What is a Healthy Church?

Caleb Yap summarises the key learning points from the  "What is a Healthy Church?" conference with Jonathan Leeman of 9Marks, held on 17 Jul 2017.

I’ve been coughing a lot recently – a phlegmy, violent cough that cuts painfully against a sore throat. I’ve been sick for some time now. I know what been healthy means, and I miss it. 

Is our church healthy? How are we unhealthy? Do we know what being a healthy church looks like? What medication should we be taking, and what habits should we be changing? These were some of the questions that conference-goers had the privilege of considering over the course of five sessions on 17 July (Monday) with Dr Jonathan Leeman from 9Marks, a ministry designed to help promote healthy churches. Many GBC members attended too, as we thought through this important subject together. Read on for a quick summary of Dr Leeman’s teaching.

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In summary, we learnt that healthy churches display, promote and protect the gospel.

Healthy churches represent heaven and practise church membership.

Dr Leeman explained that a healthy church had a clear understanding of the importance of membership. Membership is an earthly declaration of a heavenly citizenship, and the local church is like an official embassy of a kingdom in a foreign land. From the Gospel of Matthew, he showed how King Jesus was authorised to speak for heaven, and the local church was His earthly representative to affirm the citizenship of those from His kingdom, just like an embassy. Membership then, is the office where we: protect and preserve the gospel, affirm gospel citizens, disciple other members and evangelise non-Christians. For the individual members of GBC, this means understanding our roles clearly: we should take responsibility for the local church, just as the church takes responsibility for each one of us.

Healthy churches shine like stars and practise Christ-like submission.

Building on this, he explained from Phil 2:12-15 how church members ought to be like countercultural 'shining stars' against the dark night backdrop of the world by practising submission the way Jesus did to the Father. He gave practical examples for how to do this, such as publicly submitting to the church in baptism and membership, and submitting ourselves for the good of the church and its members. He also encouraged us to submit physically by attending service regularly, and even making the effort to be around and live near church members so that our lives can be integrated together as one instead of being self-serving from Monday to Saturday.

Healthy churches disciple their members to disciple each other.

Dr Leeman taught from Eph 4:11-16 on the topic of discipleship and showed us that pastors and leaders of the church are to equip church members to do the work of ministry ourselves by speaking the truth in love to one another. This could involve opening up the Word of God with a friend and asking others to imitate us like Paul did with Timothy, or counselling a friend to follow Jesus practically. He urged us to think of discipleship as a loving, joyful lifestyle which transcends differences like age, race and socio-economic class, and actively involving the larger church.

Healthy churches have good elders and practise church discipline.

Dr Leeman also explained from NT passages like 1 Tim 3 and Titus 1 the qualifications of elders, and what their ministry in gathering, teaching and equipping looks like. He stressed the importance of church discipline, which is essentially the loving act of correcting sinners, and therefore, promoting, displaying and protecting the gospel.

In conclusion, the 9Marks conference painted a beautiful picture of a healthy church for us to emulate, and prescribed a practical course for us to pursue in terms of membership, discipline, eldership and discipleship.

As we look to inhabiting a renewed 17 Mattar Road, what steps will we take to fill it with a healthy church?

What-is-a-healthy-church-2The organisers of the conference posed with Jonathan Leeman: (L-R) Ps Eugene Low of Grace Baptist Church, Ps Andrew Goh of Kay Poh Road Baptist Church and Ps Wei Enyi of Shalom Reformed Baptist Church. We are grateful for this opportunity to partner with Kay Poh Road Baptist Church and Shalom Reformed Baptist Church in organising this conference and we pray for more such gospel partnerships!