Practices of Healthy Churches – Inoculation

It’s the season for diseases. Flu, colds, bronchitis, you name it–it’s out there. Those who make it through the season without getting sick are generally those who take care of their bodies in such a way their immune systems remain strong enough to fight off exposure to disease. However, there is another way in which we fight off disease.

The flu shot. The polio vaccine. Inoculation.

Inoculation is “the placement of something that will grow or reproduce, and is most commonly used in respect of the introduction of a serum, vaccine, or antigenic substance into the body of a human or animal, especially to produce or boost immunity to a specific disease.”

While churches don’t want to intentionally introduce disease into the system, most have some element of disease in their system all the time. It’s the nature of the church. We are human beings with sinful natures in need of transformation, repentance, forgiveness. Even leaders bring disease into the church without recognizing it.

Whether a church Body ultimately finds itself sick or whether proper handling of the disease continues to build the immune system of the church is a matter of proper response. Exposure to disease is part of ministry. Obviously, we’re talking about sinful behavior, viral behavior–expressing itself in symptoms like critical spirit, division, apathy, immorality and the like.

Healthy churches understand the importance of health and the importance of inoculation. In ministry inoculation is the recognition of disease and dealing with it in such a way the Body emerges from the experience healthier and more immune to dangerous disease than before.

  1. Acknowledge your church isn’t completely healthy. Ever. As long as there are people in the church, sin will be present.
  2. Recognize the behavior, not the person, is the source of disease that threatens the health of the Body. People can change their behavior.
  3. Accept responsibility for the health of the church. One thing we see in the letters to the seven churches from Revelation is not only Jesus’ Lordship, but His expectation that churches correct sinful attitudes and behaviors. The good news is Jesus also provides us the spiritual resources to deal with these problems according to His will.
  4. Deal with it early. This doesn’t mean you break out a bazooka to kill a horse fly–creating leadership crises over every mildly critical comment. It means you don’t let problems grow. When we deal with problems early, the response  can be minimal. If it grows, you’ll have to deal with it more aggressively–and the problem will escalate.
  5. Deal with it firmly and biblically. Somewhere, freedom of expression became a civil right in the minds of many Christians. That’s America, not the Kingdom. In the Kingdom, it’s out of the heart the mouth speaks. In the Kingdom, we are told: “As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned” Titus 3:10-11. This doesn’t mean we should try to control every thought people have. Rather, it means we recognize viral behavior and seek to correct it according to biblical norms.
  6. Choose health over “peace.” Many churches avoid conflict thinking they are “peacemaking” when in reality they are simply making cold war the relational norm in the church. They have peace like Israel and Iran have peace now 🙂
  7. Choose health over size. You will inevitably lose some people if dealing with conflict in this way is new to your church. If it’s chemotherapy and not inoculation that must take place for the Body to be restored to health…expect to lose some people. However, healthy churches will grow. It’s the nature of the Kingdom. Nothing, NOTHING will help your church grow over time like perennial health. This doesn’t mean every growing church is healthy. However, I am suggesting that Jesus blesses churches committed to keeping His Bride as unblemished as possible in our broken world. He also wants to redeem what is lost. Many churches like to think of themselves as being “pruned” when in reality Christ is moving their lampstand. However, I also know of numerous churches that turned around quickly and permanently after an initial period of decline by removing or correcting unhealthy ministry leaders, small group leaders, elders, and ministers.

By God’s grace, stay healthy. If you’re sick, by God’s grace, get healthy. It makes all the difference. Our congregations aren’t in a disease-free world. However, the Body grows stronger and healthier by learning to deal with disease properly.

Dr. Tim Spivey is Lead Planter of New Vintage Church in San Diego, California. He is the author of numerous articles and one book, "Jesus: The Powerful Servant." A sought after speaker for events, Tim also serves as Adjunct Professor of Religion at Pepperdine University. Tim serves as a church consultant, and his writings are featured on ChurchLeaders.com, Church Executive magazine, Faith Village, Sermon Central, and Giving Rocket.

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