Discipleship and a Healthy Church
A Healthy Church is the Goal For Discipleship
According to Jim Putman and Bobby Harrington with Robert E. Coleman’s text, Disciple Shift, “a healthy church looks and acts like a healthy body.” (Putman 2013, 211) The lovely concept of the church as the body is such a simple analogy that even a child could understand it. That is the beauty of it! Millard Erickson, in his expansive volume, Systematic Theology, remarked, “Perhaps the most extended image of the church is its representation as the body of Christ. . . This image emphasizes that the church is the locus of Christ’s activity now just as was His physical body during His earthly ministry.” (Erickson 2013, 959) The goal for any Church (and especially one that is Disciple-making minded) is for that body to be and remain perfectly healthy.
As we have noted, the body of Christ is, of course, the church. “And He put everything under His feet and appointed Him as head over everything for the church, which is His body, the fullness of the One who fills all things in every way” (Ephesians 1:22-23). What does one do with one’s own body? One takes care of it. One monitors it. One does whatever one has to, to maintain it. A typical scenario Earley and Dempsey give is going to the doctor. (Earley 2013, 186) If 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. Only after this primary assessment, does the doctor give his or her diagnosis and prescription. Then, if the patient really desires to get better, the patient must follow the doctor’s directions precisely. Most patients do, of course, because most patients don’t want to die. Most patients want to live!
Likewise, a church must be attentive to its body. Are there any areas that are not healthy? Are there any areas of that body which may be broken or bruised? Are there any areas that need immediate medical attention? If so, a trip to the spiritual doctor may be necessary. After all, Jesus is the Great Physician and said Himself, “He hath sent Me to heal the broken-hearted,” (Luke 4:18). If problem areas are not healed, they may spread. If ignored, eventually death could be the result. Even a small infection, if not treated quickly and correctly, can result in a tragic death. However, if diagnosed and nurtured early, the body will heal and be stronger than before!
Dempsey further notes, “We 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 (Ephesians 4:16) of the local body.” (Earley 2013, 186) Without proper health, one is doomed. The church is no different. Local churches are encouraged to keep their finger on the pulse of their congregation. No one likes going to the doctor. No one likes taking medicine or doing strenuous and painful rehabilitation. However, one is always glad when the result is a healthy body with little aches and pains. God’s house is no different. Get a check-up! Take your medicine! Get well soon!
Examination of My Personal Church or Ministry Context
An examination of my personal church or ministry context yields some unusual results. First of which is the nature of my situation: I am currently between churches as it were. I have one foot in one church and one foot in the other. I am about to leave my home church of nine years to pastor another church. Therefore, I can only truthfully speak of my former (?) church.
Three Areas My Organization Could Focus On to Create a Healthier Body of Christ
The top three areas my organization needs to focus on to create a healthier body of Christ is the “number of saints ministering,” (Earley 2013, 216) building a “discipleship-system,” (Putman 2013, 120) and the “attitude of the worshipper’s heart.” (MacArthur 2005, 190)
(1) The 20/80 principle can probably be applied to all churches in this day and age. Twenty percent of the people do eighty percent of the work. It would be beneficial for all participants to be ministering. Sadly, there are many Christians who are just warming the pew. Get active! Come alive! Minister for the Kingdom!
(2) If there is no discipleship system in place, how is one supposed to learn how? It is my belief that this is a great secret that far too little churches know. Are you making disciples, or are you making inactive believers? If the latter, is there a system in place to educate and motivate people to be disciple-making minded?
(3) Finally, what is the attitude of the worshipper’s heart? Is it genuine praise for the Creator of the universe? Or is it one bereft of feeling and connection? Dietrich Bonhoeffer remarked, “It is obvious when discipleship stops being discipleship and becomes a human program.” (Bonhoeffer 2003, 261) We need to step out of the natural and into the supernatural! Adjusting a lukewarm to cold heart into one that is on fire for the Lord will make all the difference on the journey to spiritual wellness.
Initial Steps My Organization Could Take to Improve Spiritual Health
The first step is the hardest, is it not? An ancient Chinese proverb, “A journey of hundred miles begins with just one small step,” is so true. One initial step (pun intended) my organization could take to improve our overall spiritual health is to acknowledge the situation. And not only that, but being honest about ourselves to ourselves. God already knows our hearts, it does no good to put on a front. We may fool our neighbors, but we cannot fool God! So, let’s be brutally honest with our spiritual state and “pull no punches.” Any rehabilitation program will tell you that the first step to recovery is just to admit that there is a problem. Far too often we think we are healthy, when in actuality, we are not. Far too often we are stubborn and refuse to seek help. Far too often we are too proud to admit that we are actually spiritually unhealthy! Perhaps we are even spiritually sick! This all sounds so simple, but I fear it will be a tough thing for most people to swallow. No one likes to look at themselves in the mirror and be brutally honest about what one sees! However, just by admitting that there are areas in which we need to work, is a great initial step to improving our spiritual health.
Another initial step our organization could take to improve spiritual health involves training. Just as with the physical body, the spiritual body needs to be trained. It needs to be regularly stretched and pushed. Athletes spend hour after hour training their bodies and practicing their sport. They set goals and crush them. They tire themselves out for their sport. They sweat for their sport. Sometimes (but hopefully not often), they will even bleed for their sport! When was the last time you bled spiritually? Without proper training, an athlete will harm themselves. Without proper training and upkeep, athletes will decidedly fail. The contemporary church will be more effective if it can remain “in shape” as it were. For effective discipleship (in the community and in one’s personal life) maintaining spiritual healthiness is important on every corporate level; from the pastor to the new convert. Therefore, my organization could train more with a focus on improving spiritual health.
The last “first initial step” we could take involves intentionality. Be intentional about our discipleship and disciple-making. Let’s get serious. Take God seriously! Take Kingdom-building seriously! This goes for me and my family as well. I need to submit to the centrality of Christ more fully and be intentional about discipleship and disciple-making. When I leave my house am I asking God how I might serve Him today? How I might build His Kingdom today? Am I even carrying a Bible on the off chance that I will have the opportunity to lead someone to salvation? Or am I going to be ill-equipped if the opportunity arises? Am I putting on the armor of God before I set out into the world? Or am I heading out the door spiritually naked? The devil sure hopes so! The devil hopes I do not arm myself or protect myself. The devil hopes I don’t even have that little piece of Scripture memorized. he definitely hopes I don’t take the armor of God seriously.*
*By the way, I didn’t capitalize the devil’s proper pronoun at beginning of this sentence on purpose. I will never capitalize his name or pronoun. Ever. In fact, I wish there was something lower than lower case that I could use! I don’t care if it costs me a couple of points with the professor grading this because I figure it earns me a couple of points with someone else far more important. Sorry.
Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Discipleship. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003.
Earley, Dave, and Rod Dempsey. Disciple Making Is…: How to Live the Great Commission with Passion and Confidence. Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2013.
Erickson, Millard J., Christian Theology. 3rd ed. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013.
MacArthur, John, and The Master’s Seminary Faculty. Pastoral Ministry: How to Shepherd Biblically. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2005.
Putman, Jim, Bobby Harrington, and Robert E. Coleman. Disciple Shift: Five Steps That Help Your Church to Make Disciples Who Make Disciples. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013.
Submitted to Liberty University Baptist Theological Seminary in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the completion of the course DSMN 500: Discipleship Ministries.