The Pulse of a Healthy Church

The Pulse of a Healthy Church

Oct 25, 2017

Rev. Carl Greene

Hebron SDB Church, PA





From Remembering to Doing

I loved the old oak tree that grew in the stone wall below my parents’ house. It was a massive tree with five trunks — two of which were climbable for a novice such as I. On one particularly fine day, I had shimmied up the easiest climbing trunk and stood on my favorite branch to watch traffic. (I was a forerunner of the community watch program.) By climbing about ten feet from the tree trunk on this branch, I could get my feet into a slight dip which held my feet in place. With my feet secure, I could hold a dead limb on my right to balance my slightly unsteady body. The one downside of this community watch vantage point was that the branch was about as high up in the air as the Empire State Building (at least to a 12-year-old afraid of heights). I can still close my eyes and picture that spot in the tree very clearly even 30 years later. Probably because of what happened next.

While taking note of our neighbor’s red pickup going up the road, I heard a crack of the dead limb, and felt my body lurch forward. I was suddenly in a free fall from the branch, hurtling towards the stone wall below. Rushing wind, screams of terror, and then, amazingly, I landed squarely on my feet. Nothing short of a miracle. Or, as my brother pointed out, maybe I was not quite as far above the ground as I imagined.

In the last article, we left off at the cliffhanger of Revelation 2:5 where Jesus directly told the church of Ephesus: “Remember therefore from where you have fallen: repent, and do the works you did at first.” These words of Jesus seem to ring true for my tree-climbing experience. I can clearly picture where I fell from. I distinctly remember kicking myself for trusting that dead limb to steady my body. I know that my tree climbing returned to its original care and caution after I remembered and repented. But, what is it that the church in Ephesus is to remember, repent, and do in response to Christ’s words in Revelation 2:5? Perhaps something recorded in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.

The letter to the Ephesians was most likely a circular letter sent to a number of churches in the area surrounding Ephesus — yet it clearly included the specific church at Ephesus. Something of a 1st century Facebook post intended for a specific audience, but the world is invited to look in on. If we place the writing of Revelation at about 95 AD, and the writing of Ephesians at about 62 AD, we can clearly see the option of Jesus saying, “Hey Ephesus, remember back to what it was like 30 years ago? Remember back to when Paul said, ‘For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you…’” (Ephesians 1:15-16a).

Soak that in. In Revelation 2:5 Jesus says to remember from where you have fallen, circa 95 AD. This statement in the Ephesians Letter by Paul around 62 AD is a really high point to fall from — remember when your love for Jesus and your love for one another was so recognizable. This might very well be the first love that had been abandoned by the Ephesians by 95 AD (Revelation 2:4). If this is where they have fallen from, it begs the question, what are the “works you did at first” that they are to do once again? Ephesians chapter 1 fills us in on what a healthy church does.

As we walk through Ephesians 1, we are going to see a process emerge that has been championed by Thom Rainer in his Church Revitalization video consultation series. This process provides a lens for churches to look at what they are doing, and why they are doing what they do. This process also serves as a backbone to the Seventh Day Baptist Pulse process for Church Revitalization. In a single paragraph I have now used the word “process” five times — this might be a key word.

Ephesians 1:18-19 presents a clear picture of a healthy church as a process not an event. The four things that take place in these verses are not a one-time event, but ongoing actions. These actions are part of the ongoing life cycle of the church across time. These actions include: clarity, movement, alignment, and focus.

Clarity. Paul’s prayer in Ephesians chapter one includes a request for clarity. Specifically, Paul asks that the church will have “the eyes of your hearts enlightened” (1:18a). Try to do a literal picture of that one in your mind. That is memorable. Maybe a better mental picture of this is the difference between seeing with glasses or without if you need corrective lenses. Paul is asking that the church will see Who Jesus is — that the church will experience Jesus and not just give Him some sort of abstract acknowledgement. This request for clarity also points toward discerning what Jesus is calling the church to do.

Here is a key question for clarity: “How is God glorified by my church here in this community?” We often ask for clarity about how to keep our organization, our church, as an entity, alive or maybe even growing. What if our primary question for clarity is to have the eyes of our heart opened, to know Jesus more and to know how to glorify Him as a church. The development of our mission and vision as a church should be for God’s glory, not self-preservation.

Finally, this mission or vision statement should be precise. Precision demands the discernment of a clear direction or calling. It is tempting to come up with our goal after we do something — that way we always achieve the goal. But that hardly sounds like missional living — as an individual or as a church.

Movement. Paul’s next prayer phrase offers a request for movement: “..that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you . . .” (Ephesians 1:18b). Paul is asking that the church will know the future glory that God has prepared, and also the calling to action today. God has prepared your church to take action on the mission He has given you — but that requires less talk and more action.

Movement requires action. Say I am baking a cake. It took a long time to get all the ingredients together and get it in the oven. When the timer goes off, the kitchen smells great, but I am exhausted. I don’t take the cake out of the oven, I just let it burn to crisp where it is. Who would intentionally do that? Yet, how often do we make plans as a church, or discuss ways God has called us to bless the community — and then never take action. Movement is required to enjoy the hard work of clarity.

Movement also requires preparation. When my cake is ready, I can try to take it out of the oven really, really, really fast without hot mitts. And burn my hands. I do not just take action to take the cake out of the oven, I prepare myself for the activity. Movement as a church requires her members to be prepared. If we are not growing spiritually, if we are not actively confessing our sins, if we are not actively walking with Jesus — we are not prepared to take action no matter how much clarity our church mission statement might have.

Alignment. Paul’s next prayer phrase asks for alignment, to know “…what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints…” (1:18c). Notice what Paul is stating here: this is God’s inheritance, not the believer’s inheritance. You and I are considered God’s inheritance, we are precious to God! I do not think that this can be overstated — do not miss the fact that you are God’s treasure.

Here is a question to check my heart: do I live like I am God’s inheritance? Do I live like I am God’s treasure? This is not a question of how selfish I am, but a reminder of how much I matter to God. This is also a reminder that my sin matters to God as well.

A more difficult question might be: “Do I live like you are God’s treasure”? Do I live like you are precious in God’s sight when I talk about you, engage with you at business meetings, and disagree with you about theology? Broadening the question out, does this church live her life as if the church body is precious? Quite often, alignment requires a hammer. We get out of shape when we are living our mission. We might remember the task at hand, but are terribly misshapen when it comes to our relationships. Alignment requires the hammer to beat us back into shape, to remember that I am, and that you are, God’s inheritance.

Focus. Paul prays that we will know “…what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe…” (1:19a). Paul is asking that the church will experience life under the authority and power of Jesus Christ. This is in stark contrast to the power of magic and dark arts revered in Ephesus at the time. Paul goes out of his way to describe the true source of power through Jesus Christ in verses 20-23. This requires joining Jesus in what He is already doing — and to work under His authority rather than our own plans and preferences.

I think that discerning what Christ is doing in, around, and through us requires ping pong ball focus. Picture Pastor JR Schick catching ping pong balls one at a time. He is amazing at that. Now picture about 50 ping pong balls thrown at him at once — his success is far from

impressive. Could this be the same for our churches?

The church tries to do what everyone’s preferences are, and tries to catch 50 balls at once — dropping most of them. We need to look at what is “good” and what is “best,” and decide as a church to focus on God’s specific call. That requires difficult decisions to sunset some good things, to embrace God’s best.

I hope that we earnestly pray for clarity to experience God through His invitation. Ask for movement to live out God’s plan. Request alignment to live like you and I are God’s treasure. Pray for focus as a church to remove clutter from our lives.











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