Are you in the process of looking for a church? That can be a challenge, can't it? Many of us tend to lean on four factors in making our choice: denomination, music style, size, and location. But these alone can't tell you the most important thing: is the church healthy?
How do you find a healthy church? This article will give you some ideas. But first—and most importantly—pray. Ask the Lord to lead you in your search. Then, as you follow His direction, stay sensitive to the following six essential qualities of a healthy church.
God Gets the Glory
Buildings can be beautiful, preachers can be gifted, and music can be wondrous, but what matters most is that your heart and mind are directed to the Lord. To glorify God means to magnify and elevate Him—to draw attention to His greatness, to His love, to His grace. The psalmist crystallizes this truth in his prayer to the Lord:
Not to us, O LORD, not to us,
But to Your name give glory
Because of Your lovingkindness, because of Your truth. (Psalm 115:1 NASB)
For whatever reason, it's amazingly easy for us to draw attention to ourselves, isn't it? We'll magnify a pastor's personality and exalt the brilliance of his sermon, and by doing so, we turn ourselves into an eager audience come to see its favourite star perform. Sadly, God becomes a background character in someone else's performance. That's not what His Church is meant to be.
The Church is the place where people come to learn of God's nature and His will, to be formed by Him into His people, and to deepen their love relationship with Him. So in a healthy church, God is the “star,” and the music and the preaching turn the spotlight on Him.
God's Son, Jesus Christ, Is Central
Without Jesus Christ and His Gospel, there would be no church, because there would be no Christianity. Glorifying God also means glorifying His Son, Jesus Christ, who “is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature” (Hebrews 1:3).
A healthy church, then, is a Christ-centred church. The gospel of Jesus Christ will be preeminent—leading God's people to rejoice in Christ's salvation, rest in His forgiveness, follow His example, and obey His teaching. As the Father has “highly exalted” His Son, so should we (see Philippians 2:9–11).
God Is Truly Worshipped
Have you ever visited a church where the Scriptures were read, songs were sung, and a sermon was preached—but somehow worship was missing? It leaves you feeling kind of empty and disconnected from the Lord, doesn't it?
Worship cannot happen unless the heart is involved. A healthy church will worship from the heart, seeking to be sensitive to the Lord's awesome presence (see Psalm 95).
In a healthy church—one that gratefully recognizes itself as “the sheep of His hand”—you should be able to sense:
- a reverence regarding the Lord's Word
- sincere praise in the music played and sung
- delight in the Lord and love for His people in the words of the sermon
In a healthy church, love for the Lord will be behind everything that's done (see 1 Corinthians 13), engaging people's hearts so they can come before the Lord as a worshipping community.
God's Word Is Not Only Taught but Applied
A thriving church is also marked by its devotion to learning and living God's Word. What a privilege is ours to have the Bible—the Lord's own “God-breathed” revelation of His nature, heart, actions, and will (see 2 Timothy 3:16 NIV). It's exciting to enter His presence through His Word—or it should be. The psalmist's prayer can do a lot to shape our expectations: “Open my eyes, that I may behold wonderful things from Your law” (Psalm 119:18).
It's not enough, though, to gaze at His Word and keep it tucked tidily away in our minds. We must live it—obey it, have our lives shaped by it. Jesus Himself emphasized the importance of applying His teaching.
Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. (Matthew 7:24–25)
The Lord has given us His Word to:
- teach us about Himself
- show us the way of salvation and life
- help us grow in wisdom and become mature
- stabilize our faith in times of testing
- be able to detect and confront error
So it's crucial that a pastor's teaching:
- be rooted in Scripture—not in popular books or in his own opinions or pet peeves
- be personal rather than theoretical, which could breed indifference
- be relevant, showing how God's truth is so timely for today
- be balanced with humility, love, and grace, to avoid intolerance and pride
- be only the means to one end—knowing and worshiping its Author, not the Bible itself
God's Love Can Be Seen and Felt
Compassionate. Kind. Humble. Gentle. Patient. Forgiving. Loving. These are the traits God wants His people to be known for—because these traits reflect who He is (see Colossians 3:12–14). Do you remember Jesus' final talk with His disciples in the Upper Room? After humbly and gently washing their feet, Jesus told them, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you,... By this all men will know that you are My disciples” (John 13:34a, 35a).
A healthy church, then, will be marked by its members' care and empathy for each other. It will feel like family rather than a corporation. And it will exude a warm, welcoming spirit that readily shares the gift of God's grace.
God's Good News Will Be Shared with Others
The Lord's Church is not an exclusive country club that basks in a private glow of glory, but it is “a city set on a hill” and “the light of the world” that calls people “out of darkness into His marvellous light” (Matthew 5:14; 1 Peter 2:9). Just as Jesus came “to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10), so it is our calling now to seek the lost and tell them of the Saviour.
So a healthy church will be actively concerned about the world outside its walls. It will pray for those who don't know of or have turned away from God's love. It will encourage and equip (not pressure) its people to share their faith—whether in their day-to-day work or in reaching out to the needy in their community. And it will teach them to treat non-believers with respect, upholding their dignity and allowing the Holy Spirit to work with them in His way and time.
Further Suggestions. When you find a church with these six qualities, you are well on your way to finding a healthy church! For further scriptural guidance in your search, please read the passages below. And may God bless you on your quest to find a church home.
- Psalm 29
- Psalm 105
- Psalm 119:9–16, 97–104
- John 4:23–24
- Acts 2:42–47
- Romans 12
- 2 Corinthians 1:3–4
- Ephesians 1:22-23; 4:1–6, 11–16
- Philippians 2:1–11
- 1 Thessalonians 2:3–13
- Hebrews 13:15–17
- Revelation 2–3
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