Contrasting Healthy and Unhealthy Churches
By Joseph Mattera
As a leader who has been the senior pastor of a local church in a major urban context, I have observed a fine line between what many deem healthy and unhealthy churches.
I define a healthy church as one that is relationally functional regarding its top leaders (elders, deacons, trustees, pastors and ministers) and its regular attendees and membership. Also, a healthy church has organic growth based on a balance of outreach and in-reach, or pastoral and evangelistic ministry, as well as discipleship and organizational systems that perpetuate the vision of the church.
The challenge of differentiating between healthy and unhealthy churches is that much of Christendom has adopted outcomes and methodologies that conform to a worldly standard for what we define as success for any enterprise.
Following are some of my observations contrasting unhealthy and healthy churches.
I realize that these observations are very general, and that most churches have some healthy and unhealthy traits since we are all works in progress. This article should not be used as a measuring stick to harshly judge senior leaders and churches but to provoke thought and conversation, especially among senior pastors and their leadership teams, who are constantly grappling with some of these same issues.
(Many who are not senior leaders of a local church may not understand enough about the pressures of overseeing a church. Thus, they could not adequately judge their church by these principles.)
- Healthy churches are fueled by passion for their God-given vision. Unhealthy churches are fueled by a self-serving ambition to fulfill their vision.
- Healthy churches put much effort into releasing the saints to their calling. Unhealthy churches objectify and use the saints to fulfill their ambitious vision and agenda.
- Healthy churches encourage healthy, transparent dialogue amongst their members. Unhealthy churches engage in top-down monologue and encourage conformity to their plans.
- Healthy church leaders walk in the light with one another. Unhealthy church leaders walk in superficial religious role playing with one another.
- Healthy churches bless members who leave their congregations the correct way. Unhealthy churches curse and badmouth all who leave their congregations irrespective of how they leave.
- Healthy churches have transparent systems of financial accountability. Unhealthy churches have secretive procedures regarding their financial methods.
- Healthy churches have senior pastors who consult with a governing body in leading their churches. An unhealthy church has a board of one and a council of one that leads the church.
- Healthy churches have a senior pastor with multiple levels of accountability. Unhealthy churches have senior pastors with no real accountability.
- Healthy churches have leaders and committed members engaged in regular seasons of fasting and prayer. Unhealthy churches have little or no seasons of fasting and prayer.
- Healthy churches encourage a congregational culture of emotional and spiritual health to mature their attendees. Unhealthy churches utilize hype and emotionalism to excite their attendees.
- Healthy churches encourage their attendees to give to the church, and to manage their personal finances. Unhealthy churches only encourage their members to give financially to their churches.
- Healthy churches utilize their members to perpetuate the vision. Unhealthy churches use their members to perpetuate the vision.
- Healthy churches produce leaders who learn the art of critical thinking. Unhealthy churches only produce followers who carry out the thoughts and plans of the senior leader.
- Healthy churches utilize lay leaders to facilitate small groups to develop community amongst their members. Unhealthy churches utilize programs and large meetings to centralize leadership and ministry into the hands of a few.
- Healthy churches have a multi-generational plan for effective ministry. Unhealthy churches usually last only as long as the senior leader lasts.
- Healthy churches speak the truth in love. Unhealthy churches exaggerate and use marketing schemes to keep morale high in their congregations.
- Healthy churches preach the whole counsel of God to encourage discipleship. Unhealthy churches preach what attracts the most people to their services.
- Healthy churches put relationships before ministry. Unhealthy churches put ministry before relationships.
- Healthy churches are passionate about loving Christ above all else. Unhealthy churches are passionate most about self-preservation and financial opulence.
- Healthy churches walk in humility. Unhealthy churches walk in arrogance and presumption.
May the Lord give wisdom to all of us who serve as senior pastors so that we may promote healthy and growing churches according to the biblical pattern.###
Joseph Mattera has been in full-time ministry since 1980 and is currently the Presiding Bishop of Christ Covenant Coalition and Overseeing Bishop of Resurrection Church in New York, a multiethnic congregation of 40 nationalities that has successfully developed numerous leaders and holistic ministry in the New York region and beyond. Visit his website at: http://josephmattera.org.
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