This is the second in the two-part article “A Handy Guide to Healthy Churches.” The article is accompanied by a PowerPoint that can be downloaded here.
In the palm of the hand we drew the five letters P-O-U-C-H to remind us of the kinds of churches we see in healthy Church Planting Movements.
The P reminds us that healthy CPM churches engage in participative Bible study and worship, rather than passive listening to a pastor/preacher.
The O recalls the mark of success for the CPM church. It is not size or wealth or style; it is obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ and His word, the Bible.
The U points to the fact that in healthy reproducing CPM churches, there are multiple unpaid leaders. Unpaid leaders are only realistic when the church size remains small and leadership responsibility is shared.
The C points to the importance of keeping the church gatherings small. Cell groups should remain small enough to meet in homes.
The H represents homes, where these CPM churches meet. Meeting in homes lowers expenses, increases contextualization, and deepens discipleship.
Five core purposes
The five fingers of the church remind us of the five purposes upon which all healthy churches are built: 1) Worship, 2) Fellowship, 3) Ministry, 4) Discipleship, and 5) Evangelism/Missions.
The church’s five purposes grow out of Christ’s core teachings in The Great Commandment (Matthew 22:32-40) and The Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20).
In The Great Commandment Christ teaches us to love God with all our heart, soul, strength and mind – another word for this is worship. The second commandment, Jesus says is like unto the first: “love our neighbor as ourselves.” This is the commandment that issues in two purposes for the church. If our neighbor is a fellow believer and follower of Christ, then loving that neighbor translates into fellowship. If, on the other hand, that neighbor is a non-believer, then loving that neighbor as we love ourselves expresses itself as ministry.
From our Lord’s Great Commission we derive the final two core purposes of the church: discipleship, and evangelism/missions. In this teaching, we define evangelism as the proclamation of the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ. When this message of salvation is taken beyond the vicinity of the church it is missions. A missionary is one who is ‘sent with the message’ of the gospel.
Four marks of maturity
The four fingers of our “Handy Guide” remind us of the four marks of maturity. A mature church should be 1) Self-Governing, 2) Self-Supporting, 3) Self-Propagating, and 4) Self-Correcting/Feeding. Now, these first three marks of maturity have been prominent in mission circles since the late 19th century, but we need to constantly keep them in mind as we plant churches and train our partners to plant churches that are not dependent on outside leadership or funds, and are well-trained to reproduce themselves indigenously throughout a people.
The fourth mark of maturity is too often missed by missionaries and church planters. A mature and healthy church must be able to correct itself when it goes astray and feed itself spiritually so that it can grow in grace and Christlikeness, rather than remain dependent on the missionary or church planter. This challenge is not new to the spread of the gospel; it was faced for the first time as the apostles began to pass from the scene, and the fledgling New Testament churches were no longer able to sit at the apostles feet for feeding and for correction.
Paul recognized this emerging crisis and so instructed the churches in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 that “All Scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, that the man of God may be fully equipped for every good work.” Put another way, Paul was saying that the people of God should use the Word of God to teach, rebuke, correct, and train one another in righteousness. If they would use it for these purposes, they would become mature, “fully equipped for every good work.”
We teach and model for our churches to use the Word of God each week (as well as in daily personal quiet time) to teach us, rebuke us, correct us, and train us in righteousness. Then, over time, we find ourselves transformed into the fullness of our identity in Christ.
Practical note: Our house church followed this process quite literally. In our weekly worship time we read a passage of Scripture (all of which is inspired by God’s spirit), and then ask the questions one at a time: 1) What is God teaching us from this passage (what are his doctrines and spiritual truths for us)?, 2) What is God rebuking (what immorality is he exposing and heresy is he refuting)? 3) In light of what I’ve read or heard from my fellow Christians, what is God correcting in my life?, and finally 4) What is the training in righteousness that God has for me as a result of this time of Bible study and discussion with brothers and sisters (what Scripture passage, spiritual truth or insight from Christ will I apply to my life this week)?
Three biblical offices
Three fingers point to three biblical roles of servant leadership that a church needs to function properly as the body of Christ.
The first finger is the church’s pastor/elder/overseer (1 Timothy 3:1; 5:17; Titus 1:5-9). In our healthy church model, this church leader is where the buck stopped for spiritual oversight of the church. But this person was not the boss or CEO in the form of a corporate executive for the church. In this way, his role differed from what is often found in Western models of the church. This role was to oversee the health of the church through the other two offices.
The second finger points to the church’s deacons (Romans 16:1; Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 3:8-13). As early as Acts 6, the church’s leadership recognized the need for deacons to provide additional leadership, guidance and service within the church. The simplest and most effective use of deacons in this streamlined CPM-oriented church model is to name a deacon for each of the five purposes of the church. In this way, the deacon for worship, deacon for fellowship, deacon for ministry, deacon for discipleship, and deacon for evangelism and missions keep the church focused on its core purposes. If they are to be truly successful, though, they will not do the work of the church, but rather lead the church in their respective core purpose. In other words, the deacon for worship is to see to it that both the church community and each member in it has a life filled with worship. Likewise, the deacon for fellowship ensures that the church and each member in it lives a life in fellowship with other believers, and so forth. This infrastructure helps to explain how we defined the role of the pastor. In our Handy Guide paradigm the pastor is primarily the overseer seeing to it that the church has deacons for each of its five core purposes and that they are functioning well as stewards of the life and direction of the church.
The third finger recalls an office that is too often neglected in the local church, but neglected to our peril. The third office is that of treasurer. Every church in the world that functions well has a well functioning treasurer. Conversely, most dysfunctional churches can trace their dysfunction to a poorly administered treasury. Either the members of the church do not trust the management of its finances and so refuse to tithe, or equally bad, the members do tithe only to find that the financial affairs of the church are poorly administered leading to questions of misappropriation of funds. No church can afford to overlook the role of treasurer if it is to function as more than a group of individuals each doing their own thing.
But what is the biblical basis of treasurer? You may smile as you recall that Jesus did, in fact, have a treasurer (John 13:29), because that treasurer was Judas who would later betray Jesus for 30 pieces of silver (Matthew 27:3). It is quite possible that the early church too, repulsed by the memory of Judas’ betrayal, decided that they did not need to replace the role of treasurer in the early church. The result was seen in the church’s first scandal, a financial misappropriation by Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-10) resulting in their death. By contrast, Jesus, who faced every kind of adversary and accusation during his three-year ministry, was never once accused of financial impropriety. Why? Because he had a treasurer. We cannot improve on the example of Christ! To their credit, the early church appears to have learned its lesson; the Ananias and Sapphira episode in Acts 5 sets the stage for the selection of seven deacons in Acts chapter 6.
Two tracks of authority
Two fingers remind the church and each believer in it that, as Christians, we follow two parallel tracks of authority: the Bible and the Holy Spirit that inspires it. Put another way, we look to the word of God as expressed in Holy Scripture and listen spiritually to the Lordship of Jesus Christ to interpret God’s will. These twin tracks, like parallel railroad tracks never veer from one another. Instead, they reinforce one another providing us with a sure and straight pathway to the perfect will of God.
What happens when we choose to follow one track but not the other? Like a train trying to balance on one track, we fall into the ditch. Riding only the track of the Bible, we can fall into narrow legalism or Pharisaical scripturalism that misses the fullness of God’s revelation in Christ Jesus just as the Pharisees did in the first century.
Likewise, if we choose to listen two what we perceive to be the Spirit’s leading without checking its consistency with Scripture, we run the risk of arbitrary and un-Christlike conduct. Only as we allow the Spirit to interpret for us the Bible, does it become the Living Word of God in our lives instructing us in God’s plan for us and for his church.
One holy essence
The one remaining finger, signifying the one holy essence of the church is its most defining and essential quality, i.e. that it convey the character of Christ who is the head of the church as well as its heart. If a church as a community and the members within it do not reflect the Spirit, the life, the teachings, and the work of Christ then how can they be seen as a healthy church?
For in Christ alone can we find all the fullness of God dwelling in bodily form (Colossians 2:9) and in Christ alone do we have any hope of eternal glory (Colossians 1:27) do we find all the fullness of the God. So it is in Christ alone that the church must find its core identity and life.
The fear that rapidly reproducing churches are out of control is a misunderstanding. In fact, healthy CPM churches are constrained by the internal controls, the DNA, that governs and guides them. By structuring into the church the DNA of worship, fellowship, ministry, discipleship and evangelism and missions as well as the weekly nurture found in asking one another the guiding questions found in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, CPM churches not only grow healthier and healthier, they reproduce new churches that contain the same healthy DNA.
These churches appear to be out of control because they reproduce so rapidly, and are initially filled with lost souls who are only beginning to discover their new identity in Christ. As their new DNA continues to work within them, though, they are transformed into authentic expressions of the body of Christ. “Being confident in this that he who began a good work in you, will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6).