ACCOUNTABILITY: EVERYBODY SHOULD BE ANSWERABLE TO SOMEBODY (and who’s accountable to whom in the organisation should be generally known – perhaps, in larger churches, in some sort of church handbook).
‘ADMINISTRY’: GOOD ORGANIZATION IS LIKE GOOD DIGESTION – when it’s good you don’t notice it!.
AESTHETICS: GOD IS THE ULTIMATE ARTIST! How appropriately tasteful is the decor of your buildings?
ARCHITECTURE: BUILDINGS PREACH! They tell the community what kind of God you believe in!.
AUDITS TELL US WHERE WE ARE! A church ‘audit’ is best done by an outside consultant, who collects data from questionnaires, interviews with the leaders and congregation etc.
AUTHORITY (WHO DECIDES WHAT) HAS FIVE SOURCES – GOD, THE BISHOP, ELDERS, THE CONGREGATION, AND THE WANDERING PROPHET/APOSTLE. A local church might not give these names to their leaders, but the respective functions should be covered somehow.
BIBLE: IT’S GOD’S COMMUNICATION-OF-HIS-LOVE TO US, BUT LIKE EVERYTHING ELSE WHICH IS NOT GOD IS A MEANS NOT AN END. So a healthy church will have a ‘high’ view of Scripture without resorting to ‘bibliolatry’.
BUREAUCRACY, THOUGH NECESSARY, SHOULD BE MINIMAL! As a rough guide, leaders should spend more time in faith-development contexts than in administrative ones: unless they are employed as administrators on the church staff.
CHANGE IS THE ONLY CONSTANT THING: HEALTHY CHURCHES ADAPT! How well church leaders moderate change and a church adapts to necessary changes is a sure sign of a church’s health.
CHILDREN ARE BEST TAUGHT BY OBSERVING COMMITTED PARENTS/ADULTS! If a church has no children it has no future. The best formative influence for children: watching highly committed ‘big people’ worshipping a God they obviously love very much! The church’s role in strengthening families is crucial here.
‘CHURCH’ IS PEOPLE, NOT A PLACE. (The question might be worded: ‘when I think of church I think of a community of people not a building’).
CLERICALISM: ONE OF THE CHURCH’S GREATEST EVILS! Clericalism is based on the notion that the ‘clergy’ have certain prerogatives – in addition to pastoral leadership – from which other ‘ministers’ are excluded.
COMMITMENT: YOU GET WHAT YOU EXPECT! In a healthy church they rarely have problems recruiting trained people for strategic ministries.
COMMITTEES CAN BE USEFUL SOMETIMES. Most of the best Christian ministries commenced with a vision by one person. But ‘standing’ ‘research’ and ‘action’ task-groups are necessary too.
COMMUNITY WITHIN – A SENSE OF BELONGING. This variable measures the degree to which members feel ‘These are my people: I care about them and they care about me!’.
COMMUNITY WITHOUT – DO THEY KNOW YOUR CHURCH IS THERE? Here we ask people in the surrounding community what they think of when you mention the name of a given church. This research tells us all sorts of things about the impact the church is making in its neighbourhood.
COMPASSION IS DOING WHAT JESUS DID FOR ‘THE LOST, THE LEAST, AND THE LAST ‘. Who’s hurting – inside and outside the church – where the people of God can exercise ministries of mercy?
‘CONFESSIONAL’ CHURCHES ARE MORE HEALTHY BECAUSE THEY’RE MORE HONEST. For example, in healthy churches preachers have a ‘we’ rather than a ‘you’ preaching style: including themselves in need of God’s grace.
CONFLICT MAY BE GOOD FOR YOU! Healthy churches don’t necessarily relish conflict, but they have secure ways of handling it.
COUNSELING – HELPING PEOPLE HELP EACH OTHER. Healthy churches run a ‘How to Help your Friend’ seminar/course regularly for their people.
‘COVENANTAL’ CHURCHES TAKE RELATIONSHIPS SERIOUSLY – ‘Covenental’ in contrast to ‘creedal’. That is, they’re dynamic rather than static; basing their life together on relationships rather than simply affirming doctrinal distinctives.
CREATIVITY IS WORKING WITH A CREATIVE GOD WHO MAKES ALL THINGS NEW. Creativity may be expressed in all sorts of ways – artisticly, in problem-solving, etc.
CULTURAL RELEVANCE – THE APOSTLES WERE SENSITIVE TO IT, SO SHOULD WE BE! Healthy churches do not slavishly follow cultural shifts, but recognise their importance if they are to be relevant to the time/place where God has put them.
CULTURAL CRITIQUE – THE PROPHETS DID IT, SO SHOULD WE! If Christians have a ‘my culture/country right or wrong’ mentality they may have been seduced into believing that their culture is in most/all respects God-ordained. In reality it may be demonic in some ways.
DELEGATION: GIVE EVERYONE A SENSE OF IMPORTANCE. Teach/train each minister/Christian well, and trust one another…
EAT TOGETHER SOMETIMES (FAMILIES DO THAT!)
ENCOURAGEMENT GIVES US THE COURAGE TO KEEP GOING! A healthy church has many people like Barnabas: every time we meet him in the New Testament he’s encouraging someone!
ENTHUSIASM (literally ‘being possessed by God’) is very contagious. If the leaders don’t have it, generally the church as a whole won’t either.
ETHICS / MORALS – HOW TO BEHAVE IN A PAGAN WORLD (BUT KNOW THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN MACRO- AND MICRO- ISSUES!). Every church should equip its members in deciding ‘Christianly’ in such contentious areas as race, poverty, war, hunger, patriarchy, abortion, homosexuality etc.
‘EUCHARISTIC’ COMMUNITIES ARE JOYFUL – that is, a healthy church has a ‘high’ view of the sacraments; but both solemnity and extravagant praise are regularly experienced.
EVANGELISM: GOOD NEWS IS FOR SHARING! How often/effectively do people share their faith with others? Alpha courses? How many people are added regularly to the church membership through a decisive conversion experience?
EVANGELICAL CHURCHES LIVE UNDER A HIGHER AUTHORITY. Every healthy church, is, in some sense, ‘evangelical’: that is, they live under the authority of the Word of God, rather than accommodating their beliefs/thinking to the prevailing rationalities…
EXPECTANCY: THE CERTAIN CONVICTION THAT ‘GOD IS WITH US’! When people come together for any purpose in a healthy church, they expect God to change them!
FAITH IS TRUSTING GOD (PARTICULARLY WHEN WE’VE REASONED EVERYTHING THROUGH AND STILL CAN’T FIND AN ANSWER)
FAMILY IS GOD’S DESIGN FOR MAKING HUMANS WHOLE! So the church will be sensitive to family members’ needs to spend quality time together: perhaps suggesting in pastors’/leaders’ ‘ministry descriptions’ that they spend more evening-time at home with their families than in church-work.
FINANCE: MONEY IS IMPORTANT (BUT NOT THE MOST IMPORTANT THING). Healthy churches don’t usually need regular ‘stewardship campaigns’ (unless for a major project); and individuals give to ‘mission’ people/projects.
FORGIVENESS OILS THE MACHINERY OF RELATIONSHIPS: In healthy churches people are taught what to do with resentments. Remember Nelson Mandela's wisdom: 'Resentment is swallowing a cup of poison, and waiting for the other person to die'.
FORMATION IS MORE THAN INFORMATION – IT’S TRANSFORMATION. Spiritual formation is the application of the Word of God by the Spirit of God to the heart and mind of the child of God, so that she or he becomes more and more like the Son of God.
FRIENDLINESS: USER-FRIENDLY CHURCHES SOON HAVE SPACE PROBLEMS (THOUGH THEY MAY HAVE A ‘HANDSHAKE-FREE ZONE!’). True Christian ‘friendliness’ is sensitive to different people’s desire either to meet others, or to enjoy solitude/space from others for a while…
FUN IS O.K. FOR HAPPY PEOPLE! Jesus enjoyed convivial parties: so why shouldn’t his followers?
GOALS: IF YOU AIM AT A TARGET, YOU’RE MORE LIKELY TO HIT IT! A church’s goals should be ‘owned’ by everyone: so the process of formulating them will be consonant with the decision-making mores of the particular culture. (For example, in some cultures they will be arrived at by consensus after informal talking-sessions; in many Western contexts they are formulated by congregations who go away for a weekend retreat…) It’s best to have a small number of major goals: enough (say four or five) to memorize for that year.
GOD’S OTHER NAME IS ‘SURPRISE’! A healthy understanding of who God is, is absolutely vital for a healthy church. The best understanding: ‘God is like Jesus’.
GOODNESS IS THE DISCERNABLE VIRTUE OF CHRISTLIKE PEOPLE! The apostle Peter says, literally, that we should be ‘passionately/ zealously committed to goodness’ (1 Peter 3:11). At the core of healthy churches is a number of ‘good’ people!
GOSPEL: THE WHOLE TRUTH AND NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH! The Christian gospel is good news: that we are made in God’s image, loved by God, and in spite of our sinning are invited to turn back to God, and through faith in Jesus Christ, follow our Lord in a life of disciplined holiness, and thereby enjoy ‘eternal life’. Healthy churches preach a ‘full gospel’, not an emasculated one.
GROUPS - AT LEAST 70% OF REGULAR WEEKEND WORSHIPPERS SHOULD BE IN A 'FAITH DEVELOPMENT GROUP' for Bible Study, Prayer, Sharing, and a Mission project.
GROWTH: A BY-PRODUCT OF HEALTH (BUT GROWTH FOR GROWTH’S SAKE IS THE IDEOLOGY OF THE CANCER-CELL!). Healthy organisms grow. Healthy churches tend to see more people come back again! But aiming for growth is to aim for the wrong thing, leading to triumphalism and ego-centrism. Aim for health, and if God ‘gives the increase’ OK.
HEALING IS GOD’S NORMAL WILL, BUT DON’T EVER SEPARATE A THEOLOGY OF HEALING FROM A THEOLOGY OF REDEMPTIVE SUFFERING! Pentecostals/ charismatics have majored on healing rather than redemptive suffering. The Catholic tradition has emphasized the reverse. A healthy biblical approach will combine the two.
HOLINESS (‘CONVERSION’ NEVER STOPS, NEVER ENDS!). Healthy Christians are being ‘converted’, changed, all the time: and can express in words that process to their pastors/shepherds, who are accountable to the ‘Chief Shepherd’ for the maturing in faith, hope and love, of the people ‘in their charge’.
INTERDEPENDENCE WITH OTHERS: WHAT WE HAVE IN COMMON WITH OTHER CHRISTIANS IS MORE – MUCH MORE – SIGNIFICANT THAN WHAT MAY DIVIDE US! So healthy churches are not ‘sectarian’.
INTERGENERATIONAL COMMUNICATION IS IMPORTANT FOR BOTH YOUNG AND OLD
JESUS CHRIST IS LORD/HEAD OF THE CHURCH – IT’S HIS, NOT OURS So prayer for the Lord’s guidance in all matters will happen as a matter of course!
JUSTICE IS A CONCERN FOR ‘FAIRNESS’ – PARTICULARLY FOR THE POWERLESS. According to the prophets and Jesus (Micah 6:8, Matthew 23:23, Luke 11:42) justice is the #1 pursuit of the follower of a just God.
LEADERSHIP – SHOULD BE HONORED, AND IN RETURN SHOULD INSPIRE CONFIDENCE. Our leadership model is that of Jesus: he was a servant, an empowerer (training followers to become future leaders) and an example…
LEAVERS FEEL BLESSED WHEN FOR ONE REASON OR ANOTHER THEY MOVE TO ANOTHER CHURCH
LEGALISM IS TO BE ABHORRED (AS IT WAS BY JESUS!). Legalism is the misuse of ‘law’ to depersonalize others who are created in God’s image. The opposite error is ‘antinomianism’ – flouting/despising the law of God.
LIFESTYLE/LEISURE ISSUES: WHAT ARE THE BIBLICAL GUIDELINES HERE?
LOVE, JOY, PEACE ETC. ARE CULTIVATED IN A HEALTHY CHURCH! And the people are guided in how to ‘earth’ these virtues between/among each other!
MARRIAGE: LET’S ENHANCE THEM, AND EXPLODE THE MANY MODERN MYTHS (See my chapter ‘Ten Myths About Marriage’ in The Family: At Home in a Heartless World, HarperCollins, 1995).
MARTYRS: WE WILL REMEMBER THEM. There have been more Christian martyrs in the 20th century than all previous centuries combined.
MATURITY – THE AIM OF ALL MINISTRY. See Colossians 1:28-29.
MEETINGS ARE ENCOURAGING AND PRODUCTIVE! Church ‘business meetings’ do not exist as a forum for disgruntled people to destroy the tender fabric of the fellowship. There should be other, more constructive ways people can feed back criticisms to the leader/s responsible (and when they do, these people should feel they’re heard sympathetically).
MEMBERSHIP SHOULD BE MEANINGFUL. It is easier to get on to some church rolls than into a local citizens’ club! So a disciplined ‘catechumenate’ is required in healthy churches, where prospective members are taught, thoroughly, the basic teachings/practice of the Faith. But when that is done, membership should be open to all who are avowed followers of Christ (irrespective, for example, of their disparate views on such issues as the amount of water used in baptism!). A healthy church’s membership will also represent a cross-section of people in their neighbouring community: unless their ‘mission’ is intentionally aimed at a particular people- group.
MENTORING / MODELING: Every Paul should have a Timothy/Titus; every Timothy needs a Paul: and every Paul and Timothy should have a Barnabas!
MINISTRY BELONGS TO THE WHOLE CHURCH COMMUNITY: Every Christian is ‘ordained’ to ministry (at their baptism)…
‘MINISTRY DESCRIPTIONS’ OUGHT TO BE WRITTEN, FOR EVERYONE: THEY CLARIFY GIFTS, ROLES, RESPONSIBILITIES, PERFORMANCE EXPECTATIONS, AND ACCOUNTABILITY
MIRACLES ARE TO BE EXPECTED in healthy churches: where God is doing things (sometimes difficult to explain rationally) to make us whole in body, mind, emotions and spirit.
MISSION: WHAT WOULD JESUS DO? See Luke 4:18-19. Our ‘mission’, like that of Jesus, is ‘spiritual’, evangelistic, healing, compassionate, and a mission of social justice.
MUSIC (IN A TV CULTURE) HAS TO BE EXCELLENT, AND A MEANS TO WORSHIP RATHER THAN AN END-IN-ITSELF. People brought up with TV (baby-boomers and younger) will not stay around in a church where the music/singing are pathetic or exclusively old-fashioned!
ORDER AND STRUCTURE PROVIDE THE SCAFFOLDING FOR RENEWAL. But they are means, not ends – and flexible, as changing circumstances (or a better understanding of the instructions in the Bible) dictate…
ORTHODOXY IS NOT AS IMPORTANT AS ‘ORTHOPRAXIS’ (DEMONS ARE ORTHODOX). How we behave is more important than what we believe (though both should go together…).
PASTORAL CARE OUGHT TO BE DEVOTED, APPROPRIATE, AND ADEQUATE! And done by the whole church to all its people (though ‘ordained’ pastors may have specialised leadership and training roles).
‘PATRIARCHS’/'PERMISSION-WITHOLDERS’ SHOULD BE HONORED, BUT THEY SHOULD ALSO KNOW THEIR PLACE (AND NEVER HAVE A POWER OF VETO)! In small churches more than two generations old, powerful people often tend to dominate the church and sometimes inhibit progress…
PENITENCE MEANS OUR SIN IS TAKEN SERIOUSLY! But, as with Jesus, ‘Neither do I condemn you’ comes _before_ ‘Go and sin no more!’ Acceptance precedes repentance (with the Pharisees it was the other way around).
PERFORMANCE APPRAISALS HELP US DO OUR BEST! These measuring tools should be available, formally or informally, to everyone who does any ministry: and mature people invite such constructive suggestions for improvement!
PLAY TOGETHER SOMETIMES (healthy families do that!)
POLYTEMPORAL CHRISTIANS HAVE A PAST, A PRESENT, AND A FUTURE! (BUT THEY LIVE IN THE ETERNAL NOW). If the church is dominated by nostalgics (whose preoccupation is with the good old times) or hippies (who only live in the present) or idealists (who are dreamers of a more glorious future), that church has a problem!
POWER AND EMPOWERMENT: Confident leaders avoid centralizing power; they don’t have to ‘control’ everything: rather they disseminate power and authority widely. In other words, as Jesus resisted the temptation to be power-hungry, so should Jesus’ followers…
PRAYER: ALONE WITH THE ALONE! In healthy churches we teach one another how to pray (as John the Baptist and Jesus and the apostles taught their people to pray).
PRAYER WITH OTHERS HAS MORE POWER THAN THE SUM OF INDIVIDUALS PRAYING. Healthy congregations see people regularly praying together (in contexts where there is a sense of ‘community’).
PREACHING OUGHT TO BE AUTHORITATIVE, BIBLICAL, RELEVANT, LIFE-CHANGING – AND INTERESTING!
PROPHETS: THE KEY TO HEARING GOD’S VOICE! (Healthy churches can name their prophets – as happened in the New Testament churches. These people are commissioned by the church for their timely ministry).
READERS ARE LEADERS ARE READERS! In literate communities, the church has a well-stocked bookstall or bookshop. In less-literate contexts there is still an emphasis on teaching/learning, using other media.
RENEWAL IS AN ONGOING PROCESS! All living organisms need renewing – and welcome it!
RETREATS HELP US TO LISTEN TO GOD! They should be a regular part of the program for leaders and others: perhaps once or twice a year, accompanied by special prayer and perhaps fasting, to seek the mind of God…
RITES OF PASSAGE: Churches have a strategic role when their people face significant life-experiences: birth, sickness, marriage, death, etc.
SAINTS ARE NOT MERELY HONOURED; THEY ARE EMULATED! The Catholic tradition honours saints: other Christian traditions could learn some important lessons in the pursuit of the life of holiness from some elements of this practice.
SEX – GUIDELINES WITHOUT BAD GUILT! A healthy church will address such broad issues as ‘Sexuality and Spirituality’, ‘Romantic love versus realistic love’, ‘Enriching your Marriage’, ‘Sex and the Single Person’ etc. And also address specific issues, like: ‘Should condoms be more readily available in high schools?’ ‘What would Jesus say about the big questions relating to homosexuality?’
SIGNS AND WONDERS: GOD IS STILL ALIVE AND ACTIVE! In healthy first-generation churches in much of the world, evangelism (as happened in apostolic times) is accompanied by ‘signs and wonders’. Second generation churches often settle down to a more predictable ‘constitution-driven’ organizational pattern…
SPIRITUAL DIRECTION: AN IDEA WHOSE TIME HAS COME (AGAIN!). Spiritual Direction is the classical spiritual discipline where one helps another in the life of prayer – and the practice of faith, hope and love. It is ‘discerning the spirits’ in the life of one another; ‘reading the writing on the walls of the soul’.
SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINES – THE ONLY WAY WE GROW! Spiritual disciplines encouraged in healthy churches include contemplation, solitude, silence, fasting, confession, journaling, etc.
SPIRITUAL GIFTS: THE WAY GOD MEETS HUMAN NEEDS! Every genuine human need ought to be addressed ‘in church’ – where the Spirit has empowered someone to do just that! (Notice: the need is ‘addressed’ not necessarily ‘met’ or the problem ‘solved’!)
SPIRITUAL WARFARE: THE BATTLE STILL RAGES! (All wars are lost, THE war goes on, wrote J.R.R Tolkien.) Healthy churches ask: 'As Jesus believed in the power of Satan to destroy what God is doing through us, how would this be happening in our lives, communities, churches?
SUFFERING CAN BE REDEMPTIVE! But there is no simple answer to the difficult questions about people’s suffering. .
TEACHING – WHEN YOU STOP LEARNING, YOU START DYING! But, as Paulo Freire has taught us, the teaching process should be an empowering experience, rather than simply ‘banking information in people’s heads’.
TEAM MINISTRIES: EVERY CHURCH SHOULD HAVE THEM! Leadership in healthy churches (as in the apostolic churches) is plural…
THEOLOGY HELPS US UNDERSTAND GOD: every Christian should be a good theologian! So, as Elton Trueblood put it, every church ought to be a ‘miniature theological seminary’! Pastor-teachers are the ‘resident theologians’ (so the church must insist they spend half their time alone, in study, reflection and prayer).
TRADITION – A GOOD SERVANT AND A BAD MASTER! Healthy churches keep the best traditions, and, as with dirty clothing, shed stale or irrelevant ones. And they will realize, as sociologist Robert Merton expressed it, that ‘all institutions are inherently degenerative’!
TRAINING: NECESSARY FOR EVERYONE’S MINISTERIAL EXCELLENCE! In a healthy church, people know the Spiritual gifts available to each of them, and seek/find training programs in the exercise of those gifts.
UNITY-IN-DIVERSITY IS THE MATURE (AND BIBLICAL) WAY TO CELEBRATE OUR DIFFERENCES! There are many ways to relate to God-through-Christ, and we will honour the unique life-experiences of others.
VISION: DREAM ABOUT WHAT GOD CAN DO WITH / THROUGH / IN YOUR CHURCH! Effective leaders know where they are intending (under God) to lead the church, and impart a coherent vision – without which people will not be ‘harnessed to a grand cause’.
VOCATION IS WHAT WE DO WITH ALL OF LIFE! A surgeon said: ‘After 50 years of church-attending, I cannot remember anything happening on Sunday that helped me be a better doctor!’ In the best churches, peoples’ ‘vocations’ are recognized: and each is helped to honour the Lord and pursue excellence in our life’s calling.
WIDOWS (AND OTHER SINGLE ADULTS), ORPHANS, THE LONELY, THE ‘DIFFERENTLY ABLED’ (ETC.) ARE CARED FOR…
WORK – AVOIDING SLOTH OR WORKAHOLISM. That is, there will be a resistance to an unhealthy dislike of, or an unhealthy addiction to, work…
WORSHIP IS ABOUT ALL OF LIFE: So ‘in whatever we do – whether we eat or drink – we will do everything for the glory of God.’
WORSHIP IN A CORPORATE SENSE HAPPENS FOUR WAYS: TEMPLE, SYNAGOGUE, HOME GROUP, AND FESTIVAL. That is, biblical worship is liturgical, expository, relational, and charismatic. In healthy churches they integrate all these four worship-styles. (Name one!)
WORSHIP – EVOKING WONDER, LOVE AND PRAISE! A key test of the power of corporate worship is whether we are generally disappointed when it has to stop!
WOMEN AND MEN ARE DIFFERENTLY GIFTED: so we will not slavishly follow either a patriarchal or an egalitarian philosophy of gender. We will (as F.F.Bruce suggested) look at the Scriptures through the ‘window’ of Galatians 3:28: in Christ the sexist barriers inhibiting women from exercising their God-given potention will be broken down. In other words, when Barak (a male) is a weak person, God will choose Deborah (a strong woman) to lead. (Some of us would not have allowed God to do that!). But the speed with which patriarchy is repented of will differ from culture to culture!
YOUTH ARE SPECIAL PEOPLE WITH SPECIAL NEEDS: They need the faith- reinforcement of strong Christian peers. But they should also be taught to live a life of disciplined service to others. And they should be encouraged to learn from people who’ve been ‘in the battle’ longer!
XENOPHILIA (LOVE OF STRANGERS) SAVES A CHURCH FROM BECOMING A RELIGIOUS CLUB. Healthy churches are ‘welcoming’ churches!