By David Faust
How can you tell if your church is healthy? What are some signs that the body of Christ is fit, agile, and moving in the right direction?
Nehemiah chronicled how God’s people rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem. When the project was completed, even the Jews’ enemies “realized that this work had been done with the help of our God” (Nehemiah 6:16). A crowd of worshippers assembled in Jerusalem to thank the Lord for the project’s success. In Nehemiah’s record we can identify three indicators of spiritual fitness.
Signs of Health
First, there was a hunger for the Word. The people “told Ezra the teacher of the Law to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses” (Nehemiah 8:1). They asked for instruction—in fact, they practically demanded it.
Biblical illiteracy is a serious problem today because many seem to have lost interest in the Word of God. But the problem is partly the fault of those who preach and teach. Notice how Ezra and his co-teachers explained the Scripture, “making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read” (v. 8). God’s Word is meant to be understood and applied. Just as our physical bodies need nutritious food, God designed our souls to “crave pure spiritual milk” (1 Peter 2:2).
Another mark of spiritual health was joy in the Lord. At first the people wept as they listened to God’s Word, but Nehemiah told them, “Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10). Life is serious and we must never take God lightly, but the Holy Spirit brings freedom, hope, and lightness of heart. Healthy churches are filled with a spirit of celebration. Even when the world’s problems weigh us down, the joy of the Lord is our strength.
The crowds in Jerusalem rediscovered an ancient thanksgiving celebration known as the Feast of Tabernacles (Booths) that God prescribed in the book of Leviticus. Families camped out together, sleeping for a week in temporary shelters made from tree branches (vv. 13-16). Children must have loved this! Evidently the people had forgotten the joy God even had built into the stern Mosaic covenant. “From the days of Joshua son of Nun until that day, the Israelites had not celebrated it like this. And their joy was very great” (v. 17).
But life wasn’t (and isn’t) a nonstop party. The people also demonstrated recognition and confrontation of sin. They fasted and prayed for forgiveness. They “confessed their sins and the sins of their ancestors” (Nehemiah 9:2). Most problems don’t get better by being ignored. Sin can’t be rationalized with flimsy excuses like “times have changed” or “everybody’s doing it.” Remember, “godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret” (2 Corinthians 7:10). Like all healthy organizations, churches must face their weaknesses squarely in order to improve.
Signs of Disease
How can you tell if your church is sick? There’s little hunger for God’s Word and no joy in worshipping God or serving others. Sin festers and spreads because it’s not confessed, confronted, and forgiven.
The good news? With the Great Physician’s help, even a church that’s “wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked” can return to health if the people are “earnest and repent” (Revelation 3:17, 19).
David Faust serves as the Associate Minister at East 91st Street Christian Church in Indianapolis, Indiana.
The Lookout’s Bible Reading Plan for August 16, 2015
Use this guide to read through the Bible in 12 months. Follow David Faust’s comments on the highlighted text in every issue of The Lookout.
2 Timothy 1:1-7
Nehemiah 4, 5
2 Timothy 1:8-18
2 Timothy 2:1-13
2 Timothy 2:14-26
2 Timothy 3:1-9
2 Timothy 3:10-17