Discipleship and a Healthy Church

A spiritually healthy church is a loving bonded community of believers, which is the manifested body of  the incarnate Christ.  The bond of love among the members of this church is evident in the relationship that are demonstrated within and outside of the church.  It is an expression of Jesus Christ that reaches out to unbelievers and brings Christ to the world (John 13:35). Members and new believers are taught, through the process of discipleship, how to know, to grow in, to serve and to share Jesus. A healthy church intentionally seeks to develop each Christian into the likeness of Christ.  This does not happen by itself, it can only be fostered by a spiritually healthy leader whose vision is “inward” and “outward” evangelism.

A Healthy Church: The Goal for Discipleship

The spiritual health of a congregation defines the success with which discipleship is implemented.  The book of Acts proffers five demonstrative facets of a healthy church. “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:42-47).[1]

Paul stated that the healthy church becomes one through fellowship, exponentially through discipleship, spiritually stronger through worship, expands through ministry, and dimensionally larger through evangelism.  The healthy church of Paul’s time operated as “one body” the “very body” of Christ; therefore they are “synonymous” “For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form onebody—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.” (I Corinthians 12:13).[2] This oneness led to an explosion in church membership and the spreading of the gospel,  “In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenistic Jews[a] among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widowswere being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.“(Acts 6: 1-4)

Therefore what are the signs of a healthy church and how do these signs impact discipleship?

According to Dave Earley and Rod Dempsey, “Paul points out that the body of Christ is to be built up and that it grows strong by “the proper working of each individual part.”[3]  The authors define “each individual part” working properly as essential the health of the church; “It is an organic system where all the parts work together.” [4]  The authors also stressed the importance of “spiritual gifts and “each individual part” of the congregation knowing what their gifts are and are they are being used.[5]  The authors expressed that the defining sign of a spiritually healthy church is the extent to which effective discipleship is occurring[6]

Peter Scazzero and Warren Bird proposed that a healthy church practices self, congregational, and leadership reflection to ensure that emotional and spiritual health is lining up with the will of God for the congregation.[7] The authors declared, “I have seen young
people training to be leaders respond brilliantly and experience significant changes in their lives when exposed to a discipleship model that integrates emotional and spiritual maturity.” [8]

Robert Webber describes a methodology of discipleship that should occur within a healthy church,

. . . . we must emphasize the cost of discipleship, the absolute dam of God over our entire lives, and the necessity of a faith that issues forth in obedience. It’s a problem of balance and emphasis. The need is to return to the biblical message and its demands.  . [9]  He continued by describing how an unhealthy church launches discipleship, “One reason why modern evangelism may be divorced from obedience is due to the purpose of evangelists. Evangelists seek to elicit a response, to get someone to make a decision, to make a commitment to Christ.” [10]

In order to prevent the previous poor example of unhealthy discipleship from occurring, churches must adhere to what Jim Putman, Bobby Harrington and Robert Coleman proposed. The healthy church leader must implement “a fundamental shift in [their] thinking — from informing people to equipping them . . . . to [lead lives that are] . . . . transform [ed].”[11] Transformation is the final goal of discipleship (Romans 12:1-2).  The healthy church is succinctly described in a lecture presentation by Rod Dempsey.  Dempsey declared the following evaluative statements,  “A healthy leader knows who he or she is and they know their role in the body.  The spiritual leader knows his/her role in the body and helps other people to grow in their relationship with Christ. [A healthy church is led by a] spiritual leader who is a person of influence.  He or she follows God’s will for their lives and influences others to follow God’s plan for their lives as well. “12]   

Finally, a spiritually healthy church is led by spiritual leaders who are healthy and has believers who are healthy, and are actively engaged in discipleship. [13]  A healthy church is immersed in Christ, obedient to him, and carries out The Great Commission.

The Top Three Areas to be Addressed to Create a Healthier Body of Christ

The top three areas of concern in a spiritually unhealthy congregation are: (1) lack of leadership in discipleship, (2) lack of a specific discipleship plan, and a (3) lack of relational groups that are functional and healthy. The congregation can ask itself the following questions.

Area one: does the pastor of the congregation have an organizational structure that is family and friends based?  Are new persons to the congregation encouraged to utilize the gifts that God has given them for the betterment of the body? Discipleship must be demonstrative and fueled by the healthy pastor.  Does the pastor of your congregation offer leadership training and discipleship classes to lead persons in the congregation? Is the focus of your congregation inward discipleship or outward to the community around the church building, and or the community around the members?

Area two: lack of a specific discipleship plan: does your congregation have a specific plan for discipleship? Or does if operate in this manner, if someone has an idea of something that they want to do the pastor simply tells them to go forward with it. Are your main community outreach activities similar to these? Easter egg hunt, and the fall festival, musicals, theater?  Does your church demonstrate a lack of small groups whose focus is on  the training of leaders in order for them to facilitate small groups?  If there is no training program for mentorship of leaders who will develop a discipleship program them your congregation is an unhealthy one and needs to reverse the trend.

Area three: lack of relational groups that are functional and healthy.  Are the relational groups in your congregation similar to these: Sunday school classes; women or men who meet weekly, but separately and not for discipleship; youth groups who meet for fun activities, but not for discipleship.  If the groups and or programs that currently exist your church are not disciplining members and people of the community and the church is note “multiplying” its membership. That is an indication that it is taking care of the spiritually “sick and infirmed” (Jas. 5:13, 1 Pet 5:20, and 2 Thess. 3:2).

Steps to Improve Spiritual Health

The initial step that must be taken to improve the health of the church is to improve the health of its leader.  The pastor is the blood flow of the discipleship process of the church.  This leader needs to know his role in the body and return to the work of developing leaders who plant churches.[14]   The pastor must become “a spiritual leader of influence” which develops and or trains other persons of influence who understand the importance of discipleship.[15]  The church organization must develop a plan that involves “intentional disciple-making [process] that [focuses on] relationship [s] and a clear-cut strategy to eventually birth a new group [s]. “ [16]  The leader must also develop a process, “where new believers are intentionally and individually nurtured and developed.” [17] Thus, producing a church that becomes a place where the process of “multiplication” is a reality and not a theoretical construct.[18]


Healthy churches demonstrate the spiritual disciplines as a living organism.  They do not develop these disciplines by themselves. They require leaders who are spiritually healthy and who invest in leaders who are also spiritually healthy; thus, providing a body that is healthy and prepared to carry out The Great Commission.


Dempsey, Rod. “The Connection between Disciple and Leader.” Lecture, Video of Lecture, DSMN 500-D13 LUO, Week 6, Liberty University, fall 2014, Accessed November 21, 2014.

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. Kindle.

England, Allen. “Creating a Healthy Church.”( Reading, DSMN 500-D13 LUO-week 6, Liberty University), Accessed November 21, 2014.

Putman, Jim, Bobby Harrington, and Robert E. Coleman. DiscipleShift: Five Steps That Help Your Church to Make Disciples Who Make Disciples. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013.

Scazzero, Peter, and Warren Bird. The Emotionally Healthy Church: A Strategy for Discipleship That Actually Changes Lives. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010.

Webber, Robert. Common Roots The Original Call to an Ancient-Future Faith. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009.


[1] Unless otherwise noted, all biblical passages referenced are in the New

International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998).

[2] 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), Location 3271, Kindle.

[3] Dave Earley and Rod Dempsey, Disciple Making Is, Location 3271, Kindle.

[4] Ibid., 3302-3

[5] Dave Earley and Rod Dempsey, Disciple Making Is, Location 3302, Kindle.

[6] Ibid., Location 3315.

[7] Peter Scazzero and Warren Bird, The Emotionally Healthy Church: A Strategy for Discipleship That Actually Changes Lives (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010), 77.

[8] Peter Scazzero and Warren Bird, The Emotionally Healthy Church:77

[9] Robert Webber, Common Roots The Original Call to an Ancient-Future Faith. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009.), 157.

[10] Robert Webber, Common Roots The Original Call to an Ancient-Future Faith. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009.), 157-158.

[11] Jim Putman, Bobby Harrington, and Robert E. Coleman, DiscipleShift: Five Steps That Help Your Church to Make Disciples Who Make Disciples (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013), 98.

[12] Rod Dempsey, “The Connection between Disciple and Leader” (video of  lecture, DSMN 500-D13 LUO, week 6, Liberty University, Fall 2014), accessed November 21, 2014.

[13] Allen England, “Creating a Healthy Church” (reading, DSMN 500-D13 LUO-week 6, Liberty University, fall 2014), accessed November 21, 2014.

[14] Rod Dempsey, “The Connection between Disciple and Leader”.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Dave Earley and Rod Dempsey, Disciple Making Is, Locations 2570-2571 and 3617, Kindle.

[17] Ibid., Location 3673 and 3990.

[18] Ibid., Location 3990.

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