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Doctor of Ministry Dissertation
Church Health: An Organic, Doctrinal
Systems Approach

Rev. Dr. John Crowe, D. Min. (Candidate)
(This Disseration Has Been Approved By Asbury Theological Seminary)

Note: The following comes from the research portion of my dissertation titled Preaching for a Whole Person Response and a Healthy Church.


The Need to Address Church Health

Church Health Defined

Church Health Described


Statistics regarding church-pastor relationships are startling. Karen Krakower in her 1997 article, "Clergy in crisis: Who ministers to the ministers?" shares the following:

* Nearly a fourth, 22.8 percent of pastors have either been terminated or forced to resign.

* Nearly two-thirds, 62 percent, of the forced-out pastors said the church that dumped them had also forced out other pastors - and 41 percent said the church had done it more than twice.

* Nearly half, 43 percent, of the forced-out pastors said a 'faction' in the church forced them to leave, and 71 percent of those indicated that the 'faction' membered 10 or fewer congregates.

* Only 20 percent of the forced-out pastors said the real reason for their leaving was made known to the congregation.

Furthermore, Terry Teykl reports that a recent study showed that after ten years in pastoral ministry, 70 percent of pastors lost their confidence He claims that their boldness has been dulled by the fear of being hit by friendly fire (39).

H.B. London & Neil Wiseman’s book, Pastors at Risk, mentions the following statistics:

90% of pastors work more than 46 hours a week

80% believe that pastoral ministry has affected their family negatively.

33% say that being in the ministry is a hazard to their family.

75% reported a significant stress-related crisis at least once in their ministry

70% say they have a lower self-esteem than when they started in the ministry.

70% do not have someone they consider a close friend.

40% report a serious conflict with a parishioner at least once a

month. (22)

In addition, some denominational leaders indicate that "the most optimistic assessment is that 20 percent of our churches are functioning as living organisms and bearing substantial fruit. They estimate that between 35 to 50% are dysfunctional, bearing no fruit at all" (Anderson, Neil and Charles Mylander 13).

Despite tremendous church growth efforts, "it is estimated that 80 percent of church growth in recent years is a result of people moving from one church to another: (London and Wiseman 36). Statistics like these help us understand why people are writing so many books and dissertations about church health. They also make the reason clear for the recent works about spiritual abuse, sick churches and unhealthy conflict (Anderson and Mylander; Enroth, Ronald; Haugk, Kenneth; Johnson, David and Jeff VanVonderen; Mains, David; Rediger, Loyd; VanVonderen, Jeff).

My studies in Christian leadership helped me to begin to understand our need as pastors to grow healthier as persons, to become developers of leadership teams and to act as change agents for the sake of building churches focused on healthy church growth. Dave Carder claims in his book, Secrets of Your Family Tree, "Many people who enter the ministry do so for dysfunctional reasons" (121). If the report ". . . that 80 percent of today’s ministers come from dysfunctional families," then many pastors may find the well being of their churches improve if they resolve their childhood issues (London and Wiseman 45).

In light of this, Rick Warren's insightful observation contrasts the needed skills for growing a church and those needed for building a healthy church. "The skills may not be all that different, but growing a healthy church depends on the personal character of the leader. It is possible for an unhealthy pastor to lead a growing church, but it takes a healthy pastor to lead a healthy church. You can't lead people further than you are in your own spiritual health" ("Comprehensive Health"). Hollis L. Green's book, Why Churches Die, proposed a similar idea 27 years ago saying: "The principle weakness of a sick church manifests itself first in its leadership. As a leader is, so are the people" (112).

The study of the Eph. 4:7-13 helped me see a healing dynamic in the word translated "equip," katartismon. The healing aspect of the Greek word for "equip" implies that pastors, church leaders and church members are to make certain that we are growing healthier in Christ. What a costly dismissal for pastors or laypersons to ignore the call of Eph. 4:7-13 to equip the health of a church. Our American self-sufficiency and individualism may want to avoid this truth, but only to the production of inadequately equipped, dis-unified, and unhealthy church bodies, lacking "the fullness of Christ."

According to Galloway, Dale and Kathi Mills in the book, The Small Group Book, "Most churches today are filled with broken, bruised, inexperienced converts, but few healthy, dedicated disciples. That’s why it is so hard to find enough competent, qualified and willing leaders to begin and maintain needed ministries" (14).

How to bring healing and wholeness into the community of faith is the most important ecclesiological question of the 21st century because of the excessive individualism of "modernity." This is part of the church health problem that is exacerbated by overly simplistic evangelistic sermons. These concentrate only on the individual’s relationship with Christ, forgetting that the church, as the body of Christ, is a system of relationships. Part of the problem involves the breakdown of the home. London and Wiseman’s book, Pastors At Risk, shares the following startling information:

Now dysfunctional family relationships are so common that a high percentage of individuals in every congregation carry scars from a fractured childhood. They look to the church as their most convenient help. When churches ignore these pains in persons in their fellowship, the unresolved issues pop up in strange and unexpected ways. Like an acre of dandelions, the crop gets worse when ignored (45).

Also, Carder writes, "Since churches are made up of families, it only makes sense that they often operate exactly like the family-of-origin pattern of the dominant leader and/or the congregants. Many of us select the church system we do because of the unfinished business we carry from our family of origin" (17-18). Rediger, author of Clergy Killers, points out another contribution to the problem. Whenever churches operate from a business model which does not view pastors as spiritual leaders of a mission , they become sick (19-20, 26-27, 53).

This dissertation attempts to provide a solid biblical, theological, and systems basis for an investigation into a way to address this dreadful situation. It grows from my experience since 1983 as a pastor in the N.C. Conference of the United Methodist Church. The interest in healing and wholeness in Christ has been a major part of my concern as a Christian even before then. During my second year in college God called me into pastoral ministry to help people become whole persons in Christ.

While attending Asbury Theological Seminary during the early eighties I took a course on "Healing and the Christian Faith." Frank Stanger’s book, God’s Healing Community, contained a brief testimony about a pastor applying biblical healing steps to a church body through preaching (122). The story of this pastor preaching on the steps of relaxation, purging, clarification, consecration, anticipation, and appropriation to bring healing into the corporate life of the church served as a seminal experience for my thesis.

Another major impetus for this study has been my experience as a pastor of churches which demonstrated a number of unhealthy characteristics which are major aspects of this paper. I, like many other pastors, actually increased the poor health of churches by seeking to make superficial improvements without giving prior or any attention to church health. Both my personal pastoral experience and research help explain why seeking to equip a church for numerical growth is hindered when it first needs to be equipped for healing.

When the opportunity arose for post-graduate study, the concept of healing and wholeness in Christ for the community of believers became objective of that study while pastoring an earlier church under my care. This dissertation is the result of three years of concentrated study.



Like manifold other United Methodist Churches, Gibson Memorial UMC and White Oak UMC received limited benefits from various church growth programs in the past. This fact raises the question about the effectiveness of working on church growth programs before addressing the prior issue of church health. At the same time, church health programming/initiatives can also develop into mechanical, quick fix projects unless one approaches them from a biblical, holistic, systems perspective. Such a view is rooted in the biblical understanding of the incarnational body of Christ (I Cor. 12:12-27).

Important modern insights into the body of Christ are offered to us in the Family Systems Theory. It built upon the German biologist von Bertalanffy’s earlier General Systems Theory. In this view, science had previously studied biological parts apart from their relationship to the whole body. Von Bertalanffy viewed the parts in light of their inter-relationship to each other and to the whole system. This study will use his perspective in conjunction with the New Testament’s teaching about the Church as the body of Christ.

Church Health Defined
Definition of Terms

Mechanistic pertains to the theory that everything in the universe is produced by matter in motion like a machine. Such an approach to congregations ". . . focuses on program effectiveness. . . The local church is here viewed as a mechanism with the capacity for greater or lesser efficiency in doing the work of God" (Hopwell, James 24).

 Organic means having the organization similar in its complexity to living things. It also means viewing or explaining something as having a growth and development analogous to living organisms. As Hopewell says in his book, Congregation Stories and Structures, "A Congregation may also be treated as an organism, a living entity given not to mechanical production but to sensitivity and maturation" (26).

In 1955, German biologist Ludwig von Bertalanffy presented his general systems theory to the world. Since its introduction many other disciplines applied his theory as a way to solve complex problems in business, families, and religious organizations. The theory operates from a holistic approach. This theory arose as scientists and philosophers abandoned Enlightenment individualism along with mechanistic modernism for postmodern holism (Bertalanffy, Grenz).

With the introduction of computers in the 1950’s people experienced an avalanche of information. As the emerging knowledge worker and computers replaced the industrial worker, the need arose for a new way of understanding and relating information. Systems thinking provides this new way by focusing "less on content and more on the process that governs the data. . . " (Friedman, Edwin 15).

A system involves the relationship patterns between the subsystems of an organism or a group of people. Since the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, we cannot thoroughly comprehend a system by reducing it into separate parts.

A church like a family system runs into trouble when its homeostatic relationship tools for restoring balance within its boundaries are either rigid or weak. The concept of homeostasis helps the pastor understand a church’s "ability to resist change and keep a balance it has found for itself no matter how sick" (Buell, Scott 12). This concept also explains why a church "will tolerate and adapt to trouble-making complainers and downright incompetents, whereas the creative thinker who disturbs the balance of things will be ignored, if not let go" (Friedman 25). It also gives a pastor some clue as to why church life all of a sudden goes out of balance (Friedman 203-204).

Therapists such as the late Murray Bowen popularized the application of the systems thinking to family systems therapy. The key concept in this theory is the differentiation of self. This concept means "to be in emotional contact with others yet still autonomous in one’s emotional functioning . . . " (Kerr, Michael and Murray Bowen 145). Without it pastors can easily deceive themselves about being in better contact with the problems of others than is realistic. Church leaders and members who lack it will experience difficulty in thinking, feeling and acting as individuals who are in contact but not controlled by others.

The identified patient: is someone or some group within a "family system" like the church who ". . . is the one in whom the family’s stress or pathology has surfaced" (Friedman 19). In a church it could surface as overfunctioning, underfunctioning, or burnout of the "family leader."

We find ourselves involved in emotional triangles whenever we let others ensnare us with indirect manipulating. "Generally, triangles serve two purposes: (1) absorbing anxiety, and (2) covering basic differences and conflicts in an emotional system" (Richardson, Ronald 116).

A healthy church is shaped by Christian doctrine in every subsystem of its relationships. This paper identifies four subsystems within the church.

Supra is a pre-fix meaning above or over. The supra-macro dimension of church health focuses on matters above and over every church--namely apostolic doctrine.

Macro means something very large in span. The macro dimension of church health involves Christian relationships of holy love within every area and for the entire length of our life span.

 Micro means something very small in scope. The micro dimension of church health is limited in its scope with its primary focus upon pastor and church leadership relationships.

Intra-psychic has to do with matters within the self. The intra-psychic dimension of church health looks into the well being of pastor, church leaders, and church members as whole persons.

A Doscetic view of Christ arose in the early church through the influence of a Greek philosophy called Gnosticism. Since this philosophy believed matter is evil, some came to deny the humanity of Christ. George Hunter states that "as the old Docetism claimed that Jesus’ body was not a real human body, docetic ecclesiology maintains that the Church, as the Body of Christ, is not a real organization, though it appears to be" (The Principles 6). Thus, leaders with such an ecclesiology will avoid learning or using what we know about organizaitons.

A Nestorian view divides the nature of Christ. Nestorius claimed that in Christ a divine and a human Person acted as one, but did not join to compose the unity of a single individual. He and his followers tended to overemphasize the humanity of Jesus born of Mary, but they refused to call him the Son of God. From this heretical doctrine of Christ, people overemphasize the church as a human organization and run it soley as a business.

The Nicene Creed sought to clarify the biblical view of Jesus Christ as fully human and fully divine. This understanding of Christ leads Hunter to claim that ". . . the Body of Christ is a real human organization—reflecting many of the same principles, we find in other organizations" (The Principles 6). Leaders who operate from this doctrine of the church ". . . will be informed both by what we know about organizaitons and by what we know about churches" (The Principles 6).

 Narrative preaching is a unique but simple form of preaching. Essentially it uses stories to drive home the message. Its relational style calls for preaching conversationally without either notes or pulpit.

This literature review connects the themes that inform the goal of cultivating a whole person response to preaching in developing a healthy church. More specifically, this study considers the mechanistic and organic approaches to defining church health. Favoring the organic approach rooted in Christian doctrine, it then describes a wholesome church. Given the relational component of narrative preaching, an argument is offered for its use as an effective means of declaring doctrinal truth related to the subject at hand.


Current Definitions Critiqued

Peter Wagner’s book, Your Church Can Grow: Seven Signs of a Healthy Church, launched a new direction for the twenty-year old Church Growth Movement. Since 1976, church growth literature started focusing on church health or vitality. While he defines church growth, he never offers readers a compact definition of church health. Each of his seven chapters concerning the signs of church health focuses on their contribution to growth.

He contends that a growing church will demonstrate much vitality in most of the following seven signs of a healthy church:

    1. A pastor who is a possibility thinker and whose dynamic leadership has been used to catalyze the entire church into action for growth.
    2. A well-mobilized laity which has discovered, has developed, and is using all the spiritual gifts for growth.
    3. A church big enough to provide the range of services that meet the needs and expectations of its members.
    4. The proper balance of the dynamic relationship between celebration, congregation and call.
    5. A membership drawn primarily from one homogeneous unit.
    6. Evangelistic methods that have proved to make disciples.
    7. Priorities arranged in biblical order (67-68).

His one sentence description of the pastor’s leadership role could lead to a focus upon personality and task orientation alone. However, his chapter on this first sign speaks more of earning the authority to lead through building loving relationships with the people. From the foundation of mutual love and trust between pastor and people arises the second sign of a healthy church. The laity are liberated to discover, develop and use their gifts for ministry.

If the first two signs are in place, the next five could naturally develop from that foundation. The seventh sign of having their priorities ordered biblically could influence such healthy development. The biblical ordering of a congregation’s life means majoring on bringing people to God more than on increasing attendance of programs. Healthy churches do this because their members have become new creatures through trust in Jesus and daily live for God. They also do this out of their commitment to the body of Christ and to Christ’s work in the world (Wagner 180-182).

Other works explored the contribution of worship, small groups, lay ministry and pastoral leadership to church health (The Twelve; Creative). These books either ignored or assumed a church’s passionate spirituality and unity in Christian love. They also failed to address the place of Christian doctrine in shaping a congregation.

Like Wagner, these authors view a church as a machine. From their mechanistic view arises a rational analysis and solutions to make a church function more effectively. As James Hopewell points out in his book, Congregation Stories and Structures, "Mechanistic images power most of Wagner’s points: dynamics, catalysis, mobilization, size, range, balance, unit, priority and order" (25). For Wagner, Lyle Schaller and others, "the primary need of churches today is the rationalization of congregational process and the animation of social will to achieve results" (Hopewell 26).

Contrary to the dominant mechanistic approach, Win Arn, wrote Who Cares About Love? The results of his research noted a strong relationship between Christian love and church growth. His book presents these findings and offer useful steps for helping churches to grow more loving. His work developed a tool for measuring how loving a congregation or even a whole denomination is perceived to be.

The approach of Arn and others to a church is organic not mechanistic. Such a view recognizes the variety of people composing congregations like a complex, maturing organism. An organic approach to a church usually has three characteristics. First, the whole of a church is greater than the sum of its unique parts. Second, a church is a dynamic, self-modifying organism due to the interaction and adjustments between its subsystems. Third, a church’s subsystems share its systemic purpose and are responsible to each other for the church’s wholeness (Hopewell 26-28).


Biblical Precedents

Paul’s description of the church as the "body of Christ" (Rom. 12:4-8; I Cor. 12:12-30; Eph. 4:1-16) paints a word picture of the congregation as a living, dynamic, organic system. These scripture passages describe the church’s unity amidst great diversity (I Cor. 12:12). Such diverse unity includes a recognition of distinctive individual members gifts, function and service (Rom. 12:4, 6-8; I Cor. 12:27-30; Eph. 4:7-12). It highlights the connectedness with one another (Rom. 12:5; I Cor. 12:14-27). It cuts across racial and economic boundaries (I Cor. 12:13; Eph. 3:6). It calls for harmonious concern and love between one another ( Rom. 12:9-13; I Cor. 12:25; 13:1-8a; Eph. 4:2,3). It entails a dynamic process of maturity from "the unity of the Spirit" to "the unity in the faith" (Eph. 4:3, 13-16). Each subsystem within the body of Christ shares Christ’s call to make disciples by being his witnesses (Matthew 28:19, 20; Acts 1:8). Therefore, healthy church unity is purposeful as seen in Jesus prayer in John 17:15-23. Such Christian teaching points to the important role of doctrine in improving church health.

 Systems Theory

Biblical literature provides the primary organic lens for viewing the health of the body of Christ. The systems theory furnishes another organic lens for conceptualizing the dynamics of congregational health.

Although the apostle Paul did not know this theory, the image of the church as "the body of Christ" forms the foundation model for a systemic approach to church health. As a spiritual system made up of Christ’s disciples, it consists of several dimensions. For the purposes of this paper, they may be thought of as analogous to the four anatomical dimensions of the body. By anatomical is meant working from the outer to the inner dimensions of the body. These dimensions are the Supra-Macro dimension, the Macro dimension, the Micro dimension, and the Intra-psychic dimension.

One major process governing the elements of the system theory involves each part functioning according to its position in the whole system. Each dimension is systemically linked. Thus, a positive or negative change in one will influence the overall health of the church system. For example, if a pastor fails to declare sound teaching or an individual church member refuses it to some degree, the body of Christ will lack soundness to that degree. The lack of soundness will show itself either in unloving relationships, lack of harmonious teamwork, underdeveloped ministries or deficient individual wholeness. Such hindrances to the wholeness of the body of Christ and its healthy fulfillment of its mission require a healing process that seeks to treat the system as a whole.

The Supra-Macro dimension involves the outer global level of a church system. It involves the doctrinal teaching of the church. Without sound doctrine, there can be no soundness in the body of Christ. Like human skin, apostolic teaching covers the entire body and forms the relationship of the corporate body with Jesus Christ as her head.

The Macro dimension is the inner level of a church system. It involves proper relationships between members of the body of Christ. Like the connection of the connection of the vascular system to the skin, musculo-skeletal system and internal organs, Christian instruction shapes how people are to behave in God’s church.

The Micro dimension is a very small but important part of the inner level of a church system. It involves proper relationships between the pastor and the leaders with each fulfilling their biblical roles. Like the interaction of the human central nervous system to the skin, musculo-skeletal system and internal organs, apostolic doctrine guides the relationships of those in called to roles of spiritual authority.

The Intra-psychic dimension is the smallest part of the inner level of a church system. Church health not only involves the corporate life of the church, but also the individual members of the body of Christ. Here it involves the individual wholeness of each member. Like the circulatory system, Christian doctrine touches the minute makeup of both the Macro- and Micro-dimensions.

Defining church health organically also involves the complex biblical make up of people who are members of the body of Christ. People are rational beings with the capacity to reason. People are emotional beings with the capacity to feel. People are volitional beings with the capacity to choose behaviors and attitudes. People are social beings with the capacity for relationships. People are spiritual beings with the capacity to know God through Jesus Christ. As Paul’s epistles address people in this holistic manner, so will this project’s church health sermons. The research instruments will test for the holistic response of each person hearing these sermons.

(1) Their knowledge of Christian teaching.
(2) Their spirituality.
(3) Their attitudes.
(4) Their behavior.
(5) Their social relationships of church, citizenship, work, family and marriage.
The soundness of individual members is crucial to the sound health of the whole church body. This research project seeks to measure the cognitive, spiritual, affective, behavioral, and relational changes in each person hearing the sermon series on church health.

Church Health Described 

We see this paper’s thesis portrayed through the following: the church as the body of Christ, Patristics, Theology, Pastoral Theology and Leadership, and Church Growth literature.

 The Church as the Body of Christ

The New Testament views a healthy church in terms of differentiation or separation, harmonious community, equipping, and the use of spiritual gifts. At the heart of this focus abides the basic gospel of salvation and a biblical worldveiw that takes into account the realities of the spiritual world.

Without the Gospel, churches easily fall into a Christian behaviorism that is inherent in a rational, mechanical approach like that of an engineer. Thus, churches experience burnout and defeat by trying and trusting the latest technique. Apart from spiritual discernment, congregations can hurt themselves like blindfolded warriors who do not know who the real enemy is. This happens whenever biblical teaching about the realities of spiritual resources in Christ and spiritual obstacles outside of Christ are either absent or remain intellectual abstractions instead of personal wisdom.


In order to build and/or restore the healthy unity of the corporate body, the New Testament sets spiritual boundaries for the soul, behavioral boundaries for the body, doctrinal boundaries for the mind, and relational boundaries for the heart. Healthy churches seek to obey Jesus’ call to be in the world but not of it.

Jesus Christ came to deliver men and women from the domain of darkness and transfer them to the Kingdom of God (Colos. 1:13). This liberation involves deliverance from the bondage of sin and death through the gift of God’s grace in Jesus Christ (Eph. 2:8, 9). In the Kingdom of God, believers experience righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom. 14:17).

As recipients of the Gospel, members of a congregation are a people set apart or differentiated from their former existence by God’s grace. To live as children of light in a spiritually dark world, we focus on faith and practice through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit by faith in God’s free grace. Then and only then are congregations empowered for a victorious struggle over evil that calls us to return to our former life outside of Christ.

The struggle of the church to live and minister as a healthy body of Christ is not a human battle, but a supernatural struggle with the enemy of our souls. Revelation portrays the ancient serpent, the Devil, fighting against—but failing to destroy --Christ. Knowing his time is short, the devil aims at bringing unhealthiness into the Church (Rev. 12).

The church at Ephesus became an unhealthy super orthodox, ultra moral, over-functioning church minus their first passionate love for Jesus Christ, each other, and the unchurched. Some scholars believe John wrote one of the letters to the seven churches to the Ephesian church some thirty years after Paul (Rev. 2:1-7). Something had destroyed the first love of this hard working, orthodox, enduring, and moral church. As Jesus said, "Yet I hold this against you: you have forsaken your first love" (Rev. 2:3). George Beasley-Murray views this exhortation as focusing on the decrease of the love of the church for others. As he states in his commentary,

where love for God wanes, love for man diminishes, and where love for man is soared, love for God degenerates into religious formalism. . . The Ephesian believers were not wholly without love. It was their early love which had failed, and the early love must be recovered. (75)

The Apostle John’s letter to the Ephesian Christians in Revelation calls super-orthodox and ultra-moral churches to repent of the breaking the spiritual boundaries of their soul. The unhealthy focus of the Corinthian church on favorite preachers instead of on Jesus Christ demonstrates its spiritual infidelity (I Cor. 1:11-12). Churches that lack spiritual passion as well as legalistic churches that have the form of orthodoxy but deny both its power and its love, also demonstrate spiritual unfaithfulness. Returning to their love, vital faith in Christ, or passionate spirituality is crucial to the systemic health of a church.

Breaking moral boundaries within the church body damages the well being of more than just those directly involved (I Cor. 5; 6:12-20; Eph. 4:17-25; 5:3-20). Ben Witherington states that

certain types of deviant behavior threaten the health, if not the existence of the body of Christ, not just the moral health or well being of the individual Christian. Therefore, Paul’s attempts to direct and regulate the head, mouth, hands, feet, and genitals of the Christians in Corinth arise not simply from concern for personal morality. He also seeks to protect the body of Christ from acts and attitudes that can harm it. (255)

Those who cause divisions in Christ’s Church through immorality or false teaching need removing like cancer cells from the human body (I Cor. 5, and Rom. 16:17-18). As Witherington puts it, "Discipline was one of the key tools for making clear the limits of acceptable behavior and so establishing the community’s moral boundaries and for unifying a community" (160-161). Today’s pluralistic society and church world urges us to ignore the biblical call for discipline and limits for acceptable biblical behaviors. Insofar as the Church ignores this call, it eludes healthy maturity.

Healthy churches mature from the unity in the spirit to doctrinal unity in the faith. Christ’s gracious endowment of ministry gifts is the means to reach this goal. These church members are no longer spiritual infants, tossed back and forth by every deceitful teaching, but are growing up into the head of the Church through the equipping of the ministry gifts (Eph. 4:14-16.) Thus, this verse defines the unity of the faith (Eph. 4:13). Such unity involves something more than a spiritual bond of peace. It will outline some doctrinal boundaries to live and function within. These boundaries serve to guide the Church in spiritual, moral, behavioral, relational and numerical growth.

George Buttrick, F. F. Bruce and James A. Moyter, Donald Guthrie, and A. F. Harper concluded that sharing a common faith in Christ is more than sharing a common body of belief. For one author "the unity of the faith" in Eph. means a deeper knowledge of Christ himself as the embodiment of God’s treasure and the supplier of the Church’s needs as its head (Guthrie 1116). However, to interpret it so personally is troublesome for then neither Orthodoxy nor a common theological confession is important as some propose (Buttrick 692). Such a brand of personalism opens a spiritual Pandora’s box of Christian subjectivity which says "My Christian faith is as valid as yours." Today, many churches find themselves struggling with this critical biblically based doctrinal aspect of church health.


Harmonious Community

In Eph., Paul desires Christians to know their high calling in Christ. The primary theme of knowing their high calling involves the formation of the new community of God’s people—the Church (Eph. 1:22, 23). In Christ, the Church unites people separated from God and one another (Eph. 2:19-22; 3:6). Paul calls this new community in Christ to "live a life worthy of the calling you have received" (Eph. 4:1).

In light of Christ being head of the Church, Paul calls the Christians at Ephesus to "keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace" (Eph. 4:3). While the bond of peace is a gift of the Holy Spirit, Christians maintain it responsibly through being "completely humble and gentle; . . . patient, bearing with one another in love" (Eph. 4:2). Any discussion of church health is deficient if it falls short of discussing the means of inner harmony within the congregation.

Paul repeats a similar exhortation to the Colos. in chapter 3:13. He concludes by calling love the virtue which binds everything together in perfect unity (Colos. 3:14). The exhortations in both Eph. and Colos. seek to apply love, as the perfect bond of unity, to every major area of a Christian’s life and witness. Paul wrote his definition of love in I Cor. 13 over against the lack of love at Corinth. Neither Ephesus nor Corinth served as examples of maintaining the unity of the Spirit in the bond of love. Both serve as examples of unhealthy churches.

Continuing the theme of maintaining the unity of the Spirit and maturing into the unity of the faith, Eph. 4:17-6:9 exhorts the Church to be the body of Christ in daily living. Paul, in Eph. 4:17-5:21, calls them to lay aside the old and live the new. In his book, Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God, Gordon Fee states,

Furthermore, all the sins listed in 4:25-31 are sins of discord. By giving in to sin, they grieve the Holy Spirit (v. 30), who has formed them into a body and whose continuing presence is intended to bring the body to full maturity. Hence they need to "keep being filled with the Spirit" (5:18), to ensure proper worship (vv.19-20) and proper relationships (5:21-6:9). (69-70)

Paul desired these Christians to demonstrate the cognitive effect of his call to live worthy in their social behavior in the earthy relationships of marriage, family, and work.

Paul alludes to various examples of poor health in churches. Allowing the sun to go down on one’s anger in Eph. 4:26-27 and not forgiving a repentant brother in II Cor. 2:10-11 are two of many examples. In each case, Paul states that failure to deal with these issues gives the devil a way to defeat the Church.

Tendencies toward harmonious community involve loving relationships within the church seen in (1) lack of jealousy and quarreling, (2) lack of law suits between church members, (3) wise exercise of spiritual freedom, (4) unselfish celebration of communion, (5) not viewing various spiritual gifts as signs of spiritual maturity and superiority, (6) appreciation for the role of each member of the body with his or her own gifts and graces, (7) orderly worship, and (8) good marriage, family, and work relationships (I Cor. 3:3; 6:1-12; 8; 10:14-11:1, 17-34; 12-14; Eph. 5:22-6:9). Such a healthy church remembers Jesus’ words that people will know we are his disciples by our love (John 13:35).

Paul also rebukes the lack of love seen in tolerating sexual immorality among church members (I Cor. 5). Healthy churches remember that Christian love does not contradict the holiness of Jesus Christ, which he calls his body to in every arena of life as outlined in the epistles. As Witherington points out in his commentary on Corinthians.,

Then love is said to be not the very things that Paul has already said that the Cor. are: jealous (3:3), self-promoting, puffed up (4:6), shameful (5:2; 11:4), each one a seeker of their own advantage (chs. 8-10), easily provoked, and reckoners of wrongdoing (ch. 6). (265)

Paul’s concern for loving harmony extended to everyone in the church at Ephesus. He writes them various "instructions so that…you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth" (I Tim. 3:14-15).

Harmonious community also falls apart through unhealthy pastor-church leadership relationships (I Cor. 4; 9; II Cor. 6:12,13; 10-11).

Unhealthy churches refuse the equipping ministry of their pastors neither maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace nor attain the unity of the faith (Eph. 4). The same will be true of pastors who refuse to fulfill the biblical call to equip. However, from intimate loving relationships the pastor seeks to equip while the people receive and minister. The Apostle Peter speaks to loving pastoral oversight in I Peter 5:1-3. The writer of Hebrews speaks of parishioners’ wholesome relationship with their pastoral leaders in Hebrews 13:17. First Tim. 5:17-19 speaks a word for us today as well.

The selection and development of healthy leaders and leadership teams contribute to the harmony of the congregation. Paul wrote Timothy concerning the healthy selection and discipling of leaders in I Tim. 3 and II Tim. 2:1-2. Paul included various admonitions about Timothy's own well being (I Tim. 4:12-16; 6:11-16, 20; and II Tim. 2:3-7, 22-26; 3:14-15; 4:2, 5).


Equipping the Saints

In the related epistles to Timothy, Paul expresses much concern for the spiritual life and doctrine of the pastor of the Ephesian church and other leaders. At the same time Paul reminds Timothy of his purpose in Ephesus to stop false teaching (I Tim. 1:5), he demonstrates concern for his own well being. Paul encourages Timothy to "fight the good fight, holding on to faith and a good conscience . . . " (I Tim. 1:18-19). This is Paul’s way of saying it takes healthy pastors to equip healthy churches.

The ascended Christ differentiates his body, the Church, by giving everyone a spiritual gift, while giving only a select group responsibility as equipping ministers. The Church can only "preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Eph. 4:3) as it receives the equipping ministry of those given by Christ to the Church. In addition, a church can only be equipped to attain the unity of the faith and preserve the unity of the Spirit by divinely given instruments.

Pastors often hear Eph. 4:7-13 as a call to equip the Church to become soldiers of Christ in terms of numerical growth. A study of this passage illuminated the healing dimension of pastors’ equipping ministry. Interest in this passage arose from a budding focus on pastors as those who equip the growth of a local church.

The key word in Eph. 4:12 related to church health is katartismon equipping. As William Barclay states in his commentary,

This word’s military usage speaks of fully furnishing an army. Its civic usage speaks of pacifying a city, which is torn by factions. Its medical usage speaks of setting a broken bone or putting a joint back into place. The basic idea of the word is that of putting a thing into the condition in which it ought to be. (149)

American individualism and self-sufficiency may want to avoid this truth, but only to the production of dis-unified, inadequately equipped, and immature church bodies—lacking the fullness of Christ.


Spiritual Gifts

Spiritual gifts contribute to the biblical foundation model for a systemic approach to church health. While both Eph. 4 and I Cor. 12 concentrate on the unity of the body of Christ, both of these chapters also give attention to diverse ministry gifts (Eph. 4:11-12 and I Cor. 12:27-28). These various gifts of the Spirit (I Cor. 12:4-26) maintain and demonstrate the Church’s unity within diversity. In I Cor. 12, Paul uses the body analogy "to affirm the variety of the gifts and the oneness of the body, neither at the expense of the other, and to defend the weak and redirect the misbehavior of the ‘more presentable ones’" (Witherington 258).

Within the oneness of the body of Christ, self-differentiated members of the body have their own individual identity and function. Each individual part of the body is important and uniquely called for a distinctive ministry of grace. Yet apart from their grace-bound connection with the body and its head, they have no significance at all. Any part of the body is not the whole body or the whole Church. One part of the body or member of the Church cannot say to another, "I do not need you," or "You do not belong" (I Cor. 12:21).


Patristic Precedents

Patristic literature can also inform a systemic preaching approach to church health. Repeatedly, several noteworthy and influential Church fathers quote Scripture—specifically the Pauline epistles. Their illustrate and expand upon biblical principals of church health (J. B. Lightfoot; Chrysostom; Ignatius). First, churches can become unhealthy after regaining their health if they stray from living by the principles which support and define the Body of Christ. Second, church health involves an ongoing battle to mature inwardly. Third, the unity of the Spirit is broken when unloving attitudes and actions destroy the bond of peace in the Spirit. Fourth, previously healthy churches which have become unhealthy can regain health by means of God’s Spirit working through the Word of God.


Theological Precedents

Proclaiming biblical principles of church health leads into basic Christian doctrine. The theology of John Wesley calls for building up the health of a church through living the faith, proclaiming the pure Word of God, and administering the sacraments. Wesley believed that three things were essential to a living church:

First: Living faith; without which, indeed, there can be no Church at all, neither visible nor invisible.
Secondly: Preaching, and consequently hearing the pure word of God, else that faith would languish and die. And,
thirdly, a due administration of the sacraments,--the ordinary means whereby God increaseth faith. (Works, Vol. 8, 38)

One can deduce from Wesley’s view that the Church lives by the pure proclamation of the Bible. John Albert Bengal, Wesley’s contemporary, wrote,

Scripture is the foundation of the Church: the Church is the guardian of Scripture. When the Church is in strong health, the light of the Scripture shines bright; when the Church is sick, Scripture is corroded by neglect; and thus it happens, that the outward form of Scripture and that of the Church, usually seem to exhibit simultaneously either health or else sickness; and as a rule the way in which Scripture is being treated is in exact correspondence with the condition of the Church. (Kaiser,Wlater 7)

Two of Wesleys’s sermons address issues related to the thesis of this paper. Wesley’s sermon on Eph. 6:12 outlines the devil's attacks upon our healthy love of God and each other as Christians (Works Vol. 5, 418). In his sermon on "The Mystery of Iniquity", he notes several plagues, which infected the Christian Church; namely, the love of money, the sin or partiality and other diseases (Works Vol. 5; 288:12, 289:14,15).

A contemporary Methodist theologian, William Abraham, highlights the need for founding healthy church unity on the sound deposit of apostolic faith. (23) He believes that "without the healing effects of the deep truths of the Christian faith, any renewal will be superficial and short-lived" (Abraham 29).

For pastors to preach and teach as those who stand under the apostolic doctrines of the primitive church is crucial to building healthy churches. Such proclamation of basic Christian doctrine reminds congregations that we all stand under the authority of Scripture.

Proclaiming the Gospel of God’s free grace forms the basis for experiencing individual and corporate wholeness through faith in Jesus Christ. Such a new life is empowered by the Holy Spirit and lived out within the boundaries of basic Christian doctrine gained from the plain teaching of the Bible. As a body of believers we live not in our own strength, but by the empowering of the Holy Spirit. As Gordon Fee points out,

If the church is going to be effective in our postmodern world, we need to stop paying mere lip service to the Spirit and to recapture Paul’s perspective: the Spirit as the experienced, empowering return of God’s own personal presence in and among us, who enables us to live as a radically eschatological people in the present world while we await the consummation. All the rest, including the fruit and gifts . . . serve to that end. (xv)

The body of Christ is not only justification-based, but also sanctification-directed. Wesley’s view of sanctification undergirded his whole theology of pastoral care (Coppedge). The whole early Methodist mission sought to first bring people to faith in Christ and then to Christ-like character. The 1981 catalog of Asbury Theological Seminary highlighted the importance of the doctrine and experience of entire sanctification which it ". . . believes is essential to a dynamic and successful Christian ministry (11, 21).

If a pastor’s maturity in God’s sanctifying grace influences the health of a congregation where he or she pastors, the same will be true for each leader and member of that congregation as well. Thus, pastors proclaim repentance and offer God’s forgiveness for ways in which the church has fallen into sin and disease as well call it to wholeness in Christ.

How pastor, church leaders, and members view the doctrine of salvation also influences their approach to church health. A biblical synergistic understanding of salvation leads the church’s pastor, leaders, and members to trust God in following biblical principles of church health. In this view, the pastor leads as a spiritual guide and not as a CEO.

A Monergistic view of salvation would lead to a passive waiting for God to make the Church healthy by a sovereign act of grace alone. In this view, the pastor leads only by praying, trusting, and waiting.

A Semi-Pelagian view of salvation would lead a church to pray as if church health all depended on God and then work as if it all depended on them. In this view, the pastor leads by trying to do too much.

A Pelagian view of salvation would lead a church to choose and execute some pre-packaged church health program without any prayer or biblical/theological discernment. In this view, the pastor leads as the unspiritual CEO who tries to control everything.

Church health is not only shaped by a theology of salvation but also by a theology of the incarnation. A fully Doscetic view of Christ would say that a church can become healthier only if its pastors and others teach the appropriate biblical, patristic, theological, and church health principles. A Nestorian view would see the principles of pastoral leadership and systems theory without any biblical or theological shaping as the key for church health. In other words, a-theological church health approaches the church with the same mechanical approach as a-theological church growth. A Nicene approach would be to recognize the unity of the divine side and the human side of the church based upon God’s grace, motivated by Christian love and empowered by the Holy Spirit.


Pastoral Theology and Leadership Precedents

A pastor can serve as a healthy change agent through grace-empowered vision casting through preaching. Sermons about biblical precedents in a narrative form are a means of applying them to the church’s leaders and staff, as well as its group life. For these sermons to have the greatest opportunity to impact the church, we first consider the issue of the wholeness of both pastor and people.


Whole Persons

Working on developing the health of a church rotates on the axis of personal wholeness. Since it definitely influences people’s leadership styles, this calls for pastors, leaders and church members to grow first in their own personal well being.

Healthy pastors can gain much by asking themselves what needs to change in them first before the churches they serve can become healthier. Healthy pastors honestly facing their dark sides. This includes their "personal issues that may plague them in their exercise of leadership" (Gary McIntosh and Sammuel Rima 9). Healthy pastors have very high pastoral integrity (Peterson, Eugene). Healthy pastors strive for healthy marriages which is a priceless asset to one’s pastoral ministry (Hayford, Jack 108; Walmsley,Roberta and Adair Lummis). Healthy pastors answer yes to David Hansen’s, "Do I really love the church I serve?" (33).

An inner attitude of ambivalence will hinder an unhealthy pastor’s leadership of a church. Regardless of the source of such an inability to give oneself in love, be it selfishness or inner pain, such ambivalence will preclude bonding with their congregation. Such a sin of the spirit also weakens their bond with one’s family and increases the likelihood of falling into some sin of the flesh.

Hansen comments about pastor-church bonding that brings a new perspective to the relationship.

We don’t like to have to bond. I wonder if when in our frustration we say we dislike our congregation, what we are really saying is that we dislike the bond we have with them, or more particularly, the covenant bond God has called us to. When we think we are grumbling about our church, maybe we are grumbling against God

When a church and a pastor do not bond, the church cannot grow—in numbers, in commitment to one another and to God, to mission, to worship, and to a deeper spirituality. (61)

On the other hand, Jesus does not call pastors to bond with killer churches that have a long history of lifting their hand against God’s anointed and also despise the lordship of Christ (Hansen 112-123).

Part of a pastor’s wholeness also includes their values and leadership styles. Thus, they ask themselves questions, such as:

    1. What drives me?
    2. Why do I want to please God?
    3. Do I want to please God or do I want God to please me by doing it my way?
    4. Am I a leader who operates out of a theology of the fall?
    5. Am I a leader who operates out of a theology of creation?
    6. Do I find my identity primarily in what I do as a pastor or in who I am in Christ?
    7. Is my daily walk with Christ based on grace or works?

Being clear and biblical about what drives pastors and sets their values places them in a better position to lead churches toward better health. This happens when we find our own sense of identity, significance, and security in who we are in Christ and not in what we do as pastors (Anderson and Mylander 49-53; Anderson, Neil).

Pastors growing healthier as persons, as spouses (if married), as parents (if they have children), and as citizens in the community also contributes to their churches health. Their first priority means maturing in their intimacy with Jesus Christ through a growing devotional life.

Part of a growing spiritual life also includes faithful exercise and intellectual development. This helps keeps pastors focused on the Lord of the Church instead of on problems or popularity. Following this, their second priority includes growing more intimate with their families and close friends (Hayford 108).

Having one Pauline-type friend who challenges the growth of pastors and several Barnabus-type relationships with people who need encouragement and mentoring forms a healthy dynamic. Pastors dare not neglect their humanness as persons for their lasting effectiveness "will only be proportionate to [their] effectiveness in learning to live" (Hayford 27).

After this priority follows the unique call within the call that God gives each pastor. A fourth priority involves being a spiritual friend not only in terms of one’s corporate pastoral leadership, but also in individual discipling of church leadership toward maturity in Christ.

Pastors with an overly extensive and exhausting schedule can win over the tyranny of the urgent by setting boundaries on their use of time. Along with at least one day off a week, pastors may find it beneficial to go on a monthly twenty-four hour retreat. Pastors and others having difficulties with boundaries may find the insights of the Family Systems theory helpful in growing more whole psychologically and interpersonally.

A former student of Bowen, Edwin Friedman, pioneered the application of the family systems theory to broader ecclesiastic "families" such as a synagogues and churches. He believed that all clergy work within three interacting emotional systems of the families within the church, the church as a family, and their own (Friedman 195).

Given the similarity of each system, any unresolved problems in one can produce symptoms in the others. Grasping this concept can contribute to a less stressful approach to pastoral leadership. The key to leadership, Friedman indicated,

"is not knowledge of technique or even of pathology, but rather, the capacity of the family leader to define their own goals and values while trying to maintain a non-anxious presence within the system" (Friedman 3).

With an understanding of the application of the family systems theory to the church, pastors can better "recognize how they may be unwittingly ‘snookered’ into unresolved problems in their parishioners’ personal families, or between factions in the congregational family itself, or into issues that could have been passed down in that emotional system for generations" (Friedman 196).

From this point of view, a pastor’s self-differentiation contributes more to church health than expertise or empathy (Friedman 3). This idea comes from the belief in the organic relationship between leading a family system to wholeness and the leaders’ ability to get themselves together (Friedman 221-222). Unfortunately, during times of anxiety, pastors will often find this difficult to accomplish because family systems work against the goal of differentiation. One thing for sure, the more dependent leaders and church members will put forth much effort to triangulate the pastor away from differentiation.

Unfortunately, anxious church systems tend toward diagnosing individual people instead of relationship processes. Friedman’s application of the family systems theory calls for a pastor and church leaders to cease approaching church health from a perspective of diagnosing pathologies. Rather than approach a church family system in terms of pathologies, pastors and church leaders can take a different approach. As Friedman states,

Ultimately, healing and survival depend upon existential categories; on vision, on hope, on the imaginative capacity, on the ability to transcend the anxiety of those about us, and on response to challenge that treats crisis as opportunity for growth (all attributes of, or best promoted by, leadership). (5)

What a better way to transcend congregational anxiety than by proclaiming a vision of becoming the healthy church they can become by God’s grace in Jesus Christ.

Sometimes pastors find themselves in the place of the identified dysfunctional patient whenever a church concentrates on his or her pastoral performance. If pastors accept such displacement by addressing the content of the charges, they not only become the patient, but also keep the church leadership and/or congregation from facing something in their own personal lives (Friedman 208). Burnout is another way that a church’s stress or pathology surfaces in pastors as the identified patient. Add to this the dynamic of over functioning pastors, church leaders or staff persons. The resulting emotional triangle produced burnout displayed "in whatever ways they are prone to dysfunction" (Friedman 218-219).

From a family systems view, frequently the criticism of a pastor’s functioning, a theological matter, administrative problems, or a budget crisis function as the issue. Oftentimes, these are not the real issues.

Whenever these arise with great intensity or go unresolved despite all efforts, these are not the real issues. In these cases, the homeostatic concept is the real issue. In the midst of such unbalanced times, a pastor’s best questions of the church are "Why now?" and "What has gone out of balance?. . . " (Friedman 203). In such times a pastor will never attain lasting harmony in a congregation by focusing on the various content issues directed at them or upon some other focus.

Pastors can defocus congregational henpecking by maintaining a non-anxious presence. Such a presence means for pastors to develop the capacity "to contain their own anxiety regarding congregational matters, both those not related to them, as well as those where they become the identified focus. . . " (Friedman 208). Otherwise, pastors multiply the emotional imbalance of a church by over-functioning. Pastors who finds themselves tempted to play church hero might consider addressing their personal and pastoral feelings of helplessness (Long, Phillip 3).

While a non-anxious presence primarily means controlling one’s own anxiety, it also means "staying in meaningful contact with other key players in the situation" (Richardson 51). By offering calm, connected pastoral leadership, the pastor helps reduce a church’s anxiety while maintaining a sense of direction.

Pastors seeking to reflect a non-anxious presence work on differentiating themselves from the church. This essential family systems concept comes "by becoming more fully yourself, and managing yourself (not others), within the context of your congregation" (Richardson 172). Such healthy and healing pastoral leadership encompasses far more than staying in the office and just praying about things. Along with staying in touch with people, it does mean providing leadership in prayer with the whole church or with the anxious part of the church. It also means avoiding the pitfalls of cult-like dependency and congregational polarization.

Pastors, church leaders, or members who live at the lowest level of differentiation cannot discern between their feelings and their thoughts, beliefs, and convictions (Bowen, Murray 423). Such a person avoids making separate "I" statements. Instead, they state their beliefs as feelings in order to maintain togetherness in relationships. Because of such emotional/intellectual fusion, a "pseudo self" emerges particularly during trying times due to various relationship forces (Bowen 423).

The non-differentiated person’s "pseudo self" leads toward the practice of a faulty style called the "double bind." Any church dimension full of such persons who are "constantly exposed to this kind of communication eventually finds it hard to say what they mean, understand what others mean, and distinguish real from simulated feelings" (Long 4). One sure sign of a non-differentiated pastor shows itself in any church system situation calling for a response from them. However, they either do not speak or only speak with a defensive reaction.

Pastors, church leaders, or church members maturing toward the higher levels of differentiation face unresolved issues in their extended family and/or family of origin (Friedman 31). A sure sign of needing to work on this reveals itself in "the need to have one’s sense of self bolstered by a position of authority, or to get respect from others because one’s authority represents unfinished business from the person’s past" (Richardson 93). Many a pastor’s, church leader’s, and church member’s healthy relationship with a church arises most powerfully from their family of origin. All efforts to resolve these issues contribute significantly to all other relationships (Richardson 29).

Peter Steinke was a post-graduate student of Friedman. The latter studied with Murray Bowen. Each of Stienke’s books considers the necessity for church members and pastors to develop the capacity to differentiate. This frees pastor and people to care for others and be responsible to them without being responsible for everything that is done in the church. In addition, healthy, differentiated pastors lead in a manner that maintains contact with the anxiety level of the church system without enhancing it by absorption.

Pastor, church leader, and members also need to get a handle on emotional triangles within a church. A triangle occurs whenever one person or a church indirectly handles stress with another by going to a third party. The first party does so as a way of seeking to restore balance in their relationship with a second party. By dealing with issues through indirect manipulation, a third party is caught in the middle (Friedman, 35-36; Richardson, 114-115). In the end, the level of anxiety with a church system erupts.

The typical triangles in church systems include,

    1. The pastor/the choir director/the organist
    2. A church school teacher/a pupil/the pupil’s parents
    3. A board chairperson/the pastor/the rest of the board
    4. A church congregation/the pastor/the denomination
    5. A church secretary/the pastor/an associate pastor
    6. The pastor/the pastor’s spouse/one or more church members
    7. Two board members and a hot topic or issue
    8. The budget/the pro-missions group/the pro-local church group
    9. The budget/the stewardship committee/the church members
    10. The pastor/the building committee/the church building (Richardson 120).
    11. The clergy’s family, the congregational family, and any family within the
    12. congregation (Friedman 36).

These emotional triangles present another opportunity for healthy leadership from pastor, church officer, or staff person. Such differentiated leadership stays emotionally in touch with everyone involved without participating through taking sides or assuming someone else’s responsibility.

This means living on a higher level of differentiation where he or she thinks before acting despite personal feelings. In fact, a person’s feelings of confusion often present a healthy leader the best evidence of a hidden triangle at work. Another warning signal of an emerging emotional triangle involves someone sharing unnecessary negative information with a pastor or church leader (Richardson 119).

A working knowledge of how triangles function and a healthy level of differentiation empower pastors or church leaders to reposition themselves in triangulated relationships. Breaking the triangular relationships calls for something other than defending the second party by arguing, agreeing with the first party by advising, or being supportive of the first party by only listening. It calls for pastors or church leader to stimulate the first party’s own thinking by asking "questions about [the first party’s] own thinking, feeling, wishes and behavior with [the second party]" (Richardson 122). By doing this, pastors or church leaders improve their own relationship with the first party. In response, they may start taking more responsibility for themselves and their relationship with the second party instead of playing the victim. In addition, by both modeling and teaching these principles to the congregation, many additional relationships within a church can grow.

Any pastor who seeks by God’s grace to equip the health of a church is called to love the local church as a family system and not just as individuals (Hansen 19). Such love should receive guidance by the internal boundaries of a clear theology of pastoral ministry.

Those lacking such boundaries live out the expectations of others. Rather than being proactive they become reactive. In addition, neurotic pastors tend to blame themselves and think that if they are good persons everything will improve. Some people call this the battered pastor syndrome.

Maturing toward church health involves a transformation from dependent attitudes which cripple churches toward a new set that empower both pastors and people for ministry. The many unhealthy dependency attitudes in both pastors and church leaders with disastrous results. As Greg Ogden points out,

the church in general remains stunted, with only a small percentage of God’s people having grown up with a view of themselves as authentic ministers. (94)

A far healthier model views the pastor, not as the caretaker of those who can’t fend for themselves, but as the equipper who encourages and provides a context to train all God’s people for ministry. (95)

The struggle for spiritual maturity in the church is fought in the minds of the congregation’s pastor, leadership and members. They will struggle spiritually to tear down strongholds such as (1) The Ubiquitous Pastor, (2) The Resident Expert, (3) The Inspirational Bandage, (4) The Church as Possession, and (5) The Professional Minister (Ogden 92-94).

As both pastor and people gain spiritual maturity in both their attitudes and relationships, much fruit will blossom. Many people will notice how wholesome the sense of community is within the church. Local church leaders will perceive themselves be a team. Even the church staff will discover a new sense of harmony in ministry.



From the early days of the industrial revolution and mass production in America, the focus was on autocratic leadership. Today’s more recent trends lean toward a total quality management-team approach. This focus makes for healthier relationships in business.

Too often, disease enters a church through a small but highly visible part of the staff. In addition to the pastor, a congregation’s most commonly employed and most important staff persons are their choir director and musicians (Liesch 109).

Given the rise of a team approach to worship and preaching within the emerging culture, the healthy spiritual development of the entire worship/preacher team is crucial. With the current emphasis on spirituality and given the increase of broken people in society today, postmodern people hunger for authentic spirituality in those who preach, play music, or lead worship.

For the sake of wholesome pastor/worship leadership relationships, healthy worship, and holistic preaching, pastor and worship leaders might examine their own inner drives. Their high visibility makes them vulnerable to all sorts of cancerous temptations. Either one of them performing only for personal gain is about as valuable to the team and to the church as a cancer cell is to a human body. Such diseases also enter the body of Christ whenever one of them falls prey to a spiritual cancers such as winning or losing acceptance in the applause syndrome, one upmanship or seeking to manipulate God through magical presumption.


Church Officers

Part of the pastor’s role is to nourish the seeds of church health through loving one on one personal discipleship of the whole parish leadership team. Such discipleship includes the following related steps:

    1. identifying where people are in their Christian discipleship,
    2. seeking to nurture them forward in Christ,
    3. observing their view of being a church,
    4. seeking to develop them in a biblical understanding of being a church,
    5. leading leaders in discovering their spiritual gifts,

Pastoral spiritual guidance also includes sharing their faith in Jesus Christ, core values, philosophy of ministry and expectations.

Along working on pastor-staff relationship, equipping churches also involves the process for nominating and developing church officers. In recruiting new officers, pastors and nominating committees can take some closely related actions. They will look for a healthy mixture of leadership qualities: "Character, Influence, Positive Attitude, Excellent People Skills, Evident Gifts, Proven Track Record, Confidence, Self-Discipline, Effective Communication Skills, and Discontent with the Status Quo " (Developing The Leaders 47-60).

Pastors and nominating committees will be concerned about the degree to which potential leaders are "character driven" or "emotion driven" potential leaders are (Developing The Leader 177-178). Such an assessment of a person’s potential leadership qualities and his/her Christian discipleship over a period of months will help people discern someone’s potential as either an asset or a liability to a church. This is crucial to either making or breaking pastors of churches and to churches achieving their purposes. "[The] goal [of pastors] is not to draw a following that results in a crowd. [Their] goal is to develop leaders who can become a movement" (Developing The Leaders 3). To accomplish this pastors will plan to "find the best people [they] can, then develop them into the best leaders they can be" (Developing The Leaders 3). To reach this goal, they will also plan for everyone on the nominating committees to evaluate future nominees more in the light of their Christian discipleship and leadership qualities, so the people nominated will be assets, not liabilities, to the health of each church’s life and ministries.

Furthermore, Ken Callahan encourages churches to place the best leaders in positions focused on ministry. Where a church places its best leaders defines the central values of a congregation. Whenever a church places its best leaders on the finance committee, solid financial resources become the center of values. When the church places its best leaders on the trustees, adequate space and facilities become the center of values. When the best leaders are placed ministry offices, then several competent ministries of Worship & Prayer, Christian Education & Nurture, and Missional & Evangelistic Outreach become the center of values (Effective Church 31-31).

One of the blessing of a healthy leadership team is its help in preventing the church and/or its pastor from being pushed into a mold formed by the hidden agendas and out-of-order lives of some who transfer in or who arise from within ("Dealing with"; 20/20 91). A healthy team is evidenced by:

A clear and confident identity (Shelly, Marshall 92).

      People working together in love (Three 12).

      Unity among the spiritual leaders (Shelly 95).Focus on ministry in church business meetings (Shelly 103).

      A relationship of trust between the pastor and the church’s ruling board or counsel (Shelly 98-99).

      Lay Involvement in Ministry (Cowell 11-12).

      The church’s attitudes toward change (Cowell 11-12).

      A vital prayer life (Cymbala, Jim 27-30).


Group Life

Pastoral leadership literature also calls for transforming an unhealthy church by pastoral coaching toward healthy group development. This runs on two parallel rails. One involves social relationships in how we relate to each other and how we work together as pastor and people. The other rail tracks our tasks and their achievements. A single rail focus derails any progress toward improving the health of a church. This calls for pastors to not focus only on managing "the change process that they do not recognize how critical it is to minister to the spiritual needs that block people from being able to accept change" (Mead, Loren 108).

Part of ministering to people’s spiritual needs involves the pastor asking two questions. The intention of these questions is to help a church emerge from dead mechanicalism and experience new life as a living organism in Christ. First, "What is Christ’s relationship to the Church?" Second, "What is the Church’s relationship to Christ?" (Ogden 35).

A church struggling with the first question comes to see itself as the sacramental people of God who bear the presence of Christ. Through their witness believers, as well as the unchurched, encounter Christ. Thus the Church comes to "grasp the unspeakable truth that Jesus extends his life on earth through the corporate people that can literally be called ‘the body of Christ’" (Ogden 32).

A church that struggles with the second question comes to see itself as reliant upon Jesus as the source of the life of the church. Such a church participates in the source of its life through the public and private worship of God. It also submits itself to the ultimate authority of the Church. "Jesus as head of the church means that he arranges life in the body" (Ogden 35).

From a vision of the congregation’s relationship to Christ a congregation gains a healthy passion to fulfill both the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. Private and public worship are no longer performed as a religious duty, but as an expression of a vital relationship. Even disciple making becomes an opportunity for glad sharing of the Good News. To help churches gain such a vision, pastors can preach biblical sermons to address these two questions.

Addressing people’s spiritual needs also calls for proclaiming that as the church we "see our relationships of interdependence in three ways: 1. We belong to each other; 2. We need each other; and 3. We affect each other" (Ogden 36-43).

Applying these biblical principles involves discipling healthy relationships within the church. Thus, pastor, leaders, and church members focus on being ministers and doing ministry within boundaries. This also calls for preaching on rehabilitation toward healthy relationships and recovery away from the opposite.

Such balanced teamwork also calls for an emphasis on a gifted community instead on the gifted pastor. A healthy community is evidence of healthy leadership relationships and vice-versa.

Thus, the whole body sees itself being in ministry at work, at home, and in society. As Ogden says, ‘The broken world we live in needs a called army to address the enormous pain that is the result of our sin. Only people who know they are ministers can be compassionate tools of God’s healing work" (21). That army will be set free only as the relationship between the pastor and a church’s leadership "become conformed to the biblical description of ministry" (Ogden 85).

When shifting to a healthier model of ministry, pastors might first disciple the leadership in a healthier vision of being and doing church. This involves sharing a vision of a healthy church that thrives on a whole-body ministry and releases pastors from unrealistic expectations. This freedom from the unreasonable expectations of an insatiable congregation allows pastors to pursue the uniqueness of their calling (Ogden 98).

Unfortunately, the lay leadership of many unhealthy churches desires pastors who can do the ministry instead of leading them in the ministry of all Christians. Such a passive church becomes an audience and not a body. Then the audience becomes the critic of the latest pastoral performance. Ogden confronts such an unhealthy attitude by stating "the biblical emphasis is not on the ‘omnicompetent’ pastor, but a ‘multigifted’ body" (75). Unhealthy churches oftentimes also abuse their pastors by "cutting their salary or slicing away at their integrity with gossip . . . " (Hansen 124). One of the great tragedies of our day is the increase of forced pastoral resignations. The high number of such forced pastoral resignations are not surprising when seen in the light of a survey of 1,000 pastors and churches. Only 10 percent of the churches and their pastors said "the purpose of the church is to win the world for Jesus Christ" (Warren 82).

In working toward building trust and a healthy sense of community, healthy pastors practice the essential points found in a study of effective leaders. First, they offer the church general rather than tight supervision. Second, they treat the church’s various ministry and administrative groups like adults with brains who want the church to improve. Third, they spend more time with people on their turf and talk primarily about how their pastor can help or support them. Such modeling behavior builds a healthier community than talking about problems and budgets.

A healthy leader knows how to win people’s trust also through the quality management of people. Like coaches, pastors cannot manage every officer or volunteer in churches the same way. Like teachers, pastors will ask questions about what people are looking for and listen well before sharing their insights. Like good parents of a large family, pastors recognize that the leaders and volunteers of a church are all over the map as far as their individual maturity level is concerned. Pastors will follow suit by seeking to respond accordingly to where each person is and where they are heading.

With all of activities of a local congregation a pastor definitely cannot do it alone. As in all other aspects of leading a church through change, the central issue in delegation is trust. After selecting capable people and training them, pastors and nominating committees give them ample authority for their task. Having done so, pastors will let it go so that they do not demoralize people by taking over what they delegated to others to do. Wise pastors do not hover over people. Doing so makes people feel like pastors do not trust them. Overall, pastors seek to treat people like adults in delegating.


Spiritual Context

Given the brokenness of today’s society, more people bring many unresolved personal and spiritual issues with them into a church. When these folks become officers or staff members, the impact of their baggage is compounded. Such corporate bondage inhibits a church from being a healthy body for a hurting world. Several works address this aspect of the church (Anderson and Mylander; Frangipane, Francis; Moller, Robert; Rediger; VanVonderen; White, Tom).

Pastors can equip a healthier spiritual context in this dimension of the church in two ways. First, they can teach the biblical evidence about the true nature of our struggles and the means to victory. Second, pastors can lead the governing bodies of churches and their staffs to participate in a spiritual freedom workshop.

Anderson and Mylander believe in the importance of church leadership taking its painful memories and corporate sins to God for healing and forgiveness. When the hurts of a church go unhealed or their corporate sins go unconfessed, the devil gets an opportunity in the church. For the sake of objectivity and open discussion, they recommend using an outside facilitator such as a retired pastor, a denominational official, or a capable leader from a nearby church in guiding church leaders through this workshop (181). The workshop often serves to liberate the pastor from being the church’s identified patient.


Abuse Prevention

Another aspect of equipping the congregation to operate in a healthy manner involves abuse prevention. A pastor needs train church leadership in identifying and dealing with antagonists who often become clergy and/or church killers.

VanVonderen writes about "God’s purpose for us, and Satan’s hatred for us—a hatred so strong that he would do anything to bite and devour us. Satan lost his frontal attack—the crucifixion of Jesus. Now he would step up his guerrilla attacks-the infiltration of Christ’s body" (25-26). He goes on to ask, "Is it any wonder that our Adversary, the ‘Wolf’, majors in destroying relationships inside the body of Christ? Is it any wonder he wants to drive people out of the church altogether" (VanVonderen 39). Moeller adds to this in pointing out that as a pastor "I could almost predict the appearance of trouble in my church according to how much progress we were making spiritually" (64). This means that any church making significant progress toward health enrages the devil. Thus, "churches must utilize spiritual resources to deal with spiritual problems, not just in crisis, but as a regular part of their life together" (Moeller 193).

Haugk’s steps for dealing with antagonism as are follows: First, the pastor needs to help the church leader understand that antagonists involve a church in unhealthy conflict that can escalate into the demonic. Second, the pastor needs to give them information about the antagonist’s general characteristics (Haugk 26-27), different types of (Haugk 59-68) early warning signs (Haugk 80-83), red flags (Haugk 69-79), and later warning signs (Haugk 83-83). Third, the pastor will inform them that only when the red flags and the warning signs dwell in the same person is an antagonist about to attack.

With the increase of pure meanness toward clergy, a pastor will also describe the hard-core antagonists who often become clergy killers. In his book, Clergy Killers, Rediger offers the following description:

Clergy killers are masters of disguise when they choose to be. They can present themselves as pious, active church members who are "only doing this for the good of the church." Often they convince nave parishioners that they are raising legitimate issues. It is not uncommon for clergy killers to hide among their "allies of opportunity"—members who are their friends, or congregational powerbrokers, or members who are disgruntled with the church. (10)

Such persons "have developed a perverse, voyeuristic, and vindictive taste for the suffering of their victims" whom they "harass…in subtle and obvious ways until their distress produces irrational and destructive behavior, or their natural bad habits become toxic" (Rediger 11).

All of the above is in keeping with Peter Stienke’s second book, Healthy Congregations. His book calls for improving church health by finding church health problems and solutions in the interaction between the parts of the body of Christ. Such a view leads him to say that whenever church members focus on their needs only, they contribute to the unhealthiness of the church. Repeating Friedman’s position concerning the potential for health via the position of the pastor in the church system, Steinke encourages pastors to do so by

    1. setting the tone, inviting collaboration,
    2. mapping a direction,
    3. establishing boundaries,
    4. encouraging open expression,
    5. restraining threats to the church’s integrity, and
    6. keeping the church on target in light of its purposes (vii).

Therefore, casting a vision through preaching contributes three benefits to the health of a church. "Vision offers meaning; vision instills hope; vision directs energy" (Healthy Congregations 105). Any church overfocused on pastors cannot see the contribution of other dynamics to the situation of the church not keep fulfilling its vision.

Whenever a church fails to resolve three issues—meaning, hope, and energy--it reinforces its unhealthiness through viewing a pastor as the sole performer of ministry, wallowing in the painful past, and ignoring its present strengths. Any church overfocused on pastors cannot see the contribution of other dynamics to the situation of the church nor keep fulfilling its vision. The church may also live under the illusion of keeping people happy at the expense of integrity.


Church Growth Precedents

Church growth literature depicts the practical fruit of approaching church health from a biblical, organic model. At the heart of this matter are three questions primarily for church health.

    1. "Who is our master" (The Purpose 71)? Jesus is truly Lord of a healthy church. Unhealthy churches are mastered by tradition, personality, finances, programs, buildings, events, or by seekers. (The Purpose 77-79)
    2. "What is our motive" (The Purpose 71)? The Holy Spirit provides the motive of God’s love in our hearts. He provides us with the power to be Jesus’ witnesses (20/20 43-56).
    3. "What is our message" (The Purpose 71)? The master and head of the church, Jesus Christ, gives us our apostolic message. (Church for 28-30)

Warren’s three questions (see page 49) concerning church health can be applied to pastors. Pastors can see themselves as having an apostolic ministry and message. Otherwise, some other driving force mentioned earlier will master pastors.

For pastors to lead a church without the motivation of love is unproductive (20/20 89; The Purpose 212-216). One "study demonstrated that while pastors of growing churches are usually not ‘people-persons’ who lose themselves in interaction with individuals, yet on the average they are somewhat more relationship-, person-, and partnership-oriented than their colleagues in declining churches" (Schwarz, Christian 22).

This insight fits with two Schaller and Tidwell’s description of a healthy church as having "a pastor who likes people, is responsive to people’s spiritual pilgrimage, and is fulfilled as pastor of that church" (Creative 153).

Warren’s three questions (see page 49) concerning church health can also be applied to church leaders and members as well. The inner orientation of members in unhealthy churches is on institutional matters while that of healthy churches is on matters of mission (Easum and Bandy 12). Unhealthy church leaders will support a church day-care because it is a nice service to the community and brings in additional income. Healthy church leaders will support it for the sake of reaching into homes of the community to share the transforming Gospel. The various motives for pursuing a stewardship campaign or writing a new mission statement also illustrates the contrast between healthy and unhealthy church leadership (Easum and Bandy 13-14).

Answering Warren’s questions (see page 49) moves a church away from building on "pragmatic and a-theological approaches . . ." (Schwarz 14) to building on biblical principles that form a solid theological base.

Even the most recent studies of growing churches find the principles of church health like unity and spirituality being foundational to church growth (Gabel, Wesley 30). Other works make the contribution of these two characteristics to church health and growth more explicit (Cymbala; Easum and Bandy; 20/20; Church for; Schwarz; Spader, Dann and Gary Mayes; The Purpose). These books portray vital spirituality and Christian love as the key dynamic to church health. Together this dynamic empowers the contribution of worship, small groups, and pastoral leadership to the health of a church.

If a church lacks a passionate spirituality, "the believers first must be gripped by a new devotion to Jesus" (Schwarz 107). Without this foundation, the other principles of church health will contribute little. Without the guidance of biblical theology, spirituality and love will not make a healthy contribution to congregational wholeness.

One important aspect of rebuilding or building such a passionate spirituality is for the church’s prayer life to both "expect and experience God’s action in response" (Church for 29). While Galloway’s 20/20 Vision offers some suggestions to build up a prayer life of a church, Cymbala’s Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire illustrates how a church can return to its first love—Jesus Christ. "It will encourage pastors to disciple a core group who desire to pray and who believe nothing is too big for God to handle" (Crowe 23).

From their passionate spirituality healthy churches overflow with love for Jesus Christ, each other, and the unchurched (20/20 73-84; Church for 30; The Purpose 208-212; Schwarz 36-37). The motivation of unhealthy churches for new members arises from the desire to help meet the budget. Others evangelize solely from a sense of duty. Unhealthy churches turn people off by their lack of friendliness (Church for 31). Healthy churches love new people. Such "love draws people in like a powerful magnet" (The Purpose 210).

Such congregations also harmonize and differentiate the five biblical principles of the Church. First, a church grows into a healthier breadth via a gift-oriented ministry. This increases a church’s "sending capacity rather than its seating capacity" (Schwarz 24-25, The Purpose 32, 365-392). Second, a church develops the healthy warmth of Christian love through fellowship in small groups (The Twelve; 20/20; The Small; The Church for; Schwarz; The Purpose). Third, a church matures in spiritual depth through discipleship that is on fire for Jesus Christ (Schwarz 26-27, The Purpose 331-364). Forth, a church body grows spiritually stronger through inspiring worship (Schwarz 30-31, The Purpose 239-292). Fifth, a church grows into a healthy size through need-oriented evangelism (Schwarz 34-35, The Purpose 49, 207-238).

If a local church system lacks balance and differentiation among these five principles, it will become:

    1. The Soul Winning Church.
    2. The Experiencing God Church.
    3. The Family Reunion Church.
    4. The Classroom Church.
    5. The Social Conscience Church. (The Purpose 122-124)

The effective assimilation of new members exemplifies the ability of a healthy church body to accept and affirm the place and uniqueness of additional people. A church with specialties in ministry understands the diversity of ministries and spiritual gifts within the one ministry of Jesus Christ through his body.

A healthy church does these things because of structuring for the sake of incarnating the five biblical principles of the church and not for the sake of control (The Seven 132-135; The Purpose 375-381). In addition, the gift-based deployment of laity and lay emphasis on evangelism implies that pastors are equipping while people are receiving and ministering (Schwarz 22-23). Such flexible and empowering pastoral and church leadership demonstrates a healthy church in the micro dimension.

Unfortunately, unhealthy, super orthodox and ultra moral churches are neither spiritually passionate nor loving enough to change their functional structures (Schwarz 28-29; The Purpose 65-66). On the other hand, churches which go beyond changing their functional structures to redefining basic Christian teaching and moral truth for the sake of gaining more members are not healthy either (Wells, David ).

However, nothing rekindles the spark of health within a church like catching a biblical vision of what Jesus Christ wants to accomplish in and through a church (The Purpose 81). As Warren says, "Where there is not vision, people leave for another parish!" (The Purpose 87). Also, it is the unhealthy church with its lack of vision that repeatedly finds itself short on cash (The Purpose 202). A biblical vision arises in a church from hearing sound doctrine proclaimed.


Church Health Declared

The writers of the New Testament Epistles wrote doctrinal truth to improve church health. The early church fathers reminded churches of doctrinal truth in addressing these issues in their day. Both theology as well as pastoral theology and leadership addresses this concern. Some Church growth literature is shifting to this area. Also, today’s spiritual freedom workshops for churches focus upon healing through applying doctrinal truth. All of this establishes the precedent that Christian doctrine lays out biblical truths relevant to church health.

The United Methodist Church ordains and authorizes its pastors to a ministry of Word, Sacrament and Order (Discipline 323). Those whom God calls to this ministry have a mandate to order the life of the church in a spiritually healthy fashion. It involves much more than obeying the polity of The Discipline of the United Methodist Church. United Methodist pastors are required to "order" the life of the community of faith. Pastors accomplish this both by the due administration of the sacraments and the preaching of the Word of God.

Preaching sermons is one of a pastor’s most valuable opportunities to enhance the wholeness of the congregation. A sermon series can cast a vision of a healthy church in hopes of preaching a church to where it needs to go. It continues to be true that the depth of a congregation’s understanding of the Christian faith largely depends on the quality of the preaching that the people hear. In addition, the quality of volunteer leadership in a local church and their vision of what church is and does reflect the pastor’s preaching ministry (Lindgren, Alvin 99).

Biblical preaching is an instrument for teaching the Church about being the body of Christ. Therefore, a pastor can serve as a change agent through grace-empowered vision casting. Sermons about healthy persons, church leaders, loving relationships, spiritual gifts, spirituality, and abuse prevention naturally lean toward a narrative style. Such communication not only addresses the heart, mind and behavior, but also spirituality and relationships. This raises the possible project titled "Preaching for a Whole Person Response and a Healthy Church." This study focuses church health very narrowly on the role of preaching to shape the spirituality, attitude, understanding, behaviors, and relationships of believers within the worship setting.

We need preaching with quality and excellence. Such preaching is far more complicated and difficult to do than the deductive preaching of a previous generation. Today's unique difficulty in performing a sermon with skill for the sake of ministering to people involves communications style. Both churched and unchurched people find themselves bombarded by quality communication all week long. Whenever pastors preach sloppy and careless sermons they lose personal integrity and much spiritual influence. God calls those who preach to live a life actively pursuing personal spiritual integrity, doctrinal faithfulness, and effective communication.

Preaching today calls for a relational style. As Calvin Miller writes in his book, Market Place Preaching, "A well planned extemporaneous sermon that has done its homework will serve best" (47). Otherwise, a preacher will lose the relational force that is not available to the manuscript preacher. As Miller proposes, "Extemporaneity wields audience and communicator together" (49).

At present people are seeking to improve their communication. When God sent the ultimate communication of his love and grace, he sent his Son in the flesh. When God inspired the writing of the New Testament, the Holy Spirit moved people to write in everyday Koine instead of academic Greek. God desires to communicate his truth, grace, and love to every generation. Those called of God to preach carry a like passion for communication. Those who seek to communicate the truth trust the Holy Spirit to use communication aids in the act of proclamation.

The approach to preaching previously discussed serves to strengthen the church health sermon as well as weekly preaching. An important issue in preaching on church health encompasses the integrity of both the preacher and the proclamation. One can ruin the preaching of church health principles by offering them as a quick fix instead of as tools for the healing process. Also, legalistic motives inflict much damaging shame and blame upon a congregation. Selfish motives that seek something other than the glory of God and the building up of his Church spread spiritual cancer while speaking of health. Pastors can avoid this by first preaching any sermon on church health to themselves and hear the Holy Spirit speaking to them before preaching it to others.

Approaching church health in this manner communicates that growing a healthy church involves an ongoing process. Such a series would lead people through the whole panorama related to each dimension of church health within a biblical/systems church health model.

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