Gabriel Etzel: We don’t need perfect churches, we need healthy ones

Last week, thousands of pastors met at the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting. During the two days of meetings, the nation’s largest protestant denomination discussed a myriad of topics, ranging from clarifying women’s roles within the convention to addressing the problem of sexual abuse within the church.

Abuse of power, financial misconduct, sexual scandals—the list goes on. The contemporary church faces many serious issues that tempt us to become discouraged about her place in society and her ability to impact the Kingdom of God. The problems we face are indefensible and serve as vivid reminders of the brokenness of humanity.

When I was a seminary student, I remember feeling disheartened by many aspects of the church, leading me to examine whether or not I would stay committed to the role of the church within my own life. During that time, I found my hope renewed, and determined that, even in the midst of the potential evils, there is still a need for local churches within society. The key, however, is ensuring that our churches are nourished and healthy.

Culture needs healthy local churches—not perfect churches—but healthy ones.

In a similar way that our relationships with one another are not perfect, but they can be healthy, the local church is not called to be perfect. However, there are signs of health within a local church, even in the midst of the flaws.

The signs of a healthy church include a commitment to the Bible as the Word of God, and evidence of the church’s equipping its members to both show and share the love of Jesus. These local churches serve an important role within society. In the following, three reasons for the need for healthy local churches are provided:

First, we need healthy local churches because the church is one of the few places within society where diversity exists on a regular basis. This diversity comes in many forms, and is not limited to ethnicity or the color of one’s skin. In addition to ethnic diversity, the church has economic diversity, educational diversity, generational diversity, and geographic diversity within the backgrounds of its members.

The small group I lead through my local church has multiple individuals with JD’s and PhD’s worshipping alongside others with no more than a high school diploma. We have entrepreneurs together with long-time laborers in the same classroom. Some members own multiple houses, while others are struggling to find work. Healthy churches provide a common gathering place for people of different backgrounds, and create environments where true diversity can exist.

Second, we need healthy local churches because the church can do what government cannot. I often look to government to solve my problems, but then I am quickly reminded that our societal concerns could better be addressed through the ministries of the local church. This is not an argument against government, as Scripture clearly affirms the need for governments and civil leaders. However, as a society, we should worship God, not government, and a healthy church will help meet the needs of others, whether those needs are financial, physical, emotional, relational, or spiritual.

At the beginnings of the church in the book of Acts, corporate care and concern is shown among the members of the church. Acts 2 indicates, “All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.” The Acts 2 church was not a perfect church (just read Acts 5), but they were healthy, and they met each other’s needs. Today, healthy local churches have the power to meet the needs of those within the community.

Third, we need healthy local churches because the church provides hope for the world. Healthy churches both proclaim and live out the truths of the Bible. These churches equip their members for the work of the ministry, which brings comfort, healing, and hope. Healthy churches assist members in living out the teachings of Jesus by sharing the good news of his work on our behalf. This hope moves beyond mere physical needs to the deeper longings related to one’s purpose, direction in life, and the understanding of one’s destiny. Healthy local churches help individuals have a confident expectation of the work of God within one’s life and the peace offered by a right relationship with our creator.

In Matthew 16:18, Jesus says, “I will build my church.” The church belongs to Jesus, and as such, is only healthy when it accurately represents and reflects him. I have not given up on the church because the healthy local church—and especially the imperfect church—can model for the world what repentance, forgiveness, reconciliation, and restoration looks like. Through our shortcomings, we can model the correct response to sin as we reflect our founder to a watching world.