Monday, 27 April 2015

Marks of a Healthy Church - Energised by Faith

I do not claim any originality in this sermon, it is based almost entirely on the sermons preached at Barnstaple Baptist Church, which can be found at, and Robert Warren's 'Healthy Churches Handbook'. 
  • Decision to try and improve my fitness & lose weight
  • Trying to exercise more – running and cycling
  • Trying to eat more healthily, cutting out sweets, eating less & not eating after 7pm

If I was to see my doctor and have a health check, he’d tell me the marks of a healthy lifestyle are

  • Eat well – plenty of fruit & vegetables
  • Exercise
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Don’t smoke or drink
  • Get plenty of sleep

These are the marks of a healthy lifestyle.  But what would the marks of a healthy church be?

7 Marks of a Healthy Church

Today we’re starting a sermon series, looking at the marks of a healthy church, based on research on churches that have experienced growth, numerically and spiritually.  These are different churches from  across the spectrum, from rural to urban, from evangelical to catholic, from small churches to large churches, but all exhibit the following marks. 

They are:

  1. Energized by faith
  2. Outward-looking
  3. Seek to find out what God wants
  4. Face the cost of change and growth
  5. Operate as a community
  6. Make room for all
  7. Does a few things and does them well

Energised by Faith

If you went into a gym and asked different people why they were there, you’d probably get different answers.

  • Lose weight
  • Get fitter – to prolong life, reduce their cholesterol
  • Be fit enough to chase after the children or grandchildren
  • Drop a size or two in order to fit into an old dress

Even if their goals are the same, to improve their health, what motivates them may be different.

A healthy church is one that is motivated or energised by its faith.

This is illustrated in the book of Revelation.  Jesus speaks to a congregation in the town of Laodicea and what He says isn’t very complimentary:

“I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm – neither hot nor cold – I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, “I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.” But you do not realise that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.”

The faith of many of the Christians at Laodicea had gone off the boil: they had become complacent, there was no real energy within the church for sharing the good news about Jesus Christ and, as a result, the spiritual health of the fellowship was suffering. Where enthusiasm for the gospel has dulled, and where excitement for the Christian faith has waned, there will be little energy shown within the fellowship and the health of the church will inevitably deteriorate. That is as true today as it was when John first wrote the Book of Revelation.

Elsewhere in the New Testament, we find a church community that has lots of energy, but its energy is misdirected. I’m talking of the church at Corinth to which the Apostle Paul writes.

The church at Corinth was undoubtedly a lively fellowship, but the energy it displayed seems to have emerged not from commitment to God and godly living, but from an attitude of one-upmanship, and disputes over whether someone followed, Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas. 

Paul was at pains to impress upon them the fact that God alone was the source of their faith and God alone was the one they must honour – the energy that they were displaying originated from their own selfish desires and, indeed, was misdirected towards satisfying those desires.

Even today, it’s easy to see how some churches’ energy can originate not from a healthy source, but an unhelpful one, and be misdirected towards something inappropriate. Robert Warren, in ‘The Healthy Churches Handbook’ writes:

‘energy may come from a desire to keep a medieval building in good condition, from having the best set of bell-ringers for miles, or from wanting to boast the finest choral tradition in the town. Energy can also come from making sure ‘our group’ keeps control. Equally, energy may come simply from a desire to keep things as they are, or just keeping things going.’

It’s not a bad thing to keep a church building in good repair, or to be resolved to keep things going – but these shouldn’t be the things that energise the church.

What should energise the church is our faith in the God of love.  And that should be expressed in our love for God and for one another.  As Jesus says in our Gospel reading Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”  (John 13:34-35)

It was this love for God that enabled the early church that we read about in Acts, to grow at such an incredible rate.  Here was a church that was energised by its faith in God, and had a desire to glorify Him alone and because of this it grew daily.

But, in reality, what do churches that are energised by faith look like?

Well, first of all, it seems that churches that are energised by faith …
  • enable people to experience God’s love

When healthy churches gather for worship each Sunday, they do so because they want to encounter the presence of God and, with that comes an air of expectancy and excitement at the prospect of meeting with God.

In healthy churches, there will be as much emphasis on providing times of silence as there is upon lively times of praise and worship, to enable people to hear what God is saying to them.  A healthy church is one which will also allow people the space to share their testimonies and tell their own stories, recognising that God guides and encourages His church through what He’s doing in the lives of other believers.

In a healthy church there will be a sense of celebration, where they can express joy at the goodness and greatness of God whilst also identifying with the pain and brokenness of the world around them.
  • demonstrates a deep desire to serve God and one another

This is summed up in the great commandment to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul and all your mind” and “Love your neighbour as yourself.”

In a healthy church it’s not just a very small group of people which does all the work – everyone is keen to contribute and participate, using the gifts that God has given them.

This is a message that Paul was keen to convey in several of his letters to churches: he told them that they were all part of one body; they were all gifted by God for His service; and, although they were quite different from one another, they needed one another and had one purpose … to glorify God.
  • engages with Scripture 

Healthy churches seek to apply the Bible to contemporary life in ways which people understand and find useful. Psalm 119 describes God’s word as “a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” – and it still is! A healthy church seeks to show how God’s word is relevant to people today, and how it affects our values, choices and lifestyles. 

  • nurtures faith in Christ

A healthy churches seeks to help people to grow in, and share their faith.  This is exactly what Jesus Himself did during His earthly ministry: He called the twelve and He nurtured their faith and taught them how to share that faith with other people. He explained the Scriptures to them; taught them how to pray, and what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

Churches that are energised by faith do exactly what Jesus did, nurturing disciples, teaching the Scriptures, teaching people how to pray, and what it means to be a follower of Jesus. 

St Martin’s – energised by faith?

The question is how do we at St Martin’s measure up to these marks of a healthy church?  Where are we succeeding, and where could we do better?  Are we a church that is energised by its faith, or is our energy focused on keeping the show on the road or maintaining the fabric?  What can we do to enable people to experience more of God’s love, to serve God and one another better, to engage with scripture, and to nuture faith?
You have been given a piece of paper, and on that I want you to score how you would rate St Martin’s, with 1 being low, and 6 high. And I want you to write one or two things that we could work on as a church.

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

Congregational Responses

These are the congregational responses which were received following the sermon:

How energised by faith is St Martin’s? 
Weak and holding us back      0%            
Only a few signs                      0%       
Some evidence of this             25%     
Making progress                      35%     
Evidence of much of this         35%     
This is a strength                     5%       

Energised by Faith: what needs working on….

·         Community engagement -   
  • More interaction with community
  • More wider involvement with focus on youth – young families in local area
  • Engaging more with locals who do not attend church
  • Awareness and respect for people of other faiths living in our community
  • Being energised to serve the community more, to work for those outside the church as the hands of Jesus
  • Are there enough people to go out into the community – outreach groups?

·         Church engagement -

  • Involve everyone
  • Getting more younger people involved in doing things in church
  • Bringing younger people to faith in Christ by being more attractive to young families
  • Gently involving people who are shy to do things they have not done before
  • More people to volunteer to lead children’s groups, also to consider joining the prayers for healing rota
  • More faith to delegate
  • Understand what it means to serve happily, faithfully
  • Less emphasis on money, more emphasis on knowing people’s gifts and encouraging them to use them.
  • Encouraging more people to play a part in the church rather than using the same people over and over again

·         Services/Scripture -
  • Need more time for quiet reflection/listening to God
  • More testimonies
  • Showing the link between our actions and the way we behave and God being the strength and motivation behind them
  • Concreate on God and worship rather chairs and furniture placing
  • All the different things the church does need to be brought together into one church family.  E.g. The lesson in Sunday school should match the main congregation’s, which can spark conversation in peoples homes. Links between church groups and the family i.e. regular feedback and prayer as part of the service on Sunday
  • Quiet reflection time structured into church services
  • Systematic engagement with scripture – use of readings in service, theme and sermon
  • Encourage more Bible study to help all and help us to be able to talk to others of our faith
  • Faith/prayer groups – supporting specific mission points of the church
  • Feedback/reflection in services on the work and impact for social justice/mission work, e.g. homeless/street pastors
  • Services to be more flexible to allow all the signs
  • Music matures my faith, I would like us to lead the singing to enrich the worship. My faith has grown at St Martin’s
  • Personal testimony
  • Need more silence and listening to God
  • Maybe encourage people to share their experiences of God’s love in their lives

·         Other comments -

  • Continue and grow as God leads us
  • Work and acknowledge fruits of the spirit
  • Transforming lives by encounter with the Holy Spirit
  • We need to experience more freedom in Christ
  • Everything needs constant working on or we become complacement
  • Training to encourage those less sure to join areas of life – ‘taster’ sessions of roles
  • Good leadership within the church.
  • Encouragement on an individual basis
  • Tell people story how they came to faith and not be afraid to show ourselves wart and all
  • Would be more enjoyable if all or more people at St Martin’s were more approachable and sincere
  • Be proactive in involving ALL members of the church in the life of the church
  • Get the ministry team to be open and relate to the WHOLE church
  • Nurturing faith in Christ – very important
  • There is lots of love in the church
  • Developing individual faith through individual help and support
  • Evidence of what we do
  • God focused not people centred
  • Moving out of comfort zone

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