If the church was meant to be a gathering of people committed to God through their common faith in Jesus Christ and equally committed to helping each other grow in faith, how do we get there? This is a basic question based in the painful reality that many congregations really aren’t there. And the even more painful truth is that some congregations–and potentially all congregations–are actually better at stifling Christian growth than they are at encouraging it. It is no wonder that a great many believers try to live their faith on their own, avoiding the church.
I have to confess that I have a strong bias here. I have spend my whole professional life working in and with the church. I have never had a job that hasn’t been church related since about 1973. That should tell you a couple of things: first, I have never got rich working for the church and second, I have experienced a great deal of frustration.
But I have also experienced a great deal of satisfaction and have discovered the wonder and power of God moving in the church as well. And while the power of God has broken through in the church sometimes in unexpected and very spontaneous ways, my experience is that the church more often needs to work at preparing itself for the movement of God. The natural human tendencies that we exhibit when we come together in groups often get in the way of our ability to see, follow and experience God as a group.
So, how do we prepare ourselves to be a gathering of people who can be used by God? How do we become healthy churches where people can grow together in faith and be used by God? There are a lot of answers to that question–church health has become a major theme among many Christian writers these days.
In my experience, churches move towards health when they become aware of two things: the significance of their commitment to God through Christ and the need to express that commitment in concrete ways in their relationships with fellow believers. The personal faith we have in Christ needs to become a vital part of our relationships.
Most church problems develop out of failure in these areas. Sometimes, the problems develop because the group or some of the group have a commitment to something other than Christ: tradition, a style of worship or music, a translation of the Bible, a vision, a building, a budget, a doctrinal stance. Whatever it is , it becomes more important than the commitment to God through Christ. Obviously, it isn’t that simple because often the commitment to Christ and the commitment to whatever get twisted together and both leaders and members find it hard to untangle things and put Christ first. But in the end, the church needs to be able to understand what it means to commit to Jesus as both Saviour and Lord. The Saviour part we generally understand but we tend to struggle with Jesus as Lord–we don’t want to surrender everything to him.
Other times, the problems in the church develop because we forget that we are supposed to relate to each other as Jesus related to us–we are to have a deep, powerful, sacrificial love for each other that is both willing and able to be wronged 70 times 7 and still forgive. Such love requires a depth of commitment and concern that can only be developed if we are willing to call upon the power of God present with us through the Holy Spirit in our midst. Unfortunately, it is always easier to relate to each other in traditional human patterns than it is to work at developing the Christian pattern.
To become a healthy church is hard work and takes time, patience and commitment. It is a painful process, a slow process and can be a very frustrating process. But in the end, it is part of what we are called to do–the church is God’s creation, instituted by Jesus. Going it alone might be tempting and less painful, but believers are called to be the church and to be willing to make those churches healthy expressions of faith.
May the peace of God be with you.