Why Doing the Right Thing Isn’t Enough for a Healthy Church

windowHave you been struggling to lead your church to health and strength, but can’t seem to get there?

You’re doing what you believe God is calling you to do and you’re taking wise counsel from others, but there’s very little, if any progress being made? Not just numerically. But in health, discipleship, worship and the other essentials.

This post might be for you.

There are four ways to lead:

  1. Do the right thing in the right way
  2. Do the right thing in the wrong way
  3. Do the wrong thing in the right way
  4. Do the wrong thing in the wrong way

Only one of those combinations will produce a healthy church. Let’s take a look at all four and see what happens with each one.


1. Do the Right Thing In the Right Way

This is the winning combination.

Doing the right thing always comes first. But doing it in the right way is also critical, because doing the right thing with the wrong method is bad stewardship. 

God’s Word never changes, so God’s will never changes. But how God’s will is implemented changes a lot, given a variety of circumstances.

We need to follow Jesus’ wise example in this. He always did the Father’s will, but he was constantly changing his methods to suit the situation. When he taught he used conversation, monologue, illustrations, Q&A and/or parables, depending on what was needed at the time. He performed miracles in some places, but not in others. And he never used the same healing method twice.

Becoming a worshiping and praying church, for example, is always the right thing. But worship and prayer will look different in a downtown church in Nairobi, Kenya than in a rural church in Paducah, Kentucky, a recent church plant or a 700-year-old cathedral, an on-the-beach church in Hawaii or an underground church in China.

The truth remains the same in all of them, but the worship and prayer styles will vary greatly.

When we start with knowing and doing the right thing, then act wisely and sensitively so that it is done in the right way within your given context, a healthy church can bloom and thrive.


2. Do the Right Thing In the Wrong Way

Many good leaders of good churches struggle for years – even decades – because they get stuck in this rut without knowing it. Or they know it but are too stubborn to change it.

These are churches that have a great theological foundation. They love and honor God and his Word. They work hard and love people. But they’re stuck. Not necessarily numerically. But in terms of spiritual health and growth.

Often, this happens because the congregation and/or leaders are mired in out-of-date methods, structures and ideas. They’re doing things because they’ve always done them. Or they’re afraid to try something new.

Often, this happens because people confuse absolute moral truths with changeable methods. They’re afraid that doing something differently methodologically will led to doing something wrong theologically or morally.

Some people will never be convinced out of this mindset. But for those who can, the only way I know to get them there is by teaching and observing. They need a good, loving, patient pastor to teach them the difference between eternal principles and changeable strategies. Then they need to see it in action – either in their own church or in another church where it’s working.


3. Do the Wrong Thing In the Right Way

You can build a big church on bad theology. You just have to use the right methods.

But that won’t get you a healthy church, just a big crowd. And it might not even get you that.

When we put methods ahead of principles, this is what happens. And it’s also what the resisters from point #2 are often afraid of. They’ve seen big crowds attracted to false or shallow teaching through the use of smart methods, so they reject both the bad theology and the good methods.

Biblical principles must always come first. Fruit before gifts. Health before numbers.

We must always resist the temptation to think a church must be following God’s will simply because they’re getting bigger – even if it’s our church.

This happened to me and my church. We grew from 200 to 400 in a short time, using smart methods and systems, but we were sick on the inside. Starting with me.

Better to be a point #2 church – doing the right thing in the wrong way – and not grow, than to do the wrong thing in the right way, even if the numbers get bigger. (Of course, the best way of all is to become a point #1 church, doing the right thing in the right way.)


4. Do the Wrong Thing In the Wrong Way

Does this really need to be explained? Unfortunately, yes.

These churches do exist – but not for long.

Starting with bad theology, then applying poor methodology is a non-starter. To use Jesus’ parable of the sower, it’s like sowing bad seed on hard ground, among thorns, in bad weather, in front of hungry birds.


Which One Are You?

Since you care enough about church leadership to read this post, my guess is that you and your church are likely at point #2 – you’re doing the right things, but can’t figure out why they’re not working.

(Point #1 churches don’t need posts like this. Point #3 churches think they’re in great shape, so they don’t think they need the help. And point #4 churches aren’t around long enough to read much of anything.)

So if that’s you – if you are frustrated leading a good church that could use some updated methods, I have a few suggestions.

First, re-learn and re-teach the essentials again. What really makes a church healthy. As you do that, take note of what’s not required for a biblical church that you and/or the congregation might be hanging on to.

Second, start with an early, easy win. Drop something everyone is tired of, or start something everyone wants to do. In a previous post, I called this starting at the shallow end.

Third, ask what extra-biblical ideas or methods you might be hanging onto, then make a personal change. Lead by example. That will always say more than words ever will.

But please note again, that this is about health, not just numerical growth. There are great, healthy Small Churches all over the world, just as there are great, healthy big churches, too.

And while we may all know of point #3 churches with numerical growth, but little health, there are point #1 healthy churches with little numerical growth. Numbers are not the only measure of church health. Sometimes they can even blind us to deeper truths.

How can that be? Well, that’s too big a question for this post. But if you want to know more, check out The Grasshopper Myth and/or these posts:


So what do you think? Is your church stuck at point #2, #3 or #4?

We want to hear from you. Yes, you!
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(Window photo from Efi • Flickr • Creative Commons license)

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  1. Pingback: The Relationship Between Patience and Trust | Small Church Connections

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