At the risk of over-emphasizing certain terminology, which results in squandering value, allow me to address some core issues of spiritual, theological and missional vitality among our churches. My interaction with local churches over the past few years has led me to believe that most Christians (especially pastoral leaders) would agree that healthy churches are identified by certain core characteristics. We are able and it’s beneficial to measure certain ‘vital signs’ of a local congregation to determine its health and vitality.
Like the human body, a congregation has certain vital signs which reveal levels of health, strength and vitality. Vital signs are an important component of triage, following a crisis and prior to providing ongoing patient care. These signs can be dissimilar for people of various age categories. In other words, one’s heart rate and metabolism usually decreases as we age and our blood pressure usually increases as we get older. Vital signs may fluctuate when a body is placed under stress, however they usually provide age appropriate key indicators of health, strength, and energy; and they assist care specialists when determining which treatment protocols must be followed if the body is in critical condition.
Vital signs also provide essential information which is required to make life-saving decisions.
Accurate, well documented, vital signs become a very important part of emergency medical services. It is important to note that while a person’s vital signs may be stable, their body could still be effected by disease. Therefore, a healthy auto-immune system and stable vital signs are complimentary in preserving and prolonging life, and maintaining health and vitality. Allow me to compare these physiological measurements with some spiritual, theological and missional values.
Respiratory function (breathing) exemplifies missions:
On average, a person (at rest) takes about 16 breaths per minute. This means we breathe about 960 breaths an hour, 23,040 breaths a day, 8,409,600 a year. This process allows our lungs to deliver oxygen to the bloodstream and remove carbon dioxide from our bodies. Carbon dioxide plays an important part in the ecological process, such as photosynthesis and respiration. Green plants convert carbon dioxide and water into food compounds such as glucose. This process is called photosynthesis. In a similar way, healthy congregations must photosynthesize the resources of God (oxygen and carbon dioxide) to sustain and increase the work of local, regional and global missions. If a local church body stops giving to missions (or begins taking shallow breaths) the great commission suffers and the vital signs of the local body begin to reveal a systemic problem.
Heart rate (pulse) exemplifies discipleship:
Your pulse is a measurement of the rate and rhythm that your heart beats. This is the number of times your heart beats each minute (bpm). A normal adult range is about 60-80 Beats per Minute (bpm). An athlete’s heart rate range is from 35-50 bpm. Fitness actually reduces a person’s beats per minute. Local churches that are healthy actually offer less events and programs but become more effective in discipleship and mentoring followers of Christ. We have allowed a myth to circulate in local churches; that busy churches are effective churches. Not true. Hyperactivity and an elevated heart rate is helpful for burning fat, but it is not a sustainable lifestyle. Vital churches have decreased the number of programs offered and increased the depth of their discipleship.
Blood pressure (circulatory) exemplifies generosity:
The blood pressure reading consists of two numbers. The top number is called the systolic number and it measures the pressure inside your arteries when your heart beats. The bottom number, or diastolic number, is the pressure between heartbeats. In other words, the blood pressure measures restriction in the bloodstream as it moves through your body. Generosity and tithing measures the pressure within a local church body as it moves God’s resources around His kingdom. Restriction in blood flow may cause a heart attack or stroke. In the same way, careless stewardship or unwise spending will deprive the body from becoming healthy and vital.
Pain response (nerves) exemplifies conflict resolution: Paramedics will often use varying levels of stimuli to trigger neurological responses in order to determine brain activity. Often interpersonal conflict, tension or crisis are the triggers which cause a local church body to respond. Healthy local churches resolve conflict in an honest, authentic and biblical way and do not allow interpersonal conflict to prevail or dominate the body, so the nervous systems become a battle field instead of a mission field. When a local church body remains in conflict for a protracted season, the mission of Christ is lost and the incendiary scheme of our enemy becomes entrenched. Conflict is best resolved through healthy dialogue, facilitated impartial mediation, prayer, fasting and intentional Biblical peacemaking.
Body temperature (metabolism) exemplifies empowered worship:
A "normal" body temperature for human beings registers 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. Like someone’s weight, body temperature fluctuates slightly throughout the day. Sustained periods of time during which a person runs a fever, or has a higher than normal temperature can indicate illness or infection, while subnormal body temperatures can also be a sign of hypothermia or hypothyroidism. Christianity today has commercialized and institutionalized “worship”. Worship has become an activity (rather than a lifestyle), which is often attached to music and lyrics, rather than a state of pure adoration and devotion to God. Empowered daily worship is not about what happens around you, it is about what happens within you. Pentecostal worship regulates the body’s spiritual metabolism and sustains a stable temperature. Healthy local church bodies must worship together in love and unity, increasing the spiritual temperature, in order to fight off infections and/or counteract the ill effects of isolation and hypothermia.
Allow me to echo the prayer found in 3 John 1:2-4, “Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well. It gave me great joy when some believers came and testified about your faithfulness to the truth, telling how you continue to walk in it. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.”