In the field of medicine, there are two very broad umbrella categories under which everything is categorized: Diagnostic Health Care and Preventive Health Care. Diagnostic care is what you receive when you have symptoms or risk factors and your doctor seeks to diagnose them—when they identify the root cause and prescribe a solution. Preventive care is given to you when you're symptom free and believe you are healthy—the basic care that you get when you have no reason to believe you are sick.
In last week’s article entitled “How’s Your Spiritual Health?” I pointed out that the average church in America is not healthy. I also pointed out that our actions and attitudes, even after a year filled with unprecedented challenges, still suggest that we think we are okay. We are only seeking preventive care for our spiritual health needs. What I hear from most pastors is something like this: “Yes, things are difficult, but it is because we are living in a very unhealthy culture—one filled with physical health care problems, political strife, economic disparity, and racial tensions. And yes there are unhealthy churches, but not ours.”
One of the reasons for our attitude is that the spiritual health decline we’ve experienced has been very slow. In fact, it has been so gradual and taken place over such a long period of time that we are almost completely unaware of it. Although I could provide all kinds of statistics as proof of the decline, even in the face of those statistics, many would remain unconvinced that “our church” is unhealthy.
I am living proof of how oblivious we can be to gradual health declines. Last year at some insistence from those who “say” they love me, I took a hearing test. This wasn’t just the “Can you hear the beep?” kind of test. They made me repeat words they were saying. I wasn’t totally convinced I had a problem. The test indicated that I wasn’t hearing exactly what they were saying, BUT I’m sure I was hearing what they “should have been saying!” Setting aside all my rationalizations, I had to admit that I needed hearing aids. They were ordered, and when they arrived they were synced to my telephone, and I left the doctor’s office. I did notice some immediate changes. And as I headed down the road, I heard some “new” sounds emanating from my car. My first thought was, “Wow! I’ve got to get that fixed.” One noise that startled me was a clicking sound I heard every time I turned a corner. What I was hearing for the first time in a long-time was the sound of my turn signal. The next morning I had a similar experience as I sat down at my desk and began to reply to my e-mails. I thought I had a nice quiet keyboard. It turns out that I actually have a very loud keystroke.
Today we have nice soundproof rooms with electronic testing tools to determine if we have hearing loss and then pinpoint the specific frequencies where that loss is occurring. What would happen if we had technology capable of diagnosing the root cause of our spiritual health problems? Would the average church even use them? Over twenty years ago, I was trained and certified to use one of the simplest and best church health diagnostic tools available. I promoted it and encouraged pastors to take advantage of it, but over the years only a handful have used it.
So in lieu of recommending any existing diagnostic tools, let me suggest some self-evaluation questions you can ask to determine the health of your church. Last week I stated that the number one problem we have in the American church is the lack of mature leaders. So, one way to know if you are a healthy church is by asking yourself, “Do we have enough spiritually mature leaders to do all that God is asking us to do in our church? If the answer is yes, then you are a spiritually healthy church.
If you answered no, then your church has some spiritual health issues. Let me suggest some diagnostic follow-up questions:
If your only answer to my last diagnostic question above was, “We have been praying that the Lord of the Harvest would send us laborers for our harvest field,” then I hope you can hear me saying with love and as much grace as I can express in written words, “You have ceased to be a church, and you have become part of the mission field.” The first step in making a change is acknowledging your need for change! Stay tuned as I continue to discuss spiritual health issues.
Yours in Christ,
Mark R. Elliott, DoM
Retiring in April 2022, Mark R. Elliott served as a Director of Missions (Associational Mission Strategist) in Western Iowa and Eastern Nebraska for almost three decades. He is a strong advocate for obedience and Biblically based disciple making. As such, he knows that making healthy disciples requires Christian leaders to be constantly pursuing spiritual maturity—be lifelong learners. Because of the time constraints of ministry, most pastors focus their reading list on resources that assist them in teaching and preaching the Word of God. As such, books focusing on church health, leadership development, and church growth tend to find their way to the bottom of the stack. With that reality in mind, Mark has written discussion summaries on several books that have helped him to personally grow in Christ and that tend to find themselves on the bottom of most pastor’s stack. Many pastors have found them helpful as they are able to more quickly process great insights from other pastors and authors.