What is a healthy church? Is a healthy church one that is always growing? Is it one that never experiences deficit or one that has a certain number of members? Does a healthy church support missions? Is it part of an association or of a certain denomination? Does it have a preacher that can entertain its congregants or a Spirit led, charismatic worship team? Is a healthy church simply a group of people who love Jesus getting together to worship Him?
What I fear is that the people of God in the United States have forgotten exactly what it means to be the people of God. We fill our churches with programs, committees, ministries, fundraisers, services, potlucks and prayer meetings; but so many have forgotten what it means to be the church. I have to admit that we as fallen human people make it far more complicated than it actually is. Church is not about how much we are doing as much as about specifically what we are doing. And what we are doing specifically determines how healthy of a church we will be. If I take care of my body, will it not be healthier?
I am going to ask something of the reader before we move on. If you are a member of the Church (I mean that you trust in Christ with all of your life), make the commitment now to apply the convictions in scripture to the way you live: especially as they will be applied below.
While He was together with them, He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for the Father’s promise. “This,” He said, “is what you heard from Me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
So when they had come together, they asked Him, “Lord, are You restoring the kingdom to Israel at this time?”
He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or periods that the Father has set by His own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
A healthy church seeks
After recording many details about Christ’s life, Luke went on to write of the early development of the Church as it followed Israel’s Messiah, and indeed the savior of the whole world. Here, we witness the very words of Jesus concerning the health of the church. We would do good to consider this very prescription for our local churches today.
The very foundation of a healthy church is this: that it seeks Christ, and specifically seeks the guidance of the Holy Spirit. It was Christ who promised the Spirit and Christ who commanded the church to wait for the giving of the Holy Spirit. After Pentecost, which occurs in chapter 2, it should be understood that every believer is given the Holy Spirit at the moment of his salvation. As members of a healthy church, we each seek to worship God alone with the entirety of our lives and to seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
What exactly does it mean for us to seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit? To consider these things, let us infer some characteristics of God’s Holy Spirit from the text above.
- The Holy Spirit is given, not achieved.
- This means simply that the Holy Spirit cannot be found in our own emotion. Certain lighting, temperature, musical genre or style of preaching cannot bring the Holy Spirit to us. The Holy Spirit is given and the guidance of the Holy Spirit depends not on us.
- The Holy Spirit gives power.
- So long as the believer lives according to the Spirit, he will not lack anything that he needs to do the work that God has for him. Whoever does not live in the Spirit will not have the power to do anything that God has called him to. (i.e. worship is impossible without the Holy Spirit).
- The Holy Spirit guides those who are obedient.
- In Luke 24, Christ gives the Great Commission and promises the power of the Holy Spirit. Here, we see that those who receive the Holy Spirit become witnesses of Jesus Christ. This means that if we are not obedient children of God, we may receive salvation but we will not experience the power of the Holy Spirit. Since the power of the Holy Spirit is rarely seen in the United States, I am going to argue that most churches in this context are being disobedient to God. The power and guidance of the Holy Spirit are experience only in obedience to God.
The first staple of a healthy church, then, is that its members seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit. This is not something that can be accomplished simply in song, preaching, ministry, committees, the giving of offerings or in service. It is something that can only be experienced in blatant and unapologetic obedience to God. The first act of obedience for anyone is trust in Jesus Christ. Then we must always ask how we glorify God in our lives and we must become students of the scriptures. Without our commitment to obedience, the guidance of the Holy Spirit will not be experienced and our churches will not be healthy. Coincidently, this is where true worship begins. So we seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit as we resolve to obey God in everything we do.
Through the Holy Spirit’s guidance, Christ’s disciples are led to be His witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria. We seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance through obedience, then in our obedience we also intentionally seek out others so that we can be witnesses about Christ. This is the great commission, and it begins simply with seeking others. This means that it is impossible for each of us to please God and to experience the power of the Holy Spirit if we are not actively seeking out others and beginning relationships with them! Each Christian ought to know his neighbors! Each Christian ought to build good relationships with his or her coworkers! Each Christian ought to genuinely get to know his waiter or waitress as he dines! Each Christian ought to be involved in his community and intentionally seek out others, constantly getting to know others that he does not yet know.
Herein is one of our problems and one of the symptoms that may make us an unhealthy church in the United States. We do not engage our neighbors. We do not seek out people. We are content not to build new relationships. We are stuck.
So, the members of a healthy church both intentionally seek God and intentionally seek people. These are the first two vital signs of healthy church members and the most basic signs of life within the church. Without these, a congregation is dead. Before anyone disagrees, let him remember the two commands that summarize the whole of the Law:
“Teacher, which command in the law is the greatest?”
He said to him, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important command. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.”
A healthy church serves
I want to take the remainder of our time and extrapolate on what it means to be a witness. When a witness testifies in court, he gives his testimony about certain people or events. The trustworthiness of his account is based on the trustworthiness of his character. When we become witnesses of Christ, we are to live as Christ lived else our testimony concerning Him may be perceived as untrustworthy. So we each commit to a life of service, both to each other in Christ and to the world not in Christ. Members who have not a heart of service fail to represent Christ; and in their disobedience do not worship God. Because they do not worship God, they likely will not receive the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
- We seek God
- We seek people
- We serve each other
- We serve the people outside the church, with whom we are building relationships
A healthy church seeks and serves.
A healthy church shares
There is yet another trait of a witness. He or she testifies concerning a person or event. As Christians, we give testimony about Jesus Christ, we constantly disciple one another, building one another up in the faith and spurring one another on to godliness. We also tell the world about what Christ has done for all people. So we commit also to a life of testimony, both to each other in Christ and to the world not in Christ. Members who do not live a life of testimony (with words) fail to be a witness of Christ; and in their disobedience, do not worship God. Because they do not worship God, they likely will not receive the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
- We seek God
- We seek people
- We serve each other
- We serve people outside the church.
- We disciple one another
- We share the Gospel with people outside the church, with whom we are building relationships.
A healthy church seeks, serves and shares.
Here is my indictment against the church in the United States. We may think to seek God and to worship Him, but we do not intentionally seek people. If we are not seeking people, then we are not worshipping God. Hoping that they will stumble into a church service is not enough, especially in a world where our neighbors are less and less likely to hear the Gospel. We might serve each other, but I see more and more quarrels within our churches. Don’t we know that it is our own selfish desires that cause quarrels among us! All we do for the world is criticize it! I do believe that it is time we stand up and be the men and women that Christ Himself commanded us to be and serve. Finally, the most potent symptom of the American church’s unhealthiness is the lack of sharing. In our churches we leave discipleship with our pastors and preachers when we know perfectly well that Christ has called us all to build up others in the faith and to share with others what God has revealed to us. Virtually no one in the church dares speak a word of the Gospel to anyone outside the church walls.
This means that virtually every Christian in the United States is disobedient concerning one of the most basic commands given in scripture: and that is to be a witness. We wonder why our churches struggle, why God does not bless our congregations or why we experience dissention. We wonder why the Holy Spirit is apparently absent in our daily lives. I will tell you, we are disobedient. I am calling the Church now to stand in the simplicity of the Gospel. Seek. Serve. Share. Such is not optional if we are to have a healthy, thriving church once again. The good news is that Christ is in the business of revival. We have the opportunity to begin seeking Him and to begin seeking others.
 Acts 1:4-8 (HCSB)
 Matthew 22:36-40 (HCSB)