Vital Signs of a Healthy Church
Vital Signs of a Healthy Church
1 Thessalonians 5:12-22
Dr. Reggie Ogea
June 23, 2019
Vital signs define the standard procedure for health professionals to assess the most basic human body functions. God so perfectly created human beings that a simple check of vital signs can diagnose a problem or eliminate the fear of a problem. The four standard vital signs are body temperature, pulse rate or heart rate, blood pressure, and respiratory rate. A fifth sign refers to pain, as perceived by the patient on a Pain scale of 0-10. And in assessing the growth patterns of children or youth, a sixth vital sign relates to weight and height. What is true of a person is also true of a church. The health of a church can be determined by examining specific vital signs.
The Apostle Paul wrote two letters to the church at Thessalonica. Acts 17 describes the Thessalonican church-planting strategy. Paul and Silas travelled to Thessalonica on their second missionary journey. Upon arrival in a town where the Christian message had not been presented, Paul secured permission from the local synagogue to preach the Gospel message to interested prospects. In Thessalonica, Acts 17:3 confirmed that Paul spent three Sabbath days reasoning with them from the Scriptures. Many of the prospects were persuaded to receive Jesus Christ as the Messiah and become Christians, including a great number of God-fearing Greeks as well as a number of the leading women of the city. But the Jews became jealous and formed a mob to incite a riot and throw Paul and Silas out of the city. Their rationale – “these men who have turned the world upside down have come here too.” Even though Paul had to leave Thessalonica, the converts left behind formed a strong church. Years later, Paul wrote 1 Thessalonians to encourage the believers to maintain their hope in Jesus and life after death. Near the ending of this letter of encouragement, Paul affirmed ten vital signs of a healthy church.
- A Healthy Church Respects Pastoral Leadership – “Now we ask you, brothers, to give recognition to those
who labor among you and lead you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work.” (12-13a) Leadership in the New Testament church developed into two functions – those who were gifted in pastoral/overseer leadership and those who were gifted in ministry leadership. Obviously, the context here is pastoral leadership – those who labor among you and lead you and admonish you. While all ministry function is to be respected, those who lead the church in areas of pastoral or overseer leadership are to be given not only recognition or respect, but they are to be highly esteemed – very highly and in love. “Very highly” indicates a high level of respect and “in love” would involve all levels of relationship.
Now let me speak clearly this morning. Healthy churches give high and loving respect to those who serve them in pastoral leadership roles. As a church, you have demonstrated that high level of respect for your pastoral staff. I can assure you that the Pastor Search Committee will work hard to ensure that the person they present for your pastor will be worthy of your respect. In my role in the Seminary, I have the privilege of teaching and training the next generation of leaders. We definitely admonish and instill in our seminary students that respect works both ways. If you want churches to respect you, love you, and highly esteem you, then you must lead and serve in a way of earning and deserving that respect. When respect for pastoral leadership is lost, regardless of which side the loss comes from, that loss of respect results in an unhealthy church.
- A Healthy Church Guards Congregational Unity – “Be at peace among yourselves” (13b) Literally, “live in
peace with each other.” Congregational unity occurs when members seek relationships marked by peace – relationships in which “destructive conflict is absent and a sense of well-being pervades the church.” (Martin, NAC, Vol 33, p. 176). In Romans 12:18, Paul provided a qualifier for peaceful relationships: “If possible, on your part, live at peace with everyone” -- that is, we should strive for peace with everyone – if that peace is possible. Unity in a church can only be achieved if both individuals and groups will strive for that peace. “If possible, on your part” – that is, each one of us should make the effort to build peace and unity in the church. Do everything you can to live at peace among yourselves. Unity is the most precious possession of the church. Healthy churches guard congregational unity at all cost.
- A Healthy Church Applies Patience with Challenging People – “And we exhort you, brothers, warn those
who are lazy, comfort the discouraged, help the weak, be patient with everyone.” (14).This is one of the most challenging verses in the entire Bible. “Patience with everyone” is not easy. In fact, patience with everyone in the church is sometimes a great challenge, because some people, according to Paul, are lazy, discouraged, and weak. So, patience with all people is tough because some people are challenging. Lazy refers to someone “out of order” and not doing what they ought. For a church to be healthy demands everybody doing their part and participating. Those who don’t do their part need to be warned, or confronted. Discouraged people define those who are “faint-hearted” – for whatever reason, they’ve lost their courage. Discouraged people need to be encouraged. A third group of challenging people in a congregation are those defined as “weak”. Weak could mean those who are physically ill and lack strength, or those who were spiritually weak and immature. Weak people need help – they need someone to hold on to. Certainly, other categories of challenging, or difficult people exist in any congregation. Healthy churches applies patience with challenging people.
- A Healthy Church Practices the Golden Rule – “see to it that no one repays evil for evil to
anyone, but always pursue what is good for one another and for all.” (15) In addition to applying patience with people who are hurting and struggling, the church must deal with people who hurt others. Hurting people often hurt others. While vengeance is a normal human reaction, it must never be the Christian reaction. Returning wrong for wrong is never acceptable as a Christian response. Paul’s advice echoes Jesus’ application of Matthew 7:12, which we call the Golden Rule – “whatever you want others to do for you, do also the same for them.” Healthy churches always, always, always pursue what is good for one another (those within the fellowship of the church) and for all (even those outside the fellowship of the church).
- A Healthy Church Creates Continuous Joy – “rejoice always.” (16) Joy must be the prevailing attitude in
the midst of circumstances. Joy far exceeds happiness, for happiness is connected to surrounding happenings. Jesus described a blessed person in Matthew 5:11-12 in this way: “Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and falsely say every kind of evil against you because of Me. Be glad and rejoice, because your reward is great in heaven.” James implores us to “consider it a great joy whenever you experience various trials.” Healthy churches create continuous joy because they consist of people who live in joy even in the face of persecution and trials. On the night before He died, Jesus promised His joy to us so that our joy would be complete. (John 15:11). Healthy churches are filled with joyful people – always rejoicing.
- A Healthy Church Engages in Constant Prayer. Verse 17 is only two words – “pray constantly.” Prayer
defines the church’s energy. Several times in the Book of Acts, the first century church is described as being devoted to prayer. Of all the spiritual disciplines, the only one the 12 Disciples asked Jesus to teach them was “to pray.” A praying church will be a healthy church. But notice the vital sign is “praying constantly” – prayer that never lapses. A healthy church is one where on any day, at any time, in every circumstance, someone is praying. A healthy church is a constantly, continuously, praying church.
- A Healthy Church Embraces a Gratitude Attitude – “give thanks in everything, for this is God’s will for you
in Christ Jesus.” (18) Gratitude forms the trilogy, along with joy and prayer, of continuous action – give thanks in everything – in all circumstances – at all times. Just as we are to rejoice always and pray constantly, we are to give thanks in everything. A healthy church will be a case study for Romans 8:28 – a place where God is working all things together for the good of those who love him. Paul adds one qualifier for gratitude – it is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. If a gratitude attitude does not exist, then not only is a church unhealthy, but it is in violation of God’s will. We may struggle to know God’s will in other areas of church life, but this is not one of them. God’s will for his church family always involves gratitude.
- A Healthy Church Kindles the Spirit – “don’t stifle the Spirit.” (19). Literally – do not quench or put out the
Spirit’s fire. In the New Testament, the evidence of the Holy Spirit’s presence in the church is symbolized by fire. Not only are individual believer’s to be “filled with the Spirit”, but also the collective gathering of the church is to be characterized as “spirit-filled.” While hard to explain what it looks like, there can be no doubt that healthy churches will not stifle, quench, or extinguish the work of the Holy Spirit. A “cold water committee” – one that is always pouring cold water on spiritual activity, cannot exist in a healthy church. Negative people cannot be allowed to flourish in a healthy church. Instead, a healthy church will provide the spark ignite the fire of the Holy Spirit’s presence.
- A Healthy Church Demands Sound Doctrine – “don’t despise prophecies, but test all things. Hold on to
what is good.” (20-21). Prophecy is one of the spiritual gifts of the church. To practice prophecy is to interpret God’s Word in order to make application of truth to every belief and practice of the church. We often refer to belief and practice as doctrine. In a healthy church – doctrine matters and sound doctrine is essential. A healthy will not only believe in and stand on sound doctrine, but will test all things – implying that unsound doctrine or false truth will be discarded and only what is good will be held onto. You can mark this down – churches that do not test their doctrine against the truth of the Bible – churches that will allow any sort of personal experience or belief system in violation of Scripture, will never become a healthy church.
- A Healthy Church Maintains Credibility – “stay away from every form of evil.” (22) Apechomai – “to
abstain from and to avoid at all times.” “Every form of evil” is one of the most interesting words in the New Testament. It not only refers to substance, but also appearance. Avoid not only what has been designated as evil but also what appears to be evil. Avoiding every form of evil develops credibility and integrity. 1 Peter 3:15-16 remind us to “always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you. However, do this with gentleness and respect, keeping your conscience clear, so that when you are accused, those who denounce your Christian life will be put to shame.” Churches have reputations, and healthy churches will always be serious about their credibility and integrity.
Should we desire Church Growth or Church Health? The answer is “Yes”. Healthy churches naturally multiply and grow. Healthy churches don’t need new gimmicks or new programs or new projects to grow – they grow naturally.
These 10 vital signs will always determine the health of a church. If we believe John 14:6, that Jesus is the only way to heaven, if we believe John 3:16, that whoever believes in Jesus will never perish but obtain eternal life, if we believe 2 Peter 3:9 that God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance, and if we believe 1 Timothy 2:4 that God wants everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth, then we will want to be part of a growing church. But Church Growth is impossible without Church Health. And church health demands regular check-ups. If we took the vital signs of First Baptist Lafayette this morning, what would be the diagnosis?