I can still remember the old, disintegrating drapes of the fellowship room. Caked in the dust and neglect of a generation, they hid the fragile, pale stained glass behind them. Their fabric, once so vibrant and fresh, emitted an aged, musty aroma and produced in my soul an incredible sadness.
At one time these drapes had been part of a beautiful, exciting atmosphere of community and outreach. Now, they were nothing more than a faded reminder of the glory days. Somebody’s grandfather’s sister had knitted them together over an eon ago. And no one ever dared to remove them.
When I made the casual suggestion that the church windows needed sprucing up, it was like a doctor poking an open wound. “You don’t have any respect for the hard work that went into this church,” said one particularly steely-eyed member. Another curtain-protector joined in, “Do you know how many people have appreciated those drapes over the years?” (I confessed I didn’t know the answer to that question.) Our conversation finally ended when one determined individual uttered the words every pastor enjoys hearing, “These drapes will be here long after you’re gone.”
It wasn’t long before I diagnosed that the decomposing drapes were an arresting metaphor for the deeper spiritual sickness in that church. Sadly, few people seemed willing to acknowledge the symptoms caused by the decaying inner condition of the church’s health.
Unfortunately, this real-life scenario is all too common. Many churches throughout North America have become suspended in decomposition, stuck in neglect, or afflicted from an unseen terminal illness. Jesus can not be pleased with the spiritual sickness and death so rampant in local churches. After all, his reign is not one of spiritual malignancy, but one of healing and resurrection! The body of Christ should never be content with rotting corpses.
The church should instead reflect the mission of Jesus, who came to heal sick souls throughout all history and in every location. The church, as God’s agent of personal, community and global transformation, is supposed to be conditioned by Jesus to serve his intentions for the world. In this way, when a church is healthy, it is sent by God into the world to save spiritually decomposing people by offering them the curative love of Jesus Christ. A healthy church, then, is a community of disciples in training, pursuing Christ’s daily regimen. For any local church, attention to the process or routine of forming a healthy community of disciples is essential. A healthy church must be in good shape, reflecting the image of Christ, ready to sprint at anytime anywhere God calls.
This article is an assignment I completed for my most recent course at ACTS: “Developing a Healthy Church.” An 800 word variation of this article may also appear on the Evangelical Baptist magazing website as a complement to an upcoming issue concerning church health. Part 2 will be posted soon.