Category Archives: Church health

Give Up on The Ideal Church?

Should we just give up on pondering The Ideal Church? Not a chance.

Back on Dec. 19, on this blog, I raised the question: What Does The Ideal Church Look Like? My hope was to spark a vigorous discussion on an important topic at a time when the modern American church is clearly in a rapid state of decline. Unfortunately, the response was less than vigorous; it attracted just five comments.

OK, I get it. What did I expect on Dec. 19? As I was uploading that post, you were standing in line somewhere to buy a Lego set or a Barbados Barbie or a Keurig coffeemaker for someone you love. And I wanna talk about church? You had cookies to frost, a Christmas tree to plug in, and gift cards to swap. Who has the time?

Sorry, but I’m not going away that easily. I’ve been raising this question for several decades now, and never has it been more relevant than today. What does The Ideal Church look like? Whether you are a church member, or are searching for a church home, or are thinking about starting a new church, the answer to this question is essential.

The few responses we did receive are outstanding. Two pastors, one in Texas and one in Oklahoma, weighed in, plus a great Christian sister in San José, Costa Rica, as well as the ever-reliable “Anonymous.”

Eric Keller has been the pastor of Oakwood Christian Church in Enid, Okla., for 4+ years. Oakwood is a great church with several hundred members that found itself in difficult waters a few years ago. Eric has done an amazing job of leading Oakwood through a series of difficult transitions, with the result that Oakwood is a stronger church now than it has been in years.

Eric listed six qualities of an ideal church. No. 1 on Eric’s list: “Biblical Authority: God has spoken to us through the Bible and we recognize it as the final authority in our lives.” Amen, brother!

Steve Hinton is pastor of Cypress Crossings Christian Church in Houston. CCCC was started more than a dozen years ago by a handful who left another church. The group laid a strong foundation in a growing suburban neighborhood, but couldn’t break past an attendance of around 75 during its first ten years. Then Cypress Crossings called Steve three years ago. Steve has led CCCC to experience a great turnaround, which is one of the hardest things for any church to achieve. Attendance has doubled; the church is growing in maturity and outreach.

Steve listed three characteristics of an ideal church. No. 1 on Steve’s list: “An unwavering Commitment to the Word of God.” Amen, brother!

Eric and Steve are following the same playbook, and the results speak for themselves. What a transformation would occur if more churches decided that in 2013, their No. 1 commitment — first, foremost, and to the exclusion of all others– is the Word of God.

What about you? Do you have an opinion about the Ideal Church? Has it occurred to you that maybe it isn’t just up to the pastors to decide? Is it possible God that expects each one of us, every member of the Body, to participate in making the church the church?

The odds are that your church is less than ideal. So what are you doing to point your church to better days? It is impossible to achieve a goal that has not been identified, specified and articulated. That’s the purpose of this question.

What do you think? Don’t be intimidated by what Eric and Steve have written. They’re just the pastors. Without the enthusiastic participation of a turned-on congregation, all a pastor can do is put on a good weekend show. Many pastors and many congregations are content with that. But that’s sure not the ideal. What you say about the church matters, because you ARE the church.

Maybe you think the most important thing is the music. Maybe you think it’s all about the kids. Maybe you think the most important thing is location, location, location. The ideal church has dozens of positive characteristics, and each one requires a church member who speaks up from his or her unique background and gifting and perspective.

Do you want to be part of The Ideal Church? The only way it will ever happen is if we start having the conversation. How about contributing to the discussion by weighing in in the comments field below — or the comments field of the earlier post?

Discussion: What Does the Ideal Church Look Like?

Four church members are in different situations, but they all have the exact same question.

Person A is a leader of his church. Because he wants to help lead his church in being the church God wants it to be, he has been studying the Word and asking himself: “What does the ideal church look like?”

Person B is a member of her church. However, she is frustrated. She does not believe her church is being all that God wants it to be. She is trying to sort between the concerns that are just her personal preferences and the things that are truly important to God regarding His church. So, Person B has been asking herself, “What does the ideal church look like?”

Person C is looking for a new church. Maybe he is new to the community. Maybe he has been attending a church for many years but has reached a point at which the best thing to do is seek a new church. But looking for a church is so hard! There are so many churches out there of many denominations, various sizes, different emphases. How does Person C pick the right church for his family and himself? What should he be looking for in a church? “What does the ideal church look like?”

Person D is involved in launching a new church. She and several friends attended a church planting conference, where they were convicted that it is more important than ever to be establishing new churches, and that new church evangelism is one of the best ways to reach lost souls. So, Person D and her friends have formed a core group to raise up a new church. The core group’s first step is to identify what kind of church they intend to be. What is their mission? What are their core values? What will their new church bring to the table that will advance the cause of Christ in their community? “What does the ideal church look like?”

Four different Christians in four different situations, each asking the exact same question: What does the ideal church look like?


I think a lot about that question. I have been thinking about this question since I accepted God’s call to the ministry more than 40 years ago. Over the years Norma and I have been involved in new churches, turn-around churches, churches more than 100 years old, suburban churches, rural churches, foreign churches, cell churches, churches of various denominations. Our church experience is rich and broad and varied.

What does the ideal church look like? There are many, many correct answers to that question. However, perhaps all of the answers can be divided into three categories:

• Essentials: There are some things that are essentials for every church, whether new or old, large or small, foreign or domestic. Scriptural mandates. Minimum requirements. Non-negotiables. For example, every church should uphold the gospel of Christ. Every church should turn to God’s Word as its ultimate authority. What are other essentials for God’s church that transcend time and culture?

• Strategies: Many details about a church depend upon circumstances: the community, the culture, the church members, the identity of those to be reached, etc. We might call these strategic considerations. For example, it continues to be a good strategy in modern America to have a Sunday morning large-group meeting that is open to the public. The Scriptures never mandate such meetings, but they have been a fixture of our culture for a long time and continue to be useful in training believers and reaching the lost. However, in some places, such as countries where Christians are persecuted, it may be a better strategy to have secret meetings in people’s homes, as was the practice of some 1st century churches. What are some values that may not be essentials but may be good strategies in the goal to be an ideal church?

• Preferences: Many things about a church are strictly personal preference. There may not be anything wrong with that. There are a lot of different people out there; maybe it takes a lot of different churches to reach them all. Some churches prefer a formal, quiet, reflective worship service. Some churches prefer an informal, noisy, interactive service. Which is right? Maybe in God’s eyes both are fine. Different kinds of churches reach different kinds of people. What are some preferences that might contribute to achieving the goal of being an ideal church?

My current context is Edmond, Oklahoma, a comfortable suburb of Oklahoma City, where I live and go to church. What does the ideal church look like in Edmond, Oklahoma, in 2013? What are the essentials? What are the best strategies? What are the most desirable personal preferences?


Of course, there is no such thing as a perfect church. And if there was a perfect church, they wouldn’t let me attend, to prevent me from ruining things. However, every church should have the goal to be all that God wants it to be, and every Christian should want to be part of a church that has that goal. It is impossible to achieve any goal without first identifying the goal, making it as specific as possible, and envisioning it in our thoughts, our hearts, and our prayers. Every church leader and every church member should have that: a very specific vision of the ideal church to which we aspire to be.


What does the ideal church look like? Would you help me answer that question? I would love to know your thoughts. What does an ideal church in an Oklahoma City suburb in 2013 look like?

We can probably easily identify 20 or 30 or 40 values that an ideal church would embody. Some are Scriptural mandates. Some are good strategic values considering our community and culture. Some are just personal preferences, but we all have them, so we might as well acknowledge them.

What are one or two such values that occur to you? Whether it is an essential or a strategy or a preference, what do you think the ideal church looks like?

The 2% Givers

Is it true that God has blessed the United States? If so, why has He done so? Many evangelicals will answer with the thought that God has blessed the United States because of or to encourage a Christian nation and the resulting history of missions giving one would expect from a Christian nation.

I am not suggesting this idea is true or untrue. As a patriot I am drawn to it. As a Christian of the Restoration Movement, I’m not sure there is Biblical support for it, the terrifying little book of Malachi (see 3:10) notwithstanding.

Acting as if this true, however, our own federal government tracks cash contributions of citizens to charities. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (“BLS”) Consumer Expenditure Survey tracked the spending habits of 30,000 U.S. families. This data has been analyzed by a ministry known as empty tomb, inc. [lowercase letters are used by the organization].

empty tomb, inc. found that for 2005, Americans gave $114 billion in cash contributions for charity. The organization’s analysis of the BLS data also found that on a percentage basis, “poor” households, those earning under $10,000 annually and those earning under $40,000 annually, reported a higher percentage of their after-tax income was given away. But the next highest percentage belonged to seemingly “well off” families earning more than $150,000 per year.

Unfortunately, the Christian nation that has been blessed in order to foster missions, according to many Christians, is reportedly giving only giving 1.7% of its after-tax income to charity.

Joel Belz reported in World Magazine about this report and offered his conclusion that the report seemed to suggest that Christians were giving about 2% of their income to “denominational world missions.” Belz then went on to suggest that even if evangelicals, which would include Restoration Movement Christians, were actually giving a higher percentage, it was still a frightening idea, especially if, indeed, God’s blessings of the United States has in whole or in part been motivated by missions giving. After all, how long could the less well off carry the well off? How long could the evangelicals carry the ecumenicals?

It should be noted that the empty tomb, inc. report itself suggests that giving to “church, religious organizations” is higher than the 1.7% average for all charitable giving. It also suggests that households with annual incomes up to $50,000 annually gave more than the U.S. average charitable giving of 1.7% to their churches.

The very next week, in World Magazine, Belz suggested that the drought afflicting many parts of the United States might be the result of God spinning the spigots to remind everyone who is in charge. Belz did not link the two articles – I am doing that – so it should not be assumed he meant to go so far in assertions about God’s motives. I doubt if he meant to suggest that Malachi was describing a linear causation rather than a spiritual reality. I think Belz did mean to suggest that our motives, our righteousness, and our fidelity to the Father should be scrutinized in light of these events, and that would include our commitment to missions, both at home and abroad, and I would agree. I am concerned that our comparatively weak commitment to giving, especially to missions at home and abroad, will hurt us.

By the way, for those outside of Oklahoma in the drought stricken regions, Oklahoma, the home of the “Dust Bowl,” has “endured” more rainfall in 2007 so far than in any year since 1908 (more than 53 inches compared to typical rainfall of 21-23 inches). This certainly proves the “rain falls on the good and the evil.” Matthew 5:45.

The Joshua One Manifesto

I have completed the text of The Joshua One Manifesto, which is subtitled: “Ten Things U.S. Christians and Churches Desperately Need in the 21st Century.” This document identifies the things Joshua One Ministries was formed to promote, and identifies the main topics we wish to discuss on this blog.

Please take a moment to read the Manifesto. These things are important to us, and I hope they are to you, too. Take a moment to give us your feedback on these priorities in the comments section below.

Actually, at the time of this writing, we have only nine items on the list. Recognizing the likelihood that we have overlooked some point of great importance, we have called this a list of “Ten Things…” What important point or principle should be added to the list? If you have a suggestion, please make it in the comments section below.

To read The Joshua One Manifesto, click here, or on the link in the upper right corner of this page.

Proposal: Add Minister of Prayer to Ministry Staff

In every church, enough time must be given to prayer and prayer management or there will be no prayer miracles. Asking the minister responsible for administration of the Word to administer prayer is like asking the neurologist to be the cardiologist, too. While in very small communities the police officer may also be the firefighter, in most towns and communities, the functions are so different that they are split. 

Likewise, if we need a minister to youth because the senior minister cannot do that job … and if the senior minister cannot do the job of leading the music ministry, too, because we recognize the latter takes a special skill set … it stands to reason that something as powerful and complex as prayer might have to be administered by a special minister qualified, trained and committed to that task.

Too many ministers do not believe these words:

I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. 14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.  John 14:12-14 (NIV)

Most ministers do not believe that Jesus will do “whatever you ask.” The word “whatever” is ad infinitum, bearing of no exception, all inclusive, and universal. Many ministers will not teach this text as written, because they have spent so little time studying prayer that they are certain there must be a context that somehow limits these intemperate words of Jesus.

By the way, that is not a criticism of ministers, but a recognition that ministers have given at least some thought to the complexity of their own relationship with the infinite being, the Creator. The time-starved minister is generally unable to educate those he is supposed to disciple in this complexity, and why these simple words of Jesus are so often difficult to implement in our lives. Christians often struggle with their relationships with each other, spouses and their own children, but do not expect to struggle with their relationship with the Almighty. Moreover, most Christians do not know how to engage in that struggle in a way designed to address what the Father desires in us or what we desire from our Father.

The Bible, of course, provides the texts necessary to study these problems and solve them. Jeremiah 29:13, for example, raises the idea of wholeheartedness as an aspect of successful prayer growing from a successful relationship with the Father. Prayer to be wholehearted must be without distraction, without divided loyalties, and without anything less than Christ-powered perfection. In Jeremiah 29:11, the prophet reported that the Father knew “the plans I have for you.” Those plans included prosperity rather than harm, and hope in the future rather than despair. A poor relationship with the Father can thwart those plans, and the remainder of Jeremiah 29 reported such a history.

Ministers, even if their own studies have led them to these concepts, do not have time to fully integrate them into the lives of a congregation. Thus, the station of minister of prayer should be considered as the next logical step in the development of church administration for many churches, especially those attempting to move beyond the worship service as their sole means of community expression of faith.