What is a Healthy Church?

5 PurposesAs you look at the teams that make it to the Super Bowl you find that they are well rounded with few weaknesses – this year we see the best offense of the NFL going up against the best defense of the NFL.  Teams with glaring weaknesses however, are unable to make it to the playoffs.  Churches, likewise cannot be healthy if they have major deficiencies.

Natural Church Development: A Guide to Eight Essential Qualities of Healthy Churches by Christian A. Schwarz identifies the quality characteristics that embody healthy, growing churches.  His research discovered the following characteristics:

Empowering leadership
Gift-oriented ministry
Passionate spirituality
Functional structures
Inspiring worship service
Holistic small groups
Need-oriented evangelism
Loving relationships

Schwarz pictures a barrel with eight staves to symbolize the eight quality characteristics. The barrel can only hold water to the height of the lowest stave. Schwarz points out that a church can only grow as far as their “minimum factor” which is the lowest of the eight quality characteristics in their church.  Many churches emphasize their strengths but ignore their weaknesses.  A healthy church must continue to develop their strengths while not ignoring their weaknesses.

Rick Warren notes, “Church health is the result of balance.  Balance occurs when a church has a strategy and a structure to fulfill the five New Testament purposes for the church: worship, evangelism, fellowship, discipleship, and ministry.  If you don’t have a strategy and a structure that intentionally balances the purposes, the church tends to overemphasize the purpose you as a pastor feel most passionate about”  (Pastors.com, February 2, 2016).

Warren describes the five dimensions of a healthy church as follows,

  1. Churches grow warmer through fellowship.
  2. Churches grow deeper through discipleship.
  3. Churches grow stronger through worship.
  4. Churches grow broader through ministry.
  5. Churches grow larger through evangelism.

The challenge we face is not to neglect any of these areas – we need a dynamic tension if we aspire to be a healthy church.  This requires each part to play a role so the body is  working together as one.  What is your role in building up the body of Christ?  The Apostle Paul described the necessity of each part so a church can have a full-orbed ministry,

from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.  (Ephesians 4:16)

Each and every part is necessary to have a healthy body.  Don’t miss your vital role in building up the body of Christ!

RickAssociate Pastor – Discipleship.  The Church at LifePark

Professor of Discipleship, Columbia International University

Follow me on twitter:  rickhiggins5

Unqualified

UnqualifiedUnqualified by Steven Furtick can bring encouragement to those who believe that they may be unqualified for God to use them.  Furtick points out, “God has a habit of picking people who have been passed over” (p. 4).  You may not believe you are up to the task but the Apostle Paul reveals the true source of our adequacy,

Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God,  (2 Corinthians 3:5)

A recurring theme throughout this book is “The belief that God is more interested in our perfection than our relationship with him is the birthplace of insecurity” (p. 53).  The problem with focusing on perfection is that we may cover up our weaknesses in order to gain God’s acceptance.  Furtick argues that, “The idea that we can find ourselves without first finding God is a fallacy” (p. 65).  He continues, “But if we really want to discover ourselves, if we really want to find out whether we are qualified, we have to look beyond ourselves.  We have to look to the One who created us” (p. 66).

We are not to focus on ourselves but rather on our relationship with God, “But self-perfection is not the goal of human existence.  Relationship with God is.  Walking with God is. Knowing God, following God, listening to God, obeying God – those are the things humanity was created for” (p. 124).  Furtick wisely notes, “God’s blessing on our lives has far more to do with who he is than who we are.  That was the whole point of his I AM revelation to Moses” (p. 166).

The latter third of the book presents an overview of the life of Jacob and the identity issues that he faced.  “Jacob’s lifelong struggle culminated in the simple realization that life – with all its messiness, it’s (sic) failures, and it’s (sic) awkward moments – is meant to be lived in the light of God’s acceptance.  The goal of our existence is not perfection but relationship” (p. 199).

If you are wondering if God can use you then you may find this book helpful.   (I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review).

RickAssociate Pastor – Discipleship.  The Church at LifePark

Professor of Discipleship, Columbia International University

Follow me on twitter:  rickhiggins5

The Good News in One Verse

OneVerseEvangelism

The Apostle Peter encourages the recipients of his letter to always be ready to show others the reason why they have hope,

but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; (1 Peter 3:15)

Do you know how to give an account for your faith?  How would you respond to the question, “If you were to stand before God and He were to ask you ‘Why should you enter into heaven?’  How would you respond?”  I find that a frequent response is, “good works, obeying the golden rule, or a host of religious activities.”  But what does the Bible teach?

Several years ago I came across an article by Randy D. Raysbrook on how to share your faith in one verse.  I was intrigued by the simplicity  and effectiveness of the presentation. Through the skillful use of questions you can present the truth of the Gospel using a clear visual illustration.  Romans 6:23 informs us,

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

This verse provides key truths to assist one in understanding the good news of the Gospel.  A simple approach is to write the verse across the top of a piece of paper and then explain the significance of the following words in the verse.

Wages
Circle the word “wages” and ask, “What is meant by wages?”  Wages is the payment due based upon one’s actions.

Sin
Next circle the word “sin.”  Ask, “What comes to mind when you think of sin?”  Sin is both an attitude and an action.  We must also realize that sin separates – use this concept to draw two opposing cliffs with a gap in between.

Death
Circle the word “death” and ask “What does this word imply?”  Death results in separation from life.

But
Circling this word emphasizing the contrast between the left side and the right side of the diagram.

Gift
Draw a circle around “gift” and ask, “If wages are what a person earns, then what is a gift?”  Although a gift is free you must realize that someone purchased it.

God
Circle this word and emphasize God’s love for us (Romans 5:8).  Ephesians 2:8-9 is also a helpful passage to help one see the significance of God’s gift.

Eternal Life
Circle these two words and ask, “What comes to mind when you consider eternal life?” Contrast the two sides of the cliff – death and eternal life.

Christ Jesus
Write these words so they create a bridge between the two cliffs.  Jesus Christ is able to give you the gift of eternal life (John 14:6).

Trust/Faith
As we put our faith in Jesus, He can bridge the gap between our sin and God.  This involves turning from our old way of living (repentance) and choosing to believe that Jesus died for me and I can now follow Him in obedience.

There are many things we attempt to do to bridge the gap between us and God – good works, our performance, even religion.  The problem is all of our good works fall short in building a relationship with God.  Good works are important but they are not the cause of your salvation but rather the fruit of your salvation.  Would you like to experience a relationship with God based on His finished work rather than your performance?

Bill Jones, the president of Columbia International University, has also developed an excellent one verse presentation using John 3:16.  May God give you the privilege to see someone cross over from death to life as you share the good news with them.

RickAssociate Pastor – Discipleship.  The Church at LifePark

Professor of Discipleship, Columbia International University

Follow me on twitter:  rickhiggins5

Obedient from the Heart

Psalm 40.8Have you ever had the experience of trying to change a behavior only to fall back into the same old routine?  When we focus on our external behavior, we may have short term gains; however, long term success seems elusive.  So how do we achieve long lasting change?

God brings about long-lasting change from the inside out.  The Apostle Paul reveals the truth of our identity in Christ in Romans chapter six.   He describes our union with Christ showing that our old self was crucified with Christ and we now we have the privilege of walking with Him in newness of life.  The result is our behavior is consonant with our identity – that agreement is reflected in the following verse,

But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed,  (Romans 6:17)

Paul gives thanks to God for His new identity in Christ.  Notice the verb tense, “you were slaves of sin”.  That was your identity – but it’s no longer true, you now have a new identity as one chosen by God.  If you don’t let your past die, it won’t let you live.  Don’t be encumbered by the regrets of the past but realize and claim your birthright as a child of God!

Paul encourages the reader to became obedient from the heart.  What does that mean?  The heart often represents the inner person.  This reflects someone who doesn’t simply do what should be done, but this is the person who joyfully obeys God’s ways.  (See my blog post “How to have a Quiet Time” for the stages of spiritual growth that reflects a person who joyfully obeys God.)

Jesus told a story about two sons to reveal the hypocrisy of the Pharisees.  The Pharisees talked a good game but their words did not reflect the true condition of their hearts,

“But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go work today in the vineyard.’  And he answered, ‘I will not’; but afterward he regretted it and went.   The man came to the second and said the same thing; and he answered, ‘I will, sir’; but he did not go.  Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you that the tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the kingdom of God before you.  For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him; but the tax collectors and prostitutes did believe him; and you, seeing this, did not even feel remorse afterward so as to believe him.”  (Matthew 21:28-32)

The Apostle Paul however, is describing a third type of response – he’s describing the person who willingly agrees to obey and then follows through and is obedient from the heart.  How would you evaluate your follow through?   Thomas Jefferson said, “When the heart is right the feet are swift.”  As God transforms your heart may you be able to say with the Psalmist,

I delight to do Your will, O my God; Your Law is within my heart.  (Psalm 40:8) 

RickAssociate Pastor – Discipleship.  The Church at LifePark

Professor of Discipleship, Columbia International University

Follow me on twitter:  rickhiggins5

The Joy of Journaling

JournalOver the years, I have discovered numerous benefits from the practice of journaling.   Several years ago I changed to journaling online, but I’ve switched back to analog.  My good friend James Wilson shared with me the concept of the Bullet Journal and I liked the concept, but I also liked my current practice of journaling online.   About six months ago I adopted Bullet Journaling and I love the practice.

If you’re considering journaling?” Here are some practical benefits:

  1. Process events. What happens to me is not as important as the meaning I assign to what happens to me. Journaling provides an opportunity for reflection to process my experience.
  2. Clarify your thinking. Writing in general helps me sort out my thoughts. Since I am not communicating in front of a “live audience,” I can think through the issues.
  3. Understand your context. Life happens so quickly I usually have little time to stop and reflect on where I am.  Journaling helps me to discern the difference between the forest and the trees.
  4. Understand feelings.  Journaling enables to get in touch with my feelings and the reasons behind those feelings.
  5. Connect with your heart. Journaling helps me to monitor the condition of my heart. Solomon warns us, “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life” (Proverbs 4:23).
  6. Record significant lessons.  I am able to reflect upon key events to an even deeper understanding and chronicle a record of items for prayer.
  7. Ask significant questions.  A journal is a place to raise questions and explore issures of interest.

Since I was content with my current practice, then why did I change to the Bullet Journal?   Their motto caught my attention, “Track the past, organize the present, and prepare for the future.”  I have discovered that the analog practice of writing enables me greater freedom (e.g. mind mapping) and the opportunity to integrate all aspects of my life.  I’m able to record my  Bible reading, workout log, prayer list, upcoming events, and tasks in one convenient place.

A journal facilitates the practice of reflection and enables me to stay on top of the demands and priorities of my life.  I chose the Leuchtturm 1917 hardcover and love its features – it contains a table of contents and the pages are numbered.  Combine that with a good pen and writing becomes a joyful experience.

This link  will take you to the Bullet Journal website and this link will provide you with an article about the Bullet Journal.  These links will provide you with the necessary information to get started or feel free to contact me and I’ll be glad to discuss with you the joy of journaling.

Then the LORD answered me and said, “Record the vision and inscribe it on tablets, that the one who reads it may run.”  (Habbakuk 2:2)

 

RickAssociate Pastor – Discipleship.  The Church at LifePark

Professor of Discipleship, Columbia International University

Follow me on twitter:  rickhiggins5

Extreme Ownership

extreme ownership

The principles in this book were forged in some of the most violent battlefields in Iraq.  The authors are Jocko Willink and Leif Babin who served as a Navy SEALs.  They fought in the Battle of Ramadi and they use their combat leadership experience as executive coaches.   Jocko is a legend among the teams.  He is a highly decorated combat veteran who is 230 pounds of muscle with a Black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu.  How would you like to face him in combat,

jocko-willink

Extreme Ownership presents the leadership lessons learned in combat and then applies them to any team or organization.  This book is a page turner putting you in the midst of a fire fight in Ramadi and then applying lessons learned to the challenges leaders face in everyday life.  Here is the table of contents for an overview of the topics,

Leadership: The Single Most Important Factor
Part I Winning the War Within
Chapter 1 Extreme Ownership
Chapter 2 No Bad Teams, Only Bad Leaders
Chapter 3 Believe
Chapter 4 Check the Ego
Part II Laws of Combat
Chapter 5 Cover and Move
Chapter 6 Simple
Chapter 7 Prioritize and Execute
Chapter 8 Decentralized Command
Part III Sustaining Victory
Chapter 9 Plan
Chapter 10 Leading Up and Down the Chain of Command
Chapter 11 Decisiveness amid Uncertainty
Chapter 12 Discipline Equals Freedom-The Dichotomy of Leadership

You will find battle tested leadership principles that will help you personally and organizationally.  Here are the primary dichotomies of leadership Willink identifies as traits every effective leader should have,

“A leader must lead but also be ready to follow.”
“A leader must be aggressive but not overbearing.”
“A leader must be calm but not robotic.”
“A leader must be confident but never cocky.”
“A leader must be brave but not foolhardy.”
“A leader must have a competitive spirit but also be a gracious loser.”
“A leader must be attentive to detail but not obessed by them.”
“A leader must be strong but likewise have endurance, not only physically but mentally.”
“A leader must be humble but not passive.”
“A leader must be quiet but not silent.”
“A leader must be close with subordinates but not too close.”
“A leader must never get so close that the team forgets who is in charge.”
“A leader must exercise Extreme Ownership. Simultaneously, that leader must employ Decentralized Command.”
“A leader has nothing to prove but everything to prove.”  (pp. 277-278)

The authors tell us, “Leadership is simple, but not easy.  Likewise, leadership is both art and science.  There are no exact answers or specific formulas to follow in every case.  In any situation, there exists a great deal of gray area, neither black nor white.  There may be an infinite number of options for potential solutions to any one leadership challenge”  (p. 286).

Although a book cannot tell you how to lead in every situation, this book will provide principles to enhance your leadership effectiveness as you practice extreme ownership.

RickAssociate Pastor – Discipleship.  The Church at LifePark

Professor of Discipleship, Columbia International University

Follow me on twitter:  rickhiggins5

 

A Picture of a Healthy Small Group

smallgroupA healthy small group  can be a tremendous catalyst to your spiritual growth.  You may wonder, “What do I look for in a healthy small group?”  The Apostle Paul reveals several characteristics of a healthy small group in his letter to the Thessalonians.  The first characteristic he describes is a heartfelt concern for others,

Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us.  (1 Thessalonians 2:8)

Paul and his companions cared so much for these people that they imparted their lives to them – they were joyfully doing life together (Dietrich Bonhoeffer has written an excellent book on this topic).  This verses reveals that a healthy small group emphasizes the content of the Gospel realizing that it is the Gospel that changes people.  Ultimately it is a curriculum focused on learning to be like Jesus. The emphasis is not simply knowing about Jesus but being like Jesus.  A small group that models the life of Jesus implies that it demonstrates sacrificial care for one another,

For you recall, brethren, our labor and hardship, how working night and day so as not to be a burden to any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God.  (1 Thessalonians 2:9)

Our concern for others is demonstrated by our willingness to set aside our personal desires for others.  Paul was aware that his example spoke more clearly than his words,

You are witnesses, and so is God, how devoutly and uprightly and blamelessly we behaved toward you believers;  (1 Thessalonians 2:10)

Next, we see that a healthy small group majors in healthy relationships among the members,

just as you know how we were exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of you as a father would his own children,  (1 Thessalonians 2:11)

This involves being guided by the Holy Spirit so the members know when to give someone an encouraging pat on the back or at times a swift kick a little lower – but always in love:)

Finally, a healthy small group is intentional in fostering spiritual growth,

so that you would walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.  (1 Thessalonians 2:12)

This is a recurring theme in several of Paul’s letters to the churches,

so that you will walk in a manner worthy  of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; (Colossians 1:10)

A healthy small group can be tremendous catalyst to your spiritual growth.  Paul describes several characteristics (concern for others, Gospel centered, sacrificial care for others, a Godly example, healthy relationships, and intentional spiritual growth) that contribute to a healthy small group.  The New Testament reveals that people often grow spiritually when they are connected relationally.  I pray that you be part of a group that embodies these characteristics.

RickAssociate Pastor – Discipleship.  The Church at LifePark

Professor of Discipleship, Columbia International University

Follow me on twitter:  rickhiggins5