There is plenty of information on becoming a “healthy church” out there in the church leadership world. I am sure as an average pastor you have read many articles on becoming a healthy church. Most of them usually end up being “why your church isn’t growing” conversations. But I heard a talk recently during a Century Leadership Roundtable by author and pastor Jeff Lucas. It was a refreshingly different take on being a healthy church. It wasn’t about grouchy members or the limitations of the pastor. It was based on Acts 11 and the Antioch Church. I thought I’d share it with you. I hope it is an encouragement.
19 Now those who had been scattered by the persecution that broke out when Stephen was killed traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, spreading the word only among Jews. 20 Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus.21 The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.
22 News of this reached the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. 23 When he arrived and saw what the grace of God had done, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. 24 He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.
25 Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, 26 and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.
Characteristics of a Healthy Church
1. They recognized the power of the local church. The Christians in Antioch saw what God was doing and joined in at the local level. The persecution taught them that the church isn’t just about Jerusalem, it is about what God is doing in local communities everywhere. The local church is the heart and soul of the Kingdom of God. Jeff encouraged us that instead of looking for revival, that we should invest in our church long enough for God to do something through us.
2. They were a witnessing church. The Christians in Antioch weren’t afraid to share Jesus, even with the Gentiles. Jeff encouraged us to find our voices again. We are becoming good at serving and compassion ministry, but we can’t forget to share the reason why we serve our community.
3. They were faithful in suffering. The Christians found themselves in Antioch because of the persecution in Jerusalem. Yet “the hand of the Lord was with them.” Their church was birthed in pain and continued in pain, but prospered at the same time. Jeff encouraged us that suffering and the supernatural work together. Don’t run from pain, find God’s power in it.
4. They used authentic vocabulary. The Christians in Antioch were ‘true to the Lord with all their hearts.” These believers were gritty and authentic. A healthy church paints a healthy picture of what following Jesus looks like. Our songs, rhetoric, language, clichés and confessions of faith often create a rosy picture of following Jesus that makes people who struggle insecure. Jeff encouraged us not to express the reality of the goodness of God without the tension of the struggle that we went through. He said, “Be careful not to paint a picture of following Jesus that resembles the Magic Kingdom instead of the real Kingdom of God.” A healthy church knows how to have good conversations about the tensions in life and faith.
5. They showed outrageous grace. The church in Antioch was not afraid to engage a new people with the gospel. Long before Paul went to he Gentiles, the church at Antioch did. They showed grace to people who no one else were trying to reach. Barnabas also showed outrageous grace to Saul by bringing him into the church that was in Antioch because of the persecution he caused in Jerusalem. Jeff encouraged us to build bridges of grace to un-expecting people in our community. The church always grows with messy people.
I really appreciated this encouragement as an average pastor. Most of what he identified has to do with attitudes toward those outside our walls rather than a critique of what was wrong inside the church. These values of a healthy church will help us be better at fulfilling our mission, not just improving our product as a church.
If you would like to listen to this session from Jeff Lucas, the audio is available here.
If you are in Oklahoma and are looking for a great Leadership conference that is affordable ( a steal at only $49 if you register before March 29th) and has excellent content, then Century Leadership is worth checking out. It has two components. A one day conference in April and CL Experience throughout the year. The CLE is a series of 3 round table sessions hosted by OK churches with speakers like Jeff Lucas. I have enjoyed the past two years of my participation in Century Leadership. Every session has been encouraging and has built me up as a spiritual leader.
Find out more about Century Leadership Here.