Monday, December 07, 2009

Ten Traits of Healthy Church & Healthy Disciple

Below is a table laid side-by-side of Stephen Macchia's book "Ten Traits of a Healthy Disciple." (Stephen Macchia, Becoming a Healthy Disciple, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2004, p18)

10 Traits of a Healthy Church10 Traits of a Healthy Disciple
1) God's Empowering Presence1) Experiences God's empowering presence
2) God-exalting worship2) Engages in God-exalting worship
3) Spiritual Disciplines3) Practices the spiritual disciplines
4) Learning and Growing in Community4) Learns and grows in community
5) Commitment to Loving and caring relationships5) Commits to loving and caring relationships
6) Servant-Leadership Development6) Exhibits Christ-like behaviour
7) Outward Focus7) Shares the love of Christ generously
8) Wise Administration and Accountability8) Manages life wisely and accountably
9) Networking with the Body of Christ9) Networks with the body of Christ
10) Stewardship and Generosity10) Stewards a life of abundance

My Comments
Charts like these are not supposed to be followed as if they are like the 10 commandments of the Old Testament. They are useful in helping us take a snapshot at our church life or our efforts at discipleship. Let me give 10 pointers as I reflect on these 20 traits.

Firstly, I find it most useful as a spiritual diagnostic tool. It helps us to see what parts of our Christian living is deficient, or reveals any lopsidedness of our spiritual practice. Secondly, having said that, there is also an element of time. People and circumstances change. Yesterday, we may have managed our finances well. Tomorrow, the church may have made a deep deficit. What works yesterday may be taboo tomorrow. Only by relying on the Spirit of God to help us discern the right thing to do can we survive the constant onslaught and deceptions of the world and the evil forces at large.

Thirdly, these lists are not to be an end in itself. While they contain good pointers, we should endeavour to develop a list that is unique to our own church or spiritual condition. It is good to have a balanced life. This is something that management circles have touted. Yet, as far as a Christian is concerned, a 'balanced' view should not become an end in itself. If we ever take 'balance' as a god to be achieved at all costs, when the time is ripe for radical changes, we may become stuck when the 'balance' group refuse to yield to 'radical' promptings by the Spirit. Somehow, I am glad that when Luke records the Pentecost event in Acts, people spread the gospel far and wide in a radical way. I wonder what would have happened if there are people who restrained the Spirit filled believers in the name of 'balance?' 

Fourthly, looking at the list of ten traits side by side, I cannot help wonder if they complement each other. Can a healthy church ever have unhealthy disciples? Can a healthy disciple ever exist in an unhealthy church? It is quite inaccurate to generalize anything. Theologically, the church is the people of God. A healthy church comprises of individuals in an interdependent community seeking to be more like Christ. A healthy disciple thrives in a healthy church setting. Much like the endless chicken and egg cyclical, we cannot easily put one before the other. Perhaps, we need to start where we are and work from there. 

Fifthly, with each trait lies a different set of expectations. It is like everyone using different currencies to exchange stuff. Likewise, expectations need to be easily understood and be quantified.

Sixthly, if we do not do anything about it, chances are, nothing gets done. I like the project management acronym SMART. In order for any organization or any person to get things done, make the object as specific as possible. Ensure it is measurable with reasonable quantifiable numbers. Have a good sense of attaining it, without asking for the moon. Keep the focus on stuff relevant to the present situation. Finally, add a time line to gauge progress. Keeping a simple hold on this will help move the church or person toward positive change.

  • S = Specific;
  • M = Measurable;
  • A = Attainable;
  • R = Relevant;
  • T = Time.
Seventhly, not all of the traits are ranked the same. Each organization and individual will need to pray and to seek God for the way to prioritize their resources toward each end. Over time, some traits will appear more relevant than others.

Eighthly, in order to avoid myopic views, have as many people within the church to contribute opinions and ideas about which traits are most deficient at any one moment.

Ninthly, be ready to add or subtract from the list whatever is applicable or not. Sometimes, there are other traits worth developing that are not on the original list. Sometimes, the item appears a little to general for specific usefulness. Take the first trait for example. How do we deal with person A who feels God is far away, and at the same time, person B who felt God's presence intimately? Having more specifics help.

Finally, do not be discouraged or overconfident. The traits are useful for an initial gage, not a permanent record.


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