While there are many books aimed at pastors and other leaders on church health and growth, Thabiti (pronounced thuh-BEE-tee) Anyabwile has written a short, helpful, and accessible book aimed directly at the congregation. In What is a Healthy Church Member?, Thabiti presents ten marks that characterize healthy and faithful church members. In his introduction he writes, “This little book is written in the hope that you might discover or rediscover what it means to be a healthy member of a local church, and what it means to contribute to the overall health of the church” (14).
What’s great about this book is that there is new or revolutionary about it; it’s simply a brief look at what Scripture has to say about members of Christ’s body. In fact, these ten marks have long been understood to describe faithful Christianity. However, it’s very easy for these marks to be forgotten or neglected, especially in a day when the church is often characterized by consumerism and “christianity-lite.”
A Healthy Church Member…
Is an Expositional Listener. This means we listen for the meaning of a particular passage and let that be the main idea of a text. We don’t primarily listen for life hacks, self-esteem boosts, and “how-to” advice, although that has its place. Rather, we listen to what God is saying to us in his Word, trusting that what he has put there is for our good and his glory. To be an expositional listener is largely contingent upon expositional preaching, which is preaching that gets its main sermon points from the point of the passage being preach; it lets the text determine the pastor’s preaching agenda, rather than his own interests and hobby horses.
Is a Biblical Theologian. Anyabwile writes: “healthy church members give themselves to understanding the unity and progression of the Bible as a whole—not just isolated or favorite passages. They approach the Bible knowing that they are reading one awesome story of God redeeming for himself a people for his own glory. And in that story, they see that God is a creating God, a holy God, a faithful God, a loving God, and a sovereign God as he makes and keeps his promises to his people, beginning with Adam and Eve and progressing to the final consummation of all things” (28). Practicing biblical theology helps us understand and appreciate the Old Testament while also helping us studying it with Jesus and the New Testament in view.
Is Gospel Saturated. This seems like a no-brainer. However, we live in a day and age where many (if not most) churches assume the gospel, where it’s usually tacked on the end of a message and only aimed at unbelievers. The gospel isn’t preached or understood with any clarity or depth. But, as Christians, we need to understand the good news of God’s salvation in Christ deeply and cherish it dearly. It’s not only the “ABCs” of salvation, as Tim Keller puts it, but the “A through Z.” Our Christian obedience and sanctification is to be fueled by the gospel. The more you come to find your joy in God and the gospel the more you’ll start to feel malnourished when you don’t hear a sermon that’s all about it.
Is Genuinely Converted. This is the place to start when discussing a healthy church member. One of the primary reasons why there are so many “nominal Christians” (i.e., Christians in name only…so not true believers) in our churches is due to a poor and unbiblical understanding of conversion. Thabiti writes, “Conversion is the radical turn from an enslaved life of pursuing sin to a free life of pursuing and worshiping God. Conversion is a change of life, not merely a decision. This change is not a matter of moral rectitude, self help, or mere behavior modification. It is not accomplished by outward displays or religious practices like “walking the aisle.” It cannot be accomplished by human effort but only by the power of God” (49, emphasis mine). Having a biblical understanding of conversion will help you know if you truly are born again. It will also impact your evangelism.
Is a Biblical Evangelist. This means healthy church members share the incredible news that God sent his Son to die and rise again for sinners and then call those who hear (not only see) to repent and believe. The best and most liberating thing about a biblical understanding of conversion is that you realize that evangelism doesn’t ultimately depend on you! “[It] does not depend on eloquence, using the correct mood lighting, emotionally sappy stories and songs, or high-pressure sales pitches. We are free to simply and deeply trust God and the power of the gospel to produce the fruit he desires (Rom. 1:17)” (58). We are the ambassadors pleading for people to reconciled to God (2 Cor 5:20) and trusting that God will give the growth as we simply plant and water the Word.
Is a Committed Member. In our anti-institutional age, we often fail to understand or take seriously the importance of the local church in the life of the believer. Thabiti puts it bluntly: “People don’t become committed church members—and therefore healthy Christians—because they don’t understand that such a commitment is precisely how God intends his people to live out the faith and experience Christian love” (64). Becoming a member of a local church is not merely a record of a statement made, an opportunity to have a voice in church business, required for salvation, or simply an affection toward a familiar place – it is the reflection of a living commitment, intended to be a testimony to our membership in the universal church. Committed members lock arms with other believers in a local assembly to foster deep, authentic, God-glorifying, sin-fighting relationships.
Seeks Discipline. As disciples of Christ, “discipline is about education and learning, order and growth. It is discipline in the life of the congregation and the healthy church member that provides an atmosphere for growth and development. It leads to the rare polished jewel of Christlikeness” (74). Second Timothy 3:16 tells us that there are two forms of discipline: formative and corrective. Formative discipline is the most common form and it refers to how God’s Word shapes, encourages, and directs the Christian to live for God. Corrective discipline, on the other hand, is more rare (hopefully), and is implemented when believers persist in sin and need loving and restorative correction from other members of the church (Matt 18:15-17; 1 Cor 5; Gal 6:1). Healthy Church members realize that they need discipline, in either form, and humbly embrace it.
Is a Growing Disciple. This mark is tied to the previous one and is another no-brainer. Healthy church members are by definition growing disciples of Jesus Christ. Of course, every believer goes through temporary spiritual plateaus where your “fire for God” isn’t blazing. However, spiritual maturity and progressive conformity to the image of Christ should be normal for Christians (cf. Phil 3:12-14; 2 Peter 3:18). This growth takes place as we abide in Christ (John 15), which simply means remaining his Word. Unfortunately, “Many Christians seem to believe advancement in spiritual maturity must come through some extraordinary or ‘breakthrough’ experience. For them, it’s the fantastic that produces growth” (90). But it is the ordinary means of grace that ordinarily produce growth and maturity: reading God’s Word, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, corporate worship, and prayer. “In fact, while the sensational and extraordinary can and often does lead people astray, the Word properly taught and understood never will” (90).
Is a Humble Follower. For God-ordained church leadership to be effective, it needs encouragement and support from members of the church. Healthy and humble church members are those who honor their elders by meeting their needs, providing them with a sufficient wage, and protecting their reputation from gossip and slander (1 Tim 5:17-19). They also show their leaders love (cf. 2 Cor 6:11-13; 7:2-3; 8:5), and are teachable. In addition to these attitudes, healthy members will joyfully obey and submit to their leaders (Heb 13:17), follow their godly example of holiness (1 Tim 4:12; Tit 2:7), and pray for their leaders regularly. Of course, this does not mean we should blindly follow our leaders without holding them accountable to Scripture, turning them into untouchable celebrity “Apostles.” But the right attitude and actions towards church leadership is vital towards church health.
Is a Prayer Warrior. Last but certainly not least, healthy church members are prayer warriors. One of the central activities of the early church was that they were people of prayer (Acts 1:14; 2:42; 4:24;12:12). Christians should pray constantly (1 Thess 5:17; Rom 12:12; Col 4:2) and in the Spirit (Eph 6:18). Thabiti writes, “prayer in the Spirit is prayer controlled by the Spirit. And prayer controlled by the Spirit is prayer according to the will of God. It is when we pray in accord with God’s will, which is revealed in his Word, that we pray in the Spirit” (110). More specifically, healthy church members pray for their leaders (Phil 1:19-20), missionaries (Matt 9:36-38), for all the saints (Eph 6:18), for those in authority (1 Tim 2:1-3), for the lost, and for those who persecute you (Luke 6:28).
Mitch Bedzyk serves as a teacher and worship leader at Elmira Christian Center. He received his Master of Theological Studies from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and works in IT for the NY Office of Mental Health. He and his wife, Sarah, have two sons, Oliver and Micah, and are foster parents. In his spare time he enjoys reading, coffee, guitar, following the Bundesliga and MLS, and playing fantasy soccer. You can follow him @mitchbedzyk