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What should define a healthy church? (Part 1)

Following up with last week’s column concerning “why do churches die,” I wanted to take a few weeks to talk about some broad characteristics that should define a healthy church. These characteristics are by no means exhaustive, but they are broad enough to define some core concepts without micromanaging the details or methodologies.

In other words, I can’t imagine how any healthy church would disagree with these core ideas, but many, while agreeing with the list, would simultaneously acknowledge that their own local church is lacking in one or more areas.

Every healthy church must be centered on the gospel, committed to connecting with God through the Word, connecting to one another as God’s family, and connecting with God’s mission to show and tell the good news of Jesus to the world. Today we will talk about being centered on the gospel.

The gospel, summarized, is that Jesus Christ - who will one day judge all people - came to earth and was executed for the punishment we deserve so that rather than being condemned we can be forgiven. Basically, Jesus died to save sinners!

When people hear the gospel describes, it is easy for them to view it as a get out of jail free card, and in some ways it is. Trusting in the gospel frees us from the consequence of sin in eternity.

The gospel’s power and influence doesn’t stop there, though, and that creates confusion for people. God doesn’t just want to save us from the penalty of sin, he wants to rescue us progressively from the power of sin in our lives today!

What do I mean? Let’s take insecurity as an example. The gospel speaks mountains to our insecurities, and the more we trust in the truth of the gospel, the more we are transformed.

If we know that God has gone to great lengths to redeem us, cherishes is, sings over us, considers us the apple of his eye, desires to help us, wants us to ask for help, elevates us to being sons of the king and co-heirs with Jesus, that changes the way we view ourselves.

We don’t need to carry the labels of the world if we know that our identity is rooted in Jesus. Trusting in the gospel, not just for salvation, but for every area of my life changes me. We call this sanctification or being gospel centered.

So, a healthy church must preach the gospel. We must preach the gospel not just as a message of salvation but as hope for today. God wants to make us more like himself. Indeed, he is bending reality to his whim to make us more like him!

When, as churches, we preach self-help talks instead of the gospel, we eviscerate the power from our words. We become nothing more than snake oil salesmen who sell worthless goods.

Self help doesn’t work because I got myself into this mess - I can’t get myself out. I need Jesus to help me. Our people need Jesus, not five ways to fix X or three principles for Y.

Is generosity a problem in your life? Gospel centered says that you need a richer understanding of the sacrifice God has given for you. He generously offers grace at great expense to himself. Can’t you give to help someone in need at sacrifice to yourself?

Is patience an issue? Gospel centered says that you need to understand just how patient God has been with you. How many days and nights has he put up with your foolishness, your bad moods and your outright dumb decisions. Can’t you choose patience in the moment knowing how much patience for you is wrapped up in the gospel?

A healthy church constantly comes back to the gospel. They know that the power of change is not in good advice but in the life changing Christ.

How do you know if your church is gospel centered? Do they talk about the gospel more than just on Christmas and Easter? Are you growing in the knowledge of Jesus and what he has done for you? Do you know in a deeper and truer way how Jesus is the fulfillment of all of scriptures?

If the answer is “no,” then your church isn’t centered on the gospel. I don’t know what it’s centered on: religion, a social club, something else’s, but it’s come off center!

Pastor Joe Thorn wrote, “A gospel-centered church is a church that is about Jesus above everything else. That sounds a little obvious, but when we talk about striving to be and maintain gospel-centrality as a church we are recognizing our tendency to focus on many other things (often good and important things) instead of Jesus. There are really only two options for local churches; they will be gospel-centered, or issue driven.”

To be gospel-centered means that the gospel - and Jesus himself - is our greatest hope and boast, our deepest longing and joy, and our most passionate song and message. We cannot be healthy without a devotion to the gospel.