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Paul’s Healthy Church Message in Galatians

Healthy Church Development Series

By Cara Garrity, Development

Think back to the image of caretaking plants as a metaphor for tending to the health of our local congregation. (See January Equipper.) Assessing and responding to signs of health and unhealth in the life of the local congregation is an act of stewardship – and it is not a new concept. If we read Paul’s letters in the New Testament, we will find examples of identifying church health and unhealth within the life of early church communities.

Paul writes his letters to real people with real questions and real problems doing their best to follow the real Jesus in real community. In that way, Paul writes to people just like us. Take a journey through the letters yourself or with your leadership team. What signs of life does Paul name and celebrate when writing to each church? What signs of threat to church health does he call out? How does he address these? What do you notice as you reflect on Paul’s assessment of church life from region to region?

One of my favorite letters of Paul is the letter to the Galatians. In this letter, I find that Paul is not shy at all about reflecting on an area where the Galatians were struggling. They were being swayed to return to the law from the gospel of grace. This was impacting not only their belief, but their personal and corporate behavior. Most importantly, it was impacting their interaction with new believers. In a GCI context, we might say that they were returning to unhealthy church practices that they had once repented of.

Why does this matter? Because this path does not lead towards life in Jesus – it leads towards death. This really matters – and to leave the Galatians to their own destruction would be a betrayal of Paul’s calling to preach the gospel and equip the saints. He cares so deeply for the wellbeing of the Galatian church that he is compelled to call them up towards God’s good purpose for them.

In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul identifies their faith in Jesus and love for his people as something to be celebrated. He continues to pray for continued growth and maturity in Christ and encourages them in their journey of following Jesus. In a GCI context we might say, Paul names some signs of healthy church and encourages them to continue discerning, receiving, and participating in what God is doing in and through them.

Proactive, intentional, discerning, reflection on the state of the church is an act of faithful participation in Jesus’ ministry. Paul demonstrates this ministry of love to us.  My prayer is that we too may be bold enough to seek the wisdom of the Holy Spirit to discern the elements of health and unhealth in our local church practices, trusting Jesus who is the head of the church – our ultimate health and the giver of life.

Reflective exercise:

  • Imagine Paul was alive and ministering today. If he wrote a letter to your local congregation, what might it say?
  • Write your own letter to your local congregation. Where do you celebrate life and healthy rhythms? Where do you see elements that threaten the health of the congregation? Share this with your leadership team and prayerfully reflect on your observations together.

2 thoughts on “Paul’s Healthy Church Message in Galatians”

  1. Cara,
    I really like the pactical help/reflections you have given us as to how we might „measure“ the „health“ of our local congregations. Thanks much!

  2. Cara,
    I’ve found the book Natural Church Development by Christian Schwarz to be very helpful in its analysis of a healthy church. I think the following quotation is insightful. “It is no accident that Jesus repeatedly referred to this natural law and applied it to the spiritual realm. In Matthew 7 we read, “Every good tree bears fruit” and “You will know them by their fruits” …”we are able to check on the quality of an organism (or church) by examining its fruit.” page 76. The point is that growth is inherent in healthy living organisms and so also a healthy church will, by nature, grow and bear good fruit.

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