What Does “Healthy” Mean in Church Leadership?

silhouette of friends jumping in sunset

I was talking with a young hurting pastor recently. He resigned after several years of trying to turn around a dying church into a healthy church. The church brought him in with definite goals. He felt he had a mandate. The church began to grow. Things were exciting…or so it seemed. But, with every change there was growing resistance. Eventually, only a few people with power still supported him. when they refused to back him with changes they had agreed were needed. He was continually reminded this was not “his church”. He felt it was best that he leave rather than divide the church. (This church has a long history of short-termed pastorates.)

In the course of the conversation he asked some sobering, and honest questions.

He asked, “Is there really such a thing as a healthy church? Are there any healthy church staffs? And, what does healthy mean, anyway?”

Great questions. I understand. Sadly, I hear from pastors continually asking the same questions. There are many unhealthy environments in churches.

But, yes! There is such a thing as a healthy church. There are some healthy church staffs.

I don’t know if I know completely what “healthy” means, but I’ve given the issue some thought.

The reality is that the church is the Body of Christ. In the purest form, the church is always “healthy”, because it represents Christ. We are promised that nothing will ever destroy what Christ has established. But, local churches are made of people. And, some of those people, even well-meaning as they may be sometimes, work together to form unhealthy environments. Some work together…for the common good of honoring Christ…and form healthy environments.

So, with that in mind…

A healthy church culture…

  • Doesn’t mean there aren’t bad days
  • Doesn’t mean you won’t have tension or stress.
  • Doesn’t mean everyone always agrees.
  • Doesn’t mean there aren’t relationship struggles.
  • Doesn’t mean you have all the answers.
  • Doesn’t mean the pastor is always right.
  • Doesn’t mean problems or issues are ignored.

A healthy church culture…

  • Does mean you can disagree and still be friends.
  • Does mean tension is used to build teamwork..when one is weak another is strong.
  • Does mean meetings are productive and purposeful…not ritualistic or boring, and certainly not hurtful.
  • Does mean rules add healthy boundaries, rather than stifling creativity or controlling actions.
  • Does mean you work as a team to find solutions.
  • Does mean the pastor (and his family) is never attacked publicly or continually stabbed in the back.
  • Does mean the rumor mill is never allowed to form the dominant opinion.

I’m praying for my new pastor friend that he finds a healthy church, in which to serve out his calling. They do exist.

Have you been in an unhealthy church or organizational environment?

Have you been in a healthy one?

What do you think it means to have a healthy?

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13 thoughts on “What Does “Healthy” Mean in Church Leadership?

  1. Really good stuff here Ron. I am blessed to be in what I believe to be a healthy church environment. Here are some hallmarks that I think are necessary:
    1. leadership that is "teachable"
    2. willingness to try things and be wrong, viewing it as an experiment that we learn from rather than an epic failure
    3. staff that "submit to one another out of reverence for Christ" instead of competing with one another
    4. staff that values the strengths of others and understands the weaknesses in themselves
    5. leadership that trusts the staff and is willing to both challenge and encourage them
    6. relational connectivity, rather than positional authority, is what is leveraged for influenced
    7. a comprehensive understanding, from both staff and leadership, that Christ is the head of the church (not them)

  2. Excellent post Ron, I am a seasoned pastor in the midst of the same struggle this young pastor went through. My prayer is that young pastors like the one you mentioned do not give up or become jaded because of a bad ministry experience. Thanks for your part in keeping that from happening.

  3. Ron, my heart goes out to this young pastor. I believe that a healthy church is one that is first and foremost operating as a church and not as a country club. I think the heart and soul of a healthy church is a burden for the lost and a desire to reach them by enabling its members to use their gifts to reach that end. It has been my experience that churches become unhealthy when our objectives become more self serving rather than Kingdom Building.

  4. Ron, this is a post that really got me thinking. It brought a number of questions to mind, which is what I believe a good post should always do!

    As I was reading your list of characteristics of a healthy church, it struck me that this list could apply to any corporation, government office, school, or club. And perhaps that's a good thing.

    But as I thought further I wondered if there are also marks of a healthy church that are distinct and particular to a church. For example, in a healthy church is there a commitment to praying together? Is there a commitment to evangelism? Is there an atmosphere of releasing spiritual gifts?

    As I say Ron, any post that gets me thinking deeply has done its job. And once again, your post got me doing that!

    • Great thoughts Scott. And, yes, I was talking simply about the organizational culture. Your questions are better!
      Twitter: Ronedmondson

  5. Ron,

    Great lists. It is sad how many unhealthy churches there are. I have served in both as a non-senior pastor. On a church that is large enough to have a multiple staff members, I would add that healthy environments don't allow for jealousy among staff when certain ministries are successful. I know of too many situations where jealousy turns into a King Saul campaign against David. It is important to foster an environment where everyone in the church realizes they are on the same team.

    Twitter: steveperky