When Clint Mix‘s son was about 18 months old he literally stopped growing. An extended stay at Sick Kids revealed that he was experiencing ‘failure to thrive.’ The doctors never asked: “How do we make this child grow?” That’s a rather foolish question. Rather, they examined why he wasn’t growing, because a healthy child, all by himself, will grow!
Through focusing on underlying health issues, Clint’s son has grown to be an active young man who excels in academics and athletics, and was recently baptized as a follower of Jesus.
The church is not merely an institution or organization. It is an organism — the living, breathing Body of Christ As servants and leaders of the local church, each member is called to pray and to work so that the church becomes as healthy as possible. God’s purpose is that the Church be holy, blameless and radiant, without stain, wrinkle or blemish.
So, we do not focus on growth, but rather on directing energy and prayer towards the realization of such health. As we plant, cultivate and water, God makes the Church grow.
Jesus words draw attention to this health paradigm: “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain– first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.” (Mark 4:26-29)
The phrase “all by itself,” (NIV) comes from the Greek, ‘automatos.’ The parable indicates our part – for, we plant seeds and harvest crops. It also reminds us of what we cannot do — make things grow. The parable points to the essence of church health and growth.
However, for many churches the reality of ‘all by itself’ growth is not evident. Such churches are represented by the attending image of a cart with square, rather than round, wheels. So often, we work so hard but see little result.
How does a church experience ‘all by itself’ growth? Certainly not by doing nothing and letting God do the rest! To better answer the question of what we do to experience all by itself growth, see Health Principles and Health Characteristics.
Each of the eight health qualities or characteristics has both a noun and corresponding adjective. So, worship, leadership, structures etc. . . . and a corresponding adjective: inspiring, empowering, functional, etc. The secret to each health characteristic is not realized in the noun – for every church has worship, leadership and structures. Instead, the secret is hidden in the practical application of what is represented by each adjective.
We do what is our part to see qualitative growth come about in each of the eight adjectives brings health to the church. Instead of pushing and pulling the cart (the church) ourselves, we are to unload some of these wheels t(hat are already available to us and that are on the cart), and then to mount them in the right place. Then we will experience with joy what happens when the Wind of Holy Spirit sets the cart in motion — (seemingly) “all by itself!”
The role of pastors and other leaders in the local church, is that of being spiritual environmentalists. By removing barriers to growth, they help to create the atmosphere in which God works effectively. As we do our part and focus on health, God will do his part in bringing about Kingdom growth.