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Healthy Church or Unhealthy Church? 7 Signs to Check

healthy churchWe’ve changed churches eight times in 34 years of marriage. No, we aren’t “church hoppers,” we’ve simply moved a lot with my husband’s job. In fact, my husband and I are currently visiting churches after our recent move to a new city. With all that “church searching,” we’ve learned to spot a healthy church and we’ve learned some marks of an unhealthy church.

After each church visit, Wayne and I talk about the experience. What did we see and hear? What sense did we get of the church body and its leadership? What did we learn about the church that helps us understand its priorities? What did we witness that was either positive or threw up some red flags?

Although not an exhaustive list, the following seven areas will help you diagnose the health of your church or one you are visiting.

7 signs to help you know if your church is healthy or unhealthy

  1. Quality of the Fellowship – God designed the church to do life together, not just gather for a brief time on Sunday mornings (Acts 2:42-47). Do the members  engage with one another before and after the service? Do they connect at other times during the week? Another important question – is their fellowship inclusive or exclusive? A healthy church will reach out to visitors with genuine interest and attempt to include them.
  2. Centrality of the Gospel– The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus should be of “first importance” (1 Corinthians 15:3-11). Topical messages and sermon series are helpful and needed, but we should never neglect the Gospel. Whether a formal presentation or sprinkled throughout the Sunday message, the Gospel should always be in mind. How often do you hear it at your church? When was the last time someone responded to the Gospel invitation with a profession of faith in Christ?
  3. Involvement in missions – Jesus commissioned His church to take the Gospel to the world (Matthew 28:16-20). How involved is your church in sharing the Gospel and serving others in the name of Jesus, both locally and around the world?
  4. Attitude and atmosphere – transparency, share struggles and victories as fellow faith travelers, worship, prayer
  5. Commitment to spiritual growth – Commitment should start at the top. The church’s leaders should be personally committed to spiritual growth and maturity and they should purposefully work to guide the church to grow. Things like corporate prayer, Bible study, mentoring, and discipleship indicate a strong commitment (Ephesians 4:11-16).
  6. Accountability for its members – This is an area of weakness for any the healthiest of churches. Our culture has conditioned us not to mess in other people’s business. But that’s not how God designed the church. God calls us to holiness and calls us to encourage others to holiness. (1 Corinthians 5: 1-12, 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8, Hebrews 3:12-13, James 5:16).
  7. Passion for Jesus – The church not only belongs to Jesus, it’s all about Him. A church can work hard, preach the Word, and impact the community, but if Jesus isn’t her “first love,” her heart is not in the right place (Revelation 2:1-5).

What About Your Church?

Numbers, prestige, and celebrity pastors don’t mean much. I’ve seen huge mega-churches that weren’t spiritually healthy. I’ve visited small, country churches that shone with spiritual vitality.
As our church search continues, we are aware God may direct us to either a healthy church or one that needs some spiritual healing. That’s His choice. We will do our best to serve Him and the church where He calls us.
Are there any marks of a healthy church you would add to this list? If so, feel free to share them with a Scripture reference! 
Other posts in this series on the church:
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I Don’t Want to Go Church Shopping

church shoppingMany of you know my husband and I recently moved to a new area and are now looking for a new home church. We are just a couple of weeks into the search, but I already have a bit of a battle going on inside me. The church shopping mentality threatens to take control. My desires are trying to push their way to the front.

I want a church that… I’m looking for a church that will… I’d really love for our new church to… Wouldn’t it be nice if…

I have this idea of the church I want. It combines the best of our past church homes. Incredible, worshipful music. Solid, engaging teaching. Believers that do life together. Heavenly involved in missions. Strong community outreach. Active women’s ministry.

And we could look for a church like that and probably find one. We could make a list of all the attributes we desire in a church and compare each one we visit to that list. Does this one meet the criteria? Does that one make the cut? Do we cross off that last church?

But Lord help us – and I mean that as a prayer – I don’t want to find our new church home that way. In fact, I will boldly say, God doesn’t want us to find our new church home that way. I don’t want to choose my favorite; I want to search for and find the church God has already chosen for us.

The term “church shopping” rubs me the wrong way. Yet, sadly, not only do many of us use it, but it also adequately describes how many of us look for a church. We shop for one like we do a car or a prom dress or laundry detergent. Honestly, it’s easy to fall into that mindset. Our consumer-oriented culture programs us to think that way.

But God doesn’t do things the way we do. The Bible tells us that God puts the body together like He desires (1 Corinthians 12:18). He places the people He has chosen into leadership (1 Corinthians 12:27-28). He determines the gifts to individual believers and selects their place of service (1 Corinthians 12:7-11, 27-28).

God’s Word applies to my life today. He already has a church and places to serve picked out and waiting for us. I am determined not to “shop.” I want to seek His will and then follow it. May He help us do just that.

How does this biblical view compare with what we usually hear?

You may be interested in the following:

 

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Why Do You Read the Bible?

Why do you read the Bible? If you and I had coffee together and I asked you that question, how would you answer?

Why Do Americans Read the Bible?

A 2016 study by the Barna Group shows that about 1/3 of Americans read the Bible at least once a week. The same study also cites why people read the Bible. Here’s a quick rundown of the top answers:

  • Brings me closer to God (55%)
  • To receive comfort (16%)
  • To find direction or an answer to a problem (16%)
  • Because I am supposed to (6%)

Why do I Read the Bible?

As I write this blog, I’m thinking about how I would answer this question. I mean, honestly answer this question. And you know what? I think my answer would depend on the day. Absolutely I want to be closer to God. But, some days I do read it because I know I should. Other days I need some godly direction or an answer for a specific problem. And on tough days, I just need some comfort.

And you know what? I think all those reasons are legitimate. God’s Word does give comfort, offer direction, and have answers for life today. And yes, sometimes we really should read our Bibles when we don’t necessarily want to, because Christian life requires discipline and purpose. We must “train ourselves for godliness”(1 Timothy 4:7-8).

While all those reasons and more are wrapped up in why I read the Bible, there is another reason. One I desire to be my primary reason.

I want God’s Word to shape me. To refine me. To make me more like Jesus.

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Hebrews 4:12

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17

And as it does, all those other things will happen too. My intimacy with God will deepen and grow. His constant presence will comfort and guide me.

So, now it’s your turn. Why do you read the Bible? Maybe your current reason isn’t what you’d like it to be. Or maybe you don’t read the Bible regularly now. The best way to create a hunger for God’s Word to simply to begin to read it. Once you get a taste… (Psalm 34:8).

Why do you read the Bible?

If you’d like to begin to read the Bible but you aren’t sure how to get started, check out my free resources page. It is full of helps, including quiet time tips and Bible reading plans! 

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When the Going Gets Tough Where Will You Go?

When the going gets toughYou know the old saying, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going?” Ever wonder just where all those tough people get going to?

Well, we know the saying doesn’t mean a place. It’s a proverbial observation of the human condition. When life becomes trying and difficult, “tough” people will find the strength within themselves to determinedly soldier on. To bravely rise to the challenge of their “tough” circumstances.

Sounds good, doesn’t it? Shouldn’t we meet the challenges of life head-on with grit and determination? Shouldn’t we refuse to run and hide or depend on the strength of someone else?

Let’s ask ourselves: When the going gets tough, where do we go? 

Or maybe rather: When the going gets tough, where should we go? 

Trials, difficulties, pain, struggle, and grief often fill our lives. Sometimes we don’t understand what God is doing. We can’t see Him working. Occasionally, we even doubt He cares.

Where will we go when the going gets tough? Will we leave God’s path for us to find an easier way?

One of my favorite passages of Scripture highlights this question. The day after Jesus miraculously fed more than 5,000 people with just two loaves of bread and five fish, the crowds sought Him out in Capernaum. Jesus used their desire for more physical provision to teach them about the far superior spiritual nourishment that only He can provide.

But the truth that Jesus is “the bread of life” was difficult to understand:

“Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die.  I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” John 6:47-51, NIV

The teaching was just too hard. God’s truth presented a path too difficult to walk. Give my life to Jesus. “Feed” on Him alone. So many of those who had followed Him turned away to walk another path (John 6:66).

But then there was Peter!

“You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” John 6:67-69, NIV

I love Peter’s declaration of trust. He chose to cling to Jesus no matter how the circumstances might look. No matter how tough life might get. After all, Jesus was the only One who had all life’s answers.

So, what about us? We can also choose to go to Jesus when the going gets tough. No matter how things look. Even if we don’t understand what God is doing. Even if we can’t see a way out. He knows. He sees. He can.

So, where will you go when the going gets tough?

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Working Out a New Normal Quiet Time

Quiet TimeI was disciplined. A day without a formal quiet time was really rare. And I confess to you now, that I felt a little “self-righteous” about my “faithfulness” to God.

Then my husband retired.

And my “discipline” went out the window.

I’d had this perfect routine. When Wayne went into the kitchen at 5:15 am, I got up and joined him. We took care of the dogs, made coffee, and visited while he ate breakfast. As soon as he left for work about 5:45, I’d take my coffee to my desk and open my Bible and my journal.

His regular schedule shaped a regular time with God for me.

But since December, he has had no regular schedule. His lack of schedule has tremendously messed with my regular schedule. He doesn’t leave in the morning. And he turns on talk radio. And he asks questions. And he wants me to do stuff.

Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE that he is around. I am glad that he retired. But his change has meant change for me. My once regular quiet time is now more sporadic. I have to work harder to make it happen.

And Wayne’s retirement is not our only major change. We’ve been traveling back and forth to my parents’ home in another state to pack their house and move their things to Tennessee to be near my brother. And we’ve been working around our house in preparation to sell it. As soon as it sells, we will be moving from Houston to the Dallas area to be near our daughters and their families.

Right now, the only consistency in my life seems to be inconsistency. And I’m still trying to adjust to the non-schedule. Honestly, I have felt a little “faithless” lately. For years, I have encouraged you to have a regular time with God and now I am the one struggling. And even though I am praying and reading His Word here and there, I am languishing over the lack of consistency.

But yesterday, God dropped a solid truth in my lap to encourage me. I was reading in 2 Timothy trying to keep up with the Bible study I’m in at church. (I’m doing and loving “Entrusted” by Beth Moore.) It was these words:

If we are faithless, He will remain faithful, for He cannot disown Himself.              2 Timothy 2:13, NIV

Yes! God is always faithful even when I am not. He is always faithful because that is who He is. He is faithful by nature and He will not be faithless.

So, in light of my faithlessness, I am clinging to God’s faithfulness. I will ask Him to help me commit to a “new normal” and relying on His faithfulness I will set my alarm.

 

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Why Do You Follow Jesus?

Follow JesusThis isn’t just a rhetorical question. I am asking it of myself this week. Why do I follow Jesus?

The question came up during my daily Bible reading in the sixth chapter of John. Jesus had just fed more than 5,000 people with just 5 small loaves of bread and 2 little fish – a miraculous, supernatural feat that displayed Jesus’ power and authority.

The next morning the crowds came looking for Him again. But they didn’t come to worship or to seek the things that only He can give.

Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, you want to be with me because I fed you, not because you understood the miraculous signs. But don’t be so concerned about perishable things like food. Spend your energy seeking the eternal life that the Son of Man can give you. For God the Father has given me the seal of his approval.”

They replied, “We want to perform God’s works, too. What should we do?”

Jesus told them, “This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one he has sent.”

They answered, “Show us a miraculous sign if you want us to believe in you. What can you do? After all, our ancestors ate manna while they journeyed through the wilderness! The Scriptures say, ‘Moses gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”

John 6:26-31, NLT

The people looked for Jesus because He had filled their bellies, not because they had allowed Him to fill their souls. They missed the point of the miracle. They failed to see past their own physical circumstances. And even after Jesus pointed out their eternal, spiritual need, they simply asked what else He might do for them.

They asked for less. They looked for things that don’t last. It was all about a full belly and the here and now.

Sometimes I do the same. Often I am consumed by my temporary, physical circumstances and turn to Jesus solely because I want Him to “fix” things. I lost sight of the bigger picture. I allow the short-term to overshadow eternity. I spend all my energy worrying about things that don’t last when instead I should simply come to Jesus for the spiritual food only He can provide.

What about you? Why are you following Jesus today?

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What should I do with Philippians 3:14?

Recently I joined a First Place 4 Health online small group for prayer, Bible study, and accountability. Our activities include a weekly Scripture memory verse. This week – our first week – we were challenged to memorize Philippians 3:14.

Philippians 3:14I taped the Scripture card to my desk where I can see it all the time and began to work on it. But soon I began to have questions. I needed to know more about the verse. If I’m going to work to “hide God’s Word in my heart” then I need to know its meaning, its truth, so I can understand it and apply its principles to my life.

First, I needed to understand the context. So I backed up and read the entire third chapter of Philippians. Paul began by addressing a false teaching plaguing the Gentile believers in Philippi. Jewish Christians were pressuring them to be circumcised. Paul passionately reminded the Philippians not to place in any value in works or accomplishments. Instead they must focus on Christ and push forward to God’s purpose for them.

I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:14, NIV

Once I had the basic context, the specific verse prompted three questions I wanted to answer. So back to the larger context to find my answers!

  1. What is the “goal” I’m to press toward?

My “goal” is to be all Jesus saved me for and wants me to be (Philippians 3:12) – including experiencing the resurrection of the dead (Philippians 3:11) and receiving my glorified body (Philippians 3:21).

2. What is the “prize” God has called me to?

Our “prize” is glorious! Here are the things I found:

  • To know Christ – and that’s priceless gain! (Philippians 3:8)
  • To have Christ (Philippians 3:8)
  • To become one with Christ (Philippians 3:9)
  • To experience Christ’s mighty power (Philippians 3:10)

3. What does it look like to “press on?”

“Pressing on” requires discipline, diligence, and determination. It’s a lifelong process of following Christ in trust and obedience. Here are a few specifics I found in chapter 3.

  • I must get my priorities straight – Jesus over earthly things (Philippians 3:8)
  • I must trust in Christ’s ability to save and not my own abilities (Philippians 3:9)
  • I must focus on my sanctification (Philippians 3:12)
  • I must not dwell on past failures – or successes – that would keep me from moving forward (Philippians 3:13)
  • I must “dethrone” my earthly appetites and enthrone Jesus (Philippians 3:19)

Wow! There’s a lot of punch behind that one little verse. These 20 words reflect a lifetime of faith and discipleship. I’d say that’s worth taking to heart.

How do you feel about memorizing Scripture? Do you find it too hard? Are you working on a passage now? If so, I’d love to hear what it is!

Want to memorize Philippians 3:14? Print this Scripture memory card to help! (Click on the photo below to access the printable PDF.

Philippians 3:14

Want some help memorizing God’s Word? Here are some Scripture Memory resources to check out:

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Do You Ever Try to Take Charge of Jesus?

Take Charge of JesusWe know that Jesus’ mother Mary and His half-brother James became believers. But Jesus wasn’t always their Lord. There was a time when they tried to “take charge” of Jesus, to control Him.

Last week, while preparing to teach a Bible study class, I came across the evidence. I’ve read the passage many times before, but this time God gave me some fresh application. Very personal application.

It was early in Jesus’ ministry. He had just called the Twelve. The crowds were growing and clamoring for His attention. They wanted more miracles. The Jewish leaders’ antagonism toward Jesus grew in correlation to His popularity with the common folk. And it all got back to Jesus’ family in Nazareth.

The scene opens with Jesus and His disciples in a house, probably tired and weary from travel and ministry. But the crowds found Him again, packing the dwelling and the immediate area. The demands of the people were so great, Jesus and the disciples could not even take time to eat.

That’s when we read this:

When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”  Mark 3:21, NIV

Jesus’ family attempted an intervention. But why? The Scripture doesn’t give us details, just that they thought Jesus had lost His mind. Maybe they thought – like the Jewish leaders claimed – that Jesus was possessed by a demon. Maybe they thought He was the head of some outlandish cult. Maybe they were concerned about His safety or worried about their own reputation.

Whatever the exact reason, they decided to put a stop to it. To take charge. To make Jesus listen to reason and come home to Nazareth. They probably even thought they had Jesus’ best interests at heart.

If you think about it, it really is a funny scene. The little family entourage planned to seize Jesus and take Him against His will. That’s what “take charge” in this passage means. They planned to impose their will on the One who had been casting out demons and restoring sight to the blind.

Ridiculous, right?! But don’t we sometimes try to do the same? I do, anyway. See if you might fall into one of the following.

3 Ways We Try to Take Charge of Jesus

  1. Ask Jesus to bless your plans – Oh boy! I’ve done this more times than I can count. I get carried away with all these great ideas for ministry and jump in. Then I take them to Jesus and ask for His blessing.
  2. Attempt to manipulate Jesus – Have you ever asked God to trade favors? “Lord, if you will just do …, then I will do …” God doesn’t cut deals or make bargains.
  3. Give God your wish list – I’m as guilty of this as anybody. I put my “prayer list” before God and expect Him to spit out the right answers like a divine vending machine.

These three things are just a sampling of some of the ways we Christians sometimes attempt to “take charge” of Jesus. We want to bend Jesus to our will instead of allow Him to bend us to His. I admit it. It’s a daily battle for me. That’s why the Holy Spirit so often reminds me of Galatians 2:20:

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

In what ways have you tried to “take charge” of Jesus? How can the spiritual truth found in Galatians 2:20 help us to give Jesus charge of us instead?

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3 Quiet Time Cautions

Quiet timeWe are five days into the New Year. Five days into starting fresh. And, for many Christians, five days into working toward a new set of spiritual goals. Perhaps you even set some goals and strategies for a regular quiet time.

Regularly on this blog and when I speak, I encourage believers to “train themselves for godliness.” This website offers dozens of free tools and resources to help. Including quiet time tips. But today, I want to go to the flip side of the coin and share some words of caution about quiet time.

3 Cautions for Your Quiet Time

  1. Don’t do all the talking – Why do many of us always talk more than we listen? It’s a bad enough habit with our friends and family, but it’s far worse with God. Yet, often we allow prayer to become a one-way conversation. We end up talking at God instead of with Him. Honestly, this is a struggle for me. I have to remind myself to listen, to sit quietly and allow the King of the universe to speak. And isn’t it amazing that He does?!
  2. Don’t be unprepared – It is not unspiritual to plan and prepare. Jesus told His disciples to count the cost of following Him. Paul wrote to Timothy that he must “train Himself for godliness.” Both teach us that we must be purposeful and diligent in our discipleship and spiritual growth. Keep your tools – Bible, pen, journal, etc. – together and at hand, ready to go each morning. And have a Bible reading plan. Dropping open your Bible and pointing your finger is haphazard at best.
  3. Don’t succumb to legalism – This point does not contradict caution #2. Our goal should be to be prepared but flexible. I am a list maker who loves to check off the boxes. Too many times, I have found myself rushing through my Bible reading so I can check off the day’s box. Or I felt guilty when I missed a day of quiet time. Legalism in our quiet time robs us of its joy and inhibits the intimacy we long to have with God. Let’s keep our goals in mind, but let’s also follow the leading of the Holy Spirit to “get off script,” and give ourselves some grace when life gets in the way.
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Discipleship Resources for 2017

Discipleship ResourcesDid your purposeful commitment to spiritual growth fall by the wayside some time during 2016? Maybe your time in God’s Word became sporadic. Maybe your prayer time dwindled. Well, there’s no better time to renew your commitment to discipleship and recommit to your time with God than the New Year. This post is chock full of discipleship resources, tips, and tools to help you get started and keep going all year.

A Place to Start

The following four posts/tools will help you figure out where you are spiritually and where God is leading you in the New Year.

  • Discipleship Evaluation Tool – honestly evaluate your current spiritual condition. This tool covers 17 different key discipleship areas. Your weakest areas of 2015 can be great growth areas in 2016.
  • Spiritual Goals Worksheet – Planning is not “unspiritual.” Living a life that glorifies God will not happen by accident. This tool walks you through specific areas of discipleship such as time with God, ministry, service, and Christian education to help you set New Year goals.
  • Setting goals for spiritual growth – These five tips will help you set doable, personal discipleship goals that will keep us growing through the year.
  • 3 Steps to Create a Hunger for the Bible – Do you long to hunger for God’s Word but right now your desire is limited?

General Discipleship Resources

The following posts each offer a collection of resources and tools to help you meet your goals.

Specific Discipleship Helps

This last group of resources focuses on a specific area of discipleship like quiet time, prayer, Bible reading, or Scripture Memory.

I hope these resources will help you meet your 2017 spiritual growth goals. I’d love to hear from you about how God is leading you to step out in the New Year!

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