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Is Your Church Community Healthy?

  • 2002 17 Jun
Is Your Church Community Healthy?
When I first met Rick and Stephanie, they seemed unusually nervous and anxious to be out the door. After several months Stephanie called me one morning, and her story cleared up the question in my mind.

"When I came to this church I was suspicious and cynical about churches. I had two bad experiences in the last two congregations where I had been a member. Both times I lowered my guard and trusted people. I thought they really believed the Bible and were committed to practicing it. It seemed like things were going along fine, in both groups, until conflict exploded. In each of those churches powerful personalities collided and refused to be reconciled. The results were unbelievable pain and ugliness. So, as I was saying, when I came to your church I expected to find the same sickness. But, praise God, this has proven to be a real sanctuary. No pun intended."

Stephanie and her husband are part of the walking wounded. Each year dozens of disillusioned casualties of local church wars arrive at the church I serve. Some are literally spiritual stretcher cases. Their friends carry them to the services on substitute faith. They're too afraid to come on their own.

After a few months or years they begin to recover and heal. They speak of "coming home" and of finally "feeling safe." Why would a kingdom-oriented church be a haven of unity and harmony?

The answer is obvious. When the majority of people in a local church are living humble lives of ongoing repentance, and Jesus Christ is embraced as their Supreme Leader, the bickering and competitive power struggles are minimal. Where Jesus is consistently obeyed, peace reigns. The Holy Spirit is free to pour out a spirit of cooperation and camaraderie the ignites the joy of the abundant life.

Relational maturity is the goal
This relational atmosphere of genuine Christian love is no accident. As Robert T. Henderson says in his powerful kingdom book, Joy to the World, "True repentance will be culture creating. It is in the prayers of the community of repentance that we come to understand, not only the tangled motives in us individually, but, by the Spirit, to perceive the liberating grace of God." The most intentional objective of the leadership team and the working nucleus of a church should be love. Where there is an adequate foundation of obedience and love, it is safe to trust.

The target on the wall in safe churches will look something like this:

The outer ring of the target is truth. Everything we aim at must be defined by the Word of God. The second ring is transformation. The truth must change our behavior. It sets us free to be all that God intends us to be. The center of the target is love. When we obey God's Word we not only behave correctly, we thrive on relational maturity.

The truth changes us in the context of loving our marriage partner, our parents, our children, our friends, our neighbors, and our brothers and sisters in Christ. When the humility of Christ rules our hearts, we discover the beauty of how to love as safe selves. He makes us easy to live with. Those closest to us are able to attest to the fact that we really are growing up to become mature in the image of our Lord. Our progress isn't just measured by an increase in knowledge or in personal disciplines. The deepest kind of maturity is seen in how we love. ...

Life in the kingdom is God-centered. We don't think first of getting our needs met and our problems solved. We concentrate on what makes God happy, what gives our Lord pleasure, and what makes Him look good. That always turns out to be the best choice for us as well. On the surface it may look like this choice of kingdoms is an either/or situation (my happiness versus God's happiness). That's exactly why it's so hard for us to let go of a love that revolves around ourselves. It feels like the safest course of action to maintain our own kingdoms. But the surrender choice that explodes into the eternal realm of love is where true safety and satisfaction lie.

It's important to understand that our old sin nature (the kingdom of self) never fails to be hard on relationships. When others are expected to orbit around my "planet of self," they tolerate it only as long as it fits into their trajectory. On the other hand, Christocentric living sets us free from the gravitational pull of self-interest. It allows us to genuinely care about others and take their best interests to heart. When this permeates the thinking of a church, people will begin to experience the remarkable quality of a love life that is normal under the control of God's Spirit. ...

We have to keep reminding each other that repentance and submission are good for us. ...

The truth is that the kingdom seeds of fresh surrender, trust, and repentance are planted with pain. It hurts to allow our Lord to dismantle our selfish dreams, schemes, and agendas. But the harvest of righteousness is magnificent! ...

Humble followers of Jesus submit to each other. But their unity should not be confused with uniformity. Honest differences can exist side by side if our egos have been made safe by our Master's control. Mutual submission fueled by the eternal Spirit's gracious power turns into peacemaking. Then unity in diversity brings us back into healthy community. Churches that are safe kingdom communities can go through this continuum of vitality many times without stalling out from conflict. ...

We are diverse in our backgrounds, our personalities, and our gifting. But we are triumphantly one in Christ! The miracle of unity among strong, capable people is a wonderful sight. It thrills you to your toes. People want to see it and get in on it. And so the "mustard seed" of the kingdom keeps on growing and becoming a mighty sheltering tree - just as Jesus promised it would.

Excerpted from Follow Me: Experience the Loving Leadership of Jesus, copyright 1996 by Jan D. Hettinga. Used by permission of NavPress, Colorado Springs, Co., www.navpress.com. All rights reserved. For copies of the book, call 1-800-366-7788.

Jan David Hettinga is the senior pastor of Northshore Baptist Church in the greater Seattle, Washington area, which has grown from 140 members to more than 1500. A pastor for more than 25 years, Jan and his wife, Scharme, have three married children and four grandchildren.

Is your church community characterized by unity and harmony, or arguments and hurt feelings? Why? How does this affect you? How are you trying to rely on God for the power to genuinely love others in your congregation? Visit Crosswalk's forums to discuss this topic by clicking on the link below.

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