It is easy to get in a rut, isn’t it? We keep doing what we have always done because it feels so natural to us, but we do not stop and evaluate whether we are reaching the intended goal. I often think of the 90 years the walls of Jerusalem remained in ruins until the days of Nehemiah. The second generation out of captivity grew up knowing only the leftover rubble of the walls of the city. Crumbled walls became the new normal. Many of Jerusalem’s citizens probably wished “someone” would lead the way, but no one had enough trust in God to step up and state the obvious about their condition. Generation after generation came and went until the ruins were as natural as our cluttered garages. It took an outsider like Nehemiah who had zeal for God’s cause and fresh eyes to say, “You see the trouble we are in, how Jerusalem lies in ruins with its gates burned. Come, let us build the wall of Jerusalem that we no longer suffer derision” (Neh. 2:17).
What about our lives and our churches? Are there spiritual ruins that have become our new normal? Do we continue to do what we have always done and then be surprised when the end result is the same? What work should we be doing so that God’s “new Jerusalem” is an honor and glory to God?
Here are ten spiritual attitudes and actions healthy churches practice that reflect biblical directives to “grow up in all things into him” so that the body “builds itself up in love” (Eph. 4:16).
Churches are healthy and growing when…
- The church, both collectively and individually, diligently prays that the Lord will open doors of opportunity so that God’s word may spread and God’s work will be blessed. Prayer in this regard is the priority of the first three requests of Jesus’ model prayer – “Hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Before all else, we need to acknowledge that the Lord is leading this work and causes its increase. We depend on him, not our own talents or wisdom. This principle is a key theme of Acts.
- Members are keenly aware of their purpose and identity as lights in the world. These Christians know that God did not simply call them to salvation. Instead, all that God did was “to the praise of his glory” so that the knowledge of him would be spread to all nations (Eph. 1:6, 12, 14; Isa. 49:1-6). We are called to love the world with the same passion as God loved (Matt. 18:12-14).
- Bible studies are planned and designed specifically for outsiders so that members can use their opportunities to invite. We cannot urge Christians to be evangelistic if leaders and teachers won’t use their talents to share the word and train others. This is one of the principles of equipping in Ephesians 4:11-16.
- Preaching and teaching is more concerned with understanding and knowing God than church issues, moral issues, and questions of doctrinal correctness. This typically means that most teaching is textual exposition so that the original message of the Holy Spirit is understood prior to making present day applications. Further, those responsible for feeding the church know that to bring the church to maturity and every good work, no book of the Bible can be neglected or given less weight than other texts that tend to be more favored. (2 Tim. 3:14-17).
- Young people and young families are nurtured, equipped, and included as equal members in the body. When the talents and zeal of young Christians are not developed and appreciated so that they are able to truly affect the growth and work in the body, the church will decline. And when the youth are gone and there are no more babies, there is little hope of revival. After all, in the first century a bunch of young people in their twenties and thirties turned the world upside down.
- Members understand that lost people are a priority. They are not so focused on being with each other and having conversations among themselves that visitors are neglected. When these Christians go out to eat following worship, they understand the importance of inviting guests in order to create an opportunity. They are also opportunistic like Matthew who used a dinner party to introduce his friends to Jesus. This is one of many symptoms that the church is outwardly focused instead of self-centered.
- Members do not relate growth to having a big, expensive building. While our meeting place should be well-kept and adequate, it is not the means by which we draw people to the Lord. In fact, our millennial and younger generations are typically looking for simple worship without a “churchy” atmosphere, which is exactly what we see in the first century. Growth is related to teaching God’s word. Budget expenditures for the building should not have priority over seeking lost souls.
- The website is attractive and regularly updated with new material. The website is not a membership advertisement of how we are a fun group of people. Spiritually growing churches are passionate about knowing God and sharing God. Our church should not send the message that we are a religious country club. Our websites are the “front door” of our churches. Most will visit our website prior to visiting our building. If our website is shabby and appears old, that is how they will view our church.
- Members measure growth on the basis of how many people are being taught the gospel regardless of the number conversions. Though we are thrilled when Christians from other areas join us, our contentment should not come from these increased numbers but because we have increased workers and talents to accomplish true growth in the kingdom.
- Elders and mature members are personally and actively shepherding the flock by strengthening the weak and pursuing the straying. While elders are primarily charged with shepherding, we are all given the command to“exhort one another daily” (Heb. 3:12) and bring back one who “wanders from the truth” (James 5:19-20). Jesus related lengthy parables condemning the scribes and Pharisees for neglecting the spiritual welfare of those around them (Luke 15). Healthy churches love one another so deeply that they would no more neglect a brother or sister than they would one of their own children.