9 Marks of a Healthy Church

If you found yourself having to look for a new church to attend, what things would you for? Would you look for a certain style of service or music? Perhaps you would look for a church with people your age who share similar interests, making it easy to connect. Or maybe you would look for good children’s programs and a vibrant youth group because of your kids. There are many aspects to consider when looking for a church to be a part of.
These are all important considerations, but more needs to be considered than our preferences when assessing a church. What we should really look for is a church that reflects the New Testament’s teaching on church life.
God’s design and purposes for the church is an important but often unconsidered aspect of our Christian life. That is why I am recommending Nine Marks of a Healthy Church for August’s book of the month. I do not know of a church organization that thinks more clearly about the New Testament’s design for church life than 9marks ministries. Although Nine Marks of a Healthy Church is not my favorite book author Mark Dever has written, it is probably the best book to start with in thinking through how to order church life around the New Testament’s teaching.

What are the Nine Marks?

Mark Dever identifies 9 that cultivate spiritual health in a church. The first mark is expository preaching. Expository preaching begins with the conviction that God’s word is sufficient to build the church. Therefore, the preacher seeks to draw the meaning out of the text and show people how it applies to their lives.

The second mark is biblical theology. It is great to understand individual passages and to plumb the depths of a Bible book. But a healthy church also seeks to understand the broader narrative of God’s word so they can develop a balanced theology of God, man, sin, salvation, and the Christian life.

Third is a proper understanding of the gospel. If we do not properly understand the gospel, we will short-circuit our Christian walk, create confusion in our evangelistic efforts, and run the risk of creating false converts.

This leads right into the fourth mark discussed: a Biblical understanding of conversion. The New Testament is clear that there are those who undergo a false conversion, wherein they have an initial response to Christ that over time is revealed to be a false conversion. Jesus ministered to some people just like this. Understanding what it means to be born again is essential to building a healthy body of believers.

Fifth is a biblical understanding of evangelism, which combines the previous two points. Knowing the message and what it looks like for someone to be converted will set the course for how we bear witness to Christ.

The sixth mark is a biblical understanding of church membership. Mark Dever is a Baptist pastor. His clear and biblical teaching in this area helped me move from ‘membership is something Baptists do’ to ‘membership is the intentional practice of clear biblical principles.’

The seventh mark is the practice of biblical church discipline. Thinking through how the church is supposed to respond to sin in its midst is very important. If we ignore sin, we rob the church of its power and witness. Yet if we are harsh or self-righteous in dealing with people who struggle, we become legalistic pharisees. It is important we learn the Bible’s approach to this matter, so we can avoid both errors.

The eighth mark is a concern for discipleship and growth. Part of the Great Commission is teaching them to observe all that I have commanded. Once people are saved, they need taught what the Christian life looks like. That is what discipleship is all about, moving people from spiritual infancy to being spiritual providers. Healthy churches are committed to this process.

Finally, healthy churches seek to establish biblical church leadership. If the leadership is not spiritually qualified, in submission to God’s work, or lack a clear understanding of God’s vision for His people, the church will struggle to become the kind of church described in the New Testament.

Are these the only marks of a healthy church?

This book was written in 2000 and addressed some of the sweeping challenges facing the church at the time. 9marks ministries, which was born out of the response to its publication, openly recognizes that there are other important Biblical markers of health not addressed in the book. IN recent years, they have given important emphasis to prayer and missions. So, this book is not the end-all-be-all. But it is very helpful.

Can I disagree with something in the book?

The challenge of recommending books is that people may think I blindly adhere to every aspect of it. But there is only one book, the Bible, that holds true with. This book is no different. The Biblical church leadership model 9marks promotes is a form of elder-led congregationalism. They basically argue that if a church does not follow this model, they are not functioning biblically. Although I have learned a lot from this book and the broader ministry of 9marks, I do not fully agree with them in this area of teaching.

Further reading

If an area of the book piques your interest that you would like to explore further, 9marks has put out companion books on each subject. For a full list of books and articles, as well as podcasts and other resources, you can check out 9marks.org. They have several helpful resources.

What if I do not have time to read a 250 page book?

If you want to explore the points of this book but do not have time for a longer read, I highly recommend Mark Dever’s book What is a Healthy Church? It is a condensed and simplified version of the longer book.

God cares about the structure and function of the church. That is why He taught about it in the Bible. This book is a helpful resource in understanding some important aspects of our corporate life together as His followers. I highly recommend it. Happy reading!