Mark 1.32-39Someone was asked to come up with a checklist for the signs of a healthy church.  He went to the Bible and came up with a good Biblical number of boxes to tick - 12 - but not all of them are relevant to our situation so I have reduced the list to ten.
The first sign of a healthy church is that everyone is welcome. And that really does mean everyone, including visitors who make a bit of noise or cause a bit of a disturbance. I think that, by and large, we pass that test.
The second sign is being ready to offer uncomplaining service to our local community. I think we're moving in a positive direction on that one too. We've just got approval for a second grant towards our Parish Nurses’ project to help local people lead healthier lives. But I recognize that projects like this demand considerable effort and commitment over a sustained period of time. Like a pet, serving the community is not just for Christmas. It's a year round, decades long, challenge, which is why we need professional help.
The third sign is linked to service to the community and arises out of it. It’s about becoming a prophetic sign of how God wants our community in South Elmsall to be.
That's what spires are supposed to signify; they are physical signs in the landscape and the street scene, put there to remind people of God's presence in their midst and to point to Christian communities which are living in his way. But, by themselves spires are not enough; they have to point to something really prophetic, a group of people living out how a village like ours might begin to flourish if it were organised on Christian principles. That's what our well-being project is meant to demonstrate.
The fourth sign of a healthy church is that it doesn't fall into despair when things go wrong, as they inevitably will, but instead learns lessons, keeps faith with God and tries again. This is connected with resurrection. At the first Easter Jesus’ followers rediscovered hope when they were filled with despair and found that what had seemed to be a dead end was actually a wonderful new beginning.
Fundraising, or any type of project, is always a rollercoaster ride. Some days the rollercoaster car slows down to a crawl, or perhaps even rolls backwards, as it tries to climb a really steep part of the ride. But on other days there will be the exhilaration and excitement of the car speeding up as it shoots down the otherside of the climb. The slowdowns and the backsliding are difficult times in project development, the adrenalin rush of the downward cascade represents the good times when the project can make rapid, sometimes even rather frightening, progress and things seem to be going well. This stop-start cycle is especially true of fundraising. We mustn’t fall into despair when the going gets tough.
The fifth sign of a healthy church is some kind of healing or restoring ministry. That is why the vision group have put the idea of employing a Parish Nurse and running a health and well-being project at the heart of our vision. This isn’t about offering an alternative to the GPs’ surgery. It’s about looking at life, and health especially, in a holistic way.
On holiday we visited a place where there’s a New Age centre. Outside they have a shop, which has an A-board outside proudly proclaiming that they offer holistic therapy, except that there appears to be a mistake in the wording. Perhaps it’s deliberate. Holistic is spelt on the A-board with a ‘W’ in front of it, whereas really the ‘W’ shouldn’t be there.
Putting the ‘W’ in front has the effect of stressing that holistic therapy looks at the whole of our lives, every part of what it means to be human. And that includes things like worship, prayer and spirituality, as well as our emotions and our physical and mental well-being.
Holistic therapy doesn’t really have a ’W’ in front because it’s a made-up, academic word, invented by a man called General Jan Smuts in 1926, and taken from the Greek word meaning ‘whole’, which is ‘holos’. Our project aims to take something rooted in scientific and medical jargon, holistic therapy, an approach to diagnosis and treatment that is actually prescribed by the NHS, and give it a very down-to-earth application, where we really do seek to look after and heal the whole person. This is a concept which, as Christians, we should find easy to embrace, because the Bible tells us it’s at the heart of what offering Christian service, or sharing in God’s mission, actually means.
To work properly, this kind of holistic ministry needs to display the remaining signs of what it means to be a healthy church. So, it needs to
- Be empowered by God’s Spirit, whose aim is always to help us bring empowerment to others
- Be free from distinctions based on class, race, gender, nationality and so on
- Have an impact on our village much greater than the small size and apparent insignificance of our congregation might otherwise lead people to expect
- Be nourished and enriched by the love of Jesus
- Reflect and share a gentle, creative kind of wisdom
For those still counting, that’s all ten of the signs of a healthy church. With God’s grace, I believe they are within our reach so long as we continue to trust in him.
 Paul Moore, Transforming Community, in Guidelines, Bible Reading Fellowship, 2017