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That's a Good Question

Unpacking the Image of God & Defining a Healthy Church

October 17, 2023

Jon Delger


Ryan Kimmel

JonHey everyone, welcome to That's a Good Question, a podcast at Peace Church. This is a place where we answer questions about the Christian faith in plain language. I'm Jon, I serve as a pastor at Peace and I also get to serve as the weekly host of this show. And I'm here today with...

RyanHey, I'm Ryan, I'm the lead pastor here at Peace Church. That's right.

JonExcited to get to have a conversation. If you want to submit questions, you can do so at The big one we got to cover today is this, what is a healthy church?

Question #1: What is a healthy church?

RyanYeah, yep.

RyanThis is an important topic, and it's a topic close to my heart because I am a lead pastor, but also because I'm a Christian and member of the church. And oddly enough, I just addressed this not too recently, or actually very recently in a sermon. And it is an important topic. And I think in our day and age when the world is so divided on so many issues, it's easy for the church to feel that and therefore, on health creep in and become part of the church's life, which is not what Jesus wants. I mean, if you look at Jesus' final prayer, hours before his arrest, torture and crucifixion, one of the primary thrusts of his final prayer was that we would be one, that we would be unified. And while he didn't use the term health, I think that's exactly what he's pointing at. That we would be unified, we would be healthy, we would be strong, effective for his mission in this world.

JonYeah. All right, so let's start historically. So historically, going back to the Reformers 500 years ago, guys who started the Protestant church broke off from the Roman Catholic church. Those guys talked about some marks of a true and healthy church. They had three. First one was proper preaching of the word.

RyanProper preaching of the word. They also talked about the proper or right administration of the sacraments. And then everybody's favorite topic, church discipline.

JonThat's right. That's right. That's kind of unique to think about those three things. I think, you know, obviously if you know the history, you know that makes sense to you, but you know, thinking just from where we sit today, who would think of church discipline as one of the markers of a healthy church?

RyanYeah, I think it's because discipline carries such weight in our world. And I think another way you might think about it is like just true accountability. Are church members being held accountable to the life that God's called us to live. And when we go wayward, the church is doing what God's called them to do, to bring back those wayward souls.

JonThat's right. That's right. And that's such an important way, when we talk about church discipline, we'll have to do a future episode on that at some point.

RyanYeah, we probably should, actually. Yeah. But for now, I mean, it's just important to realize that discipline has a positive goal. It has the goal of bringing back wayward people. Church discipline, you know, people might think of kind of just plain old kicking people out of the church, but that's not quite what it means. What it means is holding brothers and sisters accountable for sin in their lives and inviting them to follow Jesus more closely. It's not about reprimand, it's about restoration. Yeah, exactly, exactly, totally. So I think what I like about when the Reformers identified those three things, it wasn't, the qualification wasn't, is everybody happy at your church? Is everyone agreeing with what the elders are saying? Does everyone like what the pastor is preaching? It wasn't contingent on people's happiness towards their church or the direction of the church. It's, are the church doing the right things? Is the church preaching God's Word? Is it rightly dividing the Word of God? Is the sacraments being held to the esteem that they should be? And are members being held accountable to the life that they've signed up to live? As opposed to our day and age where we probably think things like the church is healthy because no one's gossiping, everybody's happy, you know what I mean? Those sort of markers. I love how the reformers kind of bring it down even deeper, just to the base level of, no, no, no, no, is the church doing the right things? Right.

JonYeah. They're starting more with the Bible and what Jesus says the church should be.

RyanYeah, exactly.

JonInstead of just what puts smiles on people's faces, keeps them content and showing up.

JonSo, cool.So, thinking about, that's kind of our historical perspective, but thinking about today and our unique situation of what it's like in the world today, what are some of the things that you think stand out most about a church that are markers of health in the world today? What stands out as like, oh wow, that makes a healthy church just pop out in the world today?

RyanWell, let me kind of throw back a question on you. I remember in seminary we had a professor who had this sign on his door and it caused a lot of conversation and the sign said healthy things grow, healthy churches grow. And it was this notion of like part of the sign that your church is healthy is that it's growing. And I know in our world we're really averse to quantifying things down to numbers but that's a way to understand if your church is growing or not. Now you could also say there's also growth as in spiritual growth and spiritual death and those sort of things but I'm just kind of curious Pastor Jon in your estimation do you put numerical attendance growth as a marker of a healthy church?

JonYou gotta just make it hard for me don't you? Yeah I wanted you to answer first. That's funny. Here's how I would say it. I would say that a numerical numerical growth is a byproduct of a healthy church. So in that sense, it's an important metric to watch, but it's not the sum total of being a healthy church. So I've talked with guys that have talked about, they started with a church of X amount, and they'll say, I grew it down to about 30 people or something like that. I think the biblical term for that is pruning. Right, right, totally. And the point is to say that, you know, they grew it in terms of spiritual health, but not numerical health at first. But then, so, actually I'm thinking of a specific of a church in our area that's very large, that the lead pastor, you know, 30 years ago or whenever, when he started that church, he talked about it was, you know, it involved pruning at first, but then once the church became truly healthy, it did take off in numerical growth. And so it doesn't have to look like, you know, going from 30 people to thousands, but yeah, I would say in general, it is true, yeah, that healthy churches are going to grow.

RyanYeah, I would say, you know, attendance growth is a, it definitely can be a marker of health, but it's not exclusively an indication of health because we know plenty of unhealthy churches that are preaching a man-centered message. I was going to say man-centered gospel, I don't even believe in that term. A man-centered message that are growing and obviously that's not a healthy church. So we think it's a definitely it's a good indication like you're saying it's a metric that's helpful to understand you know as a church has to make certain logistical decisions but that's just that's one of the ones, that's a question that comes up immediately when we talk about church health. Church health must mean growth, growth must mean more people coming to your church, which is like, yeah, let's talk about that. It can be. I kind of, during my sermon, when I talked about how I believe that we are largely a healthy church, and I made a very clear distinction, I'm not saying we're a perfect church. I was very clear we're not a perfect church. We have room to grow. There's areas that we can become more like Jesus.

But I said we are a healthy church and some of the indications I said to that was I did say yes because our attendance is growing but also even more so I'd say we preach the Bible, we seek to teach the Bible, our membership is growing, we're multiplying as a church, we're not just staying local, we're going regional. I believe that we have people who are out there sharing the gospel both relationally and also just through evangelism Just getting on the getting out there and talking with strangers about Jesus financially people are giving their Demonstrating a level of generosity our church is becoming more connected as people are finding a relationship with one another I mean There's there's lots of markers that help indicate growth and I'd say even when you look at some of the negative markers of growth Like what what are not growth? So what are some of the negative markers that would indicate a church is unhealthy? I would say I don't have a lot of examples of those. Things like, you know, a real vibe of cynicism in the church, or I don't think gossip is rampant in our church. Those sort of like, those real sort of, again, those what I'd say markers of unhealth, I can't point to a lot of that happening. And when it does happen, we address it, which is what a healthy church does. When we know people who are going wayward or being hurtful or detrimental, pastors or elders or leaders discipline or hold people to account. So those are some of the things I would respond to church health.

JonYeah, well to that point, if somebody in our church or another church, church member, thinks that their church is unhealthy, what do you recommend they do? Who should they talk to? What should they say?

Question #2: If a church member thinks that their church is unhealthy, what do you recommend they do?

RyanFirst thing I would say is pray, and not because that's just like the quote unquote Christian answer, but because I think that's the right answer. Number one, pray, and then I think you need to go to your elders. If there's, I think if you're identifying one person who's the seed of unhealth, I think Matthew 18 says you probably should go and talk to that person one-on-one, but if a Christian just thinks in a general sense they don't see health in their church or they see unhealth, then I would say pray and then approach your elder or one of your elders depending on how your government structure is. That's what I'd say. What would you say?

JonYeah, totally. I totally agree. For example, in our church, the congregation each has an elder, a specific elder that is part of their zone, their shepherding elder that they can go to. And so if you're going to contact that elder, I would recommend that phone call or that email ought to be full of questions. You know, you're sending an email to that guy and you're saying, hey, I've noticed this, can you please tell me why that's happening or what you think about that? Or...

RyanAlso, I think 100%, emails that have questions are received so much better than emails that are full of accusations or statements. And also, I would say, it's very helpful to bring like some examples like if someone's gonna come to me and say I feel like Our church is unhealthy. I would say why do you say that and if they just say I don't know I just feel that way that does not help right like what do you actually mean? Like if you care enough to actually have the conversation with your elder then care enough to come with some specifics But I I completely agree with you. I'm so glad you said it and I want to underscore it again, come with questions. If you think one thing, seek clarification just to make sure that what you're observing is accurate. Or maybe there's a piece of the puzzle that you're missing that a question could help fill that in.

JonYeah, awesome. Awesome, well hey, there's tons we could say about what is a healthy church. We'll have to talk more about that in the future. But I got one more I want to talk about, a question that came in from a fourth grader. That question is this: If God made us in His image, then why aren't we exactly like Him?

Question #3: If God made us in His image, then why aren't we exactly like Him?

RyanSo fourth grader, wow, what a profound, great theological question. I'm so, so I think one of the ways to think about it is when you talk about something that is imprinted or stamped, it's not gonna be what that thing is. It's just gonna be an image of that thing. If you think about it like a stamp, not like a postage stamp, but like when you stamp, what's the word I'm looking for? Like a rubber stamp or play-doh. Yeah, you press an image into something and it reflects that image, but it doesn't become that thing. And so that's what I would say to this fourth grader with such a phenomenal question. We bear God's image, which means we're imprinted with God's image. Not that we become his being. We don't become God.

RyanThat's not what it means. It's we are imprinted with his image. And now we can talk about what that means and what it doesn't mean. We talk about there's communicable attributes and incommunicable attributes of God. And I know that's probably too big of a term for a fourth grader. But what that means is that there's qualities that God has. Some of those qualities we share. Some of those qualities, by the fact that he is God, we cannot share. The fact that he's all-knowing. We're not all-knowing. But there are communicable attributes, those attributes that we can share, such as we can know what love is and share love like God, not in the full God sense, of course. We can know things, we have intelligence, God has intelligence, wisdom, those sort of things. That's something we know when we talk about what it means to be made in God's image. It's not that we become God, we don't become the thing that God is, we just bear an image of what God is. And what we mean by that is that we share attributes, qualities of God. Some, but not all.

Jon Yeah, I love that. That's really good. I was thinking also of just like a son or a daughter to their parent. You know, you often, kids look like their mom or dad, but they don't look exactly like them, but they look like them. Yeah. Yeah, I think that's a, scripture talks about us being God's children. And so I think that's another way to talk about it.

RyanYeah, and also, for instance, my son Jed, he bears my image in the fact that he's absolutely obsessed with the Legend of Zelda video game series. It's like all he talks about, and all he wants to do, and all he wants to play, and everything for Christmas is Link and Zelda related, and I'm like, my son bears my image. I love it.

JonThat's awesome, yeah. So shared interests, I like that.


JonSweet, well that's awesome. That's all the time we've got for today. Finally, I want to say that several of you have sent in questions about Israel, asking about Israel. And so we're actually going to take time to answer those questions next week. So, next week's special episode, we're going to talk specifically about some of the world things going on over in Israel. And we are not political commentators, but we do want to talk about Christian worldview and theology and what the Bible says and so we're gonna spend next week Getting into that so look forward to that tune in next week.

RyanYep. Yeah, we want to underscore This is this is near and dear to our heart We're obviously concerned as the world is But we're gonna be spending the next week kind of watching how things unfold praying Discerning searching the scriptures and we're excited to talk about that next week. That's right I want to take some time so we can talk about it intelligently.

JonAbsolutely. Yeah. Awesome. Hey, thanks everybody for listening. Thanks Pastor Ryan.

RyanThanks Pastor Jon.

JonHave an awesome week.

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