I’ve recently had to go to the doctors because I was incredibly sick and in a lot of pain. All the symptoms came on suddenly and there wasn’t a clear answer. While I waited for my doctor to come in and hopefully shed some light on the picture the nurse took down all of my vital signs. She could tell that something wasn’t right, but in that moment her only job was to take down the essentials. No fever, normal blood pressure (which was shocking given that it was the week of Summer Friends/VBS), pulse and oxygen levels were all normal. No obvious signs of discontent, but clearly my body was telling a different story.
I could hardly stand up, walking was a chore, and sleep was allusive because of my pain. Even after I met with the doctor there wasn’t a clear answer. Possibly the flu, possibly pneumonia, your guess is as good as mine essentially. So what does one do? Clearly something is wrong, but what should be done? What should be prescribed?
In some ways, that nurse who took my vitals and I have similar jobs. She has take the information at hand, observe it, chart it, and hopefully help paint a clearer picture for the doctor to do what is in the best interest of the patient. As a pastor I have to look at a congregation, assess where it is versus where God is calling it to be, and help determine how to best get there.
The analogy is a bit crude, but honestly the process is similar. A church should have vital signs, and from time to time they need to be checked.
So what are the vital signs of a church? Here are a few:
The leadership is prayerful.
Honestly, the church won’t go anywhere if the leadership (pastors, session or governing boards, etc.) aren’t continuously in prayer. Not only because we should be lifting up the needs of the saints, but because we need to be listening. Healthy church leaders listen for God more than they talk to God. That may be the most challenging aspect of prayer, though. Listening doesn’t come naturally for most – talking does.
Everything is biblically based
This one is pretty obvious, but there’s always a temptation to do what is culturally relevant rather than what is biblically sound. We have to stick to the Word of God – that’s the plumb line for our ministry.
Next “man” up
Football coach Bill Belichick is famous for the next “man” up philosophy. If one of your star players goes down it’s up to the next man to perform. No one person is greater than the team and we all have be prepared to do and be our best. As church leaders we must always be on the lookout for who we are to train to step up to the plate. If ministry solely relies on the pastor(s) or staff members you are only set up to succeed as long as they remain on the team. As soon as a leader leaves the church will have a hole to fill, but if we continuously raise up the next “man” then the ministry will succeed no matter who is at the helm.
Feeling for the Pulse
Just like when a doctor is looking for the pulse of someone who appears to be unconscious, church leaders must continuously have their finger on the pulse of the congregation and the community in which they serve. How can we serve the congregation or the community if we aren’t sure what they need most?
Children and Youth
I have always heard people say that the youth are the future of the church. Frankly, that phrase really makes my skin crawl. No! The youth aren’t the future of the church, they are very much the present church. We as church leaders have a God given responsibility to ensure that our children and youth are cared for, shepherded, and walked alongside with the rest of the congregation. A healthy church has strong ministries geared towards children and youth and their families. We don’t have time to wait. Have you looked at the culture in which we are living? The more we wait, the more we lose. We have to love, support, and strengthen our families for the battles in which they face today and prepare them for the battles of tomorrow.