Rick Holland: Nine Characteristics of a Healthy Church #BoldCon

Dr. Rick Holland is Senior Pastor of Mission Road Bible Church and the author of Uneclipsing the Son. The following are my notes from Dr. Holland’s final session at the BOLD Church Conference on October 2, 2012 (paraphrased).


We need to understand how the Church should sound when it’s healthy and when it’s unhealthy. Are we Ecclesiologists who can diagnose what’s wrong and what’s right in the church?

In Titus 1, Paul instructs Titus on how to set up healthy parameters in the church, how to create healthy self-diagnostics, how to recognize what sounds indicate something wrong and what sounds indicate what’s right.

Self-diagnosis is almost unheard of in the church today. When there’s trouble, people typically leave.

How do you self-diagnose in the church? That’s what Paul’s writing to Titus in this letter. What I want to do is look at this entire epistle at a lightning fast pace—so we can get our marching orders for having a healthy church.

I’ve been able to find nine characteristics of a healthy church:

1. An authentic faith (Titus 1:1-4). Titus is a great place to start if you’re coming into a new pastorate, expect that in the very first verse, you come into one of the most controversial subjects: election. But authentic faith has to embrace God’s choosing—it is born of the heart and mind of God because only God brings life to the dead.

John 6 to me is the most definitive understanding of the doctrine of predestination and election anywhere in the Scriptures, and it comes from the lips of our Lord Himself.

  • In v. 29, Jesus says that the work of God is our belief.
  • In verse 35, he says those who believe will come to me.
  • Verse 37 that all the Father gives Him will come to Him and He will lose nothing…
  • Verse 44, “no one comes to me unless the Father draws him to me…”
  • Verse 47: “He who believes has eternal life.”
  • Verse 51: “I am the bread of life, if anyone eats of this bread…”
  • Verse 63: It’s the Spirit who gives life.
  • Verse 64: There are some who do not believe
  • Verse 65: No one comes unless it’s granted by the Father…
  • Verse 69: Did I not choose you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a Devil…

What we see here is that election and human responsibility go together.

Authentic faith comes with responsibility. It was born in the heart and mind of God, manifested in our belief and true based on the character of God. A healthy church understands and lives in the tension.

2. Qualified leadership (Titus 1:5-9). Above reproach is the umbrella category for all the other qualifications. The man of God must be above reproach, that’s the issue. He’s one who submits to other elders, not pugnacious, not in it for money, has a love of strangers… He loves what’s good and sensible [appropriate]; he’s devout, self-controlled… He is a man who is an expositor, he exhorts with sound doctrine and refutes that which contradicts. When the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses come to the pastor’s door, it should be a bad day for them.

Hold to doctrine, know how to defend it. It is a travesty today that churches will compromise on this point. Qualified leadership will make the church or break the church.

3. Converted Membership (Titus 1:10-16). The greatest challenge of our generation is the worldliness of the church, bringing ideas and moral standards of the world into the church. Where people come into the church and it’s no different than the world—where people act, think, talk, just like the people at work.

It’s interesting that our culture isn’t that much different than the culture of Crete. Paul said reprove them. He’s talking about worldly Christians—hyper reprove them; this is not a slap on the wrist, but a [metaphorical] punch in the face.

Church membership ought to be converted. They say they know the gospel, but don’t live in light of it… this seems so foreign to so many. The church is for believers. Unbelievers should be welcome, but should feel profoundly left out. It’s amazing to say that, but it’s necessary.

4. Biblical Authority (Titus 2:1). Where would Titus get the things for sound doctrine? From the Old Testament and from the canonized elements of the New Testament already in existence.

Church should be deep. Church should make you think. Preaching should make you think, “I’m not sure I really understand that.”

But you open the Bible and you explain the Bible. You define doctrine from the pulpit, from our doctrinal statements. We need to be increasingly tighter in our doctrine, not looser. We want to be more and more definitive… because churches tend to slip from what they believe unless they continually study what you do believe.

5. Intentional Discipleship (Titus 2:2-15). Older women are to teach younger men to be this and act like this [the characteristics shown in the chapter]. Older men and to teach younger men to be sensible. “Do what makes sense,” he says. He goes on to instruct Titus to be an example, showing himself to be above reproach… The bondservants are told be subject to their masters…

Discipleship comes from the pulpit with biblical authority. Discipleship comes from older, more mature men and women investing in the younger with biblical authority. Intentional discipleship is a command.

6. A Commendable Testimony (Titus 3:1-2). Do you have a good reputation in the community? We’re to be good employees, good citizens… Submit to the rulers.

7. Accurate Soteriology (Titus 3:3-7). Paul acknowledges that we too used to be foolish, ignorant… “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy…” (Titus 3:4-5a) Aren’t you glad that’s here? We’re saved not by our works but by His mercy.

We must have accurate soteriology. God saved us in spite of us, not because of us. A healthy church understands God’s grace—aren’t you glad it’s not according to you?

8. A Defended Unity (Titus 3:8-11). Stop arguing, be unified he says. There are two sins the church must be ever so vigilant to discipline: Immorality and factiousness. Once factiousness takes root, it causes mutiny. When a factious man comes in, deal with him severely and quickly, otherwise it will grow like a wildfire.

Be patient with those struggling with sin. Have no patience for men trying to split your church. 

9. Shepherding Care (Titus 3:12-15). People must learn to engage in good deeds… the greek for “good deeds” is so generic, it’s something that Paul obviously thought was self-evident. Can I say something obvious? We’re to be people who do good things. We’re to be nice people.

That’s the church–now what about us?

What would our communities be like if a church like this (above) lived like that in their midst? What if our churches were set in this order?

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