There are churches and then there are CHURCHES. We all know this truth and there are those churches that stand out. They seem strong and firm, they are vibrant. What is the key to that church’s success and ministry? Let’s ponder that for a moment;
There are two things that mark a truly strong church.
1- They are doctrinally strong. This is to say that the Bible is preached and taught with boldness and authority. These churches also faithfully observe the 2 ordinances of the church according to scriptural guidelines. These churches also have biblical church membership. These things mark the doctrinal requirements of a true church. There are no shortages of churches that meet these minimal requirements. But there is also no shortage of these kinds of churches in decline, many close their doors every week never to reopen again. Bottom line: this isn’t enough to make a strong church
So what makes up a strong church? A number of criteria have been put forth in an effort to determine what a strong church looks like. For many, the number of people who attend is used as a criteria. This is why pastors often ask each other “how many do you have attending Sunday school/small groups”? For others, it is the size of the property. Be honest, how many times have we been enamored by a different church’s size and amenities? We ride by a huge church on the way somewhere and think, “wow, they must have their act together”. We might also look at how missionally strong a church is. We see a church that sends mission teams around the world, that supports church plants and has missionaries sent from within and think that is a strong church.
Let me say, none of the above are bad things, in and of themselves. However neither Scripture nor Jesus used any of these markers to describe a strong church.
2. A strong church is a loving church. Paul writes in Romans 13:7, “Owe no one anything except to love one another”. Jesus told His disciples in John 13, “A new commandment I give you, to love one another”. John tells us in 1 John that a sure sign of biblical salvation is that we love the brethren (1 John 3:14). In fact, over and over again, the one thing the New Testament makes known is that love is the mark of a true believer, and should consume a true church. For a moment, consider the “love passage” from 1 Corinthians 13:
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
1 Corinthians 13 was not written for a wedding ceremony, nor to simply be used for marriage purposes (although it certainly applies). 1 Corinthian 13 was written for believers to quote in church covenant vows. In other words, when people read the love passage, they shouldn’t merely be thinking about their spouse, but should instead be thinking about their church.
This indeed is radical, and it should look radical. Imagine for one moment that you move to a new area and there are 5 churches in proximity. 4 of these churches are modern: they have nice new BIG buildings, they have plenty of parking and they have a nice sanctuary. They have an orchestra and big choir, or they have a really talented praise band. The preacher preaches from Scripture and does no injustice to the text. These churches have plenty of money in the budget, a big youth group and all the bells and whistles, except they are cold. Now the 5th church is smaller, the facilities aren’t quite as nice. They have small choir and the budget is ok, but not massive. They seem (outwardly) to be an ok church. However, the difference is love. The members in that church care deeply for each other. When one is sick, the others pray and minister compassionately. When death strikes, they all mourn together. When a baby is born or someone is greatly blessed, they celebrate together. The members keep in touch with each other all week, they think about each other when they don’t see each other. When someone has missed worship or bible study, the other members notice and check up on them. They put the needs of others above their own wants. They think about each other in no other way, but close family.
Which church would you want to join?
Let us be that church.
Let us be the kind of people who quickly forgive, slowly hurt, edify, encourage and admonish.
Let us LOVE one another.