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9 Marks of a Healthy Church

9 Marks of a Healthy Church was published by Crossway and written by Mark Dever, pastor of Capital Hill Bapist, Washington D. C., and the executive director of 9 Marks ministries.

Perhaps one of the more troubling facts regarding the current state of most evangelical churches in America is the dire state of their overall spiritual health. I am almost embarrassed to admit it, but I am a late comer to Mark Dever’s 9 Marks of  a Healthy Church.  Not only do I verge on shame, I’m actually twinged with regret as I have no doubt that Dever’s words of wisdom would have strengthened my many weaknesses and failings in my previous pastoral posts had I read his work earlier.

Dever has accomplished much for the church with this book.  Rather than sit on the sidelines in perplexity at the problems facing too many churches, Dever challenges us to contemplate and (re)commit ourselves to nine of the most fundamental catalysts for church health.  While so many things could be said of this book, I will limit our discussion to a brief summary of each of the nine marks:

1.  Expositional preaching: This is the supreme mark of a healthy church.  God brings spiritual life through the expositional preaching of His word.  Expository preaching is preaching that draws its main point from the main point of a particular passage.

2.  Biblical theology:  A healthy church has a biblical understanding of God’s character and ways.  Dever summarized the main thrust of the Bible’s teaching on God when he noted, “that He is creating; that He is holy; that He is faithful; that He is loving; and that He is sovereign” (p.60).

3.  The Gospel:  A healthy church recognizes the centraility of the work of Christ (death, burial, resurrection) for all those who would repent of sin and believe in His atoning sacrifice.  This repentance and believe is not simply out of tradition but actually changes the way the believer lives.  True repentance and faith is not just a one time thing but is a lifelong characteristic of the believer.

4.  A biblical understanding of conversion: A healthy church understands that conversion is an act of God.  Just as no one can “born themselves” physically, neither can a person be born again spiritually without the initiating and efficacious working of the God the Holy Spirit.

5. A biblical understanding of evangelism: A healthy church is actively evangelistic, but not necessarily in a programmed sort of way.  Rather, evangelism is the natural overflow of Christian worship and fellowship.  Simply put, the church is the evangelistic program.

6. A biblical understanding of church membership: A healthy church emphasizes and requires faithful membership for the sake of purity, accountability, and mutual edification.

7. Biblical church discipline: A healthy church disciplines blatanly sinning members for the sake of the sinner, the ones offended (other believers and God), and the unbelieving world.

8. A concern for discipleship and growth: A healthy church disciples new believers, as well as more mature believers, with the word of God and in mutual accountability around God’s word, most easily done through covenanting together around a common statement of believe such as a church covenant.

9. Biblical church leadership: A healthy church seeks out leaders based not on secular qualifications but on biblical qualifications of godly character and trustworthiness.  Both pastors and congregations will be held accountable for what is being taught from the pulpit.

May the Lord continually purify His church and may His church continually submit to His sanctfiying work so that every local body of Christ will be spiritually healthy for God’s glory.

For His Glory,
Jeremy Vanatta

Church Planting Is for Wimps

The book Church Planting Is For Wimps is not, as you might guess from the title, your typical approach to the topic of church planting.  As his subtitle notes, the author, Mike McKinley, admits that he is a messed-up person.  Immediately, the (honest) reader can relate.  McKinley served on the staff of Capital Hill Baptist Church, Washington D.C.  In 2005, God called him to revitalize Guilford Baptist Church, Sterling, VA.  This book is a recounting of how God used McKinley to accomplish this feat.

McKinley writes openly and honestly, with humor and insight.  He has a knack for keeping the reader involved in the story.  Of course, the title communicates much sarcasm since the book is the story of a church revitalization as opposed to a fresh plant; but McKinley in no way communicates disdain for church planting.  The book is a must read for those praying about church planting or revitalization.  While there are plenty of wisdom nuggets to be found in the book, I want to share the following three:

1)  Beware of contextualization: while certain aspects of contextualization have their place, it does seem to be the newest catchphrase for the “homogeneous unit principle”–you know, the “pick your social demographic and appeal . . . to them” (p.20) model.  This form of contextualization is problematic for at least two reasons: it caters to the flesh rather than the spirit, and it steers God’s people away from a gospel-centered unity.  As McKinley noted, “People favor people who favor them.  They favor goods and services tailored to their tastes and how they want to perceive themselves.  Niche marketing works.” (p.17).  But, as he went on, “if you look at what the Bible says on this subject, you’ll see that one of the glories of the gospel is that it reconciles people that could never be reconciled without it.” (p.18).

2)  The preaching of God’s word must be central: McKinley reminds us that if we fail to preach the word of God, then we fail altogether.  He wrote, “the one thing that Christians and non-Christians need is the Word of God.  It is alive and powerful, and it’s what our churches need.” (p.53).  He encourages the church planter to never allow the the preaching of the Word to be decentralized by a plethora of pragmatic and administrative details.

3) Beware of “obessing over church size”: McKinley spoke plainly on this point, “Let me be straightforward.  The obsession with church size is killing many church planters.  I used to drop in occasionally on a gathering of local church planters.  There was a running tension in the group–everyone either subtly bragged about the size of his church (while trying to seem like they weren’t) or made excuses for it.” (p.107).  He warns us of the clear and present danger of numberitis.

While these three points fall short of all that Church Planting Is For Wimps relates to the reader, they do serve as a launching point for those interested in further helps in the arena of church planting and revitalization.

For His Glory,
Jeremy Vanatta