Some time ago, a helpful individual published a document that stated the 'Seven Mark of a Healthy Church' - the ecclesial vital-signs if you will! It was a good document but I am now going to exercise some real audacity and offer a revised list, based on my own modest experience! Sit back, dear reader, for I am about to solve all ills!
This list is easy to write, in truth - because it is a list of those ways that the church seems to be corporately failing to meet its mandate to the world at large! I am in a presumptuous mood, am I not!
1. A healthy church is a listening church: instead of making so much noise, either in a Palestrina or a Matt Redperson kind of way, it could usefully 'let God in'. Silence in church? Yes, let's be radical!
2. A healthy church is a listening church: instead of becoming pre-occupied with its own be-fluffed navel, the church could usefully listen to its own people - the regulars, the loving Christian people who turn up do 'do' their Christianity. Look in or look out? It is probably an '80/20' thing, in favour of 'out'.
3. A healthy church is a listening church: I wonder how many Christian leaders have engaged with an atheist, a dis-affected former member, a secularist, or just a good old cynic - engaged them in conversation without fear of a melting stare and shrivelling skin? An open atheist is a very useful tool to a Christian, not because they are right, but because they can see clearly where we may be going wrong.
4. A healthy church is a listening church: Churches could usefully ask what people want for themselves, their own lives and the lives of their families before telling them that they have the solution to all their ills. Making disciples is not about a red-hot sales job, (or gentle threat) but about infecting someone with the world-changing virus of the Gospel. God has the answers, not us Christians - but we have the chance to live those answers by example.
5. A healthy church is a listening church: Where is the actual real proper genuine voice of God in the life of the church in question? It seems that God never changes and that some communities recieve the same commentary from The Almighty over generations. Now, I expect to communicate with my 3 year-olds differently in 20 years time - and I am mere mortal man (believe it or not). Do we allow God to be God, or do we try to cause God to conform?
6. A healthy church is a listening church: Does every member of every church community know the name of every other member? Or their job? Or their story? Be honest now ....
7. A healthy church is a listening church: If the voice of the world is a many-voiced choir in full harmony, why do often fail to hear its song? Fair Trade, yes. But what about the voice from the chappy who had to give up his business because churches and morally minded organisations bought all their stuff from businesses that sell Fair Trade, and he only went and sold home-grown! Does one vote for anyone's place a bishop stop a child dying of hunger this night? Does an agreeable stance on an Anglican Covenant provide a blanket for the countless people freezing in doorways at this very minute? Does this battle or that about how good the Vicar is mean that one more teenage girl won't give up herself to prostitution in the hours while we sleep today?
We are a wonderful church, full of love, full of hope, full of potential, full of God. As my daughters learn all about senses we need to tune some of ours back, and today is the turn of hearing. We are almost deafened by the white noise of our own little private concerns to such an extent that the cries of God and the cries of humanity are in danger of being drowned out. All of this is within our grasp ... alleluia!