A Healthy Church (A Layman’s Letter to His Pastor)
by Patrick Morley
As I was sitting in church on Sunday, I decided to write you this letter. When the service began, this is what I found myself thinking…
I’m here, pastor, I’m here. I worked 55 hours this week (that’s five days from 8 to 6 and 2 hours every night after the kids went to bed), slept 48 hours (I’m short one whole night), spent Saturday morning shuttling between soccer games, worked Saturday afternoon on the yard, took my wife to dinner Saturday night, and now here I am on Sunday morning.
All week long the world has told me to buy everything from computers to cars, and to want everything from more sex to more fun. My boss is not happy with me, nor I with him. My spouse appreciates my problems, but she has problems of her own. She’s frustrated that I don’t spend enough time with the family, but doesn’t complain about the money. Besides, I can’t share many of my struggles with her-like sexual temptations, work overload, and how to cover all these bills. The kids need more of me, but it’s not like they can really tell the difference-I’ve always shorted them.
Meanwhile, I read my Bible and prayed four mornings this week-a total of one hour. I don’t wake up in the morning wanting to fail. My intentions are good, but I still fall short. I’ve come here to receive some encouragement and direction from God. Now, what do you want me to do? What can you say to me?
Because I love you so much and want the best for you, I decided to write a letter and share my thoughts about our church. I’m only speaking for myself, but here are ten things I think most of us really need.
1. A HEALTHY THEOLOGY
First and foremost, I need a healthy theology. These questions haunt me: “Does God know about the problems of his people? Does He care? Can He do anything about it? What is He doing? Will He take care of us? Is God sitting in heaven wringing his hands about a world running amuck? How should we respond to the struggles and opportunities of daily life? What should be our relationship to the world?” I may only be a layman, but I don’t see how a church can be healthy unless it gets its theology right. I need the church to tell me to keep the Sabbath-no one else is. I need the church to tell me to tithe-no one else is. Theology starts with the Bible: right reading = right thinking = right believing = right doing. Please don’t give up on me, I need you to help me become a disciple.
2. A HEALTHY PASTOR
I need my pastor to be the man he wants me to become. If he’s to be a healthy pastor, he must create some space for himself. He needs to focus mainly on his own private life with Christ. He’s got to minister to me out of the overflow of his own relationship with Jesus. So first, he’s got to first make sure that he has enough “Jesus” for himself. Then he will have enough to give away to the rest of us. Also, I’m depending on him to take responsibility for his own marriage, children, finances, and health.
3. A HEALTHY LEADERSHIP
The best thing a leadership team, under the direction of the pastor, can do is to become to each other what they want us to become as a church. They shouldn’t ask us to do things that they themselves are unwilling to do (a common mistake). They must lead by example. They’ve got to take seriously the leadership qualifications of 1Timothy 3 and Titus 1. I need them to create a culture of prayer-not merely believe in prayer, but pray. They can get organized-I’d appreciate it-but mostly I need them to stick to the work of teaching, shepherding, and prayer. My family needs them to be careful not to run the church like a business. Please show us a 1 Corinthians 12 “one body, many parts” display of unity and mission.
4. A HEALTHY DREAM
Ideas are more powerful than labor. Ideas unleash forces that cannot be contained. What idea will capture my imagination as one of the sheep? The pastor and the leadership team must help me to see in my mind a “picture” of where they want me to go, and what success as a Christian man will look like. Otherwise, how will I know what to do, and whether or not I’ve done it? Grounded in Scripture, related to current culture, they draw for me a portrait of what this looks like in day-to-day practice.
5. A HEALTHY EXPECTATION
I like to win, and winning would be easy except for a couple of things. First, I have opposition, and my opposition wants to win too. I’d have no problem scoring if it weren’t for all those mean looking men trying to knock me down. So, help me understand what to expect, and how to play fair. Second, not all the players on our church team are equally strong or committed. Let’s never cut our weakest and least committed players-we don’t give up on people. I need my church to remind me of eventual victory, but help me realize that for now we must function more like a hospital for broken people than a team of superstars headed to the Super Bowl.
6. A HEALTHY PLAN
Any car manufacturer knows it cannot offer one model in one color and expect much success-though once upon a time it was so. In the same way, a successful church cannot offer a “one size fits all” ministry plan-though perhaps once upon a time it could. A healthy church will have some plan for ministry that differentiates the needs of different groups based on either age, spiritual maturity, gender, life phase, and/or special needs. I need to know that all my family members are being thought of at every stage.
At the same time, we need to be sure that we are developing healthy men. If we will disciple our men, they in turn will lead their wives and children to deeper faith in Christ. Like Jesus, let’s place a high priority on reaching men.
7. A HEALTHY BALANCE
I know my church can’t be all things to all people. It’s always going to reflect the interests and vision of our pastor and leadership. Still, a healthy church has to cover all the right bases, even as it specializes on its own distinctives. Suppose a church focuses primarily on, say, meeting the needs of the poor or missions. To be healthy that church must balance itself with proper emphasis on worship, evangelism, discipleship, fellowship, and other types of ministry.
8. A HEALTHY SERVICE
When I come to the worship service I come to give and to receive. I come to give worship, praise, and adoration. To worship literally means, “to kiss, the way a dog licks its master’s hand.” Help me do this. I also come to receive: to hear a word from the Lord-a word of instruction, or encouragement, or challenge. I hope to be staggered by God’s love, overpowered by His grace, astonished by His mercy, overwhelmed by His presence. A healthy worship experience helps each of us become a holy place.
9. A HEALTHY CONNECTION
I know the Bible is the word of God, and believe it offers explanations for all matters of faith and life. I need you to help me connect the dots between what my Bible says and what happens on Monday morning when the phones start ringing and customers start complaining. How do I make the connection? A healthy church draws us “out” of the world for repair, then sends us back “into” the world as agents of reconciliation.
10. A HEALTHY LAITY
If my church will pay attention to these nine things-a healthy theology, pastor, leadership, dream, expectation, plan, balance, service, and connection-we will be blessed with a healthy laity. We will become a humble community of saints that cheer each other’s victories, weep over each other’s sorrows, reprove each other’s mischief, and encourage each other’s strengths. We will become a family that doesn’t discard its weak nor abandon its young to the wolves. We will think the best of each other’s intentions, and hope the best for every member. We will have a vision for how we should engage the world. As a result, good news will be preached to the poor, prisoners will be set free, the blind will see, the deaf will hear, the lame will walk, and the oppressed will be set free. We will see Jesus.
With Great Appreciation for all You Do as our Pastor,
- Which of these ten characteristics does your church do best? How so?
- Which of these then characteristics have been blind spots in your church?
- What can/should you do about it?