The Pulse of a Healthy Church

The Pulse of a Healthy Church

Sep 26, 2017

Rev. Carl Greene

Hebron SDB Church, PA


Holy Discontentment

As I recall from my youth, we were getting ready for one of the biggest holidays of the year in my hometown of Berlin, NY — something like Groundhog Day, the sort of holiday when all of your 3rd and 4th cousins come to celebrate the festivities. In order to get ready for the day, my brother and I broke out a comb and scissors to get a good close haircut befitting of the chunky rodent’s day. It did not go well. This might be a surprise, but the self-trim haircuts for my brother and me were an absolute disaster. Even though we used the same tools our mom used to cut our hair, we came to realize that we were obviously missing something. In fact, the haircuts generated a feeling of discontentment with the results — especially after mom caught a glimpse of our handiwork.

Bad haircuts creating discontentment is one thing. But what about when we feel discontentment with church life? Have you ever attended a worship service where all the elements were in place and things went fine, but you went home feeling like something was distinctly missing in the experience? Have you attended a church function and had fine conversations, but left feeling like there was much more that you longed to talk about than shallow, safe subjects? Have you ever engaged in prayer where it felt like you were talking with yourself, or read Scripture and felt like God was incredibly distant? The correct

elements were in place, but yet something was missing. When it comes to church life, these missing pieces should leave us with holy discontentment. If we are missing an increasingly real experience with Jesus, something is woefully wrong.

Yet, when it comes to church health we measure ordinary discontentment rather than holy discontentment. It is said that we often measure the success of a church based on three S’s: size, speed, and substantiability. Size —how big is the church? Speed — how fast is it growing? Substantiability — are there enough volunteers and dollars to sustain growth of ministry and program? While these metrics have their place, it hardly seems like the complete measure of a church. In fact, size, speed, and sustainability are far from effective in measuring the health of a church. I am afraid that measuring the 3 S’s can deliver a similar result as a Groundhog Day haircut—it gets the job done, but there is a holy discontentment with the results.

Let’s think about living beyond holy discontentment in the context of Matthew 28:16-20. The Great Commission is wonderfully familiar and convicting. In verses 19-20, Jesus tells us to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you…”

In order to get the fullness of this passage, it is important to catch the sentence structure. Sentence structure is awesome — who does not love sentence structure? Since everyone is interested, let’s run with this. There is an imperative verb in this sentence — the boss verb of the phrase. The imperative, the primary thing we are to do, is “make disciples.” From that hang the other verbs, the participles. Remember from grammar class days that you cannot have dangling participles? Participles need to stay connected to the central verb. So, in this sentence, the participles are: go, baptize, and teach. Jesus calls us to go on mission, baptize to welcome people into the community of the kingdom, and then teach to point towards ongoing spiritual growth — but all with a purpose. All of this effort is aimed at the boss imperative: make disciples.

I am already nervous talking about sentence structure, knowing that people are correcting my misstructured sentences. Regardless, I have more! Let’s talk about “therefore” (perhaps a conjunctive adverb?). You always want to find what a “therefore” is linked to, such as in verse 19. The making of disciples, the heart of the Great Commission, is linked to Jesus’ authority, which He claims in verse 18. We are not out to work on our own strength, but under the authority of Jesus. If we miss the “therefore” linked with being under Jesus’ authority as a community on mission, then we are setting ourselves up for holy discontentment.

Think about the importance of “therefore” a little bit more. Say I am on a highway crew serving as a flagman. I need the oncoming traffic to stop, and I am left with two options. I can: (a) lay my hands on the grill of the oncoming tractor trailer to stop it, or b) use my orange flag to motion to the truck. Obviously, especially given my physique, option (b) with the flag is my real choice. The only way I am going to get the truck to stop is by resting under authority that is beyond myself — not my own brute strength. Isn’t this the same with church?

Maybe it is worthwhile to repeat to ourselves every now and again, “Church is more than what I do…Church is more than what I do.”

Let’s flesh this out some more by taking a look at a church that had all sorts of things going for it, yet missed residing under the authority of Jesus Christ. Onward to the church in Ephesus. In Revelation 2:2-5, we learn a great deal about the church through what Jesus had to say. First of all, it had right doctrine going for it. In verse 2, Jesus said that “I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance…” In verse 3, Jesus said, “I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake and you have not grown weary.” That is amazing! Who would not love to have Jesus say that about your church? All sorts of things are going right. But then, there is verse 4. Jesus also said, “But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.”

Ouch. They have right doctrine even though it is not easy. Yet, the dark side of getting the mechanics right is uncovered — they have lost their first love of one another and of Jesus Christ. In the pursuit of truth, they have lost living under the authority of Jesus Christ. Is

it possible that we do that as churches? That in a right passion for truth and correct doctrine, that we miss experiencing Jesus?

Fortunately, Jesus offers a way back to living under His authority fully. In verse 5 Jesus tells the Ephesians to “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first…” Catch the three actions the church is called to: remember, repent, and do.

Remember what it was like when you were holding fast to the love of Jesus and one another. Repent and confess what is wrong. Do: return to doing what you remember.

Now, we have already established that sentence structure is outstanding. Verbs are simply fantastic. The verbs behind “remember” and “repent” are important. Remember (mnemoneue) is a present imperative — it is a bossy verb that calls for an ongoing, continuing action. Keep remembering what it was like to love Jesus and others deeply! Repent (metanoeson) is an aorist imperative — a bossy verb that takes place at a defined time. The Ephesians are told to repent — and to do it completely at once.

Putting together remember and repent we get a clear picture. 1. Remember: reflect on loving relationships of the past, focusing on what it was like with Jesus and the people around you. And keep on reflecting! 2. Repent: make a clean break with what you are doing now. Do it now. 3. Do: go back to how you used to live, under the authority of Jesus Christ and not simply your doctrine.

Since about two percent of the population enjoy thinking about Greek verbs, let’s look at this from another angle. I am all about Twinkies. I have not had a Twinkie for a really, really long time. And then, I remember. I remember how amazingly good Twinkies are and what they were like when I ate them. But I don’t stop there! Then, I repent. I repent of avoiding my kindly snack food, and return to the cupboard where my wife has hidden them. Yet, I do not stop there. It would be a crying shame if I only looked at the Twinkie through the cellophane wrapper and thought about how good it might be. I also do. I do not just look at the Twinkie, but I taste it and experience it. Yum.

Application time-out. Holy discontentment in church arises when it feels like we are doing so many things right, yet something is still missing. The church in Ephesus had so many things going right, but had neglected their love of Christ and each other. They had neglected living under Christ’s authority. Isn’t it possible that we are prone to the same trap? In an era in which it takes so much effort and vigilance to maintain sound doctrine and not conform to worldly influence (much as in Ephesus), is it not possible that we have neglected our first love?

When it comes to being a healthy church, it is imperative that we remember. That we remember our collective and individual experiences of walking in relationship with Jesus Christ. It is critical that we study Scripture and remember how God works among His people.

Remembering in community requires good questions. We should be asking each other about our journey with Jesus. We should be asking each other what biblical themes mean for not only what we do as Christians, but also how we “be” Christians. When is the last time you asked someone a compelling question about his faith journey? Perhaps even more important — when is the last time someone asked you a compelling question about your faith journey? That might be an important measure of how approachable others find you to be.

When it comes to being a healthy church, it is imperative that we repent. Repent is what I need to do — not simply what I need to tell other people to do. I need to be honest in confession, with specificity. It is the easy way out to confess a general “forgive me for what I have done wrong.” Specifically repent of the ways that you are not passionately experiencing Jesus.

When it comes to being a healthy church, it is imperative that we do. I think I have heard something about this in an upcoming Conference theme. We have to remember. We have to repent. But there needs to be movement. A healthy church needs to act. In the next article, we are going to look deeper at Ephesus to see how we take the next step away from holy discontentment.

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