As you can well imagine I go to a lot of churches. I often joke that my job is going to church. As I minister overseas I am sometimes in three different churches in one day. Preaching, praying, and rushing to the next. This, of course, is not really my favourite way of ministering but sometimes it happens. More often I am in one or two churches in a day, for as many days in a row as you can imagine. Out of this I have seen a great many congregations and have observed a great many things.
During these same years I have been watching and reading and observing both overseas and here in North America what makes for congregational health. Now, I come at this from a visiting minister perspective. I am never with a body of believers long enough to really know all that is going on behind the scenes. Yet I am convinced that simple observation, especially in the large perspective that I have from being in more than 100 village churches in less than a four-year span of time, gives me something of an expert observation, if we can call it that.
When I was working exclusively as a leadership coach and in leadership development I quickly learned that the observations of an ‘outsider’ (i.e. not yet ‘within’ the system of any organization or business) are often exceptionally accurate; someone new to an organization can see things that those who have been there for some time cannot.
In fact, the span of time that this ‘fresh’ perspective lasts is only about three months. After that time, the new person to the organization has ‘drunk the kool-aid’ as we say in Canada, meaning that after three months any fresh perspective or unbiased observations are gone, swallowed up in corporate lingo, collaborative politics, and narrow organizational aims. As a person assimilates into an organization they take on the same perspective of the organization and their observations then become that of those who are ‘inside’.
Needless to say, we all need outside observation on a fairly regular basis. Today, in this post, I draw from this outside observation that I bring as a visiting minister in regards to congregational health.
So, what are the signs of congregational health? What characteristics are there when a body of believers are in good space with each other and the Lord?
Let’s make a list and then I’ll expand on each one individually (one by one over the next weeks):
- New songs of praise and worship being birthed from within the congregation
- The congregation praying for each other, with freedom, confidence & intention
- A variation of preachers and teachers from week to week
- Gender does not determine ministry, but gifting determines ministry
- The Women are shining
- There is room for prophetic ministry one to another
- Corporate prayer is an integral part of congregational life
- The people are being discipled and the ones doing the work of the kingdom
- Partnership with other ministries happens regularly
- The people live their part in a much bigger picture
There are actually more than ten. I have others running through my mind, but any more than 10 on a list and it just plain scares us away. So, for now, these are the initial ten that come immediately to mind.
The thing is, I began this post thinking I could write one post and cover it all. Hmmm, I seem to do that a lot. So, no I can’t cover it all in one post, not a post that any one person would want to read. Therefore, let’s just look at the first one on my list today. I’d love to hear what you think:
1. New Songs of Praise and Worship Coming from the Congregation
When I attend a church, say the 23rd church in the span of three weeks time, and the songs are different than all those other 22 churches, I know that the spirit has a unique freedom in that place.
One church back in the spring of 2012 had very different songs. I’d been within the country for about three-weeks already and every single church was singing the same worship songs. Now, this isn’t all bad of course, but I have to tell you that when I arrive at a church that has new birthing of the voice of God through song, there is something special going on, (in that particular church there was an outflow of healing and joy over and above all of the other churches I had been to on that ministry trip).
When there are new songs in the Spirit we know that a few things are going on. First, there are one or two folks keenly tuned into God, sitting in His presence on a regular basis, allowing the infilling of the Lord that then turns into song.
Secondly, we know that the leadership model in that church is low on bureaucracy and high on trust. In other words, there is good leadership happening. High trust leadership makes space for the gifting of others and for the movement of the Holy Spirit. High bureaucracy makes little to no space for the gifting of others and certainly not for the movement of the Spirit.
So, songs of praise being birthed from within a congregation are a sure sign of the Lord welcomed with freedom and evidence of health within that body of believers.
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” Colossians 3:16