Sadly, this consumerism mentality has bled over into the local church. Many people today decide to attend a local church because it's the biggest, shiniest, newest thing in town. In an effort to attract as many people as possible – many churches, even with the best motives, use similar consumeristic techniques to create ministry paradigms that cater to the desires of the people. Then, when the people come - because they are attracted to all the things the church offers them - the church automatically assumes they're a healthy church. The problem is, once people get bored or allured by a newer, shinier model they jump to the next church that is riding the big new wave in innovative church growth.
Unfortunately, the questions most people are asking and, thus, the questions most churches are seeking to answer - are NOT a biblical measure for church health.
So, what makes a healthy, biblical church?
The answer isn’t some quick fix, new building, flashy sign, or new program. Simply put, it’s the Word of God building the church. Jesus, as the incarnate Word of God, said in Matthew 16:18 “I will build my church.” Paul instructed Timothy to devote himself to the preaching of the Word (2 Tim. 4:2) because the Word makes the man of God “complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:17).
Unfortunately, many churches have chosen to diminish the Word in favor of engaging, motivational speeches and high-energy entertainment that attract crowds of people, just as Paul warned Timothy against in (2 Tim. 4:3-4).
A few months ago I saw something online from another church in our community. They had posted "10 things kids need to know from their parents" as part of a parenting sermon series. Number one on the list was: “A strong belief in yourself as a parent.” It sounds OK – certainly motivational for some – but NOT biblical. Nowhere on the list of 10 things was anything about Jesus or the Bible! Yet, that particular church was one of the top 10 fastest growing churches in our entire country a couple years ago.
American Theologian, Carl Braaten said this in one of his many writings:
“If the aim of the church is to grow, the way to do it is to make people feel good. And when people discover that there are other ways to feel good, they leave the church they no longer need. The relevant church is sowing the seeds of its own irrelevance, and losing its identity to boot. The big question today has become how to get the baby boomers back, what techniques and methods will do the trick. Polls are taken on what baby boomers want and churches are competing to make sure they get it.” (Carl E. Brazen, "The Gospel for a Neopagan Culture," 19.)
The sad truth today is that most churches now reflect the world more than they do the Word.
Jesus challenged his followers in the Sermon on the Mount to live distinctively different lives (Matthew 5:13-16). Thus, the gathering of the saints (the church) ought to look distinctively different from the world.
God designed the church to be His embassy in a foreign land. When you step into an embassy it should look different from its surroundings. It will have certain characteristics of the country it is representing that will distinguish it from the country in which it sits.
When I was in Uganda a couple years ago I visited the American Embassy. When I finally got through the security checkpoints it was literally like stepping across the ocean and instantly being back in the US. The building construction and architecture reminded me of America. The bushes and shrubs were landscaped like you'd see in America. The waiting room was clean of red African dirt that seemed to permeate everything outside the embassy walls. There were televisions on the wall playing the cable network news. I even saw an desk clerk hard at work scrolling Facebook. It was just like I was back home!
When people step in God’s embassy here on earth – among His ambassadors in the church - it should be a distinctively different experience from anything else on the planet! A healthy local church must be sacrificially and wholeheartedly devoted to three biblical commitments:
- Worship - From it’s inception in Acts 2 the church has been defined by its worship. When the church is gathered at the end of the age, it will again be marked by its worship in Revelation 5.
- Community - We are an independent, self-reliant, self-sufficient people. The idea of interdependence, mutual submission, and accountability seems antiquated, weak and sometimes downright freighting. However, we were created to be in community and the church is to be a model community for the world to behold.
- Service - Ephesians 2:10 says it best: "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them."
Certainly, the forms churches take will look differently. They may use different terms or phrases to describe their commitments. But at the core of every healthy, local church stands those three commitments that will, by default, make it distinctively different from the world! To God be the glory!
(part 2 will propose a biblical definition of the church)