Marks of a Healthy Reformed Church

Over the past couple of years, the leaders at the church where I serve have been developing a vision statement. Perhaps that surprises you? Isn’t that the sort of thing larger churches with multi staffs busy themselves with? Don’t we have more important things to do, namely, ministry of the Word and sacraments?

Crafting a vision statement isn’t one of the marks of the church, nor does it make a church healthy. But in my opinion, the process has forced us to ask some questions we might not otherwise ask. Such as, why do we do what we do? Is there anything we do that we shouldn’t be doing? What aren’t we doing that we should? And what can we do better?

Self-evaluation is a normal part of any successful business. Yet, sometimes we can go years and even decades in the church without really looking in the mirror. This is not to advocate a church as business model but simply to point out that it’s easy to feel healthy when we might not necessarily be healthy. Like the guy who goes in for his annual physical only to discover he has a tumor.

Taking inventory can be hard. I don’t like to find weaknesses, and it means extra work. Who wants more council meetings when we’re already busy enough? Besides, isn’t being conservative and confessional a whole lot better than the vast majority of other churches in America? Why spend time looking at areas to improve when it takes so much time and energy just to maintain what we’ve already got?

In the next several installments of articles, I hope to develop a vision statement for all of our churches according to Scripture. Obviously, each congregation will need to personalize it for themselves. No two churches are exactly alike. We all have a unique set of strengths and weaknesses, and our contexts vary depending a host of factors.

But is there, broadly speaking, certain marks that make a church healthy? How is health measured? What is true for all churches, and what is particular to some? And perhaps even more fundamentally, does the Bible even address the idea of a healthy church?

In this article I want to introduce you to our vision statement to get your wheels turning. Perhaps your church already has one or is in the process of developing one. Or maybe this is totally foreign to you. It could very well be that you think this is a giant waste of time.

But hear me out. I think you’ll be the better for it. Even if you come away thankful for what you do and find little or nothing to change, at least you will have put in the necessary work to take inventory of your church to make sure that what you are doing is based on the Word of God for the glory of God.

The vision statement of the church I serve reads as follows: Grace United Reformed Church seeks to be a gospel-shaped community of biblically grounded, confessionally Reformed worshippers, disciples, and witnesses of Jesus Christ.

We’ve developed four major coordinates: worship, fellowship, discipleship, and outreach. The modifier for all of these things is the gospel. The foundation is the Word of God. And we stand and speak within a confessional history.

Worship is the chief end for which we’ve been created. It is the core of what we do as Christians and serves as the high point of our pilgrim experience.

We’ve been called in the gospel to the fellowship of the church. We’re united not on the basis of race, politics, or interests, but the Word of God and the blood of Christ.

As we grow in our walk with the Lord, we need continual discipleship and renewal. The goal is not stagnation but forward movement.

And we’ve been commissioned to spread the good news to those around us. Instead of huddling up, we need to venture out. The gospel is something we receive and give away.

We must not be driven by pragmatism. Yet neither can we turn a blind eye to our culture and context. Rather, we must be faithful to the Scriptures, centered upon the gospel, while finding ways to communicate our message to a dying world in ways that are always truthful but also thoughtful.

In my own context, many of our young people have left membership in a confessionally Reformed church, choosing bigger and broader evangelical churches. And while we can criticize all the things that are wrong with those churches, perhaps we’d be wise to ask: Is there anything wrong with ours?

Why are our young people leaving? Is it as simple as, “Well, they are Millennials, after all”? Or is there something we’re not doing to attract them? Could it be that we’ve left them with insufficient answers to the questions they’ve always had but never dared to ask? Is it possible that they’re bored with our churches because we’re bored with our churches? Or that we’re stuck in maintenance mode, just trying to stay clear of liberalism, and we’ve focused only on what we’re not instead of who we’re called to be?

I don’t have all the answers. I’m not even sure I’m asking the right questions. But in the articles that follow, I want to explore this further. I want to let the Great Physician diagnose the condition of our churches by seeing what the Bible says are the marks of a healthy church.

What is the goal of the church? Why do we meet Sunday after Sunday? What is our purpose? And how do we get there? It is to these and other questions we’ll explore next time.

More specifically, I want to examine why and how the gospel is to shape all that we do. If we don’t get this right, everything else will miss the mark.

So please join me in praying that God would show us both our true diagnosis and the remedy. It’s one thing to know you have a problem. It’s quite another to find an answer.

I believe the Word has answers, and I know that God promises to give grace to the humble.

May God be pleased to send his Spirit to bring both reformation and revival, for the health of our churches and the glory of Christ.

 

Rev. Michael J. Schout
is the pastor of Grace URC in Alto, MI. 
He welcomes your feedback at mikeschout@gmail.com.