Healthy Church as the Goal for Discipleship
For a church to be spiritually healthy, the main ingredient is a close-knit community of believers, which has all the properties of the body of Christ. Disciples’ healthy interactions also work outside the realm of the church as individuals continue to influence nonbelievers. Putnam and Harrington give the outline of a healthy church and the manner it works similarly to a healthy body1. Consequently, any band of disciples should focus on maintaining the health of the church in a bid to perfect the image of Christ. This essay explores the concepts of discipleship and the healthy church while highlighting goals for discipleship, personal ministry, and available avenues for improvement.
The overall health of any church is the main determinant of the success of discipleship implementation. Spiritual health is addressed in the Acts of Apostles where a good church is said to promote the devotion of apostles in their efforts at teaching and fellowship. Therefore, discipleship is about having the ultimate church as exemplified by the early church whereby “the believers were together and had everything in common…they sold property and possessions to give to anyone who needed…continued to meet together…praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people”2.
Paul’s outline of the healthy church is one that pursues fellowship through good discipleship and strong spirituality. Evangelism is the main ingredient for pursuing strength of spirit because it improves the welfare of current disciples and attracts new ones in the process3. The churches that Paul founded were supposed to operate as singular bodies because all believers were “baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body irrespective of the fact that one was a Jew, Gentile, free, or a slave”4. This singularity has found its way to the modern church where individuals’ background information is not a factor of church membership. Just like the early church, modern congregations should ensure uniformity of treatment towards all their members.
Everyone is tasked with taking care of his own body, and in the same manner, the church should take care of itself. Taking care of a healthy church entails monitoring it to check for anomalies and ensuring that overall health is maintained. Earley and Dempsey give an example of a maintenance scenario when they point out that: “when one notices that the body is injured or afflicted, one goes to the doctor…the doctor then goes through many initial tests to get an overall view of what the problem may be”5. It is then up to the patient to listen to the doctor’s advice if he/she has the desire to get better. A healthy church pays attention to its functions and notes areas that might need further analysis. Furthermore, just like in the example of the body, neglecting ill health can lead to the spiritual death of the church. Jesus and His teachings are the ultimate physicians because they offer solutions to any problem that the church might be encountering. It is also important to note that just like in a body, overlooking small matters that affect the church might lead to bigger issues. Therefore, the church should be hasty and effective in seeking spiritual repairs.
It would be unwise to “make disciples inside an unhealthy representation of the body of Christ because the individual disciple is nurtured, cared for, and developed by the surrounding joints and ligaments of the local body.6” An unhealthy church is set to be overcome by the various infections that stalk the modern congregation such as individualism and dishonesty. Therefore, it is prudent for the church to keep track of what is going on with its congregation. Moreover, maintaining a healthy church is similar to body health, where pain, discomfort, and bitter medicine are just part of the process. The ability to keep a church healthy has to do with vigilance, where slight changes in functionality should be addressed promptly.
An Evaluation of the Personal Ministry
Within my current ministry, there a few areas that need attention in reference to achieving a healthier body of Christ. However, the areas that need most attention within the local church include lack of a viable discipleship plan, lack of intergroup relationships within the church, and failing leadership within the discipleship. The first area involves a lack of a comprehensive discipleship plan, and it entails the specific details of church membership. Operations in every church are strongly connected to discipleship plans, whereby ideas and duties are the responsibility of the whole church and not the leadership. In a healthy church environment, individuals should feel encouraged to take up several roles in the church. For example, in my church, I have observed that it is sometimes difficult to get people to volunteer for various activities.
This is an indication that most individuals are not familiar with the congregation’s discipleship plan. The same thing happens when the church leadership urges individuals to volunteer ideas, and members show a certain form of hesitation. To address the issue, the church should lay out a comprehensive discipleship plan, whereby the church should incorporate the inclusion of all members. For instance, simple activities such as mentoring Sunday school children and driving the old to and from the church are all part of a comprehensive plan whereby all members contribute towards a healthy body of Christ. Furthermore, it would be beneficial for the current leaders to be trained on methods of developing discipleship plans that bring all members together towards a common goal.
My current congregation also lacks in the area of intergroup relationships. The traditional church has only managed to create ‘old-school’ groups within the church, such as Sunday schools, women’s organizations, and men’s organizations. This method is very simplistic, and it fails to accommodate the emerging trends in intergroup relationships such as individuals within the same career lines, married/unmarried people, and investors who might contribute towards the spread of the gospel, among others. The rationale behind intergroup relationships is to create cooperation, and it is not to form divisions. The church has failed to account for this aim in its bid to ensure all people feel accommodated. However, inclusion in discipleship should also take into account that the body of Christ has many parts that are different and accomplish unique purposes7.
Failing leadership within the church is another area that requires improvement within my current organization. I have observed that most of the leaders fail to utilize existing bonds while creating discipleship structures. A good organizational structure should account for existing bonds between family and friends while encouraging new members to find their own comfort instead of forcing them into certain structures. New disciples should be “encouraged to utilize the gifts that God has given them for the betterment of the whole body8”. Therefore, it is not up to a pastor to direct existing and new church members into certain directions, but it is his duty to encourage members to find their niche. This ability can only be enhanced by training leaders and encouraging them to foster awareness within the church.
Initial Steps towards Improvement of Spiritual Health
The first step towards the improvement of church leadership is to focus on its leaders. The leaders are better situated when it comes to accessing the health of the church. However, if leaders lack in their individual capacity, then the whole church might suffer in the process. For example, the pastor of a church needs to “to know his role in the body and return to the work of developing leaders who plant churches, as he did in the past”9. My church has had successive changes in its leadership, and it can benefit from a stronger and more permanent leadership. A goof leader improves the spiritual health of a church by ensuring that all members are in their respective positions in the body of Christ. A wholesome church is stronger in every sense, including in matters of spiritual health.
A church can also improve spiritual health by embracing models that encourage “intentional disciple-making that focuses on relationships and clear-cut strategies that foster rejuvenation of the church”10. Consequently, churches should also ensure that all congregation members are nurtured and encouraged to grow on their own terms. A spiritually mature church encourages the process of disciple-multiplication regardless of its theoretical constructs. Just like the church, disciples are also living organisms that are subject to the specific process of rejuvenation and self-discipline. Furthermore, the Great Commission can only be carried out by a spiritually, healthy church.
Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works Vol 4. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2003.
Earley, Dave, and Rod Dempsey. Disciple Making Is: How to Live the Great Commission with Passion and Confidence. Nashville: TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2013.
Falwell, Jerry. Building Dynamic Faith. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2007.
Putman, Jim, Bobby William Harrington, and Robert Coleman. DiscipleShift: Five Steps That Help Your Church to Make Disciples Who Make Disciples. London: Zondervan, 2013.
The Holy Bible, New International Version. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1984.
- Jim Putman, Bobby William Harrington, and Robert Coleman, DiscipleShift: Five Steps That Help Your Church to Make Disciples Who Make Disciples (London: Zondervan, 2013), 211.
- Acts 2:42-47 (NIV).
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works Vol 4 (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2003), 45.
- I Corinthians 12:13 (NIV).
- Dave Earley and Rod Dempsey, Disciple Making Is–: How to Live the Great Commission with Passion and Confidence (Nashville: TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2013), 186.
- Ibid., 757.
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works Vol 4 (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2003), 58.
- Jerry Falwell, Building Dynamic Faith (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2007), 38.
- Dave Earley and Rod Dempsey, Disciple Making Is–: How to Live the Great Commission with Passion and Confidence (Nashville: TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2013), 754.
- Ibid,. 757.