Church Health, Self-awareness and the Bible


This exercise would be ideal in groups of about 6 people.

Aim: To help people to discover how self-awareness is a Biblical ideal and necessary for our growth toward healthier church life.
To invite people to explore how congregational awareness and openness to the truth may be developed.

Time: There are 2 parts to this exercise:
Reading the 4 stories and answering questions – 20 minutes
Reading Bible passages and reflecting on four questions – 30 minutes.

You will need: A copy of the handout below (p15) and some Bibles in each group.

Self-awareness is an important foundation for good health:

• A person is unlikely to go to the doctor for medical care unless they become aware that they are unwell.
• A person is unlikely to take up a fitness program, unless they become aware that their lack of fitness is impeding what they want for their life.
• A person is unlikely to go on a more healthy diet, unless they become aware that their present diet is likely to be causing them harm.

It is the same in the church. The first step to becoming healthier is to face the truth that there may be some aspects of our way of being and ministering together that are in fact weighing us down, and damaging our witness to the Gospel of Jesus.

In fact, when we think about it, we have all probably seen many examples of poor self-awareness in the church, and the troubled results.


You may like to ponder the following stories. Each person may read them quietly or you may take turns reading the stories out loud.

Jeremy was a young Christian, and as eager as they come. At a Young Adults Bible Study, he had filled out a questionnaire on spiritual gifts and concluded that he had the gift of prophecy. So, he would often interrupt Bible Study groups or worship services or use personal conversation in order to “deliver a word from the Lord”. It was all done with a great sense of zeal, but it became increasingly obvious that Jeremy’s prophesies were actually an opportunity for him to tell long and detailed stories about his own life. He was actually crying out for people to notice him and take an interest in him, but nobody quite knew how to raise the issue with him. So, bit-by-bit, people started to feel so uncomfortable that they stopped inviting him to functions and started to ignore him. Jeremy’s lack of self-awareness and the inability of his church to help him started to become a cause of ill health for the whole church.

Jane was quiet. She was regular at worship and at church meetings, but never spoke up, never said anything. Yet she developed some wonderful relationships with some of the children in the church. This lead to her becoming a helper at Sunday School and a regular presence in the church’s playgroup ministry. Jane was a revelation. Not only did the children love her, but she also had a great way of responding to their questions about God. She began to get to know their parents, and when families were going through a rough time, she was the first to turn up with a casserole and an offer to pray for them. Families began to come to church because of Jane! However, when the children and families’ pastor approached Jane to join his ministry planning group each week, Jane took flight. She felt she had nothing to offer, and couldn’t bear the prospect of being embarrassed and humiliated in this way. She began to withdraw from Sunday School and playgroup. Jane’s lack of awareness of her gift eventually deprived the church of a capacity it sorely needed.

The Open Hearted Baptist Church savoured its reputation as a welcoming church. Indeed, there was always someone at the front door whose ministry it was to greet them, and get them to sign the visitors’ book. A well-presented letter would arrive in their letterbox on the following Tuesday, asking that they come again. At the August pastoral care group meeting, a letter from James and Jessica was read out to responses of deep concern. They said they had attended the church for 2 months, but felt unwanted. They said that they had never got past the superficial “lovely to see you again” conversations. They had stood alone with their coffee after the service most Sundays. Nobody had invited them to their homes or to any of the church’s home groups. They actually had wanted to help with the church’s recent fete, but they hadn’t been able to find out whom to speak to. They concluded that the church did not actually want new people and was happy to remain as it was. The Pastoral Care group prayed for James and Jessica, asking God to minister to whatever had made them so angry, and the church continued to lack a healthy self-awareness of what it was actually doing.

Paula was a gifted woman: witty, intelligent, hospitable, articulate and with brilliant organisational skills. She had “leader” written all over her, and quickly became the church’s most significant organiser. However, it was not all smooth sailing. She was often quite quick to criticise the contributions of other people, especially the pastor, whose pastoral style she didn’t seem to care for. She would often call on him to be more decisive, and then oppose him when he was. She became the chairperson of church meetings, and was brilliant, except that she controlled agendas so tightly that nobody much spoke up about anything. She would cancel meetings if she couldn’t be there personally. Inevitably, a move arose to have her thrown out of her role. She was devastated. All she had ever wanted, she said, was to love her Lord and serve the church. She fought the move and it wasn’t long before the whole church was dividing into bitter factions. Paula’s lack of self-awareness began to destroy the church she loved.

Part 1

1. What are your reflections on these stories?

2. Do you think that these are common themes or experiences in churches?

3. Can you think of instances in your own experience where a lack of self-awareness prevents a church from greater health and effectiveness in ministry?

4. Which story impacts you the most? What does this say about your own self-awareness?

Part 2

The Bible does not explicitly command us to be self-aware, but the need for us to face the truth about ourselves in relation to God, our relationships with one another and the implications of our behaviour is a constant theme:

• In Genesis 32:22-31, Jacob’s wrestling with a shadowy adversary is all about his need to face the truth about who he is so that God may transform him.
• 1 Corinthians13:12 looks forward to the time when our knowledge of ourselves in relation to God is as clear as God’s knowledge of us.
• Romans 12:3 calls us to think realistically of ourselves from the perspective of what God thinks is important.
• Many of Jesus’ stories are about inviting people to face the truth about themselves:
Mark 10:17-23: the rich young man
John 4: 1-42: the Samaritan woman at the well
Luke 7: 36-50: Jesus’ dinner with Simon the Pharisee
• The letters to the churches in Revelation hold a mirror to the churches so that they can see their truth in relationship with God.
• James 1:22-25 tells us that obeying the word of God is like looking in the mirror, taking note of the picture it shows us and then living in the light of what we have seen.

This suggests some important questions for our churches:

1. How can we grow in our commitment to know and love the truth – even the truth that is difficult for us to face?

2. How can we graciously invite and receive feedback from others about ourselves?

3. How can we help others to receive the truth in a caring environment?

4. How can we become a church of openness, trust and honesty?