"They [followers of Christ] were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer." (Acts 2:42).
One of the questions I am most frequently asked is, "How do I find a good church?" This question has taken on added significance in recent years because of the massive impact televangelism has had on our culture. In all too may cases, worship has been replaced with entertainment, and fellowship has been transformed into individualism. In view of these cultural developments, it is critical that Christians have a handle on the ingredients of a healthy well-balanced church.
The first sign of a healthy, well-balanced church is a pastor who is committed to leading the community of faith in the worship of God through prayer, praise, and proclamation. Prayer is so inextricably woven into the fabric of worship that it would be unthinkable to have a church service without it. From the very inception of the early Christian church, prayer has been a primary means of worshiping God. Through prayer, we have the privilege of expressing adoration and thanksgiving to the One Who saved us, sanctifies us, and one day will glorify us. In fact, our Lord Himself set the pattern by teaching His disciples the Prayer of Jesus (Matthew 6:9-13).
Praise is another key ingredient of worship. Scripture urges us to "speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs" (Ephesians 5:19). Singing psalms is a magnificent means for intercession, instruction, and the internalization of Scripture. In addition, the great hymns of the faith have stood the test of time and are rich in theological tradition and truth. Spiritual songs, in turn, communicate the freshness of our faith. Thus, it is crucial that we preserve both a respect for our spiritual heritage and a regard for contemporary compositions.
Along with prayer and praise, proclamation is axiomatic to experiencing vibrant worship. Paul urged his protégé Timothy to "preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires" (2 Timothy 4:2-3). Church leaders must once again produce in their people a holy hunger for the Word of God; for it is through the proclamation of God's Word that believers are edified, exhorted, encouraged, and equipped.
Furthermore, a healthy, well-balanced church is evidenced through its oneness. Christ breaks the barriers of gender, race, and background and unites us as one under the banner of His love. Such oneness is tangibly manifested through community, confession, and contribution.
Community is visible in baptism, which symbolizes our entrance into a body of believers who are one in Christ. It is a sign and a seal that we have been buried to our old life and raised to newness of life through His resurrection power. In like fashion, Holy Communion is an expression of oneness. As we all partake of the same elements, we partake of that which the elements symbolize — Christ, through Whom we are one. Our fellowship on earth, celebrated through communion, is a foretaste of the heavenly fellowship we will share when symbol gives way to substance.
A further expression of our oneness in Christ is our common confession of faith — a core set of beliefs, which have been rightly referred to as "essential Christianity." These beliefs, which have been codified in the creeds of the Christian church, form the basis of our unity as the body of Christ. The well-known maxim bears repeating: "In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; and in all things, charity."
As with community and confession, we experience oneness through the contribution of our time, talent, and treasure. The question we should be asking is not "What can the church do for me?" but, "What can I do for the church?" The tragedy of modern Christianity is that when members of the body hurt, too often we relegate them to finding resources outside the walls of the church. That is precisely why the apostle Paul exhorts us to "share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality" (Romans 12:13).
Finally, a healthy, well-balanced church is one that is committed to equipping believers to be effective witnesses to what they believe, why they believe, and Who they believe. In the Great Commission, Christ called believers not to make mere converts but to make disciples (Matthew 28:19). A disciple is a learner or follower of the Lord Jesus Christ. Thus, we must be prepared to communicate what we believe. In other words, we must be equipped to communicate the evangel (good news). If Christians do not know how to share their faith, they have never been through basic training. The gospel of Christ should become such a part of our vocabulary that presenting it becomes second nature.
We also must be equipped to share why we believe what we believe. As Peter put it, we must "always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account [reason] for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence" (1 Peter 3:15). Too many today believe that the task of apologetics is the exclusive domain of scholars and theologians. Not so! The defense of the faith is not optional; it is basic training for every Christian.
In addition to being prepared to communicate the 'what' and 'why' of our faith, we must be empowered to communicate the Who of our faith. Virtually every theological heresy begins with a misconception of the nature of God. Thus, in a healthy well-balanced church, believers are equipped to communicate such glorious doctrines of the faith as the Trinity and the deity of Jesus Christ. It is crucial that we, like the early Christian church, come to understand more fully the Biblical concept of the priesthood of all believers. Clearly, it is not the pastor's calling to do the work of ministry single-handedly. Rather, the pastor is called "for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ." (Ephesians 4:12–13).
In short, we know we have discovered a good church if God is worshiped in Spirit and in truth through prayer, praise and the proclamation of the Word; if the oneness we share in Christ is tangibly manifested through community, confession, and contribution; and if the church is equipping members as witnesses who can communicate what they believe, why they believe, and Who they believe.Worship, Oneness, and Witness equal WOW!
Adapted from Hank Hanegraaff, The Bible Answer Book (Nashville: J. Countryman, 2004)