One of the things we focus on as we work with church planters, young church plants and their congregations in India and Uganda is how to develop a healthy church.

We teach that there are four signs of a healthy church – a healthy church will be:

1) Self-Supporting – (Acts 2:44-45) not relying on some outside organization or personality for economic provision;

2) Self-Governing – (Acts 6:1-7) able to appoint its own leadership, preferably from within;

3) Self-Reproducing – (1 Thess. 1:7-8) demonstrates the ability to win people to Christ and to plant other churches, to, in effect, send out its faith to others;

4) Self-Correcting – (2 Timothy 3:16-7; Matt. 18:15-17) demonstrates the ability to both challenge members to righteousness and reprove and correct problems when they arise with biblical accountability.

The indigenous churches we work with (churches managed entirely by native citizens) face many temptations as they develop. If they yield to such temptations, the future progress of their long-term ministry can be severely hindered, even though in the short-term, giving in to these temptations may seem to help. An example of this is a church’s ability to self-govern. In the short-term it may seem very helpful for those who planted the church to govern the church from the outside. However, making essential decisions for the congregation from the outside only serves to insulate young believers from developing the skills that they need to continue to grow as a church. Such churches become dependent on outside management and often become passive in the daily process of “church,” expecting someone else to make all the important decisions.

On my last day in the village in Uganda, I was asked a question relating to this by one of the pastors. He related that he had planted a church, then after a time left it in the hands of other leadership and moved on to another area to plant another church. Apparently, recently the appointed leader in the first church developed a moral problem of some kind. This church planting pastor wanted to know if he should go back to the first church and fix the problem by removing the leader he had appointed when he was still in the church. This was a very challenging question for me, and I answered him only with a deep reliance on the inner Voice of the Spirit.

What I suggested to him through question and answer was that his position as church-planter was now one of influence and advice rather than direct management. He may be able to pull off a coup like the one he proposed and just remove the leader in question, but if he did that, how would the church members grow? How would they hear from the Holy Spirit in finding a solution? How would this young church mature and learn to correct its own members? How would their skills at searching the Scripture for solutions mature? What kind of authority-handle did he actually continue to have in this church, and what kind of authority-handle should a former pastor have? We talked about parents with children who eventually become adult enough to manage their own lives – when does the parent release them to be on their own, and what position does the parent have after that point, and what is the best course for the children?

One of the hardest lessons for church-planters to learn is to release their churches and let them mature along their own courses, instead of continuing to manage them from the outside, attempting to force them to mature them in the ways the church-planter thinks is best. This becomes a matter of faith for both the church and the church-planter, for these kinds of situations are opportunities to practice daily reliance on the Holy Spirit, even though this might seem counter-intuitive to what seems the most logical solution to the problem.

This is why we work hard in the early stages of a church’s life to produce healthy and productive Christians. If they start correctly, learning that being actively engaged is the normal Christian life, they will have much better potential to continue correctly and be productive for the Kingdom over the long-term. This is why the qualities of being self-governing, self- supporting, self-reproducing, and self-correcting are so important in producing healthy churches.