Paul planted a church in Thessalonica, the capital and largest city of Macedonia, on his second missionary journey. The first chapter of his first letter lays out for us the characteristics of a strong church—a church which is Christ-centered, cares for the lost, and where the members are consecrated in their living. Every child of God should consider these characteristics before associating with any local church.
1. Christ Centeredness
In 1 Thessalonians chapter 1, Paul expresses his gratitude for what God is doing for the Thessalonian believers and praises their Christ-centeredness as an example to all believers. He identifies elements of the Christ-centered characteristic as working and waiting, growing faith, and love in labor.
Waiting and working until Christ’s return is the first and foremost element of a Christ-centered church. Too many churches today have strayed from this focus. For many, the church’s focus seems to be to please men. Joy and laughter come from God, but in the worship service the purpose is not to entertain and tell stories or jokes. The church’s purpose is to lift high the name of Jesus Christ so that believers leave the service with a stronger belief in God.
In 1 Thessalonians 1:3 Paul mentions that what has caused the Thessalonians to be Christ-centered is their work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope. With preaching focused on Christ, a foundational element of a Christ-centered church is a continuing, growing faith based upon God’s holy Word. In 1 Corinthians 1:23–24 Paul wrote, “But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.”
Love is an essential element of our labor—our toil resulting in weariness. When was the last time your love for God caused you to labor for the Lord to the point of weariness? Are you taking the gifts that God has given you through the Holy Spirit and putting them to work in your local church? God expects the members of the local church to perform His work. Ephesians 4:11–12 tells us that the pastor-teacher is given for the purpose of training others—“perfecting the saints”—to do the work of the ministry so that the body of Christ is edified. Serving the Lord is the only work that is not in vain.
2. Care for the Lost
The second characteristic of a strong church is that it cares for the lost. The only way that we are going to reach the lost in our communities and throughout the world is to go in the power or authority of God (Matthew 28:18–20). Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 1:5, “For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost.” This power enabled Paul and the Thessalonian believers to accomplish God’s work, and that same power enables local churches to accomplish His work today. A strong church encourages believers to have a concern for the lost every day.
3. Consecrated Living
Members of a strong church are encouraged to be consecrated in their living. Paul recalls in 1 Thessalonians 1:9 that the believers turned from idols to the living and true God. Their consecration was motivated by an expectation of the Saviour’s imminent return. A strong church is not one that will discontinue its services (Hebrews 10:25). Knowing that Christ’s return is imminent, we cannot risk being relaxed and laid-back. God should find us busy about His work when He calls us home.
Thank God, there are still plenty of strong churches that are Christ-centered, care for the lost, and are consecrated in their living. Is your church a strong church? Are you a strong member? If you and your church are strong, work to stay that way. If not, work to become strong in the Lord.