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Healthy churches are marked by great commitments, pastor says

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–Healthy churches aren’t determined by budgets, buildings or even baptisms, John Marshall said during the Oct. 29-31 Layne Lectures on Church Health at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

“A great church makes a great commitment to the Great Commandment and the Great Commission,” said Marshall, pastor of Second Baptist Church in Springfield, Mo. “A healthy church must proclaim first and foremost the fact that every human being is created for the purpose of loving God.”

Drawing from Matthew 22:37-39 and Mark 16:15, Marshall proposed three aspects of a healthy church with “heart-healthy” members: Individuals must love God first, neighbor second and be a part of fulfilling the Great Commission.

“The call to be a Christian is the call to give heart, soul and mind to Someone above this world,” he stated. “No life is fulfilled until wholly engrossed in this relationship of ultimate value. For believers there is only one first, right thing, one grand purpose in life … to please and pursue God.”

Marshall argued that most of the misery in the world stems directly from the rejection of this first Great Commandment. When church members fail to put God first, he said the result is broken homes, meaningless lives and shattered dreams.

“Loving God must be the controlling drive of life, our ultimate quest … keeping our feet ever on the path called ‘straight and narrow,” Marshall said. “In a healthy church, everybody knows they are expected to pursue one first, right thing — intimacy with God.”

The next issue for the healthy Christian, Marshall said, flows directly out of the love relationship with Jesus Christ — concern for one’s neighbor. Jesus teaches in Matthew 22:39 that Christians are to love their neighbor in the same way they love themselves.

“Our Master would not leave it to us to define who our neighbor is,” Marshall said. “He would give us the command and then be very specific as to who the neighbor is. Our neighbor is every living, breathing human being … who comes into our influence.”

Jesus exhibited compassion and love for his neighbors by healing and helping so many during his three-year public ministry, Marshall said, also citing the parable of the Good Samaritan and his concern for the thief on the cross as two examples of how Jesus felt about the people around him.

“Jesus taught us what it means to be a healthy church; Jesus taught us what it means to be healthy people,” Marshall stated. “What it means is to love God first and then to love our neighbors, being kind to everyone in every way we can.”

Obedience to the second Great Commandment is where Christianity becomes action, he contended. It only comes as a result of putting God first.

While seeking to follow this commandment, Marshall issued a few words of caution. He said Christians must never help and heal others in a way that steals the glory from Jesus.

“His [God’s] name has to be attached to the deed of kindness,” Marshall said. “When we are doing [acts of] kindness as a healthy church … we make sure Jesus gets the credit.”

While Marshall argued that the most important issue in the life of a lost person is salvation, he warned against helping others only as a means of evangelism. Too many Christians view people as a “score” or another “notch in their belt.” He insisted that Christians are to view all people as God’s creation.

The third key to healthy Christians is found in how they respond to the Great Commission. Directing the congregation to Mark 16:15, Marshall read until he reached the word, “Go.”

“Just the one word is needed, ‘Go!’ That is the Great Commission,” he stated. “To go is the only acceptable option, and healthy churches say it over and over again without apology.”

Marshall said it was only five years ago that he discovered the true meaning of the Great Commission. He knew how to talk the talk of missions, but had never experienced it firsthand. It was during a world mission conference when his understanding of this concept was expanded.

His church began to see the Great Commission as a command given to the individual believer, not the local church, not the Southern Baptist Convention, not even the International Mission Board. The church, the convention and the mission entities exist only to help individuals get involved in fulfilling the Great Commission.

“The directive [to go] is the marching orders for all Christians,” Marshall noted. “We have no right to sit idly by with our arms folded, indifferent to the world’s woes.

“Untold millions are still untold.”

Christians who finally understand the Great Commission will begin to share at home, around their region and around the world, Marshall said. Their lives will be marked by numerous short-term mission trips, and those who have a vision for the Great Commission will not be able to go enough.

“The life you’ve always dreamed of lies hidden in the mission you’ve always dreaded,” Marshall said. “I pray that today you will begin the life you’ve always known that you are supposed to live. The reason large numbers of people are going on missions … is because what is being said from the pulpit is resonating with what is already loud and clear in our hearts.”

Marshall has been the pastor of Second Baptist Church since 1995. Second Baptist ranks among the top churches in Missouri in several categories, including worship attendance, baptisms and Cooperative Program giving. Average attendance is 2,900 for worship and the church’s four Sunday Schools reach more than 2,200 people each week.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever been in a healthier church than Second Baptist Springfield,” Jim Shaddix, NOBTS dean of the chapel, said during his introduction of Marshall. “It is not the size of that church that really reflects the health of that body…. [T]hey are planting churches, strengthening churches, they are involved in evangelism…. [T]heir [health] is seen all across the board.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: FIRST THINGS FIRST.