The Right Mix of “TEP”

One way to evaluate the health of a church is to determine whether the proper “TEP” balance is present. “T” is “truth,” the uncompromised Biblical foundation upon which any church must be built. “E” represents “excellence,” the intentional pursuit of the very best we can offer to God in preparation, planning, structures, and programs. “P” which stands for “power” is the transformative energy of the Holy Spirit active in and among His people.

Many churches tend to highlight one of these as a major “identity focus.” Some churches pride themselves on faithfully teaching the truth of Scripture. The unspoken assumption is that as long as the Bible is preached and taught, all will be well. Others emphasize elements of excellence like planning, preparation, quality programs, and high-level performance as their key to connection and impact. Still other churches focus on cultivating the experience of God’s power, particularly the evidence and sense of His presence, as the most important ministry element.

Unfortunately, focusing on one or even two of these to the neglect of the others seriously damages Kingdom effectiveness. For instance, churches who champion their commitment to biblical truth, but tolerate a continuing lack of God’s transformative power or sense of His Holy Spirit at work among them, run the risk of reflecting 2 Timothy 3:5’s description: “…having a form of godliness but denying its power.” As Paul puts it in 1 Corinthians 4:20, “…the Kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.” This power is not primarily about flashy miracles, charismatic phenomena, or emotional experiences, but rather is evidenced in lives changing, lost people won to Christ, disciples transformed, and the power of God expressed in love for others and the surrounding community. While doctrinal integrity is essential, it is possible to be doctrinally correct and yet practically dead for lack of life-changing power.

Further, a lack of emphasis on excellence—effort expended in giving God the best we can, from starting on time to properly preparing worship music to caring for the details of our facilities to providing the best possible teaching and programming—communicates an “it’ll do” apathy. All churches face the danger of falling into comfortable complacency, justifying mediocre quality with a version of the phrase, “It’s just who we are.” We must fight the temptation to take the easy way rather than the best way. Not giving our best to honor the One we serve demonstrates a lack of respect for God’s greatness and glory. While we can never “create” God’s presence and power, doing all we can to provide an atmosphere of excellence removes barriers so God is free to unfold His purposes among us. As we plan and implement our services and programs, we must keep David’s statement from 1 Chronicles 21:24 in mind: “No, I insist on paying the full price. I will not take for the Lord what is yours, or sacrifice a burnt offering that costs me nothing.”

By contrast, there is also danger in emphasizing human excellence to the point it excludes God’s power. It’s possible to be so planned, practiced, polished, structured and controlled that the Holy Spirit has no room to work. Given our culture’s obsession with “the best,” whether music, schedules, curriculums, or service structures, we must resist the idea that we can make anything happen apart from a foundation of biblical truth and permission for the Holy Spirit to do whatever He desires. As a wise person once noted, “In some churches, they could do everything they do each Sunday whether or not God showed up.” May that never be the case with any of our churches.

Finally, it’s possible to focus on the power and presence of God to the detriment of truth. The drive to emotionally feel His presence or personally experience outpourings of His power, uncoupled from the unchanging boundaries of Scriptural truth, can lead to heretical excesses in the name of “experiencing God.” It is a short but dangerous step between “seeking God in all His glory” and “seeking glorious experiences from God.” We are called to the former (“I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory”—Psalm 63:2), but we must never be deceived into making the latter our goal. The true test is not whether we were pleased, but rather whether God was pleased.

Healthy churches pursue a balance of presenting foundational Biblical truth with excellence—the best we can offer—in expectation that God’s power will transform lives, touch hearts, and compel us into the world to share His love with others. All three elements—biblical truth, intentionally pursued excellence, and anticipation and evidence of God’s transforming power—are essential. Take some time to prayerfully ask God to show you His evaluation of your church’s “TEP.”

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