“But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine.”
When St. Paul writes to the young pastors Timothy and Titus, he repeatedly implores them to hold on to and teach sound doctrine. Commentators often note that the expression would be best translated “healthy doctrine.” J.N.D. Kelly writes of the expression, “The Apostle borrows the present metaphor from current philosophical jargon, in which ‘wholesome’ connoted ‘sound’ or ‘reasonable’, and uses it here to designate the authentic Christian message as applied to conduct. It expresses his conviction that a morally disordered life is, as it were, diseased and stands in need of treatment, viz. by the law, whereas a life based on the teaching of the gospel is clean and healthy.” (A Commentary of the Pastoral Epistles, p. 50) In other words, the true teaching of God’s Word is good for the people of God, both good for the body and the soul. This is healthy doctrine.
There are lots of articles, presentations and books about healthy congregations that are available today. The are also lots of different ways to define a lack of congregational health. At the same time, some are completely uncomfortable with such attempts to assess congregations. The issue is actually not whether or not we should be assessing congregations, but what is the basis for diagnosis and the treatment. The letters to the churches in Revelation 2-3 are full of a very poignant assessment of the congregations. Lutheran layman Ted Kober has written a new book on healthy congregations that identifies the critical issue as a matter of spiritual health related to the Word of God. Kober’s research reveals that the most significant issue in being able to deal with conflict and traumatic events is tied to the percentage of church members, especially leaders, who are involved in the regular study of God’s Word. He writes, “Being in God’s Word is not just one of many factors that characterize a healthy church. It is the foundation on which its health is based.” (Built on the Rock, p. 53).
Church attendance is not the most important consideration in assessing congregational health. Likewise, neither are governance models nor the age of the congregations or so many other “treatments” proposed by experts. Congregational health starts with the healthy teaching of God’s Word. If members are not being taught the truth of God’s Word and growing spiritually, there cannot be true “health.” The starting place for a pastor and key leaders in assessing congregational health could begin with Ted Kober’s Built on the Rock book.
While the healthy teaching of God’s Word is foundational, there are other areas where congregations look for assistance. The Missouri District staff and leadership stand ready to assist congregations in assessing health and recommending treatment. Many congregations are struggling with by-laws that require so many officers that are unrealistic in today’s situations. Other congregations need assistance in training their elders or other officers. While these matters are not foundational, they are still areas of need and the district is ready to assist. If your congregation needs help in a particular area, please contact Rev. Bill Geis in the district office.
Healthy congregations are congregations that are gathered around Jesus the great Physician, who receive the healing balm of the Gospel and continue to grow by the healthy teaching of God’s Word. But healthy congregations also reach out to the hurting, broken and dying people with the One who is Himself the resurrection and the life.
Prayer – Merciful God, we humbly implore You to cast the bright beams of Your light upon Your Church that we, being instructed by the doctrine of the blessed apostles, may walk in the light of Your truth and finally attain to the light of everlasting life; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
Fraternally in Christ,
President Lee Hagan