A couple of weeks ago, I friend gave me Mark Dever's book, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church. It was a bit crazy when he gave it to me, but I have finally forced some time to crack the cover and start reading. Mark is a new author for me, but David Pratt, who penned the foreword, is not. I read David's words and immediately I knew I was going to like this book.
I grew up in the church. I served for 20 years as youth pastor in the church. Now I am lead pastor serving a young church-plant. I have read dozens of books, sat through too-many-to-count seminars, lectures, and keynote speakers, even survived a couple seminary classes all talking about the church and what makes it tick. There are dozens if not hundreds of models, theories, techniques, and ideas of how to start, build, grow, and maintain a church. And for a number of years, I applied some of the models, theories, techniques, and ideas to my ministry calls. And to some degree, each provided some sort of evidence that they worked.
But now, almost 25 years in full time ministry, with the last 3 (almost 4 years) being a lead pastor, I have come to a place where models and gimmicks simply don't interest me. When I began my role of lead pastor, I read every book I could get my hands on that might offer the secret to church growth and ministry success. And as embarassing as it is to admit, I found myself investing in ways to grow a church quickly as my ego told me that I had been around the church long enough to know what a church should look like.
When we started our church-plant I rolled out one of my favorite church models as the framework for how the church would operate. Five biblical principles. Ministry Teams. Relaxed atmosphere. Revelant, hip messages. Good music. Great visuals. After a couple of months I felt a rub, like we were missing something. But we pressed on. While my heart wanted to focus on worship and biblical teaching, discipleship and building relationships, my head wanted to trust what others had done. Success would come; it did for others. But the longer we went, the less growth we saw.
I started hearing, "Be more seeker-sensitive." "Tell more stories." "Shorten the message." "Be more engaging." Yet, in my heart, I felt like God was telling me we were chasing the wrong ideas of what church should be. I found myself in conflict with what I thought a church should look like. I was looking only at what others were doing, trying to replicate their successes. Shortly after the first year, things began to fall a part. I was exhausted and on the verge of burn out. So I went to God's word, looking for wisdom and direction.
A couple of months later I emerged from a dark space with a simple prayer for God, "Bring change." I prayed that God would either change our surroundings or change our circumstances. It came down to a choice for us, God move us out of here because this isn't working, or change what we are doing because we're obviously not doing it right.
Well, God hasn't changed our surroundings. Instead, He has begun to change our circumstances. God started dealy with my own pride and ego. First, came a change in what I thought church should look like. No more seeker-sensitive. It's not biblical. No where do we see Jesus or the Apostles reaching people through feel-good messages, relaxed comfy atmospheres, with great music and visual effects. No more worry about message length or catchy topics. Again, not biblical. Relevence? The only thing that's relevent is the continuous need for people to hear the gospel and for the Spirit to change people's hearts.
What we see in the bible is faithful preaching of God's word, and the submission of the leadership that allowed (relied and expected) the Holy Spirit to do his work. We see a community focused on loving God, loving Jesus, and loving each other. This was the kind of church God wanted.
As I started reading Mark Dever's book, I started to think, "How timely." Over the last 6 months I have focused more on the teaching of God's word. Instead of trying to come up with catchy topics and series titles, stringing together ideas and scripture with the hopes of saying something good, I open the bible and teach what we read, allowing the Spirit to speak to hearts of those in the room.
Worship is no longer focused on giving the congregation something to enjoy and feel good about, but leading the worshipper into the presence of the Most High God. Growing the church isn't about how many people we can get into the chairs, but how we are growing the hearts of those who are alreadying sitting in the room.
I've read the foreword, the prefaces, and the introduction. If what follows stays true to the first four sections of Mark's book, then I will know what I have already determined in my heart to be true. The work of the church is; 1. We worship the Most High God in holy reverence! 2. We devote ourselves to learn all that Jesus
taught! 3. And we live as Jesus lived, loving others in humble service!
Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, by Mark Dever.
I'm sure I will have much more to say in the days and weeks to come, so be sure to follow along.
Jay Higham is a veteran youth worker of over 28 years; having worked with students in the local church and Christian camping settings. Jay is currently serving as the student ministry director at a church, located in Western PA. Jay has been married to Amy for over 23 years. Together, they are raising 5 kids, (4 boys and 1 girl). Jay is an aspiring author, blogger, speaker, vlogger, and social media junkie. He is passionate about student ministry, family ministry, and training youth workers to love and serve their students with passion and excellence.