Healthy Churches: Are They Really Essential for Missions?
By Jerry Benge
When I was serving as a missionary in Ukraine, my goal was to train present and future church leaders about the priority and practice of developing biblically “sound” or healthy churches (This word, used frequently in the Pastoral Epistles, demonstrates the crucial relationship between correct biblical teaching and godly living). On several occasions, especially in conversations with missionary colleagues, I would be asked questions like:
1) Are healthy churches essential for missions? 2) Isn’t it possible to risk becoming so obsessed with your church’s health that you develop an inward focus that distracts you from fulfilling the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20)?
These are fair questions. The Great Commission cannot be ignored for any reason. It is at the heart of the message that runs from Genesis to Revelation: God’s determination to save a people for Himself from every tribe, language, people, and nation (Gen. 12:3; Psa. 2:8; and Rev. 5:9). Even the fact that a church may find itself in an unhealthy condition in no way exempts it from its Great Commission responsibilities.
Ironically, the problem often lies with our definition of the Great Commission itself. Without getting into minute detail, we simply must understand that Matthew 28:18-20 encompasses everything from proclaiming the Gospel (“Go…”) to living the Gospel (“teaching them to observe all that I have commanded”). To summarize: We are to be Christ’s messengers, but we ourselves must be continually transformed by its message.
Jesus gives a brief but comprehensive plan—one that involves not only Gospel instruction but also intentional life-on-life modeling and practicing. The NT epistles take this model and apply it to various situations that local churches faced then and that we face today.
Romans, for example, is all about the Gospel. But to whom is Paul writing this letter? To members of the church at Rome (1:7, 15). His point is to drive home the Gospel (all that God has done to rescue and restore sinners) in the first 11 chapters so that his readers (Jewish and Gentile believers in Rome) will deal with their differences in light of what God has already done for them through their faith in Christ (chapters 12-15).
Yet Paul had another reason for writing this majestic epistle. It is found in Rom. 15:22-24. He wanted the Roman church to be a Gospel-saturated (i.e. healthy) church so that they could provide him a strategic partnership for taking the Gospel all the way to the unreached peoples of Spain! Obedience to the Gospel we proclaim is necessary for the ongoing advancement of the Gospel!
There is no “either/or” here. If the Gospel we proclaim is not penetrating our daily lives and lubricating our mutual relationships, we will contradict the very evidence that a watching world is waiting to see (Acts 2:42-47). That is a legacy that we cannot afford to export or reproduce in faraway places.
As our own leadership and congregation continue to pursue what it means to be a biblically healthy church, we likewise want to be intentional in partnering with mission agencies who share the same DNA. One of those agencies (with whom we now have 7 missionaries) is Global Serve International. On July 16-18, half of our Mission Team members and I will be attending their missionary orientation training. Pray for us that God will deepen our understanding and effectiveness in collaborating with healthy church planting initiatives among the unreached people groups of the world.