Toward the start of the summer, I read an article on the top ten fitness myths.
1. A higher number on the scale means you’re getting fatter.
2. Lifting weights makes women bulky.
3. When you stop weight training, muscles turn into fat.
4. Running on a treadmill is better for joints than running outside.
5. Moderate aerobic work puts you in the ideal fat-burning zone.
6. As long as you exercise you can eat anything you want.
7. Machines are safer than free weights.
8. If you don’t sweat, you’re not working.
9. Fat can be spot-reduced.
10. Stretching before exercise improves performance.
Have you been buying into any of these? (If you want to know why they are myths, see the link to the article below.) Most are just wishful thinking, wanting to believe there’s a quick path to getting in shape. But some are believed on the basis of misinformation. Regardless of the reason, believing them can lead not only to frustration, but poor health.
But myths don’t just lurk in the world of physical fitness. They exist in the world of spiritual fitness, and specifically in regard to the health of a church.
Here’s a fast five:
1. Numerical growth is no sign of spiritual health.
This is a half-myth. The part that is true is that numerical growth alone isn’t all there is to the spiritual health of a church. The myth part is that the absence of numerical growth shouldn’t be a concern. A New Testament church will be an evangelistic church, experiencing the Acts 2:47 dynamics of people coming to faith on a regular basis. That means growth. If a church isn’t growing numerically, it’s dying. It’s as simple as that.
2. Discipling churches are those churches where people are getting fed.
Whenever people critique a church on the basis of discipleship, the mantra is always the same: “I wasn’t getting fed.” The problem is that discipleship isn’t about getting fed. It’s about developing yourself into a person who learns. The heart of this learning is not from a pastor or teacher, but from the Scriptures coupled with a life of service. So it’s not about getting fed, but learning to feed yourself. If all you are doing is getting “fed,” you are simply getting head-knowledge and, probably, spiritually flabby.
3. It’s important to have children sit with their parents during the service.
Whether your child sits with a parent during a weekly service is not the mark of effective ministry to families. A ministry to families is a comprehensive, holistic approach to marriage, parenting values and spiritual nurture. And speaking of nurture….Specialized programs and experiences for children - developed with their maturity and attention span in mind - are much better for their spiritual development than having to sit through a service they probably don’t understand much less enjoy.
4. Small churches are warm and personal; big churches are cold and impersonal.
Some of the coldest, most cliquish churches on the planet are small. That’s why they’re small. Big churches are often warm, welcoming, friendly and accepting. That’s how they got big. The truth is that size has nothing to do with whether winsome community exists; but the larger the church, the more it is reasonable to assume they must be doing something compelling on the relational front.
5. If you emphasize outreach, you must be diminishing discipleship, because you can’t do both.
This may be the biggest myth of all. The idea is that if you’re really good at reaching people, that’s all you can be good at. It will take a different kind of church to then mature them. So church “A” is good at reaching someone, but it takes church “B” to disciple them. It’s just the nature of what it takes to reach people and then disciple them. But if this is true, Jesus lied. He said that every church is to reach and teach, evangelize and disciple, grow and enfold (Mt. 28). If that’s not possible, then the entire enterprise is doomed. But, of course, He didn’t lie. We’re the ones that set it up as a dichotomy.
Like I said, this is a fast-five. Click here and post some more. Or disagree with one of mine.
But whatever you do, ground yourself in what really makes a church healthy – because it may not be what you think.
James Emery White
“10 fitness myths, debunked,” Gabriella Boston, The Washington Post, May 28, 2013, read online.
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His newly released book is The Church in an Age of Crisis: 25 New Realities Facing Christianity (Baker Press). To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, log-on to www.churchandculture.org, where you can post your comments on this blog, view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.