I have an appointment with my physician for my annual check-up on the day most of you will read this article. My doctor will check a few basic indicators of health: blood pressure, blood sugar, reflexes, weight, etc. If your church had a similar check-up, what would be the best indicators of its health? What are the signs or symptoms of a healthy church?
Over the course of the last 30 years serving as a pastor, I have come to love the story of the church at Antioch. As the Gospel advances beyond Jerusalem and the church becomes increasingly Gentile, the church at Antioch became the mother church—Paul’s sending church. Paul returned to Antioch from time to time. When Luke tells the story, he always makes note of some characteristics of that great church. It is as if he is saying, “Pay attention to the church at Antioch. This is a healthy model!”
We find sketches of the congregational life of Antioch in Acts 11:19-30; 12:25-13:4; 14:24-28 and 15:30-35. You will discover four signs of church health in these Scriptures.
First, this church was the work of God’s grace and power. Luke uses two wonderful phrases to describe the founding of the church at Antioch: “The hand of the Lord was with them” (Acts 11:21) and “he (Barnabas) witnessed the grace of God” (Acts 11:23). A healthy church puts God’s presence and God’s grace and power on display. They show forth His praise in the way they live, the way they talk and the way they treat people. Lives transformed by the power of the Gospel can only be explained by giving God the glory for His work in our midst.
Second, the church at Antioch was busy with the basics—sharing the Gospel and making disciples. They proclaimed the Good News of Jesus to everyone who would listen without barriers or prejudices. When people came to a saving faith in Jesus, the church at Antioch used encouragement, example and instruction to disciple them. This church was producing followers of Jesus who were deep and strong. This discipleship was primarily a ministry of the Word of God. Personal evangelism and relational discipleship were the “bread and butter” of the ministry at Antioch.
Third, the church at Antioch embraced the worldwide mission of Christ. They were not satisfied with sharing the Good News in Antioch. This church gave sacrificially to advance the Gospel in other countries, to other peoples. They sent away their very best people, and they gave them strong financial support. The church at Antioch took the Great Commission seriously.
Finally, as I read the Acts account of Antioch, I find an emphasis on time. This church spent time together. That is an interesting combination of words—spent time. Time is a precious commodity, and we must use it wisely. The fellowship of a local church is a sharing of work, money, the Word and worship, and it is also the sharing of time. Time together is an indicator of church health.
God’s grace and power are on display in changed lives and transformed relationships through commitment to the “bread and butter” basics of evangelism and discipleship, giving our very best to advance the Gospel to the nations, and spending time together as the family of God. What are the results of your church’s check-up?