A number of years ago we were given some beautiful home grown vegetables. Included in the gift were cucumbers. Since cucumbers generally go well in a toss salad we included a healthy proportion of our new "home grown" cucumbers in our evening mix. The salad looked great and was quickly served up. My son was only three at the time and was the first to identify a problem. This was expressed when he simply opened wide his mouth and let the salad fall to his lap. How could this boy of mine not like one of my tossed salads? About that time, I also took a bite of the salad and my reaction was much like my son's – with the exception of the falling out of my mouth part! The salad was terrible tasting! Those beautiful homegrown cucumbers were very bitter!
It was then that I remembered that it was generally a good idea to try the cucumbers to see if they were bitter before putting them in a salad. I later found out that when cucumber plants do not get rain at the correct time they may look great, but taste bitter. In other words, poor farming methods result in terrible tasting, but good looking fruit.
Just as a cucumber can look good, yet be bitter, a church can also look like a church, yet not be a healthy church. In order to be a church that is rooted in the Gospel and authentically glorifies God, it is important to pause and consider just how well you are doing. How is your farming method? How does the fruit of your church or life taste?
Over a decade ago Richard L Gorsuch and C. Peter Wagner surveyed hundreds of pastors and compiled a list of measurable quality factors in the life of a church ranking in order. The twelve factors are:
1) Bible Knowledge. Church members are increasing in their grasp of the teachings of the Bible. They can integrate this with a theological system that enables them to apply the Bible's teaching to their life situation.
2) Personal Devotions. Members spend time daily in prayer and Bible reading.
3) Worship. Members regularly participate in the worship services scheduled by the church.
4) Witnessing. Members regularly attempt to share their faith in Jesus Christ with unbelievers.
5) Lay Ministry. The lay people of the church are engaged in such ministries as teaching and discipling. In some case this happens through consciously discovering, developing and using their spiritual gifts.
6) Missions. The church actively supports missions, organizing and sustaining a strong program for recruiting, sending, and financing home and foreign missionaries.
7) Giving. Members give an appropriate portion of their income to the local church and/or to other Christian organizations.
8) Fellowship. Members are growing in their personal relationship with each other through regular participation in fellowship groups of one kind or another.
9) Distinctive life-style. Members generally manifest their faith in Christ by living a life-style clearly and noticeably distinct from that of non-Christians in the same community.
10) Attitude toward religion. Church members regard their involvement in the church primarily as a service to God rather than a means to fulfill personal needs.
11) Social Service. Members are serving others outside the congregation. This includes direct personal involvement with the poor and needy, or in programs designed to help the needy.
12) Social Justice. Either through the congregation as a whole or through specialized Christian agencies, members are striving to make changes in sociopolitical structures that contribute to a more just society.
So how is your church or church plant doing in those twelve areas? Even more importantly, how are you doing personally in those areas? You may disagree with these, howeveer, I encourage you to set some time aside and evaluate your spiritual health, asking yourself the question of whether your life clearly exhibits a passion for God, a love for those around you and active drive to reach those who do not know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. In other words, how is your fruit? Is it bitter or sweetened by the Gospel?
Please, please please... remember you absolutely cannot do any of this on your own! It is only as God graciously pulls you to Himself that you are able to do what He has called you to do. Will you make it your goal to rest in His grace, confess the idols of your heart and strive to live out your purpose in life?