By the Rev. Lakeya Stewart
It’s that time of year! Everyone tries to avoid this time—you know, the time when you have to rearrange your work schedule to get there, or use your lunch break in hopes that your appointment will be short. It’s check-up time. No one likes to be poked and prodded, and to be honest, no one really wants to expose themselves in front of a total stranger! Despite what we may not WANT to do, we all know that it is vital that we get that yearly check-up in. Skipping one year may seem harmless but we all know that it is much easier to treat an illness in its earlier stages if something is indeed detected.
Just like our bodies need a check-up, so does the body of Christ, or our local churches. As believers in Christ, we must take some type of responsibility for our spiritual well-being. Are we as individual believers spiritually healthy? Are we whole? Are the congregations that we adjoin ourselves with healthy? These are the questions that my reading and lectures have caused me to ask myself.
Yes, we must maintain our personal relationships and devotional time with Christ, but we are also instructed in Hebrews 10:24-25 (“And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.”) to assemble together with other believers. What happens when church people hurt us?
Churches are composed of people. People are flawed and make mistakes because of “The Fall.” Adam and Eve were tempted by the thought of knowing good and evil as gods did. Today, just like the struggle of Adam and Eve, worldly ambition and the pride of life have done more harm than good. This is the effect of “the fall” ….we call it sin. Sin according to 1 John 3:4b is lawlessness. Sin is what separates humanity from God.
Many people evade this conversation but it is one that must be had. We have missed our appointments too many times… It is time that our churches have a spiritual check-up to determine the health of our church. Determining this will help us predict how healthy members of churches are. Studies like that done by Christian Schwarz have been done to analyze the health of churches.
So, how do we determine the health of our churches and believers? It would be easy to point out the flaws found in leaders or in specific churches but that is not the task at hand. In fact, that would go against what Christian Schwarz would call Quality characteristic #1, empowering leadership, in defining quality characteristics in growing churches and more specifically healthy growing churches. This is a hot topic of discussion around the dinner tables of disgruntled church members if we would be honest. I would like to offer to you the eight characteristics that Christian A. Schwarz offers from his personal research of surveying 1000 churches across the world in his book “Natural Church Development: A Guide to Eight Essential Qualities of Healthy Churches.” The Eight Qualities in a healthy and growing church are: 1. Empowering leadership, 2. Gift-Oriented ministry, 3. Passionate Spirituality, 4. Functional Structures, 5. Inspiring worship service, 6.Holistic small groups, 7. Need-oriented evangelism, and 8. Loving Relationships.
Quality number 1, Empowering leadership, is essential. I believe this to be the most important quality although all are important. It is important that leaders and particularly pastors empower members to do the work that God has called them to do. It is important that leaders encourage, mentor, motivate and support believers to do as Ephesians 4:1b instructs us, to “walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called.” In an unhealthy and often time spiritually abusive church, the leader or pastor will discourage believers from spearheading a ministry but will rather keep members as “helpers” or assistants. Now, not everyone is called to lead and we must recognize this. However, some people are called to lead and leaders are not allowing members to function in their gifts and callings for fear that the person will “out-do” or ‘’out-shine” the leader. Any leader with this mindset might be spiritually sick. This does not mean that the leader is completely evil, it just means that they probably missed their past years spiritual wellness appointments.
The quality characteristic of Empowering leadership ties directly to number 2, which is Gift-Oriented ministry. Identifying the gifts of believers is only half of the problem. Churches, not just leaders must encourage believers to exercise their gifts in the appropriate ministries within the church. What good is a youth leader who knows no sign language attempting to sign in church? No good at all. All of that was said to suggest that most believers are spiritually healthy and happy when they are operating in their gifts and know that they have a place in the church that will edify the body of Christ.
Each of the eight characteristics that Schwarz offers in his book is packed with substance. These characteristics were proven to hold true for all churches regardless of denomination. Have you considered the spiritual health of yourself or the church that you attend? What happens, after we have been diagnosed with an issue by the medical doctor? It becomes time for a treatment. The treatment for any malady in the church or in our personal walk with God is communion with God. Prayer is the key to any change. We must pray and remain in conversation with the Almighty God and ask God for guidance. God does not desire that everyone leave their local church. In fact, God might be calling us to be the change agent in our churches. What If God, the great Physician, wanted to use us to make a difference in our congregation? Are we willing to be used for God’s purpose?
Rev. Lakeya Stewart, M.Div. D.Min, ABD
Category: Spiritual Matters