Big Idea: Healthy church requires bold, sacrificial leaders and continual self-correction.
The older I get, the more I realize I need this, the church.
I went through a cynical phase. I saw all the faults in church, beginning with me. I can deconstruct with the best of them, analyzing all the faults and deciding what I like and what I don’t. But here’s what I learned: years of doing this hurt me and others. You can’t love someone or something if you’re always criticizing it. That’s not God’s heart for the church, and it shouldn’t be ours either.
So I entered a new phase. I love the church. I realize I need you. I need the church, and you do too. It’s non-negotiable. It’s God’s design for all of us. I need this, and I love it.
Sam Allberry writes in his book Why Bother With Church?
The membership of every local church is no accident; it is by divine design. There is no one there who is a spare part, a third foot or second nose. There is no one there who is not necessary, or who doesn’t need the rest of their church. That includes you—which is really quite exciting. God has chosen to include and to use you. You can make a real, lasting, eternally significant difference by being a part of your church. Your church is vital to you, and you are vital to your church.
I really believe that. The church is vital to you, and you are vital to your church.
And so I love this. And I don’t want us to mess it up, and we will. The Corinthian church is a good example.
Today we’re finishing our study of 2 Corinthians. This church had a lot going for it. But if you’ve ever read the two letters we have in our Bible written to this church, you know that they had a lot of problems. Just like every other church!
Again, Sam Allberry says:
There’s a sense in which church is meant to be hard work. It is made up of imperfect people. It is not driven by self-interest. Its mission and character are meant to go against the grain of how things normally work in this world. In fact, the very things that make church hard work are often the things that make it great…
Sticking with church—loving it and serving it—is often going to be the harder option than either just leaving it, or turning up but not really getting stuck in.
The Corinthian church had all kinds of problems. You get a glimpse of that in the passage we just read. Paul’s about to visit them for the third time, and he’s sent this letter to try to deal with some of the tensions and problems in this church before he comes. Look at some of the real and potential problems he talks about:
For I fear that perhaps when I come I may find you not as I wish, and that you may find me not as you wish—that perhaps there may be quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder. I fear that when I come again my God may humble me before you, and I may have to mourn over many of those who sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, sexual immorality, and sensuality that they have practiced. (2 Corinthians 12:20-21)
That’s every church I’ve been in! The Bible is very realistic about what church is like. Charles Spurgeon was right: “The day we find the perfect church, it becomes imperfect the moment we join it.” This is hard work! And we all are part of the problem. We need this, but it is far from easy.
So how do we make it work? How do we have a healthy church despite all the problems that can and will occur?
As Paul closes this letter, he gives us a glimpse into what healthy church requires. Healthy church requires two things: bold, sacrificial leaders, and continual self-correction.
A Healthy Church Requires Bold, Sacrificial Leaders
The consistent teaching of the New Testament is that healthy churches require leaders. Paul wrote in Titus 1:5, “This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you…” This is one of the things we’re working on as a church. Part of our growing up as a church is getting a membership into place. I’m praying we grow to 25 members by the end of the year, and I wonder if God is calling you to be part of this? And part of our job as a church is to get leaders into place.
The Bible has a lot of things to say about the kind of leaders they should be. Leaders are essential, and this passage gives us two qualities that these leaders must possess if we’re going to be a healthy church. It’s a really interesting combination.
These leaders must be bold.
Every healthy church needs bold leaders. Look at Paul’s words in this passage:
I warned those who sinned before and all the others, and I warn them now while absent, as I did when present on my second visit, that if I come again I will not spare them— since you seek proof that Christ is speaking in me. He is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful among you. (2 Corinthians 13:2-3)
For this reason I write these things while I am away from you, that when I come I may not have to be severe in my use of the authority that the Lord has given me for building up and not for tearing down. (2 Corinthians 13:10)
As we’ve seen in this book, Paul is not afraid to wade into tough topics and deal with issues that need to be confronted. He knows that if you ignore problems they don’t go away. One of the most important tasks that leaders face is to confront issues that will kill a church if they’re left unchecked. Leaders must be bold.
Paul doesn’t want to deal with problems on his third visit. In fact, the whole reason that he’s written this letter is to try to prevent having to confront things in person. But he will if he has to. He is more concerned about the health of the church and the glory of God than he is in avoiding conflict.
Here’s what I’ve noticed. Every church I’ve been in started healthy. But most churches start to develop some unhealthy patterns of behavior that need to be confronted. What I’ve noticed is that most of us — including leaders — avoid conflict. And so the unhealthy behavior slowly becomes part of the culture of that church. You get what you tolerate.
How do you prevent a healthy church from slowly becoming unhealthy? You need leaders who care enough to deal with the unhealthy things that creep in. Notice that Paul isn’t looking for a fight. He’s doing everything he can to avoid it. But he’s willing to go there if needed.
Healthy churches require leaders who care enough to be bold when it’s needed. Pray that this is true of our current leaders, and pray that it’s true of the elders we raise up to lead this church!
These leaders must be sacrificial.
Look at how Paul describes himself. In verse 14 he says, “And I will not be a burden, for I seek not what is yours but you.” Paul is not driven by finances. He makes it clear that his interest is not the Corinthian’s money, but the Corinthians themselves. He uses the image of parents. Parents do not generally make a lot of money from their children. They spend a lot of money on their children. And so Paul says, “I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls” (2 Corinthians 12:15).
What a picture! This is what leadership is like. As one of my favorite authors on leadership writes, this is the paradox of servant leadership. “The higher up you move…the greater your obligation is to serve…the higher you get promoted, the harder you’ll probably have to work and the more you have to give of yourself” (Ari Weinzweig). Great leaders gladly spend themselves for the good of the people they lead.
Think about the intersection of these two qualities. What a rare combination! The church needs leaders who are bold enough to confront what needs to be confronted, and who are also willing to spend themselves for the good of those they lead.
I want to ask you to pray for this for our church. If we’re going to stay healthy as a church, we need leaders who are both bold and sacrificial. Pray for me. Pray for the three pastors who oversee our church: RJ, Hassan, and Peter. Pray that God raises up elders from within our church who lead this way. This is the kind of leadership we need to be a healthy church.
A healthy church requires bold, sacrificial leaders. But that’s not all.
A Healthy Church Requires Continual Self-Correction
Look at 13:5:
Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test! (2 Corinthians 13:5)
You can’t see it in the English, but “Examine yourselves” is in the present active imperative tense. It means to keep on examining yourselves. This isn’t a one-time thing. This is an ongoing activity. We’re to critically examine ourselves.
What for? To see whether we’re in the faith. I don’t think Paul means that we should live in a perpetual state of insecurity. I think Paul is saying that we should examine the evidence. Paul looks at the behavior of some in the Corinthian church and raises the possibility that some of them may not actually be followers of Jesus. Their flirtation with false teachers raises the possibility that they’re not in the faith.
It’s not enough to attend church or to have made a decision. We must look at our lives. Is there evidence that God has changed us? I love how Spurgeon put it:
Let not any one of you, as he goeth out of the house of God, say unto his neighbor. “How did you like the preacher? What did you think of the sermon this morning?” Is that the question you should ask as you retire from God’s house? Do you come here to judge God’s servants? I know it is but a small thing unto us to be judged of man’s judgment; for our judgment is of the Lord our God; to our own Master we shall stand or fall. But, O men! ye should ask a question more profitable unto yourselves than this. Ye should say, “Did not such-and-such a speech strike me? Did not that exactly consort with my condition? Was that not a rebuke that I deserve, a word of reproof or of exhortation? Let me take unto myself that which I have heard, and let me not judge the preacher, for he is God’s messenger to my soul: I came up here to be judged of God’s Word, and not to judge God’s Word myself.”
Let’s continually examine ourselves to make sure we’re in the faith and growing.
Then look at verses 11 to 13:
Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you. (2 Corinthians 13:11–13)
I love this. In a church that had experienced its share of problems, Paul ends with instructions on how to become a genuine community. Do these things and you will have a self-correcting community:
- Rejoice — Don’t get bogged down. Joy is your possession as a Christian. Fight for it. Let’s commit to becoming a joyful church.
- Aim for restoration —We’re going to keep making mistakes, so let’s keep aiming for restoration. It won’t be hard to find ways to be offended. Let’s look for ways to stay connected, to overcome hurts, to heal wounds.
- Comfort one another — This is hard work. We’ll need encouragement along the way. So encourage one another. Provide comfort to each other. We need all the encouragement we can get.
- Agree with one another — It will never be hard to find ways to splinter apart. So let’s look for ways to come together. Let’s agree on the main things, as we’re going to see in our series starting next week on what we believe.
- Live in peace — Let’s work to create that kind of community.
- And the God of love and peace will be with you — Here’s the payoff: If we do these things, God himself will be with us. People will come in this church and sense something different. They will know that God is here.
- Greet one another with a holy kiss — You thought I’d ignore this one, didn’t you? We’re going to start following this command starting today. Just kidding. Paul is saying that our efforts at community should result in outward expressions of affection that you’d expect to see in healthy families. It’s the kind of thing I see being expressed in this church when I see people hug. It’s saying outwardly, “I’m family with you. You matter. I’m committed to you.”
These are the kinds of actions we need to self-correct as a church.
I guess if I were to summarize what I’m trying to say, it would be this: Healthy church requires bold, sacrificial leaders and continual self-correction.
Friends, we need the church! I need this. But it’s hard. There are a million ways that we will get off track. There are all kinds of ways that things will go wrong.
What will we do to create and maintain a healthy church? We need bold, sacrificial leaders. Pray for this! And we need to dig in and do the hard work of self-correcting so that we build the kind of community God wants us to be.
That’s what Jesus died for. Jesus died to save us. Jesus died to create a community. He died to make us his bride. That’s what he’s inviting you into. Jesus cares so much for the church that he died for it, and we get to be part of it.
Not only that, but we get to enjoy it. Friends, you won’t believe what happens when God creates this kind of church. Will you pray and work so that it happens here?