Nine Marks of a Healthy Church
As I announced earlier this week, God willing, this coming Sunday we will be starting King's Church in Phoenix. In seeking to comprehend and then implement a biblical strategy for this new church I have found two of Dr. Mark Dever's books to be immensely helpful.
Many of our readers would be very familiar with this written material, but perhaps there are some who have not yet heard of it. A few years ago, Dr. Mark Dever wrote Nine Marks of a Healthy Church. It is full of insight, especially in regards to what a biblical model for the church actually looks like, building on the foundation of the Gospel. As the book title would suggest, Dr. Dever outlines nine distinctive features of a church that is seeking to conform itself to a biblical pattern for church life and ministry. Here are the nine marks, summarized by an article on the 9Marks website:
1. Expositional Preaching
This is preaching which expounds what Scripture says in a particular passage, carefully explaining its meaning and applying it to the congregation. It is a commitment to hearing Godâ€™s Word and to recovering the centrality of it in our worship.
2. Biblical Theology
Paul charges Titus to "teach what is in accord with sound doctrineâ€ (Titus 2:1). Our concern should be not only with how we are taught, but with what we are taught. Biblical theology is a commitment to know the God of the Bible as He has revealed Himself in Scripture.
3. Biblical Understanding of the Good News
The gospel is the heart of Christianity. But the good news is not that God wants to meet people's felt needs or help them develop a healthier self-image. We have sinfully rebelled against our Creator and Judge. Yet He has graciously sent His Son to die the death we deserved for our sin, and He has credited Christ's acquittal to those who repent of their sins and believe in Jesus' death and resurrection. That is the good news.
4. Biblical Understanding of Conversion
The spiritual change each person needs is so radical, so near the root of us, that only God can do it. We need God to convert us. Conversion need not be an emotionally heated experience, but it must evidence itself in godly fruit if it is to be what the Bible regards as a true conversion.
5. Biblical Understanding of Evangelism
How someone shares the gospel is closely related to how he understands the gospel. To present it as an additive that gives non-Christians something they naturally want (i.e. joy or peace) is to present a half-truth, which elicits false conversions. The whole truth is that our deepest need is spiritual life, and that new life only comes by repenting of our sins and believing in Jesus. We present the gospel openly, and leave the converting to God.
6. Biblical Understanding of Membership
Membership should reflect a living commitment to a local church in attendance, giving, prayer and service; otherwise it is meaningless, worthless, and even dangerous. We should not allow people to keep their membership in our churches for sentimental reasons or lack of attention. To be a member is knowingly to be traveling together as aliens and strangers in this world as we head to our heavenly home.
7. Biblical Church Discipline
Church discipline gives parameters to church membership. The idea seems negative to people today â€“ â€œdidnâ€™t our Lord forbid judging?â€ But if we cannot say how a Christian should not live, how can we say how he or she should live? Each local church actually has a biblical responsibility to judge the life and teaching of its leaders, and even of its members, particularly insofar as either could compromise the churchâ€™s witness to the gospel.
8. Promotion of Christian Discipleship and Growth
A pervasive concern with church growth exists today â€“ not simply with growing numbers, but with growing members. Though many Christians measure other things, the only certain observable sign of growth is a life of increasing holiness, rooted in Christian self-denial. These concepts are nearly extinct in the modern church. Recovering true discipleship for today would build the church and promote a clearer witness to the world.
9. Biblical Understanding of Leadership
What eighteenth-century Baptists and Presbyterians often agreed upon was that there should be a plurality of elders in each local church. This plurality of elders is not only biblical, but practical â€” it has the immense benefit of rounding out the pastorâ€™s gifts to ensure the proper shepherding of Godâ€™s church.
In identifying and promoting these nine marks, we are not intending to lay down an exhaustive or authoritative list. There are other significant marks of healthy churches, like prayer and fellowship. We want to pursue those ourselves as well, and we want you to pursue them with us. But these nine are the ones we think are most neglected in most local churches today, with the most damaging ramifications. Join us in cultivating churches that reflect the character of God.
A second book by Dr. Dever, "The Deliberate Church" takes these 9 marks and seeks to show how to practically walk them out in the everyday life of the Church. I recommend both of these books very highly.