Corporate/group worship is an odd thing. If I recall correctly (which I will not claim to do), in the Bible it was usually done within a context of a shared experience. After the flood, when God performed some miracle, when the early church met secretly, and that type of thing. We do it as part of a routine, not necessarily because we have experienced God first-hand. I think that group prayer is similar, only more awkward. I have a hard time talking to more than one person at a time, so talking to someone who already knows my heart in ways I cannot express, in front of mostly strangers, or even in front of family, is somehow less than open, and more speechy than heart-to-heart talking. You know you are being listened to and that is difficult to just ignore. I feel the same way when someone is standing next to me while I am having a conversation with someone else. I cannot really express myself because of this observer off to the right, who is listening, but since I am not talking to them, I am not reading their responses to see if they understand. I could just not care, but I do.
Growth as a sign of health. Understandable, living things grow when they are thriving. What about organizations? Sure, I think it is true there too. But here is the tough part: what kind of growth? Not all growth is healthy in nature, take mutations, tumors, and cancer for instance. So, in a church, some type of growth is good, yes? What type of growth? I suppose it depends on how you want to measure health.
Measure is the crucial word. We want to measure things, and reason tells us that you cannot claim any objective knowledge about something unless you can measure it. In a church, what does healthy mean? I would think our primary concern would be for healthy relationships with God and each-other. How do we set about measuring that? Here is the rub: you can’t.
Think about it, if someone asked you to measure the health of your marriage, how would you do that? You could measure in years, but that only tells you one thing: endurance. You could measure in how many gifts/fights, but that says nothing about the actual growth, only how volatile it has been. You could come up with a survey, but that is only measuring your perceived relational health at that point in time, and is subject to the wording of the survey, and the last week or so of the relationship. If you combine all those things, you might be able to extrapolate some scale of evidence of relational health, but that is the closest you can get, and it still does not quite tell you anything. Yes, measurable results, and a desire to obtain them, has reduced my spiritual health to numbers. So, if the health of the church cannot really be measured objectively, how do we know if it is healthy? Hmm… good question.
Let’s try a more subjective approach. Are the people in the church known for their love for one another? Are there tales of the ways that those people have fed the hungry, clothed the naked, and cared for orphans and widows? This to me would speak of a healthy church, even if it consisted of 20 senior citizens with blue and magenta hair that like organ music and have been meeting in the same building for 50 years. It would not be a dead church. To contrast, a church that grows from 180 people to 1000 in 10 years, but is only known for their music, their new age building, and shocking promotions; is that really growth? All those new-comers to the faith, that find Jesus, but never take Him out past the church doors, do they count toward health? Sure, there are great programs for the kids, and musicians that do wacky stuff, but how would you measure healthy growth there? Offerings? Weekly attendance? What do those have to do with the way we relate to God or each-other?
In the end it comes down to pleasing God. I have heard that phrase all my life, but not until I was a husband did I really understand it. I see how much B wants me to be pleased with her, and I realize that the way her desire to please me makes me feel, is probably similar to how God feels when we desire to please him. I want to protect her, and provide for her every desire. I want her soul to flourish. So far, that type of feeling, and my own desire to please God, has not been able to understand the purpose of church. There are parallels; I want B to expand her influence because I know she is a good woman, and I want her to influence others to also strive to do good. I am sure God desires the same from us. But what is this institution of the church?
Feel free to comment, but if you have something debatable to say, just email me direct.