What makes a great church? Perhaps you prioritize the pragmatic aspects of ministry: nice building, organized youth group or kids ministry, well-organized liturgy, convenient start times, and good location. Maybe, you value more of the dogmatic side of ministry: sound doctrine, exegetically based sermons, theologically based music, and stern commitment to orthodoxy.
These qualities may not be entirely sinful to desire. They very well should have their place on our list of things to consider when searching for a local church. The problem becomes when some of these items are blown out of proportion. After all, “pragmatic” churches or “theological” churches can both be dishonoring to God (consider Christ’s evaluation of the seven churches in Revelation 2-3).
ADDING HUMILITY TO THE LIST
I’d like to offer a criteria to your list of “what makes a healthy church” that may often goes unnoticed. I believe one of the strongest features of a God-honoring church that Christians cannot compromise is the Christian virtue of humility.
Consider Paul’s instruction to the church of Philippi, “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus” (Phil 2:5). Readers of the Bible should not overlook the corporate aspect of this command. Many Christians embrace the personal call to humility, but here the text expects and demands the virtue of Christian humility to be a dominating characteristic of the church.
THE DEMAND FOR HUMILITY
First, we must realize that humility is a command, “Have this attitude” (v. 5a). Christians must possesses this attitude; humility is not an option. This is what makes humility a non-negotiable quality of a local church.
Paul, while never stating the actual term “humility” demands for it to be present among the believing community, “Have this attitude” (v. 5a). Here, Paul’s use of this refers to the entirety of 2:1-4 where Paul calls the Philippians to a united commitment to selfless Christian living, “make my joy complete by being of the same mind.”
Paul’s description of humility as an attitude is important. His word choice reveals that humility is first and foremost an attitude that begins in the inner man, but must manifest itself in action. True humility begins in the heart and ends in action; it is biblically inconsistent to state one possesses humility but has not actions to back up the claim.
THE DIRECTION OF HUMILITY
True humility is projected towards an object, the people of God, “Have this attitude in yourselves” (v. 5a, emphasis added). The in yourselves could also be understood as “among yourselves” (the NASB has a footnote for this alternate translation). Literally, we could say that humility is directed “among all of you.” The church is the arena where Christian humility is put upon display. Other believers must be the primary beneficiary of our outward manifestations of humility. This does not excuse us from displaying humility to the unbelieving world, but this identifies the priority we must have in serving our brothers and sisters in Christ.
This puts an emphasis on believers to be committed to local churches. If you are not connected to a local body where you are able to consistently practice humility in serving others towards greater joy in Christ you are living in disobedience. Remember, this passage is a command to possess and practice humility. Fellow saint, commit to a local body where you are able to direct your Christ-like humility.
THE DEPICTION OF HUMILITY
God did not leave us without an example or template to follow in our quest to manifest humility. True humility is depicted in our Savior, ” . . . which was also in Christ Jesus” (v. 5b). Philippians 2:6-11 receives so much attention in evangelicalism (and rightfully so). In Philippians 2:6-11 God reveals to us great doctrinal truths related to Christology, soteriology, and even eschatology. Yet, we must not forget that the driving force of 2:6-11 is our call to imitate the humility of Christ.
Since Jesus perfectly displays humility every follower of Jesus Christ will bear fruits of humility. The longer one considers and meditates upon Christ’s life the more they will see the pattern and practice of true humility. Christians who struggle with pride would benefit from deep study of the gospels where the life and ministry of Christ show us how to live for God and His people. We do not follow a God who demands with demonstration and praise God for His provision of an example!
As a pastor of a (numerical) small local church I find great conviction and comfort in this verse. I am comforted that God does not demand pragmatic results of ministry like baptism quotas, facility standards, ministry programs, etc. There is great conviction because the development of humility among the people of God is a much harder task than any pragmatic or theological standard. It is more difficult because it confronts the character of the local church and challenges theological sound churches to pursue the practice of true piety. It challenges the pragmatically focused churches to gaze deeply in Christology. Every Christian must add this to their list of requirements when considering a local church. How are you personally pursuing humility? Where are you directing your humility? How is your local church manifesting humility?