Church health is a major issue in evangelicalism today. Entire books have been dedicated to the subject. Ministries related to church health are now pervasive with certain individuals emphasizing that issue over church growth. Church splits often hurt many individuals involved and bring reproach upon Christ Himself. Breaches in relationships must be repaired if the church is to be seen for what it truly is: the body of Christ. Real differences from the world and real spiritual power must be demonstrated in God's churches. While a number of dynamics are involved in church health, practically speaking, we must learn how to minister to individuals in the church who are facing differing problems. In so doing, we will then be in the process of developing and maintaining a healthy church. So, how can we do our part?
First, we can do our part to develop and maintain a healthy church if we understand our union with the body of Christ. We must see and treat one another as family. Too often persons in the church see one another as adversaries. This concept is foundational and ties the following implications together. These implications are grounded in 1 Thes. 5:14-15. There, Paul addresses the "brethren." We are brothers and sisters and in union with one another by virtue of our union with Christ. In light of that reality, there are practical issues in terms of relationships with which we must deal.
Second, we can do our part to develop and maintain a healthy church if we understand our focus on the body of Christ. In other words, in terms of relationships, our focus must be others and not ourselves. When conflict arises, the most common response is a focus on oneself by way of anger, an unwillingness to seek reconciliation, or the slander of a brother. In his word to the Thessalonians, Paul emphasizes a focus on others. Elsewhere he says, "Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus (Phil. 2:3-5)."
Third, we can do our part to develop and maintain a healthy church if we understand our ministry to the body of Christ. As we focus on others, we will minister to others. Paul offers a word of exhortation in terms of helping those within the body who face different issues leading to different dispositions or heart attitudes. He simply says, "Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all (1 Thes. 5:14)." Rather than tear others down, we are to help those within the church who are hurting or who have perhaps fallen into sin. We are to deal with them in ways that are relevant to that with which they are struggling. Highlights may be given here.
The first thing we can do in terms of ministry is "warn those who are unruly." The word translated "warn" is the Greek word rooted in nouthesis from which we get our word "nouthetic" which relates to the specific discipline of biblical counseling. The verb noutheteo refers to imparting understanding, setting right, or laying on the heart. The emphasis lies in not only influencing the intellect but in moving the will. The word is often translated admonish, warn, remind, correct, etc. The word literally means to put in mind with particular reference to training by the Word through encouragement or reproof.
In addition, the concept carries a specific pastoral function in the New Testament and indeed, a primary function. Pastors are to confront nouthetically individuals in the every day ebb and flow of their ministries. Believers are to do the same in regard to one another. We members of the body of Christ are to shepherd one another in appropriate ways. In this particular context, we are to help those who have broken ranks come to their senses.
The second thing we can do in terms of ministry is "comfort the fainthearted." That is, we are to give encouragement to those who are prone to lose heart. The Christian life is not always easy. Difficulties assail the Christian from all directions. Those who are prone to fall behind are to be surrounded by those who are strong in the Lord. They are to be protected from wolves and encouraged in the midst of difficulty. A primary application is that of encouraging others toward perseverance.
The third thing we can do in terms of ministry is "uphold the weak." In this case, the primary application is that of holding one up who is prone to fall into sin. We are to hold one another accountable and aid our brothers and sisters in the battle against sin. We help them to stand in the midst of temptation (much like the admonition to stand in Eph. 6:10-18) or we help them up after they have fallen prey to sin.
The fourth thing we can do in terms of ministry is be "patient with all." The Christian life, the spiritual battle, the shepherding ministry to which all of us have been called to one degree or another, is long and arduous. People fall and they fall again. We are to be patient. Believers act like saints and they act like sinners. We are to be patient. Brothers seem to get victory and then they lapse. We are to be patient. We are to be patient with all.
The fifth thing we can do in terms of ministry is not render evil for evil. Paul says, "See that no one renders evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good both for yourselves and for all." It is possible that Paul has in mind here those false interlopers who were not only slandering his own name but were leading the Thessalonians astray. As the saints see the truth of the situation, they are not to render evil back for the evil that has been perpetrated upon them.
At the same time, it may be that all Paul gives here is general admonition. In either case, his point is the same. We are not to render evil for evil to anyone. We are not to take revenge. We are to leave that to the Lord. We are not to retaliate.
The sixth thing we can do in terms of ministry is pursue what is good. Paul does not stop with what we are not supposed to do. He gives us the positive dynamic or action on the other side. We are to "pursue what is good both for [ourselves] and for all." We are to keep up the chase in regard to that which is good. The good is whatever is good in the situation. It may be God's glory, it may be sanctification, it may be what is true, it may be what is wholesome, etc. We are to pursue the good thing for ourselves and all those whom God brings into our lives.
Fourth, we can do our part to develop and maintain a healthy church if we understand our benefits from the body of Christ. At least four beneficial implications can be gleaned from the foregoing. In doing our part, we will be bring much glory to the Lord, aid in the sanctification of others, watch unto our very own souls, and bear witness to Christ's changing power.
With Paul’s teaching here, there is a sense in which we are getting a crash course in shepherding souls, biblical counseling, and/or pastoral discipleship. As we take his teaching to heart in these practical ways, we will not only reap the noted benefits, we will also be doing our part to develop and maintain a healthy church body for the glory of God and her joy in Him. Let us be about shepherding one another to and for the health of the church.
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About Paul Dean
Dr. Paul Dean is a pastor, cultural commentator, and author. He serves as a Regional Mentor with the International Association of Biblical Counselors, speaks at several conferences throughout the year, and provides training for ministers and churches on a regular basis. Paul resides in the Upstate of South Carolina with his wife and three children.
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