The Missing Ingredients in Church Health . . .

In my humanity, I have never been a truly courageous soul. I have lived at the extremes of timidity and bluster, often employing each trait at the wrong time. Jesus never had this problem, especially when he dealt with churches.

The language Jesus employs when he writes the Seven Letters to the Churches in Revelation 2-3 takes my breath away. He is so frank, and frankly seems far removed from the meek and lowly Christ we read about in some portions of the Gospels. (Though we often forget the candor and courage he displayed when opposing the scribes and Pharisees.) Consider some of the phrases he uses as he deals with his churches:

  • “repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place” (2:5).
  • “be faithful unto death . . .” (2:10).
  • “all the churches will know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts; and I will give to each one of you according to your deeds” (2:23).
  • “you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead” (3:1).
  • “hold fast to what you have, so that no one will take away your crown” (3:11).
  • “I will spit you out of my mouth” (3:16).

Jesus’ candor with local churches isn’t license for church leaders to embrace harsh confrontation. Jesus balances his warnings with affirmations throughout the Seven Letters. Any temptation toward a lack of tact should be tempered with the Bible’s admonition to “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15).

Few of us do this well. It’s a balancing act guided by humility and steadied by the Holy Spirit. We need to remember our own sinful tendencies lest we fall into the trap of the Acts 29 movement where frankness became abusive and imploded a far reaching ministry.

Nevertheless candor and courage often go missing when it comes to tackling difficult church health issues. I recall one church we consulted with that knew they needed to confront a certain erring family within the congregation but balked once they realized what it would cost them. They feared the repercussions such a painful confrontation would bring.

On the other hand, I remember the courage of two steadfast elders who confronted another leader in a small church (and endured great wrath because of it), though one of the elders was related by marriage to the leader at fault. The pain of that courageous act reverberated along family lines, jarring faithful men like cross county cycling on hazard filled terrain. Those men paid a price which Jesus will not fail to reward.

How about your church? Are you addressing the difficult issues? Have you prayed about the “elephants in the room” no one wants to talk about? In these days of increasing darkness in our nation we need a generation of church leaders who lovingly but determinedly grapple with entrenched and often consciously ignored threats to ministry.

The spiritual health of our nation rises or falls with spiritual the health of our churches. If we lack the courage and candor to address problems within the church, where will we find the capacity to “speak the truth in love” to our culture? Perhaps we are reaping in our culture what we have failed to sow in our churches.

What examples of courageous candor have you witnessed in your church? We welcome your comments!

Rev. Mark Barnard serves as President of Blessing Point Ministries. Blessing Point works to heal churches with painful histories. Barnard is the author of the recently released book, Diagnosing the Heart of Your Church – How Church Leaders Can Assess Systemic Corporate Dysfunction.

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