Imagine that you are in a country where there are less that 2% evangelical Christians. You are trying to start a church among an unreached people group. There are no churches to invite others to attend on Sunday mornings. The people have no concept of “church” in their mind to compare it to as a reference. As you share the gospel, people come to faith in Jesus. You begin to have a small church, and you wonder what to do…what do you emphasize to your new church members? What are the defining marks of a healthy church?
Before His ascension, Jesus left His disciples with the instructions to stay in Jerusalem until He sent the Holy Spirit. The disciples waited, and on the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came and the Church was born. The disciples preached the gospel and many received the message and were baptized. We will look at three biblical marks that identify a healthy church as they are revealed here in the Early Church in Acts 2. “They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42).
Devoted to the Faithful Teaching of Scripture
The early church was devoted to Scripture. Webster’s defines “devoted” as having a “strong love or loyalty for something or someone”. The Scriptures contain the Word of God, which is the only authority by which we should live. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” You want to go to a church that has a teacher who teaches the Scriptures. You wouldn’t want to take your car to a mechanic who knows nothing about cars. You need to go to a church that is best for your soul, and the Scriptures reveal what your soul needs most.
Devoted to the Fellowship of the Saints
The Saints are the ones who have been set apart and called to walk a holy life. Fellowship is more than the place that you go to church. Fellowship is Christian community that involves accountability. When I hear the word fellowship, many times I think of a pre-planned event that is on a church calendar and is advertised in the bulletin. Yes, the church staff tries to come up with creative ways to bring people together, but sometimes the best fellowship with other Christians does not happen through those events. I have met many friends at those events, but our fellowship grew through having them into my home for a meal or serving with them somewhere.
I grew up at a large church, and it was not always easy for me to make friends at church. I was a quiet kid and many of my friends from school did not go to my church. It wasn’t until I was a junior in high school that I started to make some good friends at church. My Sunday school teacher was very intentional about being a part of our every day lives. A group of us would meet in her small, yellow house once a week, and we would share about things going on in our lives. It was one of the first times that I experienced true fellowship with other believers. Since then, God has been faithful to bring new faces into my life through different churches to provide me with fellowship and accountability.
Devoted to Following the Savior’s Example
Jesus broke bread with His disciples at the Last Supper. Jesus modeled how to pray in Matthew 6, and He modeled a disciplined prayer life in Mark 1. A healthy church, if anything, should look like the Savior they follow. Jesus said: “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40). Jesus is the head of the church, much like I am the head of my classroom as a third grade teacher. The whole point of educating children is that the information in my brain will be passed on to my students. The church is similar, except we not only want to know what Jesus knows, we want to live as He lived.
Now, these marks provide a helpful evaluation for our own churches. Some of you may be looking for a church to attend. Some of you may have never truly attended a biblical church, or you may realize that the church you do go to does not possess these three characteristics. Based on this passage, we should strive to be a part of a healthy church that is devoted to the faithful teaching of Scripture, the fellowship of the Saints, and following the Savior’s example and do all that we can to make sure our church remains healthy. Be bold and ask God to show you not only what a healthy church looks like, but seek to understand what the church is and what our role is within the church. Study Acts 2-4 and look for your checklist for a biblical church to be a part of in God’s Kingdom work. By being a church member, it is important to be reading Scripture personally, seeking fellowship with others, and following Christ’s example in all areas of your life.
Dear God, we thank You for Your church. We could not function without the Body of Christ. God, today we ask that You would help us to be the church members that You want us to be. May You raise up a generation who is dedicated to Scripture and to fellowship.
I am a Church Member by Thom Rainer