June is a big month of reflection and planning for Mars Hill Church. It’s the end of our fiscal year and the last month before summer. Many of our ministry plans rise and fall depending on whether we finish strong in giving. For our church family and our extended family listening in around the world, I encourage you to give, and I’d also like to share a video we put together for this year’s wrap-up:
What will Mars Hill look like next June? How about ten Junes from now? I’ve got no shortage of hopes, prayers, and vision, but more than anything I hope we’re a good tree that bears good fruit.
Admittedly, a goal like this is difficult to measure. But Acts 2:42-47 provides a great example of what it looks like when God’s people love one another as a healthy church. Based on this passage, I’ve identified eleven marks of a healthy church. More than high attendance, big giving, or lots of new locations, these biblical principles provide a roadmap for the future of Mars Hill and serve as key health indicators for JESUS’ CHURCH:
J-Jesus-centered Bible preaching and teaching
Peter’s preaching and teaching in Acts 2 is centered on Jesus. Mars Hill is a Bible-believing church, and since the main message of the Bible is the person and work of Jesus Christ, teaching and preaching must be centered on Jesus. Where there is no preaching and teaching, there is no church. Everything must start here. A healthy church features Jesus-centered Bible preaching and teaching.
Over and over in Acts the early church is praising Jesus through speaking, singing, and praying. They’re continually amazed at what God is doing. Do we feel the same? Jesus continues to heal and do amazing things among us. He is worthy of worship, and a healthy church worships with passion.
S-Saved church members
The world is filled with people, but not all of them are Jesus’ people. They don’t love, serve, believe, belong to, and obey Jesus. The Bible draws a very clear line among those who are saved and those who are not. We welcome everyone into the church, but not everyone can be a Community Group leader, deacon, or elder, or hold any other type of leadership position. A healthy church includes participants who love Jesus and give their time to serve as members of the body of Christ.
U-Under godly leadership
The senior leader of the church is Jesus. First Peter 5 says he is our chief Shepherd. The leaders are to follow him. The people are to follow their leaders. But ultimately, everyone must follow Jesus. Everyone in a healthy church, including me, needs to be under godly authority.
Repentance is a change of mind, which leads to a change of heart, which leads to a changed life. The big idea is you’re either going toward Jesus or toward sin. Repentance is always met with resistance and has always been controversial. The Old Testament prophets, John the Baptizer, Jesus, and Peter were all murdered for preaching repentance. We believe preaching repentance is very loving because hell is hot and forever is a long time. For healthy Christians, repentance is an ongoing gift that allows us to be reconciled to God and one another through confessing our sin and receiving Jesus’ grace to forgive.
We take communion to remember Jesus’ sacrifice in our place (Matt. 26:26–29). At Mars Hill, we offer communion on a weekly basis, after the sermon in order to allow an opportunity for people to reflect on the Word, examine their hearts, and confess sin. We also emphasize the importance of breaking bread together on a regular weekly basis in homes for Community Groups. A healthy church takes communion together to remember the meal we ate without God in Eden and the meal we will eat with God together in the Kingdom.
The believers in Acts 2:44–45 were generous toward Jesus’ mission. God has been generous to give us the earth, give us life, and give us his Son to reconcile us to God. God also gave us the Holy Spirit, he gave us the people of God, he gave us his Word, and he is preparing a place for us in heaven that he will give us as an inheritance. A healthy church is a giving church because it reflects the character and person of God.
The word baptism does not describe a sprinkling or pouring water on one’s head. It’s for children and adults and who have professed faith in Christ. It’s not for infants. Underwater baptism is outward evidence of the Holy Spirit’s inward work on the heart. Jesus was baptized underwater, and the New Testament speaks frequently of people being baptized as soon as Jesus saved them.
There’s a common misconception that the early church only met in small home groups and other informal gatherings. And sometimes they did meet in small groups, but they also met in large groups. A healthy church is full of Christians who gather together regularly, formally on Sundays and informally during the week (we call them Community Groups).
Acts 2:42–46 gives us a sense that the church is like a family that really loves each other. They pray together, eat together, and share their possessions. It’s a portrait of Jesus’ kingdom (but it’s not heaven yet because we all still struggle with sin). We can care for one another and love one another, but we will also frustrate and enrage one another. A healthy church works through its differences because families fight differently than enemies.
H-Harvesting through evangelism and church planting
The book of Acts provides regular head counts. They counted people because people count. When I travel with my family, I regularly count to make sure we still have all five kids. They’re important to me. A healthy church wants more Christians, more churches, and more lives changed.
God’s plan to reach the nations will be accomplished through the church. Kings and kingdoms will come and go. Companies and headquarters will come and go. Sports teams and stadiums will come and go. Causes, missions, ministries, organizations, and institutions will all come and go. Only one thing will last forever: Jesus Christ’s church.
I pray that we grow as a healthy church, one month, one week, one life at a time.