We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Saturday, April 6, 2013

A Measure of Church Health - Two

In a recent posting entitled, "Eight Diagnostic Questions for a Church's Health," Dr. Chuck Lawless of the Billy Graham School of Missions & Evangelism lays down what amounts to a set of standards by which churches can measure themselves.  If they measure up to the standards, they are healthy. Second on his list of questions is:

"Is the church a praying church? Legitimate church growth is a gift of God, who empowers His followers and draws others unto Himself. Another danger in church consulting is that we will offer solutions that are based on our ingenuity rather than God's power. For that reason, I want to know that the church is focusing on prayer before, during, and after a consultation. In fact, I expect the church to enlist a prayer team that prays together during the length on the consult. Is your church a praying church?"

A couple of quibbles are in order.  One is the way that Dr. Lawless so easily transposes "church growth" with "church health."  Throughout the eight questions, he tries to be careful about not doing so, but he still does it—starting here, for example, with "legitimate church growth" as a gift of God when his subject is church health, not growth.  Church growth may be a measure of church health in most instances, but it is not always so.  Second, he is very focused here on his own role as a church consultant and apparently is discussing the measures of church health in that capacity.  One wonders how well these measures of church health apply outside of that context.

Quibbles aside, Dr. Lawless is correct.  Prayer is a key aspect of church health, and the spiritual discipline of prayer is generally one of the weaknesses of mainline churches.  The point here is that prayer is not about getting what one prays for and it isn't a test one has to pass to prove that they have "real" faith because they "got what they prayed for."  Prayer is about focus and orientation.  It is an aide to a life focused on God and oriented to the life of faith.  It grounds one in the Spirit—or, better, it helps one better understand and, perhaps, experience how all of life is grounded in the Spirit.  It is also not about warm fuzzy feelings of piety.  Like all spiritual disciplines, it involves patience, persistence, and repetition in the face of "nothing is happening."  "Something" is happening in much the same way that "something happens" when we eat healthfully even though on a daily basis we don't experience any particular change.

Of course, there is prayer and then there is prayer.  Like all spiritual disciplines, it can be abused by the spiritually arrogant.  There are those who boast about how much they pray and self-proclaim how God "answers" their prayers (see Matthew 6:5-6).  It can also be a thoughtless, rote thing—a habit in search of a purpose.  None of this changes the importance of prayer for our personal life of faith or for our church.  Amen.