A healthy church is filled with those who need healing.
A man I highly respected made a statement that stuck with me. He said for years he looked for the perfect church in hopes he could join and be among those wonderful believers. But when he joined, he realized two things: one, his presence made the congregation less than perfect because of his own weaknesses and struggles; and two, no one in that congregation was perfect – though many pretended to be.
One of the great misnomers about Christ followers is that we have it all together. And honestly, that misnomer comes in large part from our efforts to appear more than we are and our failure to be transparent about our personal needs for healing. I submit that a healthy church is a sanctuary for those who need healing – and that includes each and every one of us.
Let me pause my point for a moment to emphasize that our GCI Healthy Church initiatives are meant to do just that – help us be a sanctuary for those who need healing. We represent Jesus to others through our Love Avenue; we invite them to participate in worship and fellowship through our Hope Avenue; and we help them see we are all learning and growing together in relationship in our Faith Avenue. But let me get back to the point about being a sanctuary.
It’s been said that church is to be a hospital for sinners rather than a museum for saints. I submit it should be an inclusive place of healing and growing for all, and we look to Jesus for the example. Notice the variety of people he stopped for, those he touched, those he brought attention to.
- Mary Magdalene – a woman who had seven demons. (Since seven was considered a number of completion in Jewish tradition, this means she was completely overwhelmed by them.)
- Nicodemus – a pharisee who evidently came to believe, as evidenced by placing Jesus in a tomb.
- The woman at the well – a woman scorned and rejected by her community for unknown reasons.
- A woman bleeding – someone who was ceremonially unclean, rejected, sick, and who had lost hope.
- Zaccheus – a chief tax collector who was hated for working with the Romans.
- The adulterous woman – to whom he said, “Neither do I condemn you.”
- The dying thief – a criminal who had been condemned to death.
- The man with leprosy – feared and scorned by his community.
- The blind, mute, demoniac – one who was uncontrollable and caused fear.
- A centurion – a Gentile and a Roman soldier whose very presence caused fear.
- His disciples – which included a number of fishermen, a tax collector, and a zealot. We don’t know all the professions, but it’s still quite a mix.
The point is clear; Jesus was not a respecter of persons. He served the rich and the poor, the popular and the downcast, male and female, Jew and Gentile, slave and free, and he has called us to do the same. A healthy congregation will follow this pattern and be welcoming to people from all parts of society, and ideally their membership will be reflective of their neighborhood. That means people with all kinds of backgrounds, dealing with a number of issues, all seeking the same thing – healing, identity, acceptance, forgiveness, love. In other words, a healthy congregation will be a microcosm of the neighborhood and community it serves.
You might be saying, “Well, Mr. Obvious, we know this.” My question is do those in the neighborhood you’ve been called to serve know this? The perception many have about church is the same as my friend had when he was looking for a place to worship; he thought the church was full of righteous and perfect people. We laugh at the absurdity of that, but there’s another side to that we should also be aware of. Many perceive the church to be full of people who “believe” they are righteous and perfect and better, and who look down on others. Ouch. That might hit closer to home than we like. Sure, we know we aren’t righteous except through Jesus, and we know only he is perfect, but too often we give the impression that because we are believers, we have it all together. I’ve heard people say something to the effect of: “If you just come to Jesus, all your problems will be solved.”
Really? It didn’t work for me. Yes, he is the solution, but sometimes he lets me stay in my problems because his solution is on a different timeline than my solution. And sometimes (often) – and we don’t like to admit this – my problems are of my own doing. Bottom line: I am a Christ follower, and I don’t have it all together. And this is the message I need to be willing to share with others as I build relationships with them. And please note the last part of that sentence, “as I build relationships with them.” We don’t need to carry placards announcing, “I’m a sinner too!” But we can and should be transparent with people about how Jesus is working with us, healing us, transforming us, blessing us, encouraging us, correcting us in his patient and gracious way. It’s called being transparent about our ongoing need for Jesus. (If you’ve not read it, I recommend the book, What If Jesus Meets us in the Good, the Bad and the Messy? by Greg Williams and Mark Mounts. Click here to download.)
A healthy congregation is already filled with people in need of healing if you and I attend that congregation. And the good news is, a healthy congregation is a place that continually points us to the one who does the healing, and together we grow in his grace. Together! A key word here.
So, here’s an assignment for you. As you pray, ask God to help you see where you can be more transparent. Ask God to help you see where you might be giving the impression that you have it all together, and to whom. Look for one person this week who needs to hear the message that your congregation or fellowship group is a place of healing, a place where no one really has it together, but a place where all are growing closer to Jesus individually and collectively.
Ask God to help you be part of the path to Healthy Church.