On Saturday the 25th of August 2012 I taught a Seminar on ‘Cross Cultural Ministry and Church Growth’ at the Annual Conference of the Solid Rock Church of God in Dublin. Our question and answer sessions ran longer than expected, and I promised the delegates at the Seminar that I would post some added material about Church Health online. So, for those delegates, and anyone else who is interested, here are Eleven Vital Signs of Church Health. Some of these have been adapted from the writings of C. Peter Wagner.
Sometimes we get all worked up about Church Growth, when we should more properly be concentrating on Church Health. Things that are healthy grow without even trying! Think about our children. We don’t worry about how to make them grow. They grow naturally. In fact, sometimes when we’re having to buy them clothes we wonder how they can grow quite so fast! But if a child wasn’t growing at all then we’d take them to see the doctor. We understand, when it comes to children, that non-growth is an indication of a health problem. We need to apply that same understanding to churches.
One of the first thing a doctor will do, is to check your vital signs. He’ll check your pulse, your temperature, your blood pressure. Note that all of these are essential – just getting half of them right won’t cut it! You don’t say, “Hey, my temperature is OK even if I have no heartbeat – so I’m not doing so bad!” In the same way, every church needs to make sure they’re cutting it when it comes to the Vital Signs of Church Health.
1. RESPECT FOR THE WORD OF GOD
Having a strong emphasis on the Word of God and Scriptural Authority doesn’t guarantee growth – but a lack of it will guarantee decline! Church History demonstrates that churches and denominations that take a liberal approach to Scripture always experience numerical decline. Don’t preach ‘Christianity Lite’ – give people the Word!
A church that lacks prayer will never have the spiritual power to change lives – and without changed lives there can be no growth. There is no one way or style to pray. Let a multitude of prayer ministries and meetings become part and parcel of the life of the Church.
3. A SERVANT LEADER
Growing churches always have strong leadership – and that means a team led by one strong leader. Committee-led churches don’t build the vision that is necessary for growth. But neither can a one-man-band grow strong Christians.
Leadership should not be domineering or tyrannical. We must follow the example of Jesus who said, “If you want to be great in God’s Kingdom – learn to be the servant of all.”
4. MOBILISED MEMBERSHIP
In Ephesians 4 we see that the Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist and Pastor/Teacher are to equip the saints to do the work of the ministry. One of the biggest contemporary barriers to Church Health and Church Growth is the unbiblical divide between clergy and laity.
Healthy growing churches release as many members as possible into ministering to each other.
5. CELL, CONGREGATION & CELEBRATION
Human beings crave fellowship with each other, and we find this fellowsip in different sized gatherings.
a) The Cell is a small group where people get to know each other and share intimacy, trust and their problems. In traditional society people found this in their extended families, but in today’s geographical dislocation (with people migrating all over the globe) mean that this small-group experience is more often found in the church.
b) The Congregation is a larger group. It lacks the intimacy of the Cell, but is still small enough for everyone to know everyone else’s name. Some people seek this experience in a pub or a bar.
c) The Celebration is a big event – where we become part of a crowd. It produces an energy and dynamism that meets a deep need in the human psyche. We can get this at a rock concert, a crowd at a sports event, or a big worship event.
Growing healthy churches will seek to provide their members with different worship and fellowship experiences – including the Cell, the Congregation and the Cell. Sometimes it will be necessary to cooperate with other churches in order to do this.
For the Irish, Olympic gold medals are as rare as hens’ teeth. In our nation’s entire history we’ve only ever won 9 gold medals (and 3 of them were ‘earned’ by a swimmer in Atlanta 96 who was subsequently exposed as a drugs cheat. Heck, even one of our horses was stripped of an equestrian gold medal in Athens 04 for taking drugs!
For years, in Ireland, Pentecostal Christians seemed to be as rare as Olympic medallists. Frequently derided as a cult, they were often relegated to the margins of society. It was not unusual for Pentecostals to be mocked for following an American religion, and therefore, not being Catholics, they weren’t truly Irish.
All of which makes Katie Taylor a breath of fresh air. Katie is a 4-times world boxing champion who, this afternoon, will be fighting for Ireland’s first Olympic gold medal for 20 years. The level of national support is overwhelming, with the country expected to grind to a halt to watch her bout. For the semi-final, 10,000 Irish supporters crammed the boxing arena in London, and in the process created a roar that was measured at 113 decibels, exceeding the noise of a Jumbo Jet’s take off.
Katie, a committed worshipper at St Mark’s Family Worship Centre (Assemblies of God) in Dublin, is a humble young woman who has so far proved a wonderful ambassador for her country and her faith. Some boxing pundits have hailed her as the best pound-for-pound boxer (male or female) in the world today. At the end of her semi-final bout she pointed heavenwards thanking God for the gifts he has given her.
(My American friends are used to so many of their sporting heroes acknowledging Christ, but understand that for Pentecostals in Ireland this is something very new and exciting for us).
Which makes me think about how I should pray for Katie today. I would love her to win that gold medal, but something within me stops me praying for God to ‘fix’ a boxing match. The whole thing that makes sport special is the unpredictability of it. You watch a match and you know both participants have the same opp[ortunities to win. If God was to ‘fix’ the result, then what would be the point? It would no longer be sport – it would just be vulgar theatre like WWF wrestling.
So this afternoon I will be glued to the TV cheering Katie on. I will be fervently hoping she wins that gold medal, and I’ll probably shed a tear or so if she does. But I won’t be praying for her to win. I’ll be praying that neither she nor her Russian opponent suffer any significant physical harm, and I’ll be praying that, whether she wins or loses, Katie will keep being such a wonderful ambassador for the Gospel.
Here are two more items that appear on the General Assembly Agenda. They both relate to how business is conducted at the General assembly every two years.
6. MOTIONS COMMITTEE
We recommend: That we amend page 68, S4. INTERNATIONAL GENERAL COUNCIL, IV. INTERNATIONAL GENERAL COUNCIL MOTIONS COMMITTEE, by adding the following paragraph:
Previous notice shall be required for any motion which greatly alters the organizational structure of the Church of God. When motions are presented to the Motions Committee, the following guidelines will be followed:
1. Each motion will be processed and prioritized by the Motions Committee according to the guidelines of the General Assembly Minutes.
2. The Motions Committee will initially determine if the motion would “greatly alter the organizational structure of
the Church of God.”
3. If in the opinion of the moderator the motion would “greatly alter the organizational structure of the Church of God,” the motion will be read to the body by the chairman of the Motions Committee at the direction of the moderator with the notation that it is a motion that will require previous notice before final disposition.
4. The moderator will explain that if the motion passes in the present International General Council, it will be placed on the agenda of the following International General Council in order to fulfi ll the requirement of previous notice.
5. The item will then be open for full debate on the presently-convening International General Council floor.
6. If the motion does not receive a majority vote, it falls to the floor.
7. If the motion receives a majority vote, it is committed to the International Executive Council with the mandate that it be placed on the agenda for the next International General Council in a manner that fulfi lls the requirements of previous notice.
This is really a ‘safety first’ measure to avoid any potentially game changing motions slipping through the General Assembly without being properly considered or debated.
The Agenda for each General Assembly is prepared in advance by the International Executive Council. It is publicised so as to give all delegates the opportunity to pray over it, and to discuss it among themselves beforehand (just like I’m doing in this blog). However, sometimes the discussions go quicker than expected and there is time left over after the Agenda has been dealt with. In this case, any delegate can propose a measure to the Motions Committee and, if time permits, that can then be debated and voted on.
In my opinion this is a good thing. It opens the door to wider participation, and prevents a small leadership group from totally dictating what comes up for discussion. However, there is also a danger. Often, at the end of the day, people are tired and many delegates have drifted off to get a meal or prepare for that evening’s Worship Service. The danger, therefore, is that a small and tired remnant might, at the end of the day, wind up passing a measure that would have great impact and consequences on the Church of God. Item 6, therefore, ensures that such motions would not be passed without due discussion and consideration.
8. CONCLUDED AND DECIDED AGENDA ITEMS
We recommend: That we amend pages 67, 68, S4. INTERNATIONAL GENERAL COUNCIL, III. INTERNATIONAL GENERAL COUNCIL AGENDA, by adding the following:
Furthermore, no agenda item concluded and decided by the International General Council and/or concluded and decided by the International General Assembly is to be included on the published agenda for the next International General Council unless approved by a two-thirds majority of the International Executive Council. This does not apply to items of previous notice or informational reports.
There is a frequent complaint that the same subjects keep coming back for discussion at each General Assembly. The fear appears to be that Headquarters leadership are trying to push a measure through, and will keep putting it on the Agenda until everyone gets so weary that it finally passes. This measure seeks to alleviate that fear by making it more difficult, if a proposed measure gets voted down, for it to immediately come back again at the next General Assembly.
I think both Items 6 & 8 are sensible, and so I will be voting in favour of them.
Today the General Council of the Church of God elected a new Executive Council (Council of Eighteen) to serve for the next two years. I was particularly delighted to see Dwight Allen, of the Cooper City Church of God, being honoured in this way.
Tonight also marked the end of my four years serving on this Council. It has been an honour and a privilege to serve the Church of God in this capacity.
The Church of God General Assembly has now started, with the elections of a new General Overseer and Executive Committee.
General Overseer: Mark Williams
Assistant Overseers: David Griffis, Jim Stephens and Wallace Sibley
Secretary General: Thomas Propes
I’m excited by the quality of leadership this represents for the next four years. Congratulations to all five brothers.
We also elected Gary Lewis as Youth Director and David Blair as assistant Youth Director.
Proposals to eliminate the positions of Assistant Youth Director and Assistant Word Missions Director were comprehensively voted down.
Here’s another item coming up on the General Assembly Agenda in Orlando this week:
Item 15 seeks to permit women to be fully represented in roles that have hitherto been restricted only to men.
a) A pastor’s spouse serving as his or her assistant/
b) Women serving on a Congregational Trial Board in discxiplinary cases.
c) Women serving on the Church of God Publications Board.
d) Women serving on the US Missions Board.
The removal of these outdated and senseless gender restrictions, in my opinion, makes such obvious good sense that there’s not much more I can say on the subject. Needless to say, I will be voting for this item, even though it comes about 100 years too late!
Here’s another motion that will be debated at the Church of God General Assembly in Orlando next week.
2. AFFILIATION WITH CHURCH OF GOD
That we amend pages 137, 138, S49. AFFILIATION WITH CHURCH OF GOD, by substituting the following:
That non-Church of God churches that wish to affi liate with the Church of God be allowed to join as associate churches. They shall be able to retain ownership of their properties. They shall make monthly reports to the state/regional and general offi ces with the same financial accountability as International General Assembly congregations. The pastor shall submit to a background check and he/she shall secure Church of God ministerial credentials in accordance with the denomination’s polity.
An associate church can remove its associate status by placing the church properties on a Church of God warranty deed with the approval of the administrative bishop and the state/regional council.
At present Church of God congregations in the United States, if they own a church property, are supposed to deed their properties to the denomination. In many other parts of the world this is not an issue. For example, in Ireland most Church of God congregations rent their properties – and there would be huge legally problems in trying to lodge the deed to an Irish property with an institution with headquarters in another nation. Many items in the Church of God Minutes were framed in an American context with little thought for how that might work in another country – which fails to reflect that the vast majority of Church of God members now live outside of the United States.
In the US, there are independent churches which would desire to come under the covering of Church of God, but which, quite understandably, wish to retain ownership of properties that they have sacrificed over the years in order to build or purchase. This measure would allow such churches to come into Church of God while retaining ownership of their property.
In my view this is a win/win measure. But a similar motion was voted down two years ago at our last General Assembly in 2010. The opposition seemed to come from two pretty opposite viewpoints:
a) Some see the policy of retaining title deeds at headquarters as necessary to stop churches from leaving. This, to me, is depressing. Surely a movement that is going forwards should be looking to carry its churches into the future through a shared vision? If we have to blackmail churches into staying by threatening to take aaway their buildings then we’ve probably lost the plot anyway.
b) Others would like to see existing churches in Church of God allowed to hold the deeds and ownership to their own properties. Therefore they look at this measure and say, “Why should others get a freedom that we don’t have? If I can’t benefit from this change then I’ll make darn sure no-one else will either!” Again, this is short-sighted. The existing system involves thousands of churches and with many loans and mortgages being underwritten by denominational headquarters at State level. It makes sense to proceed with caution. Allowing Associate Churches would be a prudent first step whick, with very little risk, could pave the way for similar freedom to be extended at some time in the future to existing Church of God congregations.
Needless to say, I will be voting in favour of this motion.