The two most easily recognizable hallmarks of secularization in America are the exaltation of numbers and of technique. ~Os Guinness, p.24
Here are the 9 Marks of a Healthy Church:
#1 Expositional Preaching
I will sometimes be surprised by the point of the passage and therefore by what must become the point of my message… Expositional preaching is preaching in service to the Word. It presumes a belief in the authority of Scripture — that the Bible is actually God’s Word; but it is something much more than that. A commitment to expositional preaching is a commitment to hear God’s Word — not just to affirm that it is God’s Word but to actually submit yourself to it… A preacher should have his mind increasingly shaped by Scriptures. He shouldn’t just use Scripture as an excuse for what he already knows he wants to say. When that happens, when someone regularly preaches in a way that is not expositional, the sermons tend to be only on the topics that interest the preacher. ~Mark Dever, p.40-41
#2 Biblical Theology
Today people believe to be true simply what they desire to be true. ~Mark Dever, p. 58
We will “do church” differently, depending on how we understand God and ourselves. To be biblical, we must know that God is a holy God and that we, by nature, are dead in our sins and transgressions and justly stand under His condemnation. ~Mark Dever, p. 66
If we are to be a healthy church in such times, we must be especially careful to pray for leaders in the church to have a biblical grasp of and an experiential trust in the sovereignty of God. Sound doctrine, in its full, biblical glory, marks a healthy church. ~Mark Dever, p. 73
#3 The Gospel
Repent and believe the good news (Mark 1:15).
It [real Christianity] is in some radical sense an about-face, a turning around. It is a turning around that all Christians make as we come to rely on Christ’s finished work on the Cross. To say that you trust, without living as though you do, is not to trust in any biblical sense of the word. We change the way we act, but only because we change what we believe. Such change is the work of God’s Spirit. ~Mark Dever, p. 92
#4 A Biblical Understanding of Conversion
If our conversion, our turning, is basically understood to be something we do ourselves instead of being something God does in us, then we misunderstand it. Conversion certainly includes our own actions. We must make a sincere commitment. We must make a self-conscious decision. Even so, conversion — real conversion — is more than that. Scripture is clear in teaching that we are not all journeying toward God — some having found Him, others still seeking. Instead, Scriptures present us as needing to have our hearts replaced, our minds transformed, our spirits given life. We can do none of this for ourselves. The change each human needs, regardless of how we may outwardly appear, is so radical, so near our roots, that only God can bring it about. We need God to convert us. ~Mark Dever, p. 113
#5 A Biblical Understanding of Evangelism
The Christian call to evangelism is a call not simply to persuade people to make decisions but rather to proclaim to them the Good News of salvation in Christ, to call them to repentance, and to give God the glory for regeneraion and conversion. We don’t fail in our evangelism if we faithfully present the Gospel and yet the person is not converted; we fail only if we don’t faithfully present the Gospel at all. ~Mark Dever, p. 137
…I am concerned that if you don’t believe what we’ve considered in these last few studies — that the Gospel is the Good News of God’s action, the Father electing, the Son dying, the Spirit drawing; and that conversion is only our response to God’s giving us the grace-gifts of repentance and faith; and that evangelism is our simple, faithful, prayerful telling of this Good News — if you don’t believe these things, then I’m concerned that you will actually damage the evangelistic mission of the church by making false converts, filling churches with people who don’t really know Jesus. You will tell them stories in such a way that they will cry, their hearts will be tugged, and they will make a sincere decision, but they will not be confronted by the reality of their sins, by their need to repent, and by the Holy Ghost. Such a method will not give them new life. And yet they’ll be baptized, made members of the church, and enlisted in church activities. ~Mark Dever, p. 142-43
Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks (Matt 12:34). What is your heart full of? What do you spend your words on? ~Mark Dever, p. 144
#6 A Biblical Understanding of Church Membership
Commitment-phobia is the fear that in promising to do something good we will miss out on getting something even better. And so, although we see many good things we could be doing, we would rather just “keep our options open.” ~Mark Dever, p. 147
Membership in a local church is intended as a testimony to our membership in the universal church. Church membership does not save, but it is a reflection of salvation. And if there is no reflection of our salvation, how can we be sure that we are truly saved? As John explains, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:20). In becoming a member of the church, we are grasping hands with each other to know and be known by each other. We are agreeing to help and encourage each other when we need to be reminded of God’s work in our lives or when we need to be challenged about major discrepancies between our talk and our walk. ~Mark Dever, p. 152
It simply will not do for Christians to be self-centered, even in the name of Christ. God is not only concerned about the length and regularity of your quiet time each morning; He is also concerned about how you treat others — and that includes how you treat others with whom you have nothing in common except for Jesus Christ. That’s why you need to invest your life in others and allow others to invest their lives in you. Being a member of a church should inculcate in you a committed concern for others. Growing as a Christian is not merely an individual matter; rather, it is a matter for the whole church. ~Mark Dever, p. 156
At Capital Hill Baptist Church, Mark Dever encourages 5 responsibilities for membership: 1) attend services regularly, 2) attend communion particularly (Thursday evening convenant meetings where members would renew their covenant and check on the status of their relations with each other before taking communion together the following Sunday), 3) attend members’ meetings consistently, 4) pray regularly (membership directory is advisable), 5) give regularly.
Membership is the church’s corporate endorsement of a person’s salvation. Yet how can a congregation honestly testify that someone invisible to it is faithfully running the race? If members have left our company and have not gone to any other Bible-believing church, what evidence do we have that they were ever truly a part of us? We do not necessarily know that such uninvolved people are not Christians; we may simply be unable to affirm that they are. ~Mark Dever, p. 163
#7 Biblical Church Discipline
…notice that much of discipline is positive discipline, or as it is traditionally called, “formative discipline.” It is the stake that helps the tree grow in the right direction, the braces on the teeth, the extra set of wheels on the bicycle. It is the repeated comments on keeping your mouth closed when you’re eating, or the regular exhortations to be careful about your words. It is the things that are simply shaping the person as he or she grows emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually. These are all examples of the basic shaping that takes place in oure relationships, in our families, and also in our churches. We are taught by books at school, and by sermons and services and classes at church. All of this is part of discipline. It is positive, shaping, formative discipline. Every truth you have ever heard someone talk about is part of formative discipline. ~Mark Dever, p. 169
What we actually need to do is to close the front door and open the back door! If we really want to see our churches grow, we need to make it harder to join and we need to be better about excluding people. We need to be able to show that there is a distinction between the church and the world — that it means something to be a Christian… If we are careful about how we recognize and receive new members, we will have less occasion to practice corrective church discipline later. ~Mark Dever, p. 170-71
#8 A Concern for Discipleship and Growth
Some today seem to think that one can be a “baby Christian” for a whole lifetime. Growth is seen to be an optional extra for particularly zealous disciples. But be very careful about taking that line of thought. Growth is a sign of life. Growing trees are living trees, and growing animals are living animals. When something stops growing, it dies. ~Mark Dever, p. 214
According to Jonathan Edwards, while all these things may be evidences of true Christian growth, the only certain observable sign of such growth is a life of increasing holiness, rooted in Christian self-denial. The church should be marked by a vital concern for this kind of increasing godliness in the lives of its members. ~Mark Dever, p. 215
#9 Biblical Church Leadership
God does not leave us merely to operate all the time as a “committee of the whole.” We need to trust that God gives particular people gifts to serve as church leaders. We should therefore desire to see in our church the right balance of authority and trust. It is a serious spiritual deficiency in a church either to have leaders who are untrustworthy or to have members who are incapable of trusting. ~Mark Dever, p. 227
When evangelicals today hear the word elder many immediately think “Presbyterian,” yet when congregationalists first arose back in the 16th C. they stressed eldership as well. Elders could be found in Baptist churches in America throughout the 18th and into the 19th C. W.B. Johnson, the first president of the Southern Baptist Convention, wrote a book on church life in which he strongly advocated the idea of a plurality of elders in the local church. Somehow that practice — never universal — fell out of use almost entirely among Baptists. Whether through inattention to Scripture or the pressure of life on the frontier (where churches were springing up at an amazing rate), the practice of cultivating such congregational leadership stopped among Baptist churches… Today, though, there is a growing trend to go back to this biblical office — and for good reason. It was needed in New Testament times, and it is needed now. ~Mark Dever, p. 229
So my own experience attests to the usefulness of following the New Testament practice of having, where possible, more elders in a local church than simply a lone pastor — and of their being people rooted in the congregation, not simply church staff hired from outside. This does not mean that I don’t have any distinctive role as the pastor, but I am fundamentally an elder, one of the people God has gifted to lead the church together. ~Mark Dever, p. 230
While any absolute distinction between the two offices is difficult, the concerns of the deacons are the practical details of church life: administration, maintenance, and the care of church members with physical needs. ~Mark Dever, p. 231
Paul in 1 Timothy 3 emphasizes how the elder deals with his family — because that reveals so much about him and how he would actually work as an elder. It is also interesting to note how many of these qualifications have to do with giving oneself in service for others. Elders are to be other-centered. ~Mark Dever, p. 232
BOSS acronym: Boss, Out front, Supply, Serve.
Boss: Give commands. Exercise authority carefully.
Out front: Be examples.
Supply: Supply your congregation with the tools they need to go out themselves.
Serve: We are servant leaders.
The family is supposed to be our training ground in this loving authority. It is a “ramping up” place that God has given us to learn love, respect, honor, obedience, and trust, in order to prepare us for relating to others and ultimately to God Himself. When we exercise authority in a good and proper way — through the law, around the family table, in our jobs, in the scout troop, in our homes, especially in the church — we are helping to display God’s image to His creation. ~Mark Dever, p. 242