Today’s post is the fifth in our series entitled “Ten Marks of a Healthy Church.”
Let me review some of the foundational truths that form this series. Churches are local bodies of God’s children united by covenant to Him and to one another. The church exists for the glory of God and should be submitted to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. She is intimately connected to Christ. When the church fulfills her mission, God is honored. When the church fails in her calling, Christ is shamed.
As a body, a local church can be healthy and strong, or it can be diseased and sickly. If any part of the church does not function properly, the other parts are affected.
When it comes to evaluating church health, we have the first chapter of 1 Thessalonians to help us see the things that are praiseworthy in a church. Paul identifies ten marks of a healthy church.
The first mark of a healthy church is a “working faith.” Genuine saving faith produces fruit and draws others to Christ. In a church with a working faith, you’ll see people wanting to serve God.
The second mark of a healthy church is a “laboring love.” Healthy churches are motivated by love for God and love for others.
The third mark of a healthy church is an “enduring hope.” Hope is the biblical solution for dark days. When a church has hope, they will have a vision for the future.
The fourth mark of a healthy church is an “obvious election.” Healthy churches are made up of members who are truly saved and have assurance of their salvation. That assurance is based on the experience of God’s Spirit at work on them, both convicting them of sin and convincing them of the gospel message. And this leads to hope for the future because what God does, no one can undo. And what He begins, He completes. “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Php 1:6). We saw last week that those who are truly saved: (1) believe the Bible, (2) live out a pattern of obedience, and (3) love God’s people.
The fifth mark of a healthy church is a “strong pulpit.” A pulpit ought to be made of oak, well-constructed, and pretty solid. No! I am not talking about wooden furniture. The reality is that churches can have strong pulpits without any furniture. I am talking about the preaching ministry of a church, especially the office of pastor. Notice again what Paul wrote in verse five:
. . . because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake.1 Thess. 1:5, ESV
Four circumstances are listed here regarding the presentation of the gospel to the Thessalonians. The gospel came to them in: ‘word,’ ‘power,’ ‘Holy Spirit,’ and ‘full conviction.’ Here Paul is referring to the missionaries’ experience. He, Timothy, and Silas experienced the initial proclamation of the gospel at Thessalonica. They were present when God moved among them. They were there when the word was delivered, and they witnessed the power of the Holy Spirit.
Now, the phrase “full conviction” may refer to the Thessalonians’ conviction, and surely the new believers had become convinced of the gospel message. But the construction of the phrase in Greek suggests this phrase—full conviction—characterizes the missionaries. And on this particular characteristic I want to make a few comments.
The word translated here as “conviction” is plerophoria and it means “an absolute certainty with no reason at all to doubt.” Paul further intensified it with the word “much” or “great.” This, I believe, refers to a confidence on the part of the preachers that was unshakable. They know what they believe, they know Whom they believe, and they proclaim the gospel with utmost confidence. Paul followed this with a statement of what kind of men they proved to be “for your sake.” In other words, they were not there for selfish gain but to proclaim the true message of God.
I have heard a good bit of preaching. One of the things that causes me some concern is when a preacher says something, but it seems as though he either does not believe what he is saying or he is afraid to say what he really believes. We need confident preaching in the pulpits today.
Notice what Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8, which I believe casts light on the phrase “full conviction.”
For you yourselves know, brethren, that our coming to you was not in vain, but after we had already suffered and been mistreated in Philippi, as you know, we had the boldness in our God to speak to you the gospel of God amid much opposition. For our exhortation does not come from error or impurity or by way of deceit; but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not as pleasing men but God, who examines our hearts. For we never came with flattering speech, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed–God is witness–nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, even though as apostles of Christ we might have asserted our authority.1 Thess. 2:1-8, NASB
Paul’s posture was clear: be bold in the Lord, preach the truth whether people want to hear it or not, be willing to suffer for it, keep your life free from impure motives, seek the glory of God, stand in your God-given authority, and rejoice in both persecution and productivity. No pastor should strive for anything less. A healthy church will have competent and confident men who will shepherd the flock faithfully. This matter beckons for us to review the qualifications of a pastor.
In 1 Timothy 3, we find the qualifications of those who would be overseers, church leaders, ministers:
The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.1 Tim. 3:1-7, NASB
Peter had the same concerns Paul did. In 1 Peter 5:1-3, he wrote,
So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.1 Peter 5:1-3, ESV
If you are a pastor reading this, I encourage you to reaffirm your commitment to faithfully proclaim the word of God and lead His church under the guidance of the Lord Jesus Christ. Give your life to study and teach the Scriptures. Preaching is no game; it is a calling. Develop a love for the word of God. Commit to making your pulpit ministry as strong as you possibly can.
If you are not a vocational minister, you may wonder how this applies to you. I am glad you asked. Here are Four Ways you can work to Ensure a Strong Pulpit Ministry and that this mark of a healthy church is a characteristic at your church:
Crave the truth of God’s Word. What prompts a mother to feed her child? That child let’s her know he’s hungry. A church that craves God’s Word will get it, because God will make sure they do.
Pray for your pastor regularly. Every time he proclaims God’s Word, he is putting a bulls-eye on his back, challenging the forces of evil in a showdown. He needs your effectual and fervent prayers.
Encourage your pastor in the work of proclamation. This involves a lot of different things you can do. Let him see and hear your responses to his messages. Tell him when God speaks to you. Take notes. Share with others. Anticipate Sundays; build an expectation.
Free your pastor to prepare. Preparing to preach well takes a lot of time—time that could be spent on a lot of other good things. But only one person fills the pulpit. His responsibility lies there, and it is of tremendous importance. That means other church duties and responsibilities need to be carried by members of the church.
These are four ways you can help build a strong pulpit ministry and a healthy church. God bless you, and God bless His Word!