What is a “healthy church?” At the Center For Healthy Churches we focus on four major characteristics of church health: A Community of Jesus Followers, with a Shared Vision, Thriving Ministry and Trusted Leadership. Vision, Ministry and Leadership develop from the foundational characteristic of radical discipleship. A healthy church has a profound commitment to following Jesus and inviting others to follow him.

 Jesus’ favorite invitation to discipleship was as clear and short as it could be – two words in English and three in Greek (but who is counting): “Follow me!” He said these words to Phillip, Matthew and Andrew. With these words he invited the rich young ruler and the “wanna-be” disciple who asked to first bury his father. Jesus said his sheep hear his voice and follow him; his disciples take up their crosses and follow him. 

Jesus’ “School of Discipleship” had no home campus. It was a traveling school with the chief rabbi throwing truth over his shoulder on the journey. Luke uses the journey motif throughout his writings. In the gospel of Luke Jesus takes a circuitous final ten-chapter journey to Jerusalem. In the Book of Acts the disciples and missionaries are always on the move and eight times the Church is called “the Way.” “Follow me” were the first and last words Simon Peter is recorded as hearing from Jesus. These words enclose Christian discipleship and church health.

In John 21 the resurrected Christ asked Simon three times if he loved him, and twice Christ re-invited Simon to follow him. We follow the ones we love. I started following Beverly (who became my wife) in high school. She followed me to five pastorates in four states. We followed our children to ball games, concerts and plays, and now we are trying to follow our six grandchildren in two different states. We follow the ones we love. We love Him because He first loved us, and we follow Him because we love Him. And the more we lovingly follow Him, the more we look and act like Him. How else could the undependable fisherman, Simon, become rock-solid Peter, a pastor/shepherd who feeds and tends Jesus’ sheep?  Radical, extravagant, passionate, worshipful love of Jesus leads to faithful following of Jesus. Faithful following of Jesus shapes us into his likeness and develops congregational health. 

My favorite congregation in the New Testament is the church in Syrian Antioch.  It was a healthy church as described in Acts 11, 13 and 15. We do not know how big it was but it was probably small by mega-church standards. We do know how big its Vision was: the Holy Spirit gave them a missional vision to share Christ with the Mediterranean world! We do know how broadly vibrant their Ministry was: this was the first church to actively minister to Gentiles. We do know that they had excellent Leadership: they developed both Barnabas and Saul (only called “Paul” after Antioch) as the leaders they were; and then they sent them off because the rest of the world needed them more than Antioch did. 

Where in Syrian Antioch did they find such a healthy Vision, Ministry and Leadership? How did they become such a healthy church? You remember that “it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called ‘Christians’” (Acts 11:26). “Christian:” we use that descriptive so flippantly that we forget what it really means. “Little Christ” – someone who loves Jesus so radically, so extravagantly, so passionately, so worshipfully that others can see a little of Christ in them.

The healthy church in Antioch was not known for its “buildings, budgets and baptisms.” It was known for its Christ-likeness, for being a Community of Jesus Followers. Healthy churches like Antioch have changed the world. And healthy churches in the twenty-first century will also change the world!       

Craig Sherouse
Craig A. Sherouse, Ph.D. spent forty-seven years in local church ministry (forty- three of those as Sr. Pastor) in his native Florida, as well as Kentucky, Georgia and Virginia. Craig has training and experience in strategic planning/visioning, coaching, team building and pastoral transition. He is a coach and a consultant for CHC. He can be reached at CraigS@chchurches.org.