What Is A Healthy Church?


What is a Healthy Church?

A pastor’s most challenging task is to monitor the health of his or her ministry and then lead the ministry to health. The pastor does this by exercising the three pastoral roles of modeling, shepherding, and leading.

Several years ago, I decided to go back to seminary for a doctorate of ministry. I wanted to learn how to be a “doctor” for the church: evaluating health, diagnosing illness, and prescribing a fitness plan and diet. In this article, I will unpack the three elements that cultivate a healthy church culture.

Church health grows out of three concentric circles:
  1. Sound Doctrine
  2. Solid Leaders
  3. Spiritual Members

Sound Doctrine

The church is built upon the Word of God. Scripture defines the purpose, mission, and values of the church. Therefore, a church's highest priority must be sound doctrine.

Throughout the Pastoral Epistles, Paul brings up over and over this idea of “sound doctrine” or “sound teaching” or being “sound in faith.” He is referring to healthy teaching; which, when applied, is profitable for training in righteousness (1 Timothy 3:16). This doctrine is the core of what we believe as Christians. And when we agree on core doctrines, and allow for liberty in secondary issues, we can do a lot of good together.

An elder must… hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it. (Titus 1:6–9)

Teach what is appropriate to sound doctrine. (Titus 2:1)

The apostle Paul, in his letter to a young minister, writes "Be a good minister of Christ Jesus, nourished on the truths of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed. Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly" (1 Timothy 4:6-7). In order to be a good minister, this young man must ensure the church anchors itself to the bible. His regular tasks as a pastor must revolve around studying, teaching, and applying the Word of God. Paul challenges him: "Devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching… Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers." (1 Timothy 4:13–16)

Read how Eugene Peterson describes the significance of Scripture:

“Christian feed on Scripture. Holy Scripture nurtures the holy community as food nurtures the human body. Christian don’t simply learn or study or use Scripture; we assimilate it, take it into our lives in such a way that it gets metabolized into acts of love, cups of cold water, missions into all the world, healing and evangelism and justice in Jesus’ name…” (Eugene Peterson, Eat This Book (2009), 18)

Without a foundation of sound doctrine, a church can never become healthy. A church with liberal theology, shallow teaching, or overemphasis on secondary issues will never reach peak health. But a church that maintains the preeminence of interpreting and applying scripture correctly, and humble enough find unity in essential doctrines while allowing for liberty in non-essential ones, has the proper foundation to grow into a healthy congregation.

Solid Leaders

Leaders in the church set the temperature and pace for the whole congregation. This is why elders are chosen based on their character (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-8) and pastors are only qualified if they function as a moral, spiritual example for others to follow (1 Timothy 4:12; Titus 2:7).

Scripture instructs church leaders to be good examples for the church. Conversely, scripture challenges the church body to follow their leaders. The theme of imitation comes up frequently in the New Testament because observing and imitating others is most effective way to learn and grow.

Imitate me, just as I imitate Christ. (1 Corinthians 11:1)

I urge you to imitate me… how I follow Christ Jesus…(1 Corinthians 4:16–17)

Pattern your lives after mine, and learn from those who follow our example. (Philippians 3:17)

Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. (Philippians 4:9)

Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me… (2 Timothy 1:13)

For you know that you ought to imitate us…. we wanted to give you an example to follow. (2 Thessalonians 3:7,9)

Dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to live as I do…(Galatians 4:12)

Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. (Hebrews 13:7)

If a church is founded upon sound doctrine and led by solid leaders, it is well on its way to good health.

Spiritual Members

Church health begins with sound doctrine and solid leadership, but it must culminate in healthy members. Sound doctrine is only “profitable” when the people apply it to their everyday life (1 Timothy 3:16; Titus 3:8). Elders and pastors can only lead well if they are respectfully followed by the members of the body (Hebrews 13:7).

Ultimately, it the collective members of a church that determine whether or not the congregation will be healthy or unhealthy. It is not only the leadership of the church, but the members of the church who are responsible for ministry and maturity.

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (Ephesians 4:11-13)

The church of Thessalonians is one of the healthiest churches mentioned in the New Testament. Many admire them for their work of faith, labor of love, and enduring hope (1 Thessalonians 1:2-3). I wrote earlier that church leaders ought to be worthy of imitation; the members of the Thessalonian church were imitated by the other churches in their region! Scripture has this to say about them:

You became imitators of us and of the Lord… And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. (1 Thessalonians 1:6–7)

A healthy church is one filled with generous, compassionate, humble, authentic, faithful, joyful, peaceful, prayerful members. They are service-minded and outward-focused. They are committed to the work of evangelism and discipleship. They take fellowship seriously. They love one another (John 13:34-35; 1 John 3:23), care for one another (1 Corinthians 12:25), serve one another (Galatians 5:13; 1 Peter 4:10), forgive one another (Colossians 3:16), show hospitality to one another (1 Peter 1:22; 4:9), comfort one another (2 Corinthians 13:11-12), submit to one another (Ephesians 5:21), confess sins to one another (James 5:16), and stir up one another to love and good works (Hebrews 10:24).


Church health is a continuum. An unhealthy church is easy to spot, and a healthy one can be observed over time. Nevertheless, there are no clean-cut categories. No church can be tagged as “totally unhealthy” or “totally healthy.” Rather, most churches are somewhere in between. The most important quality is for a church have movement, with leaders and members working their fitness plan to have a healthier body.