Five Critical Marks Of A Healthy Church (Part 2)

What you will read here is part two of “Five Critical Marks Of A Healthy Church.”

Be sure to read part 1  from last week if you haven’t already done so.  

Critical Marks Of A Healthy Church (Part 1)

 4.  Being governed by a plurality of elders.

 This group of leaders needs to be  unified around clarity of  purpose, values and vision. There will most certainly be poor health in due time when a church is led by one individual instead of the plurality of elders advocated in the New Testament (1 and 2 Timothy).

 This team of leaders needs to be unified around a clear sense of who they are (purpose), what they believe (values) and where they are headed (vision). Within this team there needs to be freedom to speak one’s mind and to challenge each other’s thinking without fear of reprisal. There needs to be both unity around key areas and diversity in personality, gifting and passion. If everyone on a team thought the same way, one/some of them would be unnecessary. Learning to celebrate rather than resent differences is vital.

5.  Corporate worship that is energetic and engaging. 

In our culture music is huge. People’s lives revolve around music and what that music is communicating. For far too long the church has lagged behind in this. We need corporate worship experiences in which people are having an encounter with the living God and not just going through the motions (or not even doing that, but standing there like fence posts.)

It’s not what’s happening up front with the worship team that is most important (how good/gifted they are, how excellently they perform or how the music compares with other churches in the area.) It’s all about leading people into the presence of God almighty, Maker of heaven and earth. We need God’s anointing on the worship as well as on the preaching.

There has been a shift in thinking from church growth to church health.  More and more content creators and writers are addressing the issue of how healthy the church is, not just how big it is. 

Still it seems to me that the mega-churches are often held up as the model to emulate. These churches will have their books, their podcasts and vodcasts, seminars and conferences to tell us how they became so successful and so big and how you (the smaller church) can do the same.

How about shooting for church health as the biblical model and let the sovereign Lord decide how big He wants it to be. After all, he is the Lord of the harvest (the end results), not us! Matthew 9:38.

Do I hear an Amen?

“What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.”  I Corinthians 3:5-7 (ESV) Emphasis mine



7 Things Pastors Tell Me Kept Them from Leading Well

I am going to assume that every called pastor of the gospel wants to lead well and end well. However, there are certain things that pastors do that prevent both from happening. Lets learn from the experience of others. Ron Edmondson shares seven things Pastors have told him that kept them from leading well.

Originally posted by Ron Edmondson

Seven Things Pastors Tell Me Kept Them from Leading Well

In my talks with pastors and ministry leaders, I have heard some repeated themes. One common theme is they have a story of a failed leadership experience. It may have happened in their first church. There was one church experience, perhaps with a program or a person, which turned from bad to worst. Or, many times it is in their current ministry and the reason for our conversation, which kept them from leading well.

When they have recovered from the experience, looking back, they wish they had known then what they know now. You’ve probably got some of those learning experiences too. It may have been an incident or the entire time in a particular ministry, but there were critical errors, which kept you and the church from accomplishing all God had for you. There were errors in leadership.

Obviously, the main, and most damaging, reasons a pastor doesn’t lead well are always spiritual more than practical. Jesus is the leader of His church and if we follow His instructions the church will ultimately be led well. We are to listen and obey the voice of God – first and foremost. But, God gave us minds and experiences, and we must not ignore the practical aspects of good leadership.

Here’s my question. Why don’t we do a better job as pastors and leaders at learning from each other?

I’ve reflected back on some of those conversations and there are literal words I have heard consistently over time. I want to share them in hopes we can learn from others.

Here are 7 things I’ve repeatedly heard, which kept a pastor from leading well:

“I failed to delegate.”

Many pastors try to be a solo leader. They know the expectation placed upon them and they know what they want to achieve, and they begin to think if it is going to be done right they must do it. They begin to try to control every outcome. Sadly, it can even limit the leader’s willingness to walk by faith. It doesn’t take long until a pastor burns out, potential leaders disappear and people are never developed and discipled. It’s a recipe for eventual disaster in leadership.

“We couldn’t see beyond today.”

Many pastors get a tunnel vision in leading people. They only see what they see. They see current programs, maybe even programs, which are currently working. They see the way things have always been done. They see, or realize, the expectations placed upon them by church leadership (or the loudest person in the church or the one who types in all caps.)

They don’t consider the unseen, the yet to be imagined, or the hidden gems of opportunity. Again, often this is a matter of faith, or laziness, sometimes a personality wiring, or maybe just falling into a rut of routine. In the sameness of today, things become stale and eventually people become bored, and someday, especially leaders or people who want to see progress, disappear.

“I ignored the real problems.”

The real problems aren’t always the spoken problems. They aren’t the obvious problems. The real problems are the underlying reasons behind a problem. They usually deal with heart problems. What people are really thinking, but aren’t saying. The real problems always involve people and often involve perceptions, which may or may not be reality.

For example, in the churches I’ve served, I’ve experienced the reality that over time people, even good, loving people, can become selfish about what they want. They can become defense about any change – even needed change, if it is going to impact their personal comfort. Sadly, I’ve even known people who were willing to let the church die rather than let the church change.

Those are the real problems.

“We resisted change too long.”

Change is coming – one way or another. I have always found it is better to be on the side of change where you are the change agent, helping to craft the direction of change, rather than trying to navigate change when it is no longer an option. Over time, if change is ignored, change will be thrust upon you. And, this is never welcomed change.

Momentum is extremely difficult to get back if you ever lose it. It’s easier to shift momentum to something new through change than it is to rebirth it when momentum is completely absent.

“I tried to please everyone.”

When you do this you really please no one. Your time management isn’t under control. You are pulled in so many directions you do nothing effectively. Instead of leadership there is chaos. The loudest voices win and the silent ones you actually have a chance of leading somewhere disappear. And, you end up one very tired, skittish, ineffective pastor.

“We ignored our community.”

This one happens slowly over time. No church – or at least I don’t think any church – sets out to ignore the community. It’s a gradual occurrence. As churches get comfortable with their current programs, are busy ministering to the people within, and fellowship becomes exclusive to the people we already know, over time the community is less a part of the vision.

And, frankly it is easier to stay in the confines of our four walls. The community is hard and messy at times. (Okay, it’s messy most of the time.) But, isn’t this who we’ve been called to be? My Bible reads, “Go and make disciples.”

“I neglected my family.”

This one breaks my heart every time I hear it. Many pastors tell me they started to have problems at home when the ministry received more focus than the family. Almost every month, when I was pastoring in revitalization, I talked with a pastor who was walking away from ministry, because they realized they were going to lose their family if they didn’t. And, walking away isn’t always the worst thing. sadly, too many pastors stay until it’s too late to repair the damage. Very sad.

Again, let’s learn from each other.

Are any of these keeping you from leading well?




Five Critical Marks Of A Healthy Church (Part 1)

There is a book titled “Nine Marks of a Healthy Church,” by Mark Dever. This post is not based on, nor borrowed from, that book. I am not looking at, nor referring to, what’s in Dever’s  book.

One of the downsides of being a regular blogger is continuing to have content ready to post that is both relevant and helpful.

I have been posting for 14 years and would venture a guess that I have  around 1,000 posts.  Every week I am thinking and praying about what to say (that I haven’t already said) the next time I post. It is an ongoing challenge that I own with a certain amount of fear of running out of things to say that really matter and will make a difference.

I am constantly reading and studying to make sure content is fresh and impactful for those who follow “Leadership From the Heart.”

Recently the thought of “Marks of a healthy Church” popped into my head, so I’m going with that.

I’m sure most of you have been in churches where it was all about growth.  How many of this and how many of that do we have.

We count the:

  • Amount of money in the bank
  • Square footage in the facility
  • Number of members
  • Number of attenders
  • Number of volunteers
  • Number of classes or programs we offer

One thing we don’t often count is how healthy our churches are.

Size and the multiplicity of activities and programs don’t necessarily translate to health. The truth is that many of our churches are not healthy and are, in fact, flat out dying. We have all read the statistics that upwards of 85% of Christian churches in the USA are either plateaued or dying.

So the question is, what does a healthy church look like--a church that is not plateaued or dying?

I just finished a short book by Thom Rainer, “Autopsy of a Deceased Church.”This book more than likely contributed to my thinking on this post.

I must say that Rainer’s book was one of the most depressing and discouraging I have read on the state of today’s church. I, nonetheless, highly recommend it as a wake-up call to Christian leaders in this country and around the world. In the book Thom states: 

“As many as 100,000 churches in America are showing signs of decline toward death. May God give us the courage to make the changes necessary to give new life to our churches.”

What might some of these necessary changes be? What are some marks of a healthy church that we can measure instead of an inordinate focus on bucks, buildings and bodies; which we could have in spades and still be unhealthy?

Here is my stab at five that I thought of. I am, by no means, saying these are the only five or even the most important five, but simply five that came to mind:

1.  Practicing Intentional outreach to our community with the Gospel.

People are being encouraged and trained in how to build relational bridges to not-yet Christians in the world in which they live: neighborhood, work, school, clubs or associations.  This needs to be modeled by leaders in the church, not just preached. There are obviously lots of ways to do this, but it needs to be prayerfully intentional.

2.  Possessing a clear understanding of what a New Testament disciple is.

Each local church needs to have a practical working definition (in writing) of what they believe a disciple is and then develop activities that actually help people move toward biblical discipleship--not just keeping people busy in the church building doing whatever that has nothing to do with becoming disciples!

I know of churches that don’t have a clue as to what a disciple is and nothing agreed upon toward which they are encouraging people to move.

3.  Having healthy “Community Groups.”

These groups go by many different names (cell groups, missional community groups, house churches, small groups, etc.)  Whatever they are called,  the attenders in these groups are practicing the “one another’s” of Scripture, growing in personal discipleship and reaching out to a lost world all around them.  

After 50 years in vocational Christian ministry and coaching hundreds of leaders who are serving in local churches, I am convinced that this is a must-- not an option.  I have read about and personally seen my share of unhealthy and/or dying churches, but I have never seen a healthy church that didn’t have community groups as a central focus in what they are doing.

Now, having these groups won’t guarantee health without the other four marks, but I don’t believe we will see solid and sustained health without such groups.

The groups will focus on:

  • They are made up of devoted disciples who desire genuine community with each other and who are growing in a genuine love for those without Jesus.

    A healthy church will have healthy and vibrant community groups, led by committed and trained leaders who function as disciplers and shepherds to those in the groups. 

    Each local church should set a goal of between 50%-70% of its regular attenders in these groups. Every single week those at corporate worship need to be encouraged to join a community group.

    It will take time to develop this, but it is time well spent. Use the worship services to cultivate and grow into a church not with groups, but a church of groups. There is a difference! The former speaks of programs; the latter speaks of a way of life.

    Points four and five will continue next week. Stay tuned…you may be surprised!




    Ways leaders dis-empower good people

    Whether intentionally or unintentionally, some leaders actually dis-empower the people around them thereby making them less productive, less motivated and less joyful. Dan Rockwell shares some thoughts on how they do this. Believe me you don’t want to be one of these kinds of leaders.

    Originally posted by Dan Rockwell


    1.  Don’t expect bold performance from dis-empowered people. 

    2.  You drain, discourage, and demotivate, if your goal is conformity.

    3.  An egotistical need for control – in those with positional authority – dis-empowers others. In reality, incompetent leaders are afraid of empowered people.

    Negative results of dis-empowerment:

    1.  Frustration. Anger permeates life when people feel powerless.

    2.  Blame. Powerless people use “they” more than “I”.

    3.  Paranoia. People believe you’re out to get them when you make them feel powerless.

    4.  Anxiety. Incompetent leaders use anxiety as motivation.

    5.  Helpless. Incompetent leaders make people feel they have no voice.

    More Ways incompetent leaders dis-empower good people:

    1.  Exclude, don’t include. Keep decision-making processes narrow and small. Elitism makes you feel powerful and others feel like outsiders.

    2.  Make people feel they don’t matter. Minimize or ignore experience, expertise, and talent on the team. After all, you know and understand more than anyone else.

    3.   Keep blabbing.

    4.   Isolate yourself.

    5.   Stay at arm’s length.

    6.    Don’t physically touch people.

    7.    Act busy. We all know busy and important are the same thing.

    8.    Never walk around the office.

    9.    Avoid front-line people at all costs.

    10.  Treat people like ignorant tools. Create policies without collaborating with them.

    Powerful isn’t egotistically making everyone conform to your wishes.

    Real power gives power.

    Ways skillful leaders expand power in teammates:

    1.  Set limitations that keep teammates focused on what matters. Feeling powerful is about doing meaningful work.

    2.  Create four viable options with others, but delegate final decisions toothers. Choice feels like control. Control is power.

    3.  Have candid conversations before making decisions.

    4.  Seek and give feedback on behaviors and results.

    How are you doing?

    How am I doing?

    How are we doing?

    5.  Reject the need to be liked. Embrace thee need to have influence and impact. Leaders who need to be liked cause instability by making exceptions.

    6.  Powerful people look for a way forward, not a way out.

    How do leaders dis-empower others?

    How might leaders make others feel powerful?





    Six things to keep in mind when adding people to your team

    Nothing can either be of greater harm or of greater help than making good choices as to whom you ask to be part of what God is calling you and your team/church/organization to do.

    In Acts 1:24 the first disciples were trying to decide who should take Judas’ place.

    And they prayed and said, ‘You Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen.’” (ESV)

    They prayed, asking for wisdom and we need to do the same thing, because we can’t predict the future nor look into the hearts of people.

    If you are in Christian leadership and it falls to your lot to make decisions to add people to your team/staff--whether they be paid staff or volunteers--here are six things to consider.

    1. Christ

    How is their relationship with Jesus Christ?  Do they personally know him…been born again by the Spirit of God. Do they have their identity in Jesus or in their work? Are they growing from identity in Jesus to intimacy with Jesus? Do you see the signs of the fruit of the Spirit in their lives--born out of a serious consistent walk with the Savior?

    2. Calling

    It’s interesting to me that when I first joined The Navigators in 1968 and Mars Hill Church in 2005, the first question that was asked of me was did I have a sense of calling. I was asked to share my calling to be a part of both of these organizations. Paul alludes to his calling in two verses:

    Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power.” Ephesians 3:7 (ESV)

    Paul an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised him from the dead.” Galatians 1:1 (ESV)

    Paul wasn’t persuaded or arm-twisted into service by people. God clearly called him.

    One of the reasons so many leave their roles and responsibilities in ministry today is because they have not responded out of a sense of calling, but out of a sense of duty, obligation, a great job opportunity, or an attempt to keep people happy. I believe there needs to be a strong sense of calling to step up and step into leadership responsibility.

    Scripture is clear that all Christians are called to serve and use their gifts. Due to the extra pressure, expectations and attacks of the enemy on leaders, they especially need to believe they are called. The subject is hardly mentioned today. I believe that it is so important that I devoted an entire chapter to it in “Leaders Who Last.”

    3. Character

    In most churches and Christian enterprises, character is under-rated and competence is over-rated. More leaders fall over the character than competence issue. In I Tim. 3, Titus 1 and I Peter 5 most of the qualifications fall in the area of character, which are lived out in the context of relationships. We are, unfortunately, prone to sacrifice character for results.  He is so gifted…what about his character? She has such a great personality…what about her character? He has such a great work ethic and gets so much done…what about his character.

    But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not look on his outward appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance (physical appearance/gifting/charisma), but the Lord looks on the heart (inward character)’ ” I Samuel 16:7 (ESV)

    4. Chemistry

     The older I get (and the time and experience I have working with leaders and with numerous churches), the more I realize how important team and organization alignment is. Before you bring a person on, ask yourself if they will fit into the current DNA of the team and align with the purpose, vision and values of where you are headed. Are they team players or independent operators? Do they know how to sacrifice their personal agenda and preferences for the good of the whole, or will it be their way or the highway? Do other team members like the idea of working with them…would enjoy having them around?

    5. Competence

    It’s not that competence is unimportant, but there are others things that are equally as important--if not more important--such as Christ, Calling and Character. But we do, obviously, want people who are capable of doing what they are being asked to do, with excellence.

    Do they have the gifts, work ethic, experience and attitude to do good work? It says of Jesus in Mark 7:37, “And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, ‘He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.’” Everything that Jesus did He did it with excellence. When he turned the water into wine it was the best wine! Work for the Savior should be the best we are capable of--no room for laziness, sloppiness, or mediocrity.

    6. Capacity

    When someone is added, they need to be added with the future in mind--not just the present. Do they have the capacity and learning mind-set so as to be able to keep up and continue to fit in as the church/organization grows? Are they adaptable, flexible and able to change when it is called for, or will significant growth outstrip them.

    It’s not easy to get a handle on all six of these. That’s why we need to:

    • Trust the Lord and look to him as we make selections (James 1:5)
    • Ask lots of good questions
    • Take our time and not be in a hurry or in crises mode when deciding
    • Have multiple interviews with different team members
    • Hire from within as much as possible so we know who we’re getting