Joy and optimism ought to characterize every Christian and every church family. The fact is, a lot of Christians are miserable and they show it—they project it. Their lack of joy is like a giant negative billboard for Jesus, the gospel and His church. The same could be said for many churches—they radiate defeat, judgmentalism, and carnality. If they preach a gospel, it’s a joyless, unattractive gospel.
The gospel is attractive! Jesus is wonderful! Peace with God is astounding! The grace, love, and community we enjoy, as Christians, is untouchable! It’s like nothing to be found anywhere else in the world. In this light, I recently made a list of qualities I pray Emmanuel Baptist Church will embody—emanate—with intentional love and grace. When a guest or outside observer is exposed to EBC, this is what I PRAY they will experience:
The church I dream of pastoring is a church…
1. Where Jesus and His gospel is truly preeminent. I don’t ever want to get tired of preaching Jesus, or my church family tired of hearing of Him. May we never tire of worshipping Him, loving Him, or growing together in Him. May we never feel as though we’ve moved beyond the gospel! Without Jesus and grace, we’re nothing but a club of miserable, hopeless, condemned people. It’s all about Jesus! (Col. 1:18)
2. Where God’s Word is growing. Whenever the Bible is preached and taught with clarity and practicality, the church is moving forward. The truth makes people free. God’s Word effectually works in lives. In Acts the Word of God grew and multiplied. I pray that people who come to EBC will see God’s Word in action, grow in His Word, and love His Word! (Acts 12:24)
3. Where the disciples are multiplying. Addition is one thing. Multiplication is another. In Acts 6, what began as a bottleneck of needs led to a meeting of leaders and the appointment of new leaders. As the church developed structure to meet needs, the number of disciples dramatically increased! Healthy churches see increasing needs, appoint new leaders, and see multiplication in action. (Acts 6:7)
4. Where Christians love and encourage one another. It’s natural (or carnal) to judge others, compare with others, measure others, criticize others. But God’s Spirit initiates different behavior. It’s “of the Spirit” when Christians set aside these carnal behaviors and begin to humbly, purely, selflessly love and encourage each other. It’s also highly attractive, and highly “unlike” the world! (Eph. 4:32)
5. Where rest is a reality. Perpetual exhaustion is neither noble nor spiritual. Perpetual neglect of marriage, family, or other God-given priorities is dishonoring to God. There’s not a Bible verse that says, “Pray like it’s all up to God. Work like it’s all up to you.” Rest is biblical, Christ-like, honorable, humble, and yielding. Rest yields control to God. Rest recognizes it really is ALL in His hands. (Matt. 11:28)
6. Where the focus is on doing few things with excellence. New Testament local church was relatively simple. Believers gathered, brought in unbelievers, worshipped, prayed, fellowshipped, encouraged, shared meals, and preached the Word. They were consumed with propagating Jesus and growing in His grace. It was people-centric, not program centric. How I long to preserve New Testament simplicity in an era where “more, bigger, better, faster, greater” is the common in our identity-craving culture. (Phil. 1:27)
7. Where restoration, healing, and reconciliation thrive. American Christianity doesn’t know much about inter-personal humility and servitude. We run from and despise people with whom we have issues. Biblical Christianity is a different economy. It absorbs hurt, suffers offense, and processes division humbly and graciously. How I long for a church family that excels in forbearing and forgiving rather than fighting and feuding. (Col. 3:13)
8. Where long-term sustainability is high value. If I lead my church from my own personal agenda or quest for identity, I will crush God’s sheep. Healthy churches are on a quest to magnify Jesus and His grace. Yet, if we chase our own significance, we will work too many hours, deplete our families, over-spend our resources, over-extend our limits, and live margin-less in life and ministry. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, and balance is biblical. (1 Tim. 4:16)
9. Where the next generation is grounded in gospel-oriented faith. I’ve been exposed to both grace-based Christianity and performance-based Christianity. The latter fuels comparison, competition, and arrogance—it ultimately leads to disappointment and often deep sin. It’s fueled by pride. Grace-based Christianity is a relationship of complete acceptance which fosters humility, brotherly love, nonjudgmental spirit, unity, and genuine gospel ministry. I pray we can be a church family well-grounded in grace. (2 Pet. 3:18)
10. Where young leaders are prepared to sustain health after I’m gone. Succession is a problem in many ministries. How often have churches stagnated or died because leaders weren’t thinking “beyond their tenure.” I pray God will give me health and many years at EBC. But I also pray that He will help us lay a healthy foundation for another generation who will follow us. (Jude 3)
What we’re seeing at EBC is God’s work of grace. No human being can take credit for it. As pastor, I’m a weakling, often fearful, often second-guessing, often hesitant in areas of courage or faith. When it comes to healthy church—I’m totally dependent upon God’s Spirit. The one thing I CAN do is trust Him and obey His leading. And that is enough. It has to be.
Somehow I believe, so long as we continue offering Him faith and obedience—He will continue to magnify Himself. He will continue to develop a church family that is maturing in grace, exalting Jesus, and loving others in the gospel. As one of the sheep, I’m REALLY glad He tossed me into this particular stream that is flowing by His power!
Healthy churches are rare, but they can still be a reality—if only we will get out of His way and let Him lead His bride.