it could not function as a house, as a church.
The church cannot be based on just one good aspect and ignore the rest. We cannot praise ourselves for having great outreach when we do not disciple the people we are bringing in. We cannot be confident we are doing as God has called us when we proclaim the Word with passion, but will not share it with our neighbors. The church must be holistic. Not the new age mumble jumble, but a balance of what Scripture calls us to, all working together by the power of the Holy Spirit. Each of these characteristics are not denominationally based, but are Biblical, so all denominations who claim Jesus as Lord can follow them if they want to be all that they are called to be.
First, is the clear uncompromising teaching of Gods Word.
"How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word. I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands. I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. Praise be to you, O LORD; teach me your decrees". (Psalm 119:9-12)
A healthy church will never sacrifice the integrity of the Bible, or neuter its message. One of the problems we have in the modern church is the desire to reach the unchurched. problem you say? No, not the reaching of the unchurched, it is the philosophy we engage in to do it. We think it is OK to water down the message of the gospel to make the medicine easier to take. We think we have to hide the truth to attract people to the church. So the sermons are about daily life, interesting stories and do not mention Christ and just leave people with Im a feel good person. There is no real teaching or application. However this philosophy may work at Willow Creek and a few other mega churches, but keep in mind at those successful mega churches they still have good teaching. They have discipleship programs that they feed the people into such as small groups and Sunday school classes. They also have other services once the seekers make commitments of faith that do teach the Word.
The mistake a lot of churches make is that they have the seeker service that neuters the gospel, but do not have a system of good discipleship which is the key to the healthy church. And guess what, it is what our Lord has called us to! A healthy church keeps the main thing the main think. And the main thing is the gospel of Christ clearly expressed and clearly taught. Never think it is OK to compromise, thinking you will reach more people; because you will not. Yes, you may get a few more people attending, and that is may, but most of the time you will not. Churches such as Calvary Chapel have been successful at reaching new converts better than most other churches and far better than any other denomination because they are preaching and teaching the Bible clearly with passion and conviction. Im definitely not against seeker services, as I have done them and seen them work well to attract people. What Im against is if thats all you do, then you are doing nothing. A good seeker message will contain the gospel clearly presented so people who have never seen the inside of a church can relate to it. So the service will not have the Christian jargon, rather stories, illustrations, analogies to expound the passage so they can get it.
I was on staff at a wonderful church in Pasadena many years ago. We were a church of over 5,000 and we were busting at the seams. Our sanctuary holds more than 6, 000 people and we had two to three services on Sunday and one on Saturday. Another church in the south land with a TV ministry that was famous for substituting and compromising the Bibles message with a positive thinking message was less than ½ our size. In fact you can take their glass cathedral and stick it in our sanctuary and you may not find it. I do not want to sound prideful, but my church could beat up their church! We were impacting the community, teaching the Bible and sending more missionaries into the world than some denominations. It took dozens of best selling books and a TV ministry to get them popular, it took us no media ministry but just preaching the gospel and being a caring community to become twice their size. We were much bigger, they were much smaller, not that this size thing is so important. Im more than confident that this other church would be much bigger than we were if they did not water down their message. They are a good church, I have had friends pastor there, I just believe they could have been much better. But too many churches model the style of compromise instead of the style of conviction of the Word. Then they wonder why they are failing.
I have consulted so many churches in various denominations, and I have observed that the larger growing churches are the ones who are solidly preaching and teaching the Word. The smaller dying churches in the same denominations are not. Churches fail when they lose their focus, especially the focus of the Word! Of course there are some exceptions (there is another church in Pasadena our size that is so liberal I consider them a cult; however and unfortunately they model the character of Christ better than most churches. And that is why they have grown, because of love and care, forgiveness and acceptance that is missing from other churches), but the rule is if you build it they will come. And you are to build it on the firm foundation of solid Bible teaching. Its OK to be creative and innovative, just keep the main thing the main thing.
Second, is impacting worship.
"I will praise you, O LORD, with all my heart; before the "gods" I will sing your praise. I will bow down toward your holy temple and will praise your name for your love and your faithfulness, for you have exalted above all things your name and your word. When I called, you answered me; you made me bold and stouthearted. May all the kings of the earth praise you, O LORD, when they hear the words of your mouth". (Psalm 138:1-4)
What I mean by impacting is not style, it is the substance behind it. It is the passion and power that moves people from themselves to desire to please God, and praise Him. You can fully engage in the pipe organ, or have a full 100-piece orchestra, or have a guitar and keyboard. The style and instruments are not the key, it is the heart and passion behind it. The worship leaders must be there for the Lord and no other reason. You have to have people playing to the Lord not to please an audience.
There are of course many different styles of music and as many ways to engage in worship. Each denomination has its distinctions and variations and there are all the new contemporary ways that keep coming out. Some of the ways are more popular than others. Such as more people are attracted to a contemporary praise band over the organ. But that does not mean the organ is bad, and we should stop using it. What it means is we need to look at starting and providing a service that attracts people and worships God. What it means is we may have to have two distinct services to appeal to more people.
The main focus is to be our love and passion for Christ as our Lord, and what He has done for us. We are to pour out our hearts and minds with gratitude and praise. The object of the worship experience is our Lord. The object is not talent or personalities. The object is not the style and people who are singing and playing the instruments. We are not putting on a performance just to entertain, yet we are performing to our Lord. The worship experience must never be just a performance, yes we are to perform our best for His glory, but not in the sacrifice of the main thing!
Worship is not just music. It is a tool that we use to express our love and devotion to Him. Worship also consists of reading Scripture, prayer, preaching and even the sacraments. If you leave out prayer you are leaving out a vital component. If you are not using Scripture and only sing songs, you are not worshipping God with the best that He has given us. It would be like making a sandwich with cheese and mayonnaise and leaving out the bread and meat. Music is one component and tool that we can use to express our love for Him. Music is very important as it has the power to move us emotionally that the other components may not do. We are created as emotional beings and expressing our emotions in worship is important, as long as we do it with order and out of gratitude. Worship is about what God has done for us, and what it is not about is putting on a show.
Remember it is not about style. Im always running into young people who like the gothic liturgical style as well as the contemporary. At first this amazed me, as I did not like that stuff when I was young. So you need to find your churches personality and distinction and express yourself accordingly. Find out what your people want, what are their needs and what style are you able to do.
Traditionally there are 5 main styles that most of todays and yesterdays worship formats fit into.
There is the Traditional that incorporates more classical music such as hymns, choir or Psalter, and a formal order in which each service follows. There are certain prayers, liturgies and parts of the service that are repetitious each week. These services have an organ and piano and rarely would have any more modern instruments. They are rooted in tradition and usually follow denominational and Scriptural guidelines.
The Liturgical style is even more ridged. It incorporates formal hymns, readings from a prayer book or missal. Robes, incense and perhaps altar boys will all contribute to the service. These first two style have a distinction of a sense of majesty and honor to God, a since of holiness that provides the worshipping congregation with the impression that they are in the presence of God. One of the reasons some people do not like this form is that it also creates a sense of over separation between God and us. They feel not apart of it, the distance is too vast for them to worship with a cheerful heart. It is perspective from various peoples feelings and experiences. The traditional service can be just as impacting as a contemporary can be if the heart and passion is there.
The Praise and Worship style has less formality and more of a free flowing upbeat atmosphere. They may incorporate some of the same aspects as a traditional service but being more personal. A sense of closeness is given to the congregation. Newer forms of music and instruments provide the tone. There may be multi-media used such as Power Point instead of hymnals. The congregation does most of the singing and instead of a choir, and you may have a few praise/song leaders.
One of the newer formats is the Seeker-Sensitive formats. Their distinction is even a more casual atmosphere than the praise style. Some churches may have only a few songs with the addition of plays. Their choice of songs tend to be secular to create familiarity with the new churchgoer, then gradually flow into more Christian music. It is a cushion that prepares people to worship God, who are far, far from it themselves. These people may never have even set foot in a church, and the seeker service is more conducive to get them ready so they are not culturally shocked away from the church.
Sometimes the congregation does not sing as a performance style takes that place as if they were at a play or theater. This is done to attract the unchurched who might feel more comfortable in a less formal setting. When this style is properly designed it gradually generates trust with new people and then filter them into small groups or other services with more meat. One of the drawbacks to these styles is a loss of seemingly holiness and awe that the more traditional forms yield.
The last category is a Blended style that incorporates two or more of the previous styles. This form is becoming more popular as smaller churches are sometimes unable to have more than one service. So they will create a combination to accommodate more needs in their congregation. These services tend to be more spontaneous with a hymn and then a praise chorus sung with an organ and a guitar.
A lot of these styles will overlap and vary between denomination and church. Im not saying one is better than another. Some styles are better suited to a particular congregation at a particular time. Some people feel closer to God in a liturgical setting and others prefer a closeness they receive from a contemporary service. You are dealing with feelings and perceptions based on their experience and what they feel comfortable with. Ultimately people will come, grow and worship when the main purpose of pouring out to God is the central theme and not just accommodating a style, or putting on a performance. Find your niche and do it with love and passion. That church plant I did with a top church growth guru had the finest musicians, they were the band from a famous music group. Yet the church down the street with amateur keyboards and guitar attracted more people because their hearts were in the right place. We were putting on a performance, they were praising God. What is your church doing? Are you praising the holy God of the universe? Are you expressing your love to Christ? This is what impacting worship is all about.
"On one occasion, while he (Jesus) was eating with them, he gave them this command: "Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit." (Acts 1:4-5)
This passage is more about getting ready than waiting. Jesus knew that without the Holy Spirit the disciples would fail fast. We must realize that we already have Him and He is who empowers us. We are a balloon that has not been filled with its helium so it can rise. We cannot live the Christian faith let alone worship our Lord without the Spirits power. We live in a spiritual world, we may not see it but it is there. Plugging into the Spirit readies us for His service, His character, and His plan.
Third, is passion for the Lord.
"But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ--the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead." (Phil. 3:7-11)
This may seem dua, but think about it how many passionate Christians do you know? If you do know a lot count yourself lucky. It has been my observation and experience that passion is missing in the church in a big way. We have become compliant and settled in the church at large. We must have hearts that cry out for closeness and at the same time "fear" our Lord and Savior. To be a church that is following the Lord of the Bible we will be overflowing with gratitude for what He has done for us. We will desire to grow in our faith and knowledge of Him. Our passion will be enthusiastic and contagious to those around us. As individual Christians and as a body of believers who are practicing what they are worshipping, that they are learning what they are teaching. We are not a club, we are the body of Christ.
There is a difference between just being spiritual and being passionate. Being spiritual is the acknowledgment of who we are before a Holy God. This is fundamental. But if this is all we have, then what is our response to others. Being passionate is taking that spirituality and being joyful with it. There is no such thing as a sad and somber Christian, this is not found in Scripture. What is found is the joy and excitement that the life of living for the Lord brings. Paul in this passage is expressing his joy for being in Christ. Paul was also in prison tied to a floor laying in his dung, eating the scraps fed to him. Paul still found the passion, and let that passion be enthusiastic to those around him. Yes suffering and bad things will happen, but our theme for our emotions and worship and interactions with others must be a clear sense of who we are in Christ. Then allowing that sense to flow. It may not happen every day. But as a body of believers it must be the feel of the church. Wet with His passion and not dry with our somber.
We may not be as emotionally passionate as the prophets such as Isaiah and Jeremiah; but we must be willing as a church to not only acknowledge our faith but live it with enthusiasm. We must have a love for the church we are going to. We must love the people who are there. Yes there are times we may not feel very loving, as stuff happens. But we can learn and grow in the faith and in love. When a church is wet with the love. Then people who are hurting can be ministered too. Passion is contagious, as is dysfunction. A church is not to be a place for the whole congregation to go out of obligation. It is not a place to be when the people wish they were some place else. It is a place to be to come together with others who are lovers and doers of the Word. And it is a place to welcome the hurting, the people who do not want to be there, so they can catch your enthusiasm and passion. So that the enthusiasm is the flow of the Holy Spirit in our lives being manifested in our actions and deeds. Because God so loved us
we are responding in that love. Do our hearts burn when we hear the Word of our Lord? This is passion for our Lord, this is essential for the healthy church.
Fourth is heartfelt Prayer.
"Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. "I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing." (John 15:4-5)
It is hard for me to list prayer as number 4, as for me it is one of the quintessential most important aspects of the Christian life. For me this is number one. But when I thought this through I realized it really is not the first thing, something happened in my life and other prayer warriors lives to make it first. So the reason that it is 4 on the list is that prerequisites need to take place before prayer become more real and is transferred into heartfelt prayer. Thats what I mean by heartfelt is a sense of passion and urgency that needs to come before this can take place. And the previous characteristics plow the field and plant the seed so this form of prayer can grow. We have to know God and His Word first, then it will cause us to know the importance of worship. Because learning about God and worshipping Him brings us closer to His presence and makes prayer become deeper and more alive. The third aspect of passion enters in from our building and growing relationship. Thus these three characteristics power prayer, through the work of the Holy Spirit. Then the characteristics back flow, to cause the previous ones to work better. Such as more prayer will cause you to be more passionate, better leadership development will make the first characteristics stronger and so forth.
True revival only has happened in this country twice. First was the great awakening in 1726 in the last place you would expect. The Dutch Reformed, because their cultural identity is typically closed off to outsiders, and not very conducive to grow beyond their experience. But they did not let their culture hold them from what Christ was saying through Jonathan Edwards and George Whitfields preaching. Even though I consider them the greatest of preachers, it was not their teaching that caused the revival, it was the prayer. They were men of prayer and allowed prayer to bend their hearts and minds, then God chose to converge on that generation. It lasted well into the 1740s and most denominations and people in the colonies were effected by it and even went into parts of Europe. A second time this occurred was at the end of the 18th century and beginning of the 19th century. Prayer was the key and focus. People gathered and prayed fervently for God to get a hold of this county and the hearts of people. Nothing like it has been seen since. We have seen cat licks of revival in Korea and various parts of the world, but true revival is a bath of regeneration and conversion for an entire generation. This is what the church must do, fall on her knees in fervent prayer, so God may chose to grip this generation.
I will not spend too much time on this, since there is a whole chapter already. Prayer must perambulate every aspect of your church. From praying for the needs, people, programs, opportunities, direction, before the meetings, in the meetings, after the meetings, before the service, during the service, after the service, and everywhere else, continually and fervently. The bottom line is if you have a church that does not pray or only gives lip service to it, you will not grow as a church. And true growth is not numbers it is commitment and obedience to His service. Then numbers usually follow. Because these characteristics are contagious, and people will desire to be apart of them.
Fifth is Making Disciples.
"Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." (Matthew 28:18-20)
This is perhaps the characteristic that most churches somehow forget. It is also the quintessential aspect and reason why the church exists. So why is it that so few churches actually have disciple making as a primary ministry. For most churches it is something they think that they are doing. Saying going to church on Sunday is discipleship. But it is not. Some churches throw it in as an after thought, or may offer a class or something to the effect.
Because due to our human fallen thinking, we desire the right to ourselves as more important than the life that Christ has for us. It is a problem for the non-Christian to except a Savior when they have to give up their rights to themselves, and it is difficult for the Christian to live a life that is truly surrendered and poured out to the sovereignty of God. Yet true discipleship cannot begin until we learn one important key aspect of life: there is one God and you are not it! That is we have to yield to the Lordship of our God and not to the desires of our will. When we do this then the discipleship process can begin. And when we refuse we will be the strife and conflict that gives Christianity a black eye, the problem rather than the solution. So discipleship and instigating as a priority is lost. We make up excuses saying, well people wont come, we do not have anybody to lead it
What they do not realize is we are not responsible for people coming, we are only responsible for obeying our Lord and doing it! And the reasons why there is no one to lead it is that there is no one discipled in the church. Even the Apostle Paul spent three years being discipled by Barnabas, and he received his call and was empowered directly from Christ Himself.
Humbleness is characterized by the willingness to grow in Christ and receive the teaching and the growth. Peter tells us we ought to be humble toward each other so that we can know the grace of God and not be the opposition of God. Then secondly he says, you better be humble not only toward each other but toward God. This is so straight-forward. This is so essential to be a blessed church, to be a growing church, not in numbers, but in discipleship!
Checkout these passages, they tell us discipleship and mentoring are not an option, but a command: Matthew 28:16-20, Romans 12, I Corinthians 12, Galatians 6:1-10, Mark 1:35 2:12. We must follow out of our obedience and mentor in a multigenerational lifestyle, caring for the total person. It will move us from just playing church to being a church.
The effective large church is a convention of smaller churches where each of the members are being cared for by people who are being discipled, who are being taught, who are being encouraged, and being led. And this is the formula that all churches should follow. The death of a church is when we follow political trends, not the national politics but the patriarchal personalities that want to control people. And when we have a controlling attitude that means we do not allow God to control us, thus we become empty shells and hollow logs. Being hollow means there's nothing working within us, There is no creator of the universe leading and directing our ways, so we become worthless to the Kingdom of God.
Making disciples takes vision and the understanding of scripture. It gives the church a purpose that forms leaders who grow other leaders, an outgrowth of their growth. That the leader who disciples and equips others is a person who is living the faith for themselves and setting goals for their personal growth, before they set goals for others. So that their skills and abilities are growing to make them a better worker because they have been and continue to be a better child of God first.
From the character of Christ, will come the conduct of Christ, if we choose to follow. Then those values of our daily walk which will drive our behaviors will in turn influence others. You cannot lead where you have not been, or lead where you do not know where you are going. This is why discipleship is so essential to the aspect of being a Christian. We are called not to just visualize discipleship, but to do it, not to just talk about it, but to do it. The effective church will take Scripture and the call of our Lord seriously then implement it into function.
Jesus purpose for His three years of earthly ministry was the discipleship and equipping of the disciples, this was His drive and where most of His time was spent. He was focused on the teaching of the kingdom of God, to see beyond their situation to the life to come. With His teaching Jesus entrusted His church and people in the care of the people He taught. And they were to replicate themselves to others and so forth, so that the objective was every believer was an equipper, that every member was a minister, that every Christian be involved in the life and gifts of the body to influence the world.
The Word must touch us as who we are and transform our very core of being, this is the knowledge that leads and transforms. You can not lead where you do not know the way, and to know the way you must have the knowledge, and the knowledge comes from experience and experience comes from discipleship. The will of God is for us to study His word, this will change our behaviors. A leader must have the knowledge and experience to put into practice the work that needs to be done. The leader will be studious so that they are nourished by the Word, getting into the scriptures with study and application, not just reading it like a novel. The word must touch us as who we are and transform our very core of being, this is the knowledge that leads and transforms.
Small groups that have a plan to self replicate.
finding and discipling people in their spiritual gifts.
Sixth is love and care that is penetrating.
"One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, "Of all the commandments, which is the most important?" "The most important one," answered Jesus, "is this: `Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this: `Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these." (Mark 12:28-31)
When we have a grasp of the magnitude of the love we received from our Lord that is totally undeserving, it should drop us to our knees. It also should cause us to see how we are with those around us. If we see ourselves as undeserving and God is willing to love us, then we should do the same with others around us. To be willing to allow that love to flow out of us as well as in us. So when we are loving the Lord our God with all of our heart and with all our soul and with all of our mind and with all of our strength; then, we will love our neighbor with care!
This passage also implies that we are to love ourselves. This may not be popular in classic reformed theology, but Christ does say love others as we love ourselves. Thus if we hate ourselves we cannot love others. So a healthy self-image is important and the image is who we are in Christ, never who we are to others and ourselves.
If, If, If, If, If: five ifs happen in I Corinthians 13 that expound love. The response of the if is to not let it be an if, but allow it to be true and penetrating. If we allow the if to stand upon itself, so it has no function and is just a stipulation, then we cannot be that church as out Lord called. If is a condition that calls to us a response, one way people leave, the other people stay. Which way will you go?
From the years of research into why some churches grow and why others do not, I found what I believe to be the most crucial aspect that is within our control. That characteristic is how we respond to His grace. That characteristic is how we are loving and caring to each other and our neighbors and the world. When people desire to join a church it is not because of the teaching, or the worship, or the programs, it is because of the care they received. That is why people join cults. Because someone reached out to them in their pain and hurt. People may visit your church because of the rest of these vital characteristics, but they will only stay when your heart is after His and then it is pouring out the love and care that He has for you and them!
Relationships are what life is all about. There is nothing greater or more important in our lives. No job, or school, or plan or wealth can take the place of relationships. Our relationship with Christ is foremost, then what flows from there is our love for each other. When we love we care. And when we care people will desire to receive that care and reciprocate that care and so forth. People will want to come to a church were they feel welcomed and cared for. People will not want to come to a church where they are not cared for. People will leave a church more often because relationships have not been developed more so than any other reason. They may give other excuses for it, but the fact is they left because they did not feel cared for there.
I Cor 12:26 When we are moving to help others and share with them we are not arguing about the color of the carpet in the sanctuary. No division means we are working together in action with each other, that our eyes are focused upon Him and not ourselves, so no division will happen. There is no time to do the strives and disease of the church when we are learning and growing together, working together.
The people that stay in a careless environment will not have the impact they should. Because the desire to learn and grow in our Lord will be drowned out by the noise of carelessness. It will create an atmosphere of distrust and fertile ground for all the diseases of the human sinful condition to grow and flourish. Just like I Corinthians 13 starts off with having the tongue of an angel but having no love we are nothing. When we do all the rest of the characteristics well and good, but we are not loving and caring, then we will accomplish nothing. We will not be the church as Christ has called us to be. We cannot allow the hurt and pain we may have received from the past cloud our call. We cannot allow our misplaced will and desires and sin to mask the cross.
Just ask yourself what kind of church would you like to be in. One that is loving and encouraging, or one that would care less if you where there or not. Cults attract people because they know how to care. They may do it with bad intentions, but the people who are drawn are the ones the church has turned away. I hate to say this but I must. I have some relatives that are Mormon. And I can honestly say I never feel more welcomed and loved then when I go with them to there service. Most of them do not buy into the doctrine, or even understand it. Just engage a missionary in dialogue. Their enthusiasm comes from the acceptance and care they have there. Their passion to give up two years of their lives to peddle bicycles and get doors slammed in their face is because their church is a family, and they are willing to do that for their family. Why can ours not be that way. We have the truth, they don't. But a lot of people feel more comfortable there than here with us.
See Gal 5:13-f
There is a thread in the tapestry of Scripture that when removed will cause the whole garment of Gods call to tear apart. That thread is love and care. Without it is a church cannot function.
For us to be a church that is poured out to the Lord and community we must be a place of love and care.
Seventh is leadership development.
"It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ." (Ephesians 4:11-13)
Most church growth experts would place this on top of the list, and there are good reasons for it. However, you cannot have good leaders if you do not have the previous characteristics powering them. After all who wants leaders who leave out any of them, do you want leaders who do not love and care? Surprisingly enough, it seems a lot of churches do, as they fill the seats of leadership because of who they are in society instead of who they are in Christ. I already have a full chapter on leadership, so I wont go into again.
What is important to know is that being a leader is the ability to lead. It is not a personality or a position. Remember the story of Saul and David. Saul looked like a leader, but he failed every test and opportunity to be a leader. David was a little scrawny shepherd boy, the last of the least to ever be considered a leader, yet he became one of the greatest leaders of all time. David was after Gods heart, Saul was after power.
I must warn you that authentic leaders are rare in society and nearly absent in the church. Our radical 60s produced a generation of anything goes, and that has entered the oval office and even in some deacons meetings. When a real leader rises up the in power leaders will quickly put them down. Real leadership is a dangerous threat to most people in power. They see it as a threat and not the opportunity to be all that Christ has for us. When you are a pretender and the real one shows up, what does that make you? So how do you know? Just keep Saul and David in mind. Do the leaders seek power or Gods heart? Do they seek the best for the bride of Christ or do they seek complacency, and misdirected action.
The other great aspect of effective leadership is that the people/congregation need to recognize authentic leadership. This is essential. If the men who came to David at Ziklag (I Chronicles 12) did not do so, David would not have been king. These men recognized that David was the anointed one of God and not Saul, so they switched sides, not just a few mighty men, but over 120,000 warriors dedicated to their God and their anointed king. The church must be able to see who is the real leader, and not allow pretenders in their midst. The real leader cannot function when the people refuse to see beyond the Saul, beyond their perceptions and experience, to whom the Lord has sent.
This must also be training and releasing lay people to be the feet of the ministry. Leaders must be able to reciprocate and replicate themselves. Thus, people in the church need to be trained and discipled to be leaders. A good idea is to have each leader in the church from elder to small group leader, to Sunday school teacher have a disciple that they are training. And all being trained be good resources and people. As the church grows, and as leaders stand down, others are in the pool ready for action. If the class gets too big then there is a teacher ready to go who then takes a person to disciple and so forth.
Eight is outreach and missions.
"Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations. Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God." (Psalm 90:1-2)
Is this the passion and the message you bring. It is supposed to be. Evangelism is the willingness and the action of taking our love of God, and Gods love for us to others, wherever they are. We are to proclaim Christ as the Creator and Redeemer of the world.
The church must function from the precepts of I Peter 3:15, to always be ready to give a defense for the hope that we have. So do we? We cannot not allow peoples objections and offenses to stop us. We cannot allow our fear to paralyze us from the call and opportunities that lay at our feet. This is simply a must, to which we are emphatically called. We have no excuse to not evangelize. We cannot hide behind that I do not have that spiritual gift. We cannot hide behind we do not have the resources. We cannot hide behind our comfort. He calls us all for this task regardless of gift or ability or position. And if you are deaf, mute, paralyzed and dirt poor you still have the greatest gift to offer than the most rich and complacent person may not have, that is Christ.
We are not responsible for the results, what we are responsible for is to overcome or fears and our objections and respond to our Lords imperative. We must be able to see the potential and call that Christ has given us. We must see that the world does not know Him, our neighbors may not know Him, the people next door to the church may not know Him. And people all around the world do not know Him. It is our task to patiently, tactfully, lovingly and with caring compassion show who our Lord is and what He has already done for them. We have to see evangelism as a privilege and not a duty or chore. Our love for God first loving us should be flowing over to those around us.
We cannot hide behind our theological thinking and saying if God is purely sovereign, then we do not need to evangelize. Because they will come if He wills it. What is missing is through Gods sovereignty is we are the means He chose to use to further His gospel. God does not need us nor does He have to use us, yet He chooses to use us. God works through the gospel message, through His Word and the power of the Holy Spirit. The power is not us, it is Him. We are merely responding to His service.
When the church leadership realizes the privilege and call, it should then mobilize itself to accomplish this task. There are a lot of good books out there to tell you how to accomplish this. I have a few ideas in the last chapter under "Strategy for Reaching Out". It is my prerogative to show you how important it is for a healthy church. I read a survey recently that said that 95% of Christians never have lead another person to Christ. And in my experience in church growth consulting I have observed very few churches doing evangelism. A lot of churches have committees and even provide funds to mission organizations, and some send out missionaries, but actually doing evangelism is extremely rare. This should be an outrage to you! Because our Lords last and most fervent command was for us to go and make disciples, yet it is always on the back burner. It must be the banquet we do to invite others to His feast.
Ninth is powered vision.
"Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for." (Hebrews 11:1-2)
This verse is about empowering vision as well as faith. Because true vision has the foundation of faith before it can be operational. It is the ability to see the potential, the gift that God has given. You need to see it played out in your life first by your growing faith. So you know its reality and power. Faith gives us the vision to see the path God has for us long before we get there or move others in that direction. Vision is also the preparation that we do as leaders in our walk with God, so we can lead others where they have not been but we have.
This characteristic functions like leadership. In that you need the rest of the characteristics to be in place and functioning before vision can be effective. Most church growth people place this on top. And for the most part they are correct, you have to know were you are going to lead others there. This is the classic case of the chicken or the egg, and who was or in our case which should go first. But you also have to know why you are going, so that is why it is ninth.
What I mean by powered vision is that vision and the core values of the church must be powered by our Lord. They cannot just come from a book or seminar or parrot what another church is doing. You have to be surrendered to what God is calling your church to do and be. The visionary leader will be able to see what is wrong and where we need to go and do to fix it and grow. Even in the midst of chaos and strife, there is the hope of our Lord that needs to be communicated. A plan needs to be formed and people need to be challenged. We need to be passionate about getting there yet be able to be still (Psalm 46:10) and allow God to work in His time. It is a balance.
Vision and leadership takes the people beyond what they can see, it takes them out of their comfort zone into His zone. It is more than just hanging in there. As the Congregation and leaders grow beyond endurance into perseverance. Perseverance is the steadfast assurance that God is at work, where endurance is to be the "energizer bunny" and keep going and going. It is not allowing our fears and misjudgments to get in the way. It is not letting our disappointments to rob His plan away from us (Revelation 3:10). We have to have our eyes on the right thing. We have to be absolutely right before we can call others to go where they may not desire or feel comfortable. If we do not have the right plan, such that it is based on our hope and not upon His hope, we will make a bigger mess that what we had before. True vision has the Hope of our Lord, that where we are going is going to happen in His time. It is not just our effort, but for which Christ stood, His character.
When we try to push a church forward to our thinking and direction we may miss out on what God really had for us. We miss the true opportunities and wonder, because we placed our interests over His. We may do it sincerely thinking we just want to attract more people and grow His church. Or we may do it with ulterior motives to fulfill our egos. The bottom line is that we need to go in His powered direction and nowhere else.
It will be best for your philosophy of ministry to consider the needs of you community, and how best to reach them.
Tenth is effective stewardship.
"Honor the LORD with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine." (Proverbs 3:9-10)
Stewardship is often associated with money and giving. This is partly true; however, true stewardship is how we care for all of the resources that the Lord bestows to us. The resources are often considered again money and facilities. But again this is only one aspect of true stewardship. It is the care of all that God gives us and the most important asset we have is the gifts and abilities we have as a body of believers over the material things we have. Yes, we need to take careful care of money and building, but do not think that is all that stewardship is about.
How we treat our wallets is a sure sign of how we honor God and His church. But how do we care for the call he gives us? How do we take care of His neighborhood? How do we take care of His gifts? How do we take care of His Word?
When the church is wet with His purpose, people will be effective stewards, and as a fruit people will give willingly. When a church is dry in despair, paying the utilities will be a chore. This characteristic of giving is a fruit that comes from the knowledge that all we have is His, so we desire to take careful care of it. So all of the characteristics are considered stewardship that produces fruit.
When the leaders and congregation know what true stewardship is about, then the fruit of it will be financial giving. There should be no need for a lofty sermon series on stewardship, no thermometers in the lobby, or any urgent pleas from the leadership if the church is really on His path. Yes we need to pass the plate, but do it with the sense of gratitude that all we have belongs to our Lord.
There are churches that are very healthy but the people just do not have the means. Perhaps they are in a poor part of town, or have very high rent or mortgage payments. Maybe bad decisions were made and monies were lost. There are a multitude of reasons why giving may not be making the grade. However, in most cases it is a spiritual problem, that the people have not surrendered all to Him. That God has not impacted them to go beyond their needs and comfort to His service. In most case the church if not a new start or in a poor area should have the resources to meet its staff needs, programs, facilities, and missions with extra that can bless other ministries and churches in need.
When the church has this fruit operating in abundance it is usually a sure sign that the rest of the characteristics are developing and growing to give God the glory. If the church places its focus upon the money and ignores the point of stewardship, it will fail. In the hundreds of churches I have observed, I have only seen one with a lot of giving while the rest of the characteristics were bankrupted. I guess there are always exceptions to the rules.
Eleventh is appropriate programming.
"Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 3:12-14)
This is the development of programs to house the characteristics and keep reproducing them. This is done in age appropriate programs and opportunities for people to participate in fellowship and discipleship. This is the operating system that allow the programs to function. Such as youth ministry, childrens ministry, prayer ministry, small groups, strategic planning task forces such as missions and evangelism. Operational ministries such as building and grounds and worship. This is not almost last because it is least important. It is eleventh because all the characteristics should be functioning so that the programs can function. Again it is the chicken and egg thing, you have to have one before the other, but which one. To develop the characteristics you must have a system to develop them, and to develop them you must have them. Confused, well that is why the power of the Holy Spirit is essential, because He gives us the ability and power to make it work, develop and to function as a community of believers.
Twelfth is replication.
"But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." (Acts 1:8)
This is the willingness to give birth to other churches and spread what Christ has given you to other neighborhoods, cities and countries. It is OK to have a big mega church, but that should not be the goal. The goal we find from the book of Acts is the replication and spread of the church. They could have kept it in Jerusalem, or in Athens, or just in the main cities. But God would not allow that, it was spread everywhere, as He still calls us to do the same. When you have a significant amount of people coming to your church from neighboring towns or locations, then send them off to be a new church. If it does not work they can come back. Im not saying to force people out, no way, let it be an opportunity, and option to have as a core goal for your church. Do not hog the gifts and blessing for yourself, spread it out and you will receive even more blessings.
These 12 characteristics converge synergistically to form the church as our Lord called. Each one of these builds upon the other, each fueling the other, all working together to be the church. Where our real needs are met, where our gifts are used, because of the teaching, worship and prayer powering people through the work of the Holy Spirit. We are allowing our church to become as it was meant from the beginning, not allowing our prejudice and fears to get in the way. We will have a powerful force for His kingdom.
"Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective." (James 5:13-16)
You may not start off the bat with each of theses quintessential characteristics in your church. It will be a process to develop them, especially if you are a new church, or even an established church with the, "we have always done it this way mentality". Be patient and strive to preserve these aspects into your personal life and the life of the pastors and leaders and the congregation. Do not know where to start? Start at the top and work your way down the list. The reason for our being a church in the first place is because of these characteristics, because they glorify our Lord. And the glorification of our Lord is the reason for our being as a human, as a Christian, as a church. This is the meaning and purpose of life, to give God glory.
"So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God-- even as I try to please everybody in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved. Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ." (I Corinthians 10: 31: 11:1)
Glory is the expression of our love and gratitude, bestowing our best praise with splendor and passion. Because He first loved us. This is why we do church, and when we have this in the forefront of our thinking and heart we will do church well as God intended.
Ó R.J. Krejcir 1998, 2001 excerpt from the upcoming book Pew Sitting