The Local Church and Building Healthy Churches

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On 20 and 21 October, we hosted two conferences with Mark Dever, pastor of Capital Hill Baptist Church and from 9Marks ministry. The first conference was targeted at leaders ("Building Healthy Churches"). The other, which was jointly organised with Adam Road Presbyterian Church (ARPC) was for church members ("The Local Church"). 

One of our members, Ryan Ang, attended both conferences, and shares with us his experience and reflections here. 

“What is a local Church?”

That was a question that Pastor Mark Dever from Capitol Hill Baptist Church asked the 250 or more participants at the “Building Healthy Churches” conference which was held on the morning of 20 October 2023. About 300 participants came for "The Local Church" conference.

As a participant of both conferences, I had the extraordinary privilege to learn from Pastor Dever as he taught on what is a local church, and how healthy churches should look like based on what Scripture says. Although much of the material that was taught may be somewhat familiar to those who have read his book, "9 Marks of a Healthy Church", it was nevertheless refreshing and encouraging to hear from Dever himself explain Scripture and show us how it can be lived out corporately.

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Participants from different churches came together to learn about the importance of the local church and how we can be members of the local church we are committed to.

Topics that were covered throughout the event included preaching (why we need it and why expositional preaching should be preferred etc.), church polity (characteristics of the relationship between Elders and congregation etc.), and raising elders, among others. Humorously, in the segment regarding preaching, Pastor Dever remarked that despite standing on the pulpit and teaching, what he was doing throughout the event was more of a lecture compared to the expositional preaching that he was speaking of.  

On a personal level, I also felt most edified and heartened by the following. Getting to see followers of Christ of all stripes, denominations, nations, and tongues congregating together to hear from and learn about what the local church is and the elements required for it to be run healthily, was particularly uplifting. It was encouraging that the conferences were held in partnership with ARPC, reminding us of the value of gospel partnerships. There were also participants that flew in from the region for both conferences, and that was an encouraging reminder of the work that God is doing beyond our shores.

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Participants of the "Building Healthy Churches" conference also had a chance to meet and interact with other participants over lunch. 

Second, I enjoyed the panel discussions that were woven in with the Q&A section. These panel discussions featured pastors from different churches and even nationalities. This was helpful as the intricacies and nuances on how the various topics could be applied to various local contexts were fleshed out.

Two specific episodes stood out to me. One of them involved having Pastor Dever, along with Pastor Eugene, and two other pastors from East Asia and India, coming together to discuss how their churches are run in their respective contexts. Interestingly, many of the answers coming from the four brothers sounded largely similar, but as Pastor Mark suggested in his recent preaching of Hebrews 13, good leaders are unoriginal. The 4 pastors shared very similar views on how church should broadly look like, despite being in different settings, because their views are rested on our eternal and unchanging Holy Scripture. Despite preaching and teaching in different countries and contexts, the content and message – the gospel – remains unchanged.

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A panel discussion featuring pastors from different churches. 

Similarly, the second episode involved another panel with local pastors – Pastor Christopher Chia from ARPC, Pastor Simon Murphy from Redemption Hill Church, and again Pastor Eugene and Pastor Dever. They sat together to discuss the Singaporean church and the most pertinent problems facing churches in our country. One of them observed that a fraction of church growth is due to Christians in Singapore transferring churches or moving between churches. This could be something that churches in Singapore can work together to address because sometimes individuals could be moving due to unresolved personal or sin issues between themselves and others in their previous church.

This discussion resonated with me because it reminded me of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s main point in Life Together: “Those who love their dream of a Christian community more than they love the Christian community itself become destroyers of that Christian community even though their personal intentions may be ever so honest, earnest and sacrificial.” Ultimately, as an assembly of sinners coming together to worship a Holy God, inevitably, no church will be perfect because we are imperfect. Thus, to move between churches —in a bid to seek something better—for any reason less than biblical is arguably unwise. However, what we as believers can do is strive to cultivate healthy churches, and the distinction between a healthy church and an unhealthy church starts first with loving God’s word, and, as Bonhoeffer suggests, loving His people.

This is the first time that we held such conferences, and it is heartening that many attendees felt greatly edified generally. The topic of the local church is not one that we may often speak about, as it can be assumed. Having a conference focus on this was clarifying and perhaps also challenged some of our unspoken assumptions about the local church. As Pastor Dever summarized: “The local church is an assembly of faithful Christians where the pure word of the Church is preached and where the ordinances are duly administered etc.” We pray that all who attended gained clarity on what the local church is, as God described in His word.