The church is a body. And sometimes, bodies get sick.
How do you diagnose and treat unhealthiness in the church?
In this episode, we’re addressing lack of health within the church, and exploring the best ways to move toward church health. It turns out, human medicine and church medicine aren’t so different!
This episode’s special guest
We’re very happy to welcome Dr. Scott Paskiewicz back to the podcast for another episode. Scott was with us for Episode 5 where we talked about changing church ministry paradigms, and we benefited from his expertise in the area of hands-on church ministry.
In this episode, we’re focusing on church health. Scott’s career as a physical therapist equips him to look at the church through the eyes of a doctor, so we’re looking forward to hearing his insights into church health and what it means to have a well-functioning church body.
Commonalities between physical therapy and church life
The church is a body, and there’s a lot that physical therapy and church life have in common.
Dr. Scott explains that in physical therapy, the process of moving toward health involves four basic steps:
1. Develop a problem list
2. Prioritize the root of the problem
3. Set goals
4. Make a treatment plan
In a dysfunctional church, you need to go through the same evaluation process to find the problems. How did we get here? What is the church going through spiritually and emotionally, and how did it start?
Once you’ve evaluated the current state of affairs, you can prioritize the root problems, set some goals, and put a plan in place.
The step we miss that holds us back from healthy church life
A step that often gets skipped in this process is listening. Don’t project what you think is happening onto a patient (or church), but instead take the time to listen and really hear what they say is happening.
You have to understand before you can act.
Knowing when a church needs therapy or surgery
Once you’ve identified the problems within a church, how do you know if the church needs therapy or surgery?
Scott uses the example of knee replacement surgery to illustrate how sometimes, therapy isn’t enough. When a patient has the option of getting a knee replacement surgery, they are often choosing between 12 weeks of difficult recovery now to feel better for the next 20-25 years, or foregoing the surgery and limping around in pain for the next 20-25 years. The surgery is more painful right now, but the outcome is much better in the long run.
Sometimes in the church, a problem is more like cancer that needs to be removed than an injury that needs therapy. Problems like this would include serious sin issues within church leadership, or maybe a program that is unhelpful and needs to be ended. These problems cause short-term pain to remove, but if they are allowed to stay, the pain drags on for years and causes a slow death.
Church problems often start in the boardroom
Most problems within the church either start in the boardroom or are allowed by the boardroom.
A board’s role is like preventative medicine. The board is not meant to just react to problems, but to create an environment of health. Scott tells us, “An ounce of prevention is equal to a pound of cure.”
You church is far less likely to have serious long-term health issues if you’re doing regular checkups, trying to see ahead, set a plan in place, and implement it. Frequent checkups are the key to preventative health.
Lack of health doesn’t happen overnight
The process of becoming an unhealthy church doesn’t happen overnight. Just like in physical therapy, dysfunction over time leads to disease. Most dysfunction in the church comes from within, and grows over a period of time.
When you watch someone’s health decline over a long period of time, there are usually indicators of that person’s decision process. Churches are the same way. When a church decides not to follow a biblical model of church leadership, and instead are driven by numerical counts or other unbiblical measures of church success, you can see where that church is headed.
You only get better if you’re willing to change
Dr. Scott explains that you can’t do therapy with someone who isn’t interested in getting better. An unhealthy pattern can only be turned around if the responsible party decides to do it themself. No one else can make you change if you aren’t willing.
This is why it is so important for churches to be willing to evaluate themselves and be honest with what they find, and then be proactive in getting better.
How to be proactive with church health
How can you as a church be proactive about health? The number one way is to take responsibility.
Healthy churches and healthy people have a responsibility to show others what “healthy” looks like. This helps others figure out if they are not healthy, and why they’re not healthy.
Many churches don’t know or understand what healthy looks like, and so unhealthy begins to feel normal. The hardest church boards to work with are the ones that think they’re healthy when they actually aren’t.
A lot of this unhealthiness comes from one particular blinder: habit. The idea that “we’ve always done it this way” keeps churches from changing habits that don’t produce health.
Boards often neglect their role as elders
A church board has a unique responsibility to shepherd the congregation as elders. Sadly, a common cause of unhealthiness in the church is that the biblical role of elders falls by the wayside, while deacon roles and administrative tasks are prioritized.
A quick way to gauge the health of your church board is to evaluate how you are doing with elder responsibilities. How is the prayer life of the board, individually and corporately? Are the board members actively discipling, teaching, and preaching?
A common stumbling block that gets in the way of this is busyness. It’s easy for church boards to get caught up in fast-paced administrative tasks and miss their “less urgent” responsibilities like praying for the congregation and community where they serve.
Don’t let the busyness of church administration be a blinder that leads to unhealthy church life.
What’s a practical next step a church can take to move toward health?
You have to understand where you’re at before you can act, no matter how healthy you are. Start by evaluating the health of your church, and go from there.
If you need some help doing this, Grace Gospel Fellowship has developed a tool for evaluating church health. Just follow this link and select our “Church Health Questionairre” for the free download. Or, email Bryan at firstname.lastname@example.org and request it directly from him!
This tool makes it easy to identify the issues honestly, so you can make a plan to go forward.
Once you think you have it all together is when things seem to go wrong. Always be in prayer, and always be humble, because we’re never going to “arrive.”
Keep evaluating your church health regularly, even when everything is going well. Don’t forget that preventitive medicine is the best way to stay healthy!
In this episode:
0:00 – Introduction
1:18 – Special guest Dr. Scott Paskiewicz
2:56 – Commonalities between physical therapy and church life
5:27 – The step we miss that holds us back from healthy church life
6:46 – Knowing when a church needs therapy or surgery
10:30 – Church problems often start in the boardroom
13:00 – Lack of health doesn’t happen overnight
15:34 – You only get better if you’re willing to change
18:20 – How to be proactive with church health
21:30 – Boards often neglect their role as elders
24:29 – What’s a practical next step a church can take to move toward health
26:28 – Closing advice
27:31 – Thanks to Dr. Scott Pasciewicz and final thoughts