Every Christian should be committed to the health of his own local church. Likewise, every Christian should be committed to his own health as a church member, as well as to the health of his co-members. Here are two little books written with aim of nurturing healthy churches and healthy members. Both books are written on the presupposition that churches do not primarily need more programs, campaigns, and gimmicks. Rather, churches need to hear God speak, and God speaks through his Word, the Bible. If a church and its members are to be healthy, the scriptures must be central and authoritative.
The first is Mark Dever’s What is a Healthy Church? (Crossway 2005). The book is organized into three parts, the first of which sets out to introduce the reader to a basic theology of the church and to make the case that churches should aspire towards health. The second part and third parts outline what the author takes to be “essential” and “important” marks of healthy churches. Dever is interested in drawing attention to those matters that are normally neglected. As a result, he doesn’t spend time arguing that a healthy church emphasizes prayer. Rather, he devotes his pen to the essential marks of expositional preaching, biblical theology, and a biblical understanding of the gospel. The important marks include chapters on conversion, evangelism, membership, church discipline, discipleship, and leadership.
What is a Healthy Church Member? (Crossway 2008) by Thabiti Anyabwile is a companion volume to the book by Dever, with whom Anyabwile served as assistant pastor at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. Presupposing that healthy churches are made up of healthy members, Anyabwile takes uses each chapter to apply Dever’s “marks” to the lives of individual members. Thus, the chapters claim that a healthy church member is an expositional listener, a biblical theologian, gospel saturated, an evangelist, etc. Anyabwile adds a tenth chapter on being a prayer warrior.
Both authors are pastors of Baptist churches, and the distinctives of their tradition come through in their writing. This does not mean, though, that the principles outlined in these books are not widely applicable across the denominational spectrum of Christianity. Also, both authors have Calvinistic understandings of salvation. Fortunately, this does not pervade the texts and is likely to go largely unnoticed by those not familiar with the finer nuances of the debate. All in all, pastors would do well to distribute these books widely in their churches, not least among the leadership. These two brief but powerful books should be standard reading in every local church.