I have had some good conversations and reflections on Mark Dever’s What is A Healthy Church? Dever is a reformed Baptist and the pastor of Capital Hill Baptist Church in Washington D.C.
What is A Healthy Church? is the condensed, prayer-of-jabez-sized, version of 9 Marks of a Healthy Church. It is good marketing by Crossway Books. Instead of me spending $15 dollars on the 200+ page 9 Marks books, I spent $10 on the 100 page What is A Healthy Church? book. Anyway, Devers presents his nine marks of a healthy church. He prioritizes the nine marks into two categories – Three Essential Marks and Six Important Marks. Unlike the Natural Church Development (NCD)’s Eight Key Qualities which are based on researching growing/healthy churches, Dever takes a more biblical/theological view of the healthy church. While Dever’s results differ from NCD, I found it to be a helpful complement.
Here are the nine marks:
1) Expositional preaching
2) Biblical theology
3) A biblical understanding of the gospel
4) A biblical understanding of conversion
5) A biblical understanding of evangelism
6) A biblical understanding of membership
7) Biblical church discipline
8) Biblical discipleship and growth
9) Biblical church leadership
When compared to NCD’s Eight Qualities of Growing Churches:
1) Empowering Leadership2) Gift-oriented Ministry3) Passionate Spirituality4) Functional Structures5) Inspiring Worship Service6) Holistic Small Groups7) Need-oriented Evangelism8) Loving Relationships
You can readily see the differences. Dever and NCD only share three commonalities (leadership, evangelism and discipleship) and they would disagree on how they define those three.
Of particular interest to me was the first mark – expositional preaching. I am sure that this will cause many eyebrows to raise. While many of us who value the authority of Scripture, see the importance of expositional preaching (i.e. verse by verse preaching) as important, I don’t know if I could call it essential.
Dever does make some good arguments for expositional preaching. He says that if a preacher starts with a theme and then collects verse to explain that theme, then the preacher and the congregation will only grow to the level of the knowledge of the preacher. True. He goes on to say that those kind of churches run the risk of being conformed to the image of the pastor and not to the image of God. Ouch! …but true again.
However, Dever adds that if a preacher devotes himself (I am sure Dever would not say “herself”) to expositional preaching, then both he and his congregation can grow and learn together as they allow God to speak through the text. True again.
I am currently in an expository series through the book of 1 Corinthians (www.cornerstoneamericus.com/sermons) and I see the value of verse-by-verse preaching. It has been a wonderful adventure. Dever is right on…but, a few things are missing in Dever’s approach to preaching.
I see three categories of preaching: 1) expository, 2) strategic, 3) prophetic and I believe the later two are just as essential for healthy churches.
Strategic preaching is used when a leader wants to launch a new ministry or emphasize a certain aspect of church life. I preached a strategic message called “Don’t Be a Sissy” when we launched our Men’s Fraternity. Strategic messages can also be expository in nature. I did a three week series in Philemon in order to cast a vision of transformation.
Prophetic preaching is altogether missing from Dever and it is perhaps the most common preaching in Pentecostal/charismatic oriented church. Prophetic preaching is speaking a particular message to a particular people at a particular time under God’s direction. These are messages that are born out of the Spirit’s guidance. It is typical for preachers who are given to prophet preaching to say something like, “I had something else planned, but God gave me this message.”
I find all three categories important (essential?) in the life of the church, but I would applaud Dever for his passion of expositional preaching. We need to temper strategic and prophetic preaching with regular rounds of expositional preaching. I have committed myself to this, because I have seen to many churches that are driven by topical preaching (whether strategic or prophetic) get funky and weird! (Those are the theological terms for people who are not biblically grounded.) It is easy to see churches that run off on some kind of biblical tangent, because they are not regularly study, preaching, proclaiming and living the whole biblical text. Funky and weird church typically preach (and live) from the verses they have underlined in the Bible. Expository preaching causes you to see and live all that God has revealed in the Scripture.