Written Assignment 4 – DSM 500 – D13 Discipleship Ministries – Liberty University Online, by Joyce Gerald, November 21, 2014

Introduction

The author will present the importance of a healthy church, and how one can determine if a church is healthy. The author will also discuss the three areas to be addressed to create a healthier body of Christ.  Finally, steps to improve the unhealthy church will be presented as the final argument of the paper.   A spiritually healthy church does not happen by itself it is fostered by a spiritually healthy leader.

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 a 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 were “synonymous”.[2]  Therefore, what are the signs of a healthy church and how do these signs impact discipleship?

According to Earley and 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]

Scazzero and Bird proposed that a healthy church practiced self, congregational, and leadership reflection to ensure that emotional and spiritual health lined 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 described the methodology of discipleship that occurred 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 launched 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 Putman, Harrington, and 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). Telling the church that it must lead transformed lives does not meet this definition of equipping. The leaders of a healthy church lead by example when it comes to discipleship.

The healthy church is succinctly described in a lecture presentation by Dempsey. Dempsey proffered 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 the writer’s 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. Area one: If the pastor of the congregation has an organizational structure that is family and friends based then new persons entering the congregation are not 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.  A pastor of a congregation offered a discipleship class to the congregation and announced that only eight people signed up for the class. That was the end of the discussion with reference to discipleship.

Area two: The lack of a specific and sustained discipleship plan hinders discipleship. This church did not have a specific plan for discipleship.  If someone has an idea of something that they wanted to do the pastor simply told them to go forward with it. The main community outreach activities for the congregation were the Easter egg hunt and the fall festival.  There are numerous fundraisers for the rehabilitation program and the outreach to Honduras.  However, there are no small groups or training for small group leaders.  There is no training program for mentorship of leaders who will develop a discipleship program.

Area three: lack of relational groups that are functional and healthy.  The only groups that exist in this congregation are Sunday school classes; there is also a women’s ,circle of friends, group.  The Sunday school classes are lead by personal friends of the pastor and or the youth leader.  The only functional relational group within the congregation is the youth group.  They are disciplining members of the group and are “multiplying” it.  The congregation demonstrated a lack of meeting the need to “belong”.

An announcement was made to the congregation, by the pastor, that visitors to the church complained that the church was not welcoming.  The pastor told the congregation to go out during the meet and greet time to show the visitors that they are indeed welcoming.   As a new member of this church, this writer has not yet received a visit from the pastor.  When a member is in need of prayer, they must – as directed by the church secretary who is pastor’s wife’s sister – make an appointment to see the pastor at the church.  One day the pastor called out into the congregation to determine if a member who was missing, whom the church knew was ill, had been contacted by anyone. That is an indication that pastor is not taking care of the “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, as he did in the past.[14]  The church celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary with the current pastor and visitors testified of how he trained them to become church planters.   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 an “intentional disciple-making [process] that [focuses on] relationship [s] and a clear-cut strategy to eventually birth 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]

Conclusion           

            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.

Notes

[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, Loc. 3271, Kindle.

[4] Ibid., Loc. 3302-3.

[5] Ibid., Loc. 3302.

[6] Ibid., Loc. 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 , 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, Loc. 2570-2571 and 3617, Kindle.

[17] Ibid., Loc. 3673 and 3990.

[18] Ibid., Loc. 3990.

Bibliography

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.

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