In Pursuit of a Healthy Body

Over the recent months, I’ve begun to ask myself a question over and over: “What does a healthy congregation look like?” Granted, there are many intertwined answers to this. And the purpose of the question isn’t so much about definitively answering it, but to continually pursue a Christ-centered picture. And by having this question on our minds, we can be conscious of where we see health, and where we don’t.
Throughout my ministry here in Winthrop, I have had the privilege of having Lindsay involved with me in various counseling settings with couples. A lot of this has been pre-marital counseling, but we’ve also met other couples from time to time, both within and outside of our church, at various points for a variety of reasons. [As a side note: Because of the stigma of counseling, people often assume that you only counsel someone when their marriage is “failing” and it is often perceived that there is something wrong with you if you receive counseling. But let’s face it, we all need some good outside counsel from time to time. But, I digress.]
To be clear, the church – by nature – is inherently relational. We are not simply a bunch of individuals or families who happen to meet at the same place on Sunday mornings. The Bible describes us as an integrated bodily system that relates to one another for one common mission, under one common Lord. Without those interconnected relationships that work together, we would cease to be the church. And like any relationship, there are varying degrees of connectedness and health.
As we have talked with couples and have reflected on our own relationship, one of the key aspects of a healthy relationship is in a couple’s ability to communicate directly and honestly with one another. Every relationship experiences disagreements and tensions along the way. And if we value that relationship, we will be willing to enter into those difficult (even painful) conversations for the sake of the relationship. It is when we avoid or minimize those things that significant unhealthy begins to fester.
Church relationships are no different. We are designed to be a community. We relate to one another out of our common mission and being a part of the same Body.
So again we ask that question, “What does a healthy congregation look like?” In part, I believe we must say that a healthy congregation has healthy, life-giving conversations. Together, we are a group of people that come from varying theological perspectives, differing perspectives on the mission of the church, with a variety of personalities, and all of whom are at different points in our spiritual journeys. Add into this the fact that we have a natural tendency to be sinners, and we’re bound to have some issues along the way!
So why do we avoid these conversations and why, when we do have the conversations, do that go badly? What keeps us from having a meaningful conversation about our differing theological positions on a hot topic, for instance? In a word: anxiety.
In his book, “Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times”, Peter Steinke talks about the role that anxiety plays in the life of a congregation. Because of our anxiety, we may tend to minimize or avoid. And when we are forced to deal with an issue, our anxiety keeps us from thinking deeply and meaningfully. Anxiety is related to our instinctual “fight or flight” response. In these times, we don’t think; we simply react.

If you’re curious about all this, I would highly encourage you to check out the book. It is written for anybody in pastoral or lay roles of leadership in any level. I share all of this, though, because I really do want to see the Church lead the way in being a healthy community. And we have to remember that that never means being a perfect community. Nor is a “healthy couple” the couple that never disagrees. Instead, healthy relationships are ones that purposefully do the good, hard work of working through the inevitable difficulties. And they do it not as individuals, but as one flesh or one Body.