Healthy Gospel Church Characteristics: Healthy Christians and Healthy Congregations

Free Church of Scotland CEO Andrew Giffen introduces a video and discussion series looking at seven characteristics of Healthy Gospel Churches.

The vision of the Free Church is of A Healthy Gospel Church for Every Community in Scotland.  But one of the questions we have been asked is “What is a healthy church?”

People have said they really like the vision, they are positive and enthusiastic about it, but some people are unsure what a healthy church looks like, and what part they can play in growing spiritual health.  So this video and discussion series is an attempt to bring some clarity to that, and to allow us to explore together how we can play our part in an increasingly healthy church.

In considering the characteristics of spiritually healthy churches, the place to begin is probably in thinking about Healthy Christians.  Spiritually healthy individuals will be growing in their relationship with God, getting to know him more, loving him more deeply, being transformed day by day by the Holy Spirit into the likeness of his Son.

Many of us though don’t feel that healthy spiritually.  There are ups and downs on the Christian journey and some of us are perhaps particularly conscious of our struggle with sin, or are feeling discouraged or knocked back by the circumstances of life.

In such a situation, it is helpful to remember the great cloud of witnesses who have gone before us, and to reflect on their example (Hebrews 12:1), but it is also helpful to recognise the importance of the local congregation.

We need one another to encourage us in this Christian life (1 Thessalonians 5:11, Hebrews 10:24-25).  As Christians we are not supposed to be following Christ in isolation, rather we follow him as members of a Healthy Congregation.

There are many references in the Bible to the importance of meeting together, encouraging one another, supporting one another, spurring one another on in the Christian faith.  Healthy congregations help people come to know God better in the community of believers.

So if what we are aiming for is both healthy Christians and healthy churches, what might be some of the specific characteristics that we would expect to see?

There are many different definitions or models of a healthy church that we could look to.  In our Reformed Tradition we could look to Calvin’s Institutes and his definition of a true church.  He said “Whenever we see the Word of God purely preached and heard, and the sacraments administered according to Christ’s institution, there, it is not to be doubted, a church of God exists”.  Preaching of the Word and the Administration of the Sacraments.

Or we could take a modern-day model such as Mark Dever’s 9Marks or the Natural Church Development characteristics.  Or we could turn as others have to Acts chapter 2, verses 42 to 47 and list the qualities of the early church as they are described there.

There is probably no right or wrong answer to how health is defined, or what model is used, as long as our understanding of spiritual health is consistent with what the Bible says in relation to the church.

Many Free Church congregations and ministers in the last year or so have been doing sermon series, and Bible studies and away days, looking at different aspects of spiritual health, and they will have come up with their own particular list or model.

Some of our church leaders have appreciated that flexibility to adapt the healthy gospel church vision to their local situation.  So this model that we are offering in this video and discussion series is primarily for the benefit of those who are lacking clarity, or are unsure what part they can play in growing spiritual health.

In this model, we are going to suggest seven characteristics of healthy Christians and healthy churches.  Churches with Jesus Christ and the Christian gospel at their centre.   The seven characteristics we are going to outline are healthy preaching, healthy worship, healthy prayer, healthy mission, healthy discipleship, healthy relationships, and healthy leadership.

We are going to look at each of those in turn, with opportunity for discussion in small groups and leadership teams.  You will find discussion guides available below.  We do hope you will be able to have a conversation about this material with others in your congregation.  

As you think about your own spiritual health, what do you think are the key things that contribute to that?  And what do you think makes for a spiritually healthy congregation?

Under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, we want to see increasingly Healthy Christians, Healthy Congregations, and a Healthy Denomination.  That together we would see A Healthy Gospel Church for Every Community in Scotland.