Healthy Churches Intentionally Make Disciples (Part 3)

by Lim Soon Hock, Empowering Churches

Click here for Part 1, Click here for Part 2


The study thus far has shown that the discipleship of God’s people is critical to the health of a church.  However, discipleship does not happen by chance.  If a church is to be healthy it needs to be as intentional as Jesus and Paul in disciple-making.  Four factors may be discerned from the disciple-making ministry of Jesus and Paul that are requisites for an intentional disciple-making church:

  1. A biblical understanding of the characteristics of a disciple of Jesus Christ,
  2. An effective process to make disciples,
  3. Committed and capable disciplers, and
  4. A church culture that promotes disciple-making.

The Disciple

If a church is to be an intentional disciple-making church it must first have a clear biblical understanding of the characteristics of a disciple of Jesus Christ.  Chan envisages the NT disciple as a “certain kind of product”1 who is characterised by five marks.  He is: (1) grounded in the Word of God (Jn 15:7, Mt 7:24-27), (2) submitted fully to the Lordship of Christ (Lk 9:23, Mt 6:33), (3) walks in love (Jn 13:34-35), (4) bears much fruit (Jn 15:5), and (5) equips others and multiplies (Eph 4:12).2  Hull describes a disciple with the use of a “six-fold definition of being conformed to Christ’s image.”3  They are: (1) transformed mind: believe what Jesus believed, (2) transformed character: live the way Jesus lived, (3) transformed relationship: love as Jesus loved, (4) transformed habits: train as Jesus trained, (5) transformed service: minister as Jesus ministered, and (6) transformed influence: lead the way Jesus led.4  Avery T. Willis, Jr.’s MasterLife has a succinct definition for discipleship, from which a definition of a disciple may be easily developed.  He states, “Christian discipleship is developing a personal, lifelong, obedient relationship with Jesus Christ in which He changes your character into Christlikeness, transforms your values into kingdom values, and involves you in His mission in the home, the church, and the world.”5

Chan, Hull, and Willis provide a clear description of a disciple.  They may differ in the way they say it, but they are clear about the goal or the “product”—what a disciple of Jesus Christ looks like.  It is imperative for every church to have a clear biblical description for the kind of disciple they want so that they can work towards “making it”.

The Process

The second requisite factor of an intentional disciple-making church is that it must have an effective process to make disciples.  Chan’s, Hull’s, and Willis’ definitions of a disciple show that the development of a disciple of Jesus Christ is multifaceted.  Furthermore, inherent in the idea of development is that a disciple goes through phases of growth.6  For this reason discipling must be seen as a process.  Hull comments, “To keep discipling effective, remember: discipling is not an event; it is a process…. The church has the responsibility to provide the clear vision and the vehicles that bring Christians into mature discipleship.”7  However, the philosophy of the disciple-making process varies between the proponents; from program-based discipling to relational discipling.

Willis’ MasterLife may be categorised as program-based discipling because the four workbooks it offers form a complete discipleship curriculum.8  Notwithstanding, Willis envisaged that MasterLife is to be used as a discipleship process.9  Hull deems Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Church (PDC) model’s “Life Development Process”10 (LDP) as a program.11  However, Warren clarifies that PDC’s five purposes are arranged into a sequential process.12  A model like the LDP might best be described as a process with multiple programs, and that these programs may be replaced with improved programs to better achieve their purpose—to make disciples.  Or, in the words of Thom S. Rainer and Eric Geiger in the Simple Church, “A simple church is a congregation designed around a straight forward and strategic process that moves people through the stages of spiritual growth.”13  The definition acknowledges the need for a process to move people through the stages of growth.  However, Rainer and Geiger lament that most churches miss this truth.14  Whether it’s one program or multiple programs, discipleship must be developed into a process.  In other words, a process is a necessary means to achieve the goal for spiritual growth of the believers in the church and to make disciples.

Only four out of the 13 respondents surveyed opined that that their respective churches have a developed disciple-making process (see Appendix B).  The researcher has no detailed information about their respective processes, except that three respondents (out of the four) commented that their respective churches use common materials to disciple their members.  The materials may be changed when necessary.  These four respondents also indicated that their churches have a high degree of disciple-making intentionality.  Eight out of the remaining nine respondents indicated that their churches have a low degree of intentionality and lack a disciple-making process.

Ogden opines that one of the major reasons for the “low estate of discipleship is that most churches have no clear, public pathway to maturity.”15  He also advocates a discipling process; though, not a process with programs, but a process through relational discipling.  Ogden explains discipling to mean “a process that takes place within accountable relationships over a period of time for the purpose of bringing believers to spiritual maturity in Christ.”16  He advocates personal discipling in highly accountable, relational discipleship units of three or four.17  Both Hull and Chan advocate personal discipling as well as the use of small groups in disciple-making.18  One respondent in the survey indicated that his church has high degree of intentionality but it does have a developed process.  He commented that his church’s disciple-making focus is on building relationships and trust.  Every leader in his church is encouraged to spend time, serve together, and journey with the disciple.  This is perhaps illustrative of Ogden’s point on relational discipling.

The Discipler

The third requisite for an intentional disciple-making church is for committed and capable disciplers.  If discipling is a discipler helping a disciple develop into full maturity in Christ,19 then, the former by his (or her) life’s example must exemplify for the latter what it means to be mature in Christ.  Chan comments, “If you are not positively modelling, you are not positively mentoring….because things are more caught than taught, modelling is tremendously significant.21 through relational discipling.22

A discipler does not need to have the stature of a Paul or a pastor/elder.  If that were the case then very few would qualify.  Chan is right when he says that God intends discipling to be for every believer, not just the apostles.23  Colin Marshall and Tony Payne state that “to be a disciple is to be a disciple-maker.”24  In other words, any growing disciple can be a discipler of another.  Marshall and Payne go so far as to say, “All Christian should be disciple-makers….”25  Certainly, a discipler with greater maturity in Christ and training in disciple-making is likely to have a greater impact on a disciple.  For this reason, an intentional disciple-making church must be about training its people to be disciplers. Marshall and Payne believe that one of the critical ministry mind-shifts a church must make is a shift from running events to training people.26  A related mind-shift is from relying on training institutions to establishing local training.27  The challenge, then, is for the local church to provide training for its people to be “vine growers” or disciple makers.28

Church Culture

The fourth requisite for an intentional disciple-making church is a church culture of disciple-making.  One, or even a handful of disciplers do not make a disciple-making church.  If we accept Chan’s definition of disciple-making and what is meant by intentionality then disciple-making must form a most critical part of a church’s culture.  Aubrey Malphurs defines a church’s congregational culture as “the unique expression of the interaction of the church’s beliefs and its values, which explain its behaviour in general and display its unique identity in particular.”29  In other words, belief determines values, and values are expressed in behaviour.  A disciple-making church is one that is convinced and convicted by the biblical injunction and teaching on discipleship and disciple-making.  This shared belief leads the church to establish values about discipleship and disciple-making.  These shared values are so important that they are expressed in the common behaviour of the people in the church through their lives and ministry.

The persons most responsible to develop a disciple-making culture are the pastor and leaders of the church.  Malphurs opines that the pastor is the key church culture sculptor.30  Chan states that “the key to a disciple-making church is the disciple-making pastor.”31  The pastor together with the leaders do this through modelling, teaching and preaching, praying, developing a discipleship process, and training disciplers.  Hence, beside the pastor, church leaders must also lead in the example of disciple-making if the latter is to become a culture in the church.  Chan states,

“The right kind of leadership must be developed.  The disciple-making process must begin on the right leadership platform.  Leaders are inspiring when they model discipleship to the church and are actively involved in disciple-making.  Once we have leaders being effectively discipled, they will be discipling others, and the chain effect will be multiplied downwards.”32

From the survey sample, seven out of the 13 respondents indicated that many of their pastors are engaged in disciple-making (see Appendix B).  However, only three out of these same seven indicated that many of their church leaders (excluding the pastors) are engaged in disciple-making.  Furthermore, five (of 13) indicated that their churches have a culture of disciple-making.  However, only two (of the five) indicated that many of their pastors and church leaders are engaged in disciple-making; another two indicated that many of their pastors are engaged in disciple-making, but less so among the church leaders; and one indicated that not many of the church’s pastors and leaders are engaged in disciple-making.  Since culture is set by the leaders, it is incongruous for a church to have a disciple-making culture when the leaders do not exemplify it.  Disciple-making only becomes culture in a church when the church as a whole; pastors, leaders, and members hold a shared belief and shared values about disciple-making that are actualised.


The church of Jesus Christ has a mandate to make disciples, and fulfilling the mandate is a vital characteristic of a healthy church.  However, the success of a church to fulfil the mandate is hinged on the critical issue of its disciple-making intentionality.  The research has ascertained that for a church to be intentional about disciple-making it must have: (1) a biblical understanding of the characteristics of a disciple of Jesus Christ, (2) an effective process to make disciples, (3) committed and capable disciplers, and (4) a church culture that promotes disciple-making.

The ultimate objective is requisite number four: to a develop a church culture that promotes disciple-making.  The reason is because, once disciple-making becomes culture, the church simply does what it is.  However, the first three requisites—the disciple, the discipler, and the process—are also important components of the disciple-making culture.  The more these three requisites are developed in a church, the more deeply will a disciple-making culture be established be in the church.  In this regard, pastors and church leaders must lead by example.  All the leaders must be engaged in disciple-making.  Furthermore, a clear and effective process to make disciples must be developed for the whole church.  The church must not only be clear about the kind of disciple it desires to develop, it must also have an effective pathway to reach the objective.  Good intentions without a clear and effective process will not succeed.  Finally, while discipleship and discipling programs are necessary items in the process, even more important is the discipling relationship.  Relational discipling by the discipler with the disciple is key to disciple-making.

Leadership Requirements for Healthy Churches (Part 4)

by Lim Soon Hock, Empowering Churches

Click here for Part 1, Click here for Part 2, Click here for Part 3


The second part of the research question asks, “What is a primary role of church leaders that is needed to develop healthy churches?”  By “role” we mean the function of church leaders.  The fifth column in Table 3 below presents the views of five (out of nine) church health models about the primary role of church leaders.  It appears that there is much agreement between them.

For Dever, the role of church leaders is to edify the church.  Koster and Wagenveld state that it is to help believers find their ministry according to their gifts.  Or, in the words of Callahan, their life’s searches.

Schwarz says it is to empower believers.  And for Macchia, it is to raise believers; in other words, to develop the believers.  While EFCA’s and Searcy’s models do not specifically explain their perspectives of the primary role of church leaders, nonetheless, they clearly sate that healthy churches are Intentional about leadership development.

In sum, the collective view of church health proponents about the role of church leaders is: to edify the people in the church for their spiritual growth and to empower them to serve the Lord with their God-given gifts in ministry.

A Theological Perspective of the Role of Church Leaders

A study of the NT shows that church leaders have many functions.  Norman L. Geisler states that an elder is an overseer (1 Pet 5:1-4), a ruler (Heb 13:17), an under-shepherd (1 Pet 5:1-4), a teacher (1 Pet 5;2, 1 Tim 3:2, Tit 1:9), an apologist (Ph 1:17, Tit 1:9), an arbiter of disputes (Acts 15:2), and a watchman (Heb 13:17).1

Alexander Strauch distils the role of shepherd elders into four areas: (1) protecting (Acts 20:28-31, Tit 1:9b), (2) feeding (1 Tim 5:17-18), (3) leading (1 Tim 5:17a, and (4) caring for the practical needs of the flock (Acts 6:1-6).2  Grudem condenses the role of an elder even further to simply governing (1 Tim 5:17) and teaching (Eph 4:11, 1 Tim 5:17).3

From the foregoing descriptions it appears that the primary roles of church leaders are to provide spiritual oversight over the church and spiritual care for the people in the church.  However, this perspective fails to consider the mission of the church, and corollary, the role of church leaders in relation to the church’s mission.

The Mission of the Church and the Role of Church Leaders

Christopher Wright states that when we “draw our biblical theology of the church’s mission from the whole Bible…it becomes clear that the mission of God’s people is vast and various.”4  It is beyond the scope of the paper to discuss the depth and breadth of the church’s mission.  Suffice to say that God is on a mission in the world, and the church is called to participate in His mission.5  How the church participates in God’s mission is through its missions.  “Missions” in the plural, as Wright points out, refers to “the multitude of activities that God’s people can engage in to participate in God’s mission.6

In order for believers to effectively participate in God’s mission they need more than spiritual nurture for their own spiritual growth; they need to be empowered for ministry and mission.  For example, the Bible teaches and commands that all believers are to do the “works of service” (Eph 4:12) and to “make disciples” (Mt 28:19).  The ability to carry out these activities of God’s mission, as it is with all the other activities of God’s mission, does not come naturally.  Believers need to be taught, trained, equipped, and empowered to carry out God’s mission.

Ephesians 4:11-13 states,

11 It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12 to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

According to the above text, the people in the church are to do the works of service.7  The people who prepare or equip (katartismos) them are the leaders that God gifts to the church, such as the apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor-teachers.8  R. C. Sproul comments,

“…in addition to ministering to the needs of people, leaders are called to train people, to give them the equipment, the tools, the knowledge and the skills necessary for works of service. The most effective churches that I know are churches where the ministerial staff devote many hours in training and mobilising their congregations to be mighty armies of saints, as they minister to a dying world.”9

The result arising from the leaders’ training and the members’ serving is the building up of the church.10  An end-goal is that the church becomes a “mature man” (andra teleion).  Or, to use our modern-day metaphor—a “healthy church”.

In tandem with the above, Colin Marshall and Tony Payne call for ministry mind-shifts.  Their list of 10 ministry mind-shift items include: from running programmes to building people, from running events to training people, from relying on training institutions to establishing local training, from engaging in management to engaging in ministry and from seeking church growth to desiring gospel growth.11

They propose a mental image of the pastor as trainer who functions as a preacher and trainer, instead of a clergyman who is a preacher and service-provider or a CEO who is a preacher and manager.12  Their comparative chart of the three images of the pastor is helpful13 (see Table 4 below).

From the foregoing discussion we understand that church leaders have many responsibilities.  However, in the light of developing a healthy church that effectively engages in its mission, a primary role, then, of church leaders is to empower the people in the church for their mission.

Views on Leadership Roles from Pastors and Church Leaders

In the survey conducted for the research paper, the respondents were asked to choose one from out of six leadership roles that best reflected their leadership role in the church.  The six leadership roles were: (1) teacher and preacher, (2) intercessor, (3) counsellor, (4) pastor, (5) equipper, and (6) oversight.14  An “others” category was included for the respondents to write their own, should none of the above suitably reflected their leadership role.  The results were: teacher and preacher (7 respondents), intercessor (0), counsellor (0), pastor (1), equipper (2), oversight (2), and others (2) (see Appendix B, Table 6).

Secondly, the respondents were asked to rank the leadership roles that church leaders should perform in order of importance (1 being the most important, and 6 being the least important).  From the average ranking collated for each leadership role, teacher and preacher was placed as the most important (average rank of 2.46).  This was followed by the roles of pastor (2.77) and oversight (2.85).  Further down in order of importance were the roles of intercessor (3.61), equipper (4.77), and lastly, counsellor (5.46)15

The views of the respondents reflected the traditional theological perspective of the role of church leaders.  They considered teaching believers the Word of God, providing pastoral care for members, and ensuring proper spiritual governance over the church as the priority functions of church leaders.  Equipping members for service is given a low priority.

However, this view of the respondents goes against the emphasis of many church health proponents, and including Sproul, Marshall and Payne.  The aforementioned experts contend that a primary role of church leaders is to empower the believers for their spiritual growth, service, and mission so that the whole church may be built up (Eph 4:11-13).  For example, when leaders carry out their functions, such as teaching and preaching, it must be with the intent of empowering believers for their spiritual growth, service, and mission, so that the latter can effectively participate in the development of a healthy church and advancement of the Kingdom of God.


The research has ascertained that for a church to develop as a healthy church it needs a certain kind of leadership.  It’s a leadership that leads from out of the bond of relationship with the followers and empowers them for service, so that together they may build up the body of Christ.

This is not to say that the other types of leadership attributes are not important.  They are important, but relational leadership is like the foundation upon which all the other leadership types, like the visionary, transformational, and administrative types, build on.  When there is a strong, healthy, and trusting relationship between leaders and followers, the followers will follow the leaders, not because they have to but because they want to.

Similarly, the emphasis on empowering leaders as a primary leadership role is not to deny the importance of the other roles.  However, the leadership role must go beyond the “maintenance” of the personal spiritual lives of the members and corporate spiritual governance of the church to that of empowerment of the members for service and mission, so that everyone can effectively participate to build up the body of Christ.

Jesus exemplified the empowering leader.16  Beyond teaching and preaching to the masses and ministering to their needs, He focussed on training the twelve (Mk 9:30-31, Mt 10:1ff).  Paul exemplified the empowering leader.  Beyond evangelism, planting churches, and teaching, he focussed on training others for ministry and mission such as Timothy, Titus, Silas, Priscilla and Aquila.

The contemporary Malaysian pastor and church leader will do well to emulate their example if they are to develop healthy churches.  The neglect of this vital leadership role of empowering or equipping the church for service might be a major reason for the poor health of many churches in Malaysia.

Leadership Requirements for Healthy Churches (Part 3)

by Lim Soon Hock, Empowering Churches

Click here for Part 1, Click here for Part 2

The Relational Church Leader

The three NT imageries for church leaders present a common factor that is critical to the meaning of leadership: the relationship between leaders and followers; like parents with their children, shepherds with their flock, and servants with those whom they serve.

“Relational church leaders” may be a suitable term to describe this leadership type.  They place a high value on developing healthy, helpful, and encouraging relationships with those whom they mentor, care for, and serve.  Their effectiveness to lead the church is directly dependent on the relational health they have with the people in the church.

Chin’s explanation of his Father Leadership model is illuminative of relational church leaders.  He writes,

“Father Leadership is a style of leadership based on relationships.  The primary focus is not on a task, but on the person, i.e. the follower.  It is about love and not about doing a job.  Most styles of leadership focus on skills and performance.  Father Leadership flows from the heart.  It is a very powerful and influential form of leadership.”1

Harris W. Lee opines that leadership is a call to three things, one of which is to relationship—with other leaders as well as the people to be led.2  One of John Maxwell’s laws of leadership is the “The Law of Connection: leaders touch a heart before they ask for a hand.”3

Thom S. Rainer submits eight keys of “Acts 6/7 Leadership”; one of which is their “unconditional love of the people.”4  His research led him to conclude that breakout church leaders “communicate(d) clearly their love for the members of the congregation.”5

In a proposal of a composite framework for Christian leader development outcomes Keith R. Krispin’s third category, out of five, is “Relational Skills”.6  He writes,

“At the heart of the leadership process are the relationships between and among leaders and followers.  Thus, relational skills feature prominently in most approaches to leader development.  Relational maturity is also evident in a biblical understanding of leader and the nature of the church, as evidenced in the numerous “one another” passages where believers are commanded to love one another (Jn 13:34-35), care for each other (1 Cor 12:24-25), and forgive one another (Eph 4:2)…. The social skills category includes general communication skills… emotional intelligence…teamwork…conflict management…, and orientation to the broader community and world….”7

In sum, the relationship between leaders and followers is at the heart of church leadership, and the import of this factor calls for relational maturity, especially on the part of the leaders.

The five church health models in the study may appear to present different descriptions for their type of church leader.  However, upon closer scrutiny, an important underlying factor is observed: a healthy relationship between leaders and followers.  Macchia’s, and Koster’s and Wagenveld’s servant-leader is predicated on such a relationship.

Callahan’s four steps of leadership learning and Dever’s four aspects of Christlike leadership (BOSS) are meaningless without such a relationship between leader and follower.  Schwarz’s description is clear that leaders must not only be goal oriented but also relationship oriented.  It is evident that the underlying type of church leader for the above-mentioned church health models is the relational church leader.

Views on Leadership Types from Pastors and Church Leaders

A survey among some pastors and church leaders appear to bear out the above conclusion about the type of leadership that is called for in the church.  A limited random survey was conducted by the researcher for the paper among 13 pastors and church leaders of English-speaking Malaysian churches.

They were asked to choose one from out of seven leadership types that best reflected their personal type of leadership.  The seven leadership types were: (1) coach, (2) visionary, (3) servant, (4) transactional, (5) transformational, (6) relational, and (7) administration.8  An “others” category was included for the respondents to write their own, should none of the above suitably reflected their leadership type.  The results were: coach (2 respondents), visionary (2), servant (3), transactional (0), transformational (1), relational (4), administration (0), and Others – Team (1).

Secondly, the respondents were asked to rank the leadership types in order of importance that church leaders should exemplify (1 being the most important, and 7 being the least important).  From the average ranking collated for each leadership type, visionary leadership came out as the most important (average rank of 2.69), followed very closely by servant (2.84) and relational (2.85) leadership.  Further down the order of importance were coach (3.69) and transformational (4.08) leadership.  The least important types were administration (5) and transactional (6.9) leadership9

The critical importance of visionary leadership in the assessment of the respondents is supported by the views of Christian-based leadership experts.10  However, the respondents also viewed relational leadership as among the most important leadership types that church leaders should embody.  This view is in line with and supported by our study of the NT and the literature review about the church and church health.

It may be surmised that the critical place of relational leadership is likened to the shoulder on which the other leadership types stand on—including visionary leadership.  For example, after a vision has been cast, it is the relationship between the leader(s) and the followers that determines whether the latter will want to join and pursue the vision articulated by the former.

Go to Part 4

Leadership Requirements for Healthy Churches (Part 2)

by Lim Soon Hock, Empowering Churches

Click here for Part 1


The first part of the research question is, “What is a distinctive type of church leadership that is needed to develop healthy churches?”  By “type” we mean the leadership attribute that characterises church leaders.

The fourth column in Table 2 below presents the views of six (out of nine) church health models about the type of leaders that are needed to develop healthy churches. They appear to differ with one another, if not in substance, then, in the way they describe the leadership attribute of church leaders.

Before we analyse their descriptions, it is essential that we first ascertain NT teaching on the attributes of church leaders.

New Testament Teaching on the Attributes of Church Leaders

Christian leadership characteristics were both demonstrated and taught by NT church leaders like Paul and Peter.  One such NT leadership characteristic is “leadership by example”, which Paul demonstrated during his missionary endeavour in Thessalonica (1 Thess 1:5-6).  He also exhorted Timothy to do the same (1 Tim 4:12, 15-16).  Likewise, Peter prodded the elders to be “examples to the flock” (1 Pet 5:3b).

Another NT leadership characteristic is “firm leadership” as seen in the strong words that Paul used to correct the church in Corinth (1 Cor 5:9-11) and Galatia (Gal 1:6-9).  He also told Timothy to be firm in his teaching (1 Tim 4:11), and to correct those who had erred (1 Tim 6:17).

Yet another NT leadership characteristic is “caring leadership”.  Paul’s relationship with the Thessalonians was “like a mother caring for her children” (1 Thess 2:7), and like a father who provided support, comfort, and encouragement to his children (v11-12).

The last-mentioned reference suggests another means of understanding NT church leadership characteristic—through the use of imageries.  Paul’s application of the imageries of a mother’s and a father’s relationship with their children, in reference to his relationship with the Thessalonians, illuminates the kind of relationship church leaders ought to have with the members.

The imageries also inform us of the motivation and the role of church leaders.  That is, they are to be motivated by love (1 Thess 2:7-8), and their role is to nurture and encourage believers in the things of God (v11-12).  Thomas Chin calls this “Father Leadership.”1

Closely related to the nuance of the parent imagery to characterise church leaders is the often-used biblical imagery of the shepherd.  Peter applied the imagery to the elders when he addressed them about their responsibility to believers whom he called “God’s flock” (1 Pet 5:2).  Paul used it when he gave his farewell discourse to the Ephesian elders at Miletus (Acts 20: 28).

As shepherds, church leaders are to exemplify the leadership characteristic of caring for their flock by feeding, guiding, and protecting those under their charge; thus, ensuring that the latter are spiritually healthy.

A third imagery is that of a servant.  Peter told the elders that they were to be “eager to serve; not lording over those entrusted to you” (1 Pet 5:2b-3a).  Some have termed this as “servant-leadership”.  In contemporary leadership and management teaching, the concept of servant-leadership or servant-leader is attributed to Robert K. Greenleaf.2  Church health proponents such as Macchia,3 and Koster and Wagenveld4 agree that such an attribute ought to mark church leaders.

It is unsurprising that the abovementioned imageries of leadership; parent, shepherd, and servant; were used of Jesus.  They were both self-applied and applied on Him by others.

When the Lord lamented the duplicity of Jerusalem, He said He had come to them like a mother hen gathering her chickens under her wings (Lk 13:33)—which is reminiscent of the parent imagery.

Jesus used the shepherd imagery as He painted a picture of His relationship with His followers (Jn 10:11).  Peter also identified Jesus as the Chief Shepherd in 1 Peter 5:4 to whom the shepherds of the church, the elders, were accountable to for the discharge of their leadership responsibilities.

Jesus applied the servant imagery when He told the disciples that He “did not come to be served, but to serve” (Mk 10:45).  At the event of the Last Supper He took on the role of a lowly servant and washed the feet of the disciples (Jn 13:1-17).

If Jesus as the Leader of the church exhibited these leadership attributes, it is incumbent then that His appointed leaders in the church also exhibit the same attributes.

Go to Part 3

Leadership Requirements for Healthy Churches (Part 1)

by Lim Soon Hock, Empowering Churches


The New Testament (NT) states that Jesus is the Head of the church (Eph 4:15), and that He is the One who builds His church (Mt 16:18).  These statements make it plain that Jesus is the Leader of His church.

The leaders of local churches are those whom the Lord appoints, and through whom He leads the church (1 Pet 5:1-4).  The focus of the paper is on the leaders of the local church, however, the understanding that Jesus is the ultimate Leader of every church should not be missed.  In the words of Leighton Ford, “Jesus in us continues to lead through us.” 1

The paper assumes that a church must have leadership.  The focus of the research is on the kind of leaders that are needed to develop a healthy church.  The twin problems that the research seeks to answer are: (1) what is a distinctive type of church leadership, and (2) what is a primary role of church leaders, that are essential for the development of a healthy church?

For the purpose of the paper, “type” is defined as the leadership attribute that characterises church leaders.  “Role” is defined as the function of church leaders.  And a “healthy church” may be viewed as a modern metaphor for the mature church that Paul spoke about in Ephesians 4:11-13.2

A delimitation of the paper is that it does not include the factor of church polity.  The subject of church polity is huge and is beyond the scope of the present research.  Finally, the category of leadership viewed in the paper concerns the topmost leadership echelon of the church, regardless of the term that a church may use.  In essence, these leaders are equivalent to the elders in the NT churches.3

The paper begins with a brief review of literature on church health models.  The purpose is to gain an understanding about the relationship between church leadership and church health.  The review is followed by a discussion of the main issues of the paper concerning the type and the role of church leaders that are essential for the development of a healthy church.  The research includes a study of the theology, philosophy, and practice of church leadership from the Bible, Christian literature, and practice among churches in Malaysia.


A review of church health models shows that each model has its own set of church health characteristics.  Some characteristics are common to many of the models, while some are only found in a few models, or even unique to a particular model.

The leadership characteristic is found in many church health models.  Out of the 14 models the researcher has studied nine have included leadership.   However, the way the leadership characteristic is described varies between models, as Table 1: The Leadership Characteristic of Church Health Models below shows.

Getz and Dever stress on the biblical or NT teaching on church leadership.  Getz’s focus concerns the spiritual qualifications of church leaders.4  Based on scriptural references such as 1 Timothy 3:1-13 and Titus 1:5-9 Getz describes the character and maturity expected of church leaders.5

Dever also gives import to the biblical qualifications of church leaders.6  But he goes beyond the qualifications to note the purpose of church leaders; which is to use their spiritual gifts to edify or build up the church.7  Furthermore, he states that there are four different aspects of leadership; namely, (1) the boss commanding, (2) the out-front example, (3) the supplying of what’s needed, and (4) the serving; and that they are all needed for biblical church leadership.8

Macchia’s stress is on the kind of attribute that should be reflected in church leaders—which for him is, servant leadership.[efn-note]Stephen A. Macchia, Becoming a Healthy Church: 10 Characteristics (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 115.[/efn_note]  He explains that a servant-leader is one who is led by Jesus, loves those whom he leads and serves, a life-long learner, listens to God and to others, lightens the load of others, empowers a team to pursue a vision, and leaves a legacy by raising others up.9

Callahan’s focus is on the development of a strong leadership team.  The kind of leaders (or leadership team) that Callahan envisages; (1) love those they lead, (2) listen to those they love, (3) learn as they listen, and then (4) lead as they love, listen, and learn.10


The remaining five models stress on the role of church leaders to empower believers in the church for ministry and leadership.  They may use different terms such as empowering leadership (Schwarz, and Beeson), mobilising leadership (Koster and Wagenveld), and leadership multiplication (EFCA), but essentially, they are concerned about the role of church leaders to empower the believers in the church.  Although Searcy does not use any qualifying term for his leadership characteristic, nonetheless, his survey questions disclose that his emphasis is also on the role of the leaders to empower others in the church.11

The foregoing discussion shows that a wholistic understanding of the leadership characteristic encompasses four areas: (1) biblical qualifications, (2) spiritual maturity and character, (3) leadership type, and (4) the role of the leaders in the church.

Only three out of nine models; namely, Getz, Dever, and Koster and Wagenveld, address the first two areas about the biblical qualifications and character of church leaders (see Table 2: The Type of Church Leaders of Church Health Models below).

These two areas do not appear to be the concerns of the other six models.  It is likely, although the researcher is unable to cite direct quotes, that proponents of these six models have assumed that church leaders must necessarily be biblically qualified and possess a Christlike character.  Their focus is on the type and the role of church leaders.

The researcher observes that they have different views about leadership types, but they have less differences about the role of church leaders.  All these become clearer when we scrutinise the details of their models in the following sections of the paper.

In sum, the study of church health models shows that:

(1) The leadership factor is one of the most critical elements that determines the health of a church.

(2) The church leadership characteristic in church health philosophy covers four areas: (i) qualification, (ii) character, (iii) type, and (iv) role.

(3) It may be assumed that church health proponents agree about the biblical qualifications, maturity, and character of church leaders.  However, they appear to vary in their understanding about what the distinctive type of church leader should be, and to a lesser extent about the primary role of church leaders.

Go to Part 2

Church Health Literature Review (Part 1)

by Lim Soon Hock, Empowering Churches


The subject of church health is less precise than the subject of church growth.  Unlike the latter the former does not have the coherence of the Church Growth Movement (CGM) nor does it have formidable spokesmen that Donald McGavran and Peter Wagner had been for the latter.  As a result, each advocate of church health has his own definition and set of characteristics for what constitutes church health.

The purpose of this review of church health literature is to scope from among the significant authors on this subject for their understanding and criteria of church health.  These views of church health may be classified under three broad categories: The Principle, the Biblical, and the Organic-Missional approaches.1 This is not to say that the principle approach is unbiblical or non-missional.  It is.  However, its emphasis is on the principles of church health.  The same can be said of the other two approaches that make much of their own emphasis.

In this article I will review two significant publications that represent each of these approaches.  Due to the limitation on the length of the article, the second book in each approach is given less treatment than the first book.  I conclude this review of church health literature with a discussion on how all three approaches together may help toward a greater understanding of church health.



The principle approach looks at what constitutes church health characteristics from both Scripture and practice of church life and ministry.  Then it looks at how a church is to improve along the quality scale of these characteristics so that it becomes a healthier church.

Christian A. Schwarz is one of the most quoted proponents for this approach on church health.2  His teaching on church health is found in his basic text titled Natural Church Development: A Guide to Eight Essential Qualities of Healthy Churches3 and a later publication called Color Your World with Natural Church Development: Experiencing all that God has designed you to be which was written for Christians to apply NCD principles at the personal level.4  Arising from his extensive research that covered churches around the globe,5 he determined that there are eight quality characteristics that all churches must have.  They are: (1) empowering leadership, (2) gift-oriented ministry, (3) passionate spirituality, (4) functional structures, (5) inspiring worship service, (6) holistic small groups, (7) need-oriented evangelism, and (8) loving relationships.

The health of a church is reflected in the overall quality of these characteristics found in the church.  The health is determined through a quantitative survey done among selected members of the church.6  Furthermore, NCD research reveals that if every quality characteristic scores 65 and above on their rating scale then the church is inevitably a growing church.  This is known as the “65 hypothesis.”7  The point of this approach to church health is for a church to keep improving on the quality of all eight characteristics.  The greatest attention, though, is to be given to the lowest quality characteristic because the growth of the church cannot rise beyond the level of that characteristic.  This is termed the “minimum factor.”8

The strategy also calls for the incorporation of NCD’s six biotic principles: (1) interdependence, (2) multiplication, (3) energy transformation, (4) multi-usage, (5) symbiosis, and (6) functionality. These principles are biotic in nature because a church is an organism and not a machine.9  When these principles are applied they “create an environment that will allow God’s growth automatisms—with which He Himself builds the church.”10  NCD stresses the development of an environment in a church where the church can grow.  In other words, church health naturally11 or automatically12 leads to church growth.  Schwarz terms it “The ‘all-by-itself’ principle”13 found in the parable of the growing seed (Mark 4:26-29).

Another principle approach to church health is found in Stephen A. Macchia’s Becoming a Healthy Church: 10 Characteristics.14  The ten characteristics were determined from a survey done among the Vision New England churches15 where Macchia served as its president from 1989 to 2003.  The study did not only help Macchia and his team to determine the ten characteristics, it also helped them rank the characteristics.  They are: Level 1 – How I relate with God: (1) God’s empowering presence, (2) God-exalting worship, (3) spiritual disciplines.  Level 2 – How I relate with my church family: (4) learning and growing in community, (5) a commitment to loving and caring relationships, (6) servant-leadership development.  Level 3 – How my church ministers and manages: (7) an outward focus, (8) wise administration and accountability, (9) networking with the body of Christ, and (10) stewardship and generosity.16

One of the key concepts for church health advocates is “balance”—a balanced pursuit and presence of all the essential elements or characteristics of a church.  Macchia stresses it.17  Schwarz speaks of the “harmonious interplay of all eight elements.”18  Rick Warren posits that “the five New Testament purpose of the church must be in equilibrium with the others for health to occur.”19  Nelson Searcy who takes a systems-approach to church health states that “The eight systems of every church are interconnected.  While some may be more developed than others, none of these systems can stand alone.”20  Hence, there is a need to ensure that all the systems in the church are functioning properly at a high level and in balance with one another.

Church health proponents have varying opinions as to what constitutes the essential characteristics of church health.  Sometimes it is simply the use of different terminologies or different ways of classification.  Barring this, the principle approach rightly recognises that the quality level of these characteristics in a church determine the overall health of the church.  Since they are all important, a high quality level for every characteristic and balance among them are key to the health of the church.

One of the features of the principle approach is that it is not simply theoretical and descriptive about what a healthy church should look like.  Many of them have developed tools to evaluate the health of the church based on their criteria of church health characteristics.  NCD has its 91-question Natural Church Development Survey.21  Macchia, who went to found Leadership Transformation Inc., developed the Church Health Assessment Tool (CHAT) with 72 questions covering the ten characteristics.22  These objective instruments are necessary to produce quantifiable data and measurable results to accurately assess the health of a church.

(Click to go to Part 2)

My Journey Into Church Consulting

My Journey

I first felt the Lord’s nudging towards church consultation during the later part of my second decade of pastoral ministry. At that time I didn’t know that such a ministry existed nor did I have the term for it. After about 30 years of pastoral ministry, in 2014, I took the first step to make the transition. I had little knowledge about what I was doing. As you can imagine, I was happy for the training I received from Jim Barber and the Society for Church Consulting in 2018. It was extremely helpful.

While pastoring I had read many books including Peter Wagner’s works on church growth, Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Church, Christian Schwarz’s Natural Church Development, Thom Rainer’s and Eric Geiger’s Simple Church, Gary McIntosh’s One Size Doesn’t Fit All and Aubrey Malphurs’ Advanced Strategic Planning. They were instrumental in shaping my philosophy of church ministry. The way I led the churches under my care reflected my convictions. I had come to the conclusion that it was critically important for churches to be healthy so that they can grow. On hindsight, the Lord was already preparing me for a ministry of church consultation with a focus on church health.

Secondly, my interactions with other pastors showed me that many of them needed help with developing their churches. I was so glad when I said something or shared something that I had done in my own church which helped them, or when I introduced a book to them that addressed their need. All I wanted was for the Lord to use me to empower others, especially other pastors, on how to do church.

The organiser in me had planned for a long and orderly transition from pastoral ministry to church consulting. Unfortunately, things didn’t work out in my last church and I was thrusted into consulting much sooner than I had planned. I was ill prepared. I also felt that my credibility would be questioned. I had imagined that with success stories of turnaround churches I would be seen as a probable good church consultant. Nonetheless, I have learnt to accept the different outcomes in the two churches I pastored, and to draw from the experiences when I consult churches.

My Challenges

My engagements in church consultation so far have been intermittent. Most of them have been one-off. A few required return visits. Most of them concerned a specific area of ministry like leadership, church structure, small groups or a discipleship program. A few opportunities arose for a church health analysis.

The work of church consultation in Malaysia faces a number of challenges.

  1. Church consultation is a totally new concept among pastors and churches in Malaysia. When I tell people what I do, it will almost always draw a surprised or confused look.
  2. Pastors cannot imagine why they would need the services of a church consultant. They may also be fearful about what a church consultant may uncover in their church.
  3. Pastors don’t understand the importance of church health and the need for a church health analysis.
  4. Church leaders are not willing to pay for the use of church health analysis instruments.
  5. There is none or little follow through with the recommendations. The consultant or other specialists are not engaged to provide guidance, training and assistance in the implementation of the recommendations.

My Dream

Despite the challenges, my dream is to see church consultation teams being formed for every denomination or groups of churches in Malaysia and for every language group under their respective umbrella (Malay, Chinese, Tamil and English).

I believe that church consultants have a role—to come alongside pastors and leaders to help them develop their churches (especially to be healthy growing churches that fulfil the Great Commission). It’s exciting to be a pioneer in this area of ministry in Malaysia, though I do not pretend that it’s going to be an easy journey.

The Organised Church (Part 1)

There are three major areas that need attention for any church to be healthy: Doctrine, Spirituality and Organisation. The first two have traditionally been the focus. The New Testament letters deal primarily with these areas, for obvious reasons:

  1. At that time, the church was in its infancy and it was imperative that it got its doctrinal foundation right.
  2. Jesus’ teaching passed on by the apostles was being attacked and undermined by false teachings such as legalism and Gnosticism. The apostles had to correct them and defend the Gospel.
  3. The churches in the first century were generally small, and there were not many organisational issues to deal with (I will qualify this later).

Bible schools, since their inception, have also traditionally focussed on Bible knowledge. The main goal was to ensure that the students graduate with sound theology. That is perfectly valid, as they will be the primary teachers of the Word to their congregations. Hence, they should be empowered to espouse Scriptural truths accurately. But the intense focus on this has left training in spirituality and organisational skills on the back burner. I am happy to observe that training in spirituality has made a comeback in many seminaries. However, the same cannot be said for their training in understanding the church organisationally; its structure, values, culture, vision casting, and so on. This has to be corrected so that Bible seminaries don’t produce pastors who only know theology but do not know how to lead a corporate body.

It is incorrect to say that the New Testament letters do not deal with organisational issues at all. Among the first problems that the early church encountered concerned the care of widows (Acts 6). The Grecian-Jews complained against the Hebraic-Jews that their widows were being overlooked in the food distribution. Besides being a spirituality-social issue it was also a community-organisational issue.  And the solution was to appoint six Grecian-Jews to oversee the ministry so that no one was missed out, especially the widows among this group.

In some of his letters, Paul wrote about the leadership of the church. He instructed Titus to appoint elders for the church in Crete (Tit 1:5). He gave Timothy a list of criteria for those who may qualify as elders and deacons (1 Tim 3:1-13). This was necessary for two reasons. One, to provide pastoral care for the members, and two, to provide a leadership structure for the corporate body organisationally.

In the Old Testament, the often-quoted event that saw a paradigm shift in organisational structure concerned Moses’ leadership (Exo 18). Fortunately it happened in the early days of the Exodus, rather than later; or else, Moses would have died from overwork. He was personally handling every problem of this massive group of people until, Jethro, his father-in-law, gave wise counsel. He told Moses to appoint leaders over groups of thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens; in a pyramidal-like structure. In that way Moses was able to delegate his work to these sub-section leaders. He only needed to handle those cases that they could not manage.

Likewise, pastors and church leaders need to learn how to organise their church so that it is healthy and effective. It is not about copying the world or trying to be a sleek organisation. It’s about enhancing the life, ministry and missions of the Church of Jesus Christ.

The present-day church is much more complex than the church in the days of the apostles, or even just 60 years ago. The churches then were generally small and there were not a great deal of organisational issues to be concerned about. But not so today. And the truth is that it will get increasingly more complex. Because of this reality there is a serious need to look into the organisational health of the church, without neglecting the doctrinal and spirituality concerns.

What are the critical needs in your church to bring it to health or better health? How will you address them? Who do you have to walk with you as you think, pray, study your church, find solutions, implement them and evaluate their effectiveness?

(Taken from my booklet, Before ER: A Call for Church Health.)

Go to Part 2: Critical Components of Church Organisation

Church Facilities and First Impression

I have visited churches that don’t take pride in their buildings. After all, a church is not the building, but the people. As a result, the building is allowed to deteriorate into disrepair; the paintwork peeling off; entrances, ministry rooms and the main worship hall cluttered with all kinds of stuff (wanted and unwanted); and the grounds left unkempt.

This is particularly evident of churches that use rented shop lots (and in Malaysia, they make up a good majority). As the premises don’t belong to them there may be little ownership and motivation to keep the place in good condition. There is even less sense of responsibility for the common areas, such as the corridors; and public areas, like the five-foot way. I have been to churches where throwaways (by other tenants) were stuffed under the staircase leading to the church in the upper floors, unsightly debris along the five-foot way, and the only-to-be-found-in-Malaysia heinous Ah Long stickers plastered all over the external walls of the buildings.

I am not suggesting that church buildings have to be lavishly done up, but they must at least be smart and the facilities be in good-working condition. The surroundings do not have to be in manicured-condition but it must at least be clean and neat.

Why is it so important to keep church premises presentable? Because it shapes a  visitor’s first impression of the church. Consciously or unconsciously the following questions will be swirling around in his mind, and what he sees will inevitably lead him to make certain deductions about the church.

1. Are the people proud of their church?

A poorly-kept facility is an indicator that the members have an indifferent attitude towards their church.

A well-kept facility tells a visitor that the people are proud of their church and that they like their church.

2. Is the church serious about drawing in new people?

A poorly-kept facility is an indicator that the church couldn’t-care-less what outsiders think about the church.

A well-kept facility says that the church is concerned about providing an environment that is welcoming to visitors. They want, at the very least, to give their visitors a good first impression of their church.

3. Is “good quality” a value of the church?

A poorly-kept facility is an indicator that “good quality” is not a value of the church. If it cannot be seen in the care of its premises, it is unlikely that quality will be valued in other areas of the church’s life and ministry.

A well-kept facility is a sign that the church values “good quality”—in everything; with everything they have and in everything they do. I believe you will be hard-pressed to find a church with good quality ministries but whose building and facilities are out of whack through indifference.

4. Can I happily engage in worship in this church environment?

A poorly-kept facility, especially in the main worship hall, will put most visitors off from worship. The environment matters! If it is not conducive for worship because of clutter and peeling paint (and maybe odour) it is not going to encourage a visitor to return.

On the other hand, walking through a pleasant environment and into an equally or even more pleasant worship hall will enhance a visitor’s engagement in worship. This will certainly give him positive vibes.

5. If I am looking for a church, do I want to come back for a second look?

A well-kept facility may not be the deciding factor for a visitor, whether he would come back for a second visit or, for that matter, to join the church. However, a poorly-kept facility will guarantee that a visitor will not come back for second look!

If you are a pastor or church leader, let me encourage you to take some time this week to do a church facility audit.


Dealing with Your Church History

Has your church experienced a season when everything seems to be going really well, and then—Boom!—something happens? It could be sudden or gradual, and the church starts to reel and loses its spiritual dynamism and momentum.

That problem may be a conflict within the leadership or between the leaders and the members. It may be fear, as members are called not only to accept change but to change as the church ventures into new “territories” of ministry. Perhaps, it is financial sacrifices they are challenged to make as the church embarks on enlarging its facilities to accommodate its growth. The problem could even be marital unfaithfulness especially of someone at the primary leadership, such as the pastor or elder.

However, when the leadership starts to deal with the problem they discover that a similar problem had happened before. Maybe, not only just once before; perhaps, even a few times. The situations may be different in the details but you can’t miss the similarities between the past and present episodes. If I may be permitted to be a little melodramatic, it would be the case of: Different actors but the same story line!

What usually happens is that the church will deal with the presenting problem. If it’s a conflict in the leadership, then it will deal with the parties concerned to bring clarity, forgiveness, healing and reconciliation. (The honest truth is that even this is often not done; most times it is simply swept under the church carpet!)

Doing the above is good; but, not good enough—if the present issue is just the latest in a series of a same type-problem that has manifested itself over and over through the history of the church. The problem needs to be addressed at its root. It may be spiritual, structural or systemic. It could be due to the culture, values or practices of the church. Likely, it is a combination of two or more.

Certainly, the spiritual dimension must never be overlooked. Corporate prayer is critical. Corporate repentance beyond the present issue and into past episodes and how they have been inadequately addressed (or not addressed at all) is needed. And finally, a deliberate change in the corporate mind-set of the church to live and work in the opposite spirit needs to be affirmed.

I know of a church that has gone into its history and made right what had been wrong, and since then, for many years now, it has been making good progress. And I also know of churches that have not been willing to address the issues that have been etched in its history, and so continue to be weighed down by the spiritual consequences.

All churches hope to do well and make great advance for the Kingdom of God. They may embark on all kinds of programmes and work at reviving the church. However, if they fail to realise that the history of the church plays a vital part in the present health or ill health of a church they will not go far. If there is an unaddressed pattern of sin, it will forever plague the church. No matter what strategy the leadership uses to move the church forward, this problem will come back to kill it.

I believe every church needs to look at its history; and see if there’s anything it needs to address—to set it free to be the church that the Lord has destined it to be.