9 Marks of a Healthy Church by Mark Dever, a discussion
Friday, March 1, 2013
Matthew 16:18 – “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
Recently I read Mark Dever’s 9 Marks of a Healthy Church, and was thoroughly convicted and challenged by it. Dever sets out to discuss what makes a church healthy, and he does a good job of laying out 9 things that should be a part of every church for that church to be a church that is faithful to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to the New Testament.
Dever says in the book that this is by no means an exhaustive list. He points out these 9 things because frankly he knows that many of these things are missing from the majority of churches in our country today.
The 9 Marks that he lays out are as follows:
*A Biblical Understanding of Conversion
*A Biblical Understanding of Evangelism
*A Biblical Understanding of Church Membership
*Biblical Church Discipline
*A Concern for Discipleship and Growth
*Biblical Church Leadership
He closes the book with a section on “How to lead the church in a healthy direction” and an appendix that contains other people’s lists on what makes a healthy church. There is also a recommended list of books to read to develop a healthy and Biblical centered ecclesiology.
Noticeably absent from Dever’s list is things like worship, baptism, prayer, and the Lord’s Supper. Even though he does discuss those things in the chapter on church membership.
Dever says that part of his writing is to call attention to things that are sadly enough missing from many churches today. Just a few years ago that was certainly not the case, but now it is the norm. Because of that Dever’s book is a good wake up call to the church to focus on what is important and eternal and not be distracted by the things and ways of the world.
Dever says that Expositional preaching is the leading mark of a healthy church and that all of the other “marks flow from that it.” I would wholeheartedly agree with this. The task of pastors and teachers is to share the word of God, not the latest fad or opinion. One thing that seems to dominate the church in America today is topical preaching. Where the pastor takes a topic and preaches on it. Many people like this “style” because they feel it is more Life Application than expositional verse by verse preaching. But what could be more appropriate for life application and life change than the word of God. One of the problems with topical preaching is that many times it leads to the topics that the pastor cares most about and that he wants to discuss. The calling however according to the book of Acts is to share the “whole
counsel of God.” The way that we do that is through expositional preaching, and sharing verse by verse what the Bible says. After all “man does not live by bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.”
Expositional preaching of course should lead to a love of doctrine and to Biblical theology. Which is the “mark” of the next chapter. The writer of Hebrews says that “we need milk not solid food because we are dull of hearing.” In other words people do not care about the deep things of God. Because of that Dever says that the church has become filled with surface level disciples and people who are not truly converted.
Which leads to the next “mark”, the Gospel Charles Spurgeon says that “the greatest habit we can cultivate is of reminding ourselves of the gospel everyday.” What is the Gospel? It is Jesus in our place. It is a Holy God sending His son so that our sins can be forgiven and so that we can be saved. Churches need to have a proper understanding of the Gospel, it is sad that many do not.
A true understanding of the Gospel leads to a concern for real conversion and a passion for true evangelism. Dever makes the point that we do not need to coerce people into conversion because it is the Holy Spirit that does the leading. Coercing people just simply leads to false converts, and false converts have to be a concern of the church. Studies show that as much as 50% of the people in the United States have made a “profession of faith” but in many cases they aren’t a part of the church, nor do their lives reflect the teachings of Jesus and the Gospel. Healthy churches are concerned about true conversion and real evangelism.
They are also concerned about having a Biblical understanding of church membership. Dever says that in our world today people shy away from commitment to almost anything, and that certainly includes the church. People do not commit themselves to a church, but if you truly understand Biblical theology and the Gospel you should want to be a part of a local church, where you can worship, be discipled, and use your gifts for the glory of God. A local church that you can give money to to help support the ministry and work of God where you are.
The chapter on church discipline was a difficult chapter to read because it is so foreign in our world today. Dever however makes a compelling case for reviving Biblical, compassionate, church discipline for the good of the church, the community, and the cause of Christ.
Of course expositional preaching and Biblical theology lead naturally to a concern for growth and discipleship, and healthy churches are very intentional about making disciples for God’s glory. A healthy church is also marked by Godly leadership. Godly leaders are servant leaders, leaders who are concerned about others, but whose passion is the word of God and the glory of God. Sadly enough this is missing in many cases in our world today.
Dever’s book is difficult and times and certainly very convicting. It is a book that was written about 10 years ago, but is a needed voice in our world today. In fact I would say that it is more needed now than it was 10 years ago. The church as a whole need to be reminded of the purpose of the church. The church needs to be reminded of what is important, and as Dever shows in this book what is important is the word of God and making sure that God is glorified.
Basil Manly Jr. said “if you are going to be mighty in God’s work you must be mighty in God’s word.” That is certainly true, we must make the word of God our priority because it is God’s word that we live in and it is God’s word that brings change.
Years ago Southern Baptists (of which I am one), were known as being people of the book. May we have a passion to be known as that again, because that is truly the start and the heartbeat of a healthy church as Dever boldly shows in his book. I would recommend it to any and every church leader and pastor. But not only that to every person who is concerned about the church and the Gospel.
9 out of 10 stars.