Take even a brief look around the area where I work as a pastor, and you’ll notice something relatively unique: the population here is made up mostly of military families and college students who only live here for an average of 2.5 years.
As a result, today’s Big Question is one that’s not uncommon to hear followers of Jesus (or even spiritual seekers) ask around here. Many of them are used to asking it every 2.5 years.
Which, in at least one way I suppose, makes me a fitting person to be a pastor in this area—because I’ve often had the same question.
One of my favorite books to read in the Bible is the book of Acts, which tells the story of how the church began and what it was like at the beginning, 2,000 years ago. And, simply put: it’s beautiful. It’s the definition of a “good,” and “healthy,” church.
Yet, for years it has frustrated me at how unlike the Acts church many modern-day churches look and operate. And I’ve often wondered “what is it that we’re ‘missing’ today?”
So, a couple of years ago, our church did an intensive, 8-month long, [almost literally!] verse-by-verse, exegetical study of the book of Acts, in hopes of answering questions like today’s topic.
In other words, if we just read the book of Acts, just for what it says, in and of itself—not “reading things into the text” that aren’t actually there (from our own preconceived ideas, biases or denominational backgrounds and such)—what do we find a “healthy” church looks like according to God’s original blueprint for it?
Here’s what we concluded, concerning a number of different key topics:
A. The church existed to make disciples of Jesus Christ. That was their mission from Jesus Himself.
B. The church was empowered by God’s Holy Spirit for that mission, and used their spiritual gifts as a team for God’s Kingdom.
C. The church immersed people in water, as immediately as possible upon the repenting and committing of their lives to Jesus Christ, as an outward symbol of the spiritual change Jesus brought about in their lives.
D. The church operated like a spiritual family of followers of Jesus Christ, who were lovingly committed to each other 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and who made it a priority to gather for worship and fellowship.
E. The early church devoted themselves to praying with each other, and for each other, in open, honest communication with God.
F. The church had leaders who relied on God through prayer, Scripture study, and delegating responsibility appropriately, so as to be most effective in building God’s Kingdom, not their own.
G. The church consistently, actively listened for God to speak to them through the Bible, prayer, other genuine followers of Christ, and circumstances, always “testing” everything with the Bible to make sure it’s really God’s voice.
H. God did do miracles through the church, but always for His Glory and often to bring nonbelievers to a place of openness to the Gospel.
I. The church faced a lot of persecution along the way, but never let it stop them from continuing their mission of sharing the Gospel with the world.
J. The church understood that we have a spiritual enemy, who is waging a very real spiritual war for the souls of people, but also understood that God’s Spirit within us is far stronger than our enemy in the world, and there is power in the name of Jesus Christ.
Basically, our overall conclusion was that a “healthy” church—according to what we see in the book of Acts—is a spiritual family of followers of Jesus Christ, who passionately pursue the mission He gave us of making disciples, regardless of the cost to us in this life.
But, as they’ve said for years on the tv show Reading Rainbow, “you don’t have to take my word for it.” I encourage you to do your own study on the early church, and see what stands out to you.
Obviously, we’ll never find a “perfect” church this side of Heaven. But if we can find one—large or small—with characteristics like those I’ve outlined above, it certainly seems to me like we’ll be on the right track.
Or, if we can seek to be a church with characteristics like those I’ve outlined above, that’s even better.