Be A Healthy Church
           Revelation 3:7-13
            By Paul Robison

Someone made this interesting observation: “You don't judge an army's strength by how many people sit in the mess hall; you judge an army on how many people are trained and active on the front-line.  Likewise, the percentage of members being utilized for ministry and missions is a more reliable indicator of church health than how many people attend services” (Warren).  From what Jesus said about the church in Philadelphia, it was a healthy church.  The members there had been not only obedient to the Lord's Word but also loyal to the Lord's name (v. 8).  They had endured persecutions and persevered (vv. 9-10).  They were to continue to hold fast and to overcome in future trials (vv. 11-12).  Let's consider some functions of a healthy church.  This is important because health determines growth.  When we focus on doing these functions and doing them well, then church growth will be the result.  “Church growth will be the by-product of doing the things that every [healthy] church ought to do” (Campbell).
First of all, let's grow wiser through prayer.  James encourages us: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him” (1:5).  The early Christians understood this need, and in the book of Acts, we find them praying around 20 times!  We certainly need God's wisdom when it comes to being a healthy church.  Someone has rightfully observed: “Prayer is source of vision, power, creativity, and blessing ...” (Grounds).  One of the highlights of our men's prayer breakfast is that a chain prayer is said before we begin any business, and each man can contribute to that prayer.  There is strength in such collective prayer.  Someone gives this advice: “It is a mistake to begin ministry focus without prayer.  Pray separately and pray as a [group].  Ask God to give you sensitivity to His leading and to the perspective of [others] who don't know Him yet.  Also ask God to help you determine your priorities” (Walter).  Since prayer is so profitable, it should be given priority.  In fact, the apostle Paul admonishes: “Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings, and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence.  For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires that all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:1-4).  Let's pray for God's help to be a healthier congregation!  Let's pray for His guidance!  Let's pray that He will open doors we haven't yet imagined!  Let's grow wiser through prayer.
Next, let's grow holier through worship.  Romans 13:12ff admonishes us: “The night is far spent, the day is at hand.  Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light.  Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy.  But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.”  Now this passage was read to a congregation of God’s people during their worship service.  Did you notice the emphasis on being obedient together: let us all together cast off the works of darkness, let us all together put on the armor of light, let us all together live properly.  You see, when we assemble together, when come before God's throne together, when we eat at the Lord's table together, when sing, hear God's Word, and give together, these collective acts strengthen us spiritually and should motivate us to want to live holier in our daily lives.  Shouldn't the church be like a garden where we grow in holiness through the sunshine of divine love, through the soil of faith, and through the fertilizer of eternal hope?  According to 1 Corinthians 14:26, worship should be a collective experience where we are all strengthened and edified.  Let's grow holier through worship.
Next, let's grow deeper through discipleship.  Discipleship involves a great challenges because Jesus Himself has set high standards.  We must deny ourselves, which is pretty hard to do in a consumer society where you can always have it your way.  We must take up a cross daily and crucify our wills to Jesus' commands, which goes against the grain of our unbridled “do your own thing” culture.  We must lose our lives to save them and put eternal salvation above the present preoccupation of accumulating earthly wealth, which is challenges the motto that “the one who dies with the most toys wins” (Mark 8:34ff).  Jesus says our discipleship includes not being ashamed of Him and His teachings, of putting our relationship with Him above all earthly relationships, of being truly serious about remaining loyal to Him despite the persecutions that this might entail, of learning to travel light and looking beyond this world, and of keeping God's kingdom uppermost in our lives (Luke 14:26ff and Matthew 6:33).  Disciples of Jesus are expected by Him to live productive lives which bear much fruit and are active in doing good works in His name (John 15:5 and Matthew 25:31ff).  A healthy church is one where we are learning to be more dedicated disciples.  Let's grow deeper through discipleship.
Next, let's grow closer through fellowship.  Have you ever noticed that if pine trees will lean into each other during a snow storm, they will survive?  If they try to withstand the snows alone, they will often be severely damaged.  Moral of this tale: “When the storms of life hit, we need to be standing close to other Christians.  The closer we stand, the more we will be able to hold up” (Conner).  God's vision is a group of people united around His Son.  According to the apostle Paul, this has been God's eternal vision which He accomplished through the sacrifice of Jesus (Ephesians 3:10-11).  Jesus Himself put it this way in John 10:16 when He said that other sheep would become part of the one flock under one shepherd and in John 12:32 when He said that through His being lifted up or crucified, all peoples would be draw to Him.  An old hymn states it so well: “Bless be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love; the fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above.  Before our Father's throne, we pour our ardent prayers; our fears, our hopes, our aims are one, our comforts and our cares.  We share our mutual woes, our mutual burdens bear, and often for each other flows the sympathizing tear” (Fawcett).  The early Christians were in each others' homes and in each others' lives to the point that unbelievers saw this incredible brotherly love that they had for one another!  Do people in our city see the same thing in our lives?  Let's grow closer through fellowship.
Next, let's grow stronger through stewardship.  “Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful” (1 Corinthians 4:2).  A master would entrust the care of his estate to a steward, and the steward was to care for it just as the master had instructed him.  He would be “faithful” to his master's orders if he carried them out.  “[This] Christian principle of stewardship says that since we bought nothing into this world and since we can take nothing with us when we die, everything we have really belongs to God; we are entrusted with these possessions to use as God's agents.  We are accountable to God for [how we use] everything” (Diehl).  Do we make money or does our money make us?  How we learned to use our money generously or are we used by our money?  Have we learned to live on the low side, to reject status symbols, and to save some funds in order to help others in disaster?  Are we laying up treasures on the earth or treasures in heaven?  Remember, it was the rich young ruler that refused to follow Christ, and we are similar to him because we can easily let our riches become our goal so that spiritual matters are cast aside.  Someone has rightly noted: “Christians need to take a hard and honest look at their personal life-styles. ... We need to bring to our society a life-style  of Jesus that values people above property, caring above careerism, selflessness above self, and giving above getting” (Ibid.).  Let's grow stronger through stewardship.   
Next, let's grow bolder through ministry.  Look at Ephesians 4:11ff: “And He [Jesus] gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for [or literally “to”] the work of ministry, for [or “to”] the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”  Isn't this saying that the job of the church leaders is to train or to equip the members, so that those members can then be responsible for doing the work of ministering to other members and building up everyone in the body, so that altogether and collectively we can become a mature Christian body that shows the fullness Christ in all that it does?  Now if I'm mistaken in that interpretation, then please correct me.  But if I'm correct, then why isn't more training going on around here and why don't we start realizing that ALL church members are to become involved in some sort of ministry which will help others?  You see, as we learn to minister to others, our faith grows, and our love becomes stronger.  We become bolder too because we become more confident in our service.  When are we going to have a class where members can evaluate their strengths and figure out how they can serve the body?  By the way, there is tool that might help you in this if you are willing to take some time to work through it.  Let's grow bolder through ministry.
Next, let's grow larger through evangelism.  “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.  Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20).  We call this passage the Great Commission, and last Sunday evening we learned how this is one of the greatest passages in all the Bible!  This passage is still in force, it is still valid, and it is still relevant for each individual who claims to be a Christian.  Each one of us needs to learn enough Scripture and to reflect enough on our own experience that we can share the plan of salvation and explain how Jesus has affected our lives.  “Oh, preacher, but I’m not much at speaking to others.  I get my tongue caught on my eye tooth, and I can't see what I'm saying.”  Most of you can talk about other things, but if you really do freeze up, then arm yourselves with some good tracts that explain the plan of salvation and learn to say these 7 words: “This is really good!  Please, read it!”  There are other materials that are available as well if you'd like to share them with others too.  Where there's a will, there's a way.  The Great Commission is our Commander-in-Chief's marching orders; it is His will that we make disciples, so we'd better be learning the way that we're going to do it!  Grow larger through evangelism.
Next, grow broader through vision and planning.  Now, vision was addressed in our last sermon.  By the way, how's the homework coming along?  Are you reading that eternal vision in Revelation 1:10-20 and are you answering those questions to discover a congregational vision?  A vision is powerful.  Mayor Taylor, Congressman Ross, or someone had a vision for helping us to achieve a bypass over our railroad tracks.  But that vision would never have become a reality without planning and work.  We need vision, but we also need a plan to help make that vision become a reality.  A pretty good case can be made that planning is scriptural.  God had a plan to send a Savior into this world.  Joshua followed a plan to conquer the Promised Land.  Nehemiah had a plan which was used to rebuild Jerusalem's walls.  Jesus had a plan when He sent out 70 of His disciples, and following a plan was also involved in building His church.  Paul had a plan when entered into a city to spread the Gospel; he would begin at the synagogue and then go to the Gentiles if the Jews were unreceptive.  One of our elders told me: “A vision is great, but it’s useless unless we have a plan to implement it” (Ellis).  James warns us about boasting in OUR plans alone; we should plan with the understanding that in all things we are to submit to the Lord's plans.  You know, formulating a plan to implement a vision is not like making a budget; you can't always put into a budget the same things that you did the previous year.  When considering how to make a vision a reality through a plan, you might also have to consider this tough question: "To achieve this priority, what must we as a church continue, stop, or start” (Schmidt)?  Let's grow broader through vision and planning.
Now, that we've seen 8 traits of a healthy church.  Let's consider something else.  Let's look here at our report card.  For the 8 traits of a healthy church, what grade would you give each area?  Just do this silently as you look at the slide and consider each trait: growing wiser through prayer (give it a grade), growing holier through worship (give it a grade), growing deeper through discipleship (give it a grade), growing closer through fellowship (give it a grade), growing stronger through stewardship (give it a grade), growing bolder through ministry (give it a grade), growing larger through evangelism (give it a grade), and growing broader through vision and planning (give it a grade).  In what two areas would we, as a congregation, be the weakest?  What could we do differently to improve in those areas?  Philadelphia was a healthy church.  How healthy are we?  Let's pray! 
“This testimony is true.  Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound [or healthy] in the faith, not giving heed to Jewish fables and commandments of men who turn from the truth” (Titus 1:13).  Remember, when you look carefully, sometimes blunt confrontations are the result.  We just evaluated our congregation with our report card.  Now think about yourself individually.  How well are you doing in each function: prayer, worship, discipleship, fellowship, stewardship, ministry or serving the congregation, evangelism, vision and planning?  Is a prayer for improvement in order?  All these functions bring about growth.  If you are not in the church, then you are not growing as God desires for you to grow.  Become part of this congregation through baptism, and start growing like you've never grown before.  Get spiritually healthy today!