Ministry Monday: 9Marks

What is 9Marks?

The Mission

9Marks exists to equip church leaders with a biblical vision and practical resources for displaying God’s glory to the nations through healthy churches.

The History

The organization has its roots in the pastoral work of Mark Dever and Matt Schmucker at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC. This congregation had been in decline for several decades when Mark (pastor) and Matt (administrator/elder) began to reform it in the early 1990s. The two didn’t follow the conventional wisdom of church growth literature—conduct surveys, establish new programs, or cultivate the right culture. They just opened their Bibles. Mark preached, and both men worked to structure the church after the Scriptures.

The Book

At Matt’s prompting, Mark wrote the self-published booklet “9 Marks of a Healthy Church,” which several years later became the Crossway published book Nine Marks of a Healthy Church. As more and more pastors found the conversations begun by Mark and Matt helpful, an organization was birthed in the late nineties, which has grown little by little since then.

The Organization

9Marks believes the local church is the focal point of God’s plan for displaying his glory to the nations, and that the Bible is sufficient for the life of the church. As an organization, therefore, we are church-focused, scripture-focused, and pastor-focused. We value a multiplicity of voices and styles as well as like-minded partnerships. We hope to continue growing in our own knowledge of God’s Word and its application to the local congregation. And we intend to spread our content through existing venues, platforms, and institutions, not to create new ones.

The nine marks are (1) expositional preaching, (2) biblical theology, (3) a biblical understanding of the good news, (4) a biblical understanding of conversion, (5) a biblical understanding of evangelism, (6) biblical church membership, (7) biblical church discipline, (8) biblical discipleship and growth, and (9) biblical church leadership. These are not the only things which are necessary for building healthy churches, they are nine practices which many churches today overlook and that need to be emphasized once again.

Why does 9Marks exist?

Too many pastors have been taught to define “success” with statistics and emotional highs. 9Marks exists to help church leaders define success as faithfulness to God, his Word, and his people.

To their credit, many of these pastors are not interested in numbers for numbers’ sake. They want to reach more and more people with the good news of Christianity. The problem is, they begin to re-structure their church’s corporate lives around outreach. Outreach becomes primary.

Different Models

Some try to appeal to the world with church programs and door to door evangelism. They conclude sermons by inviting people to “walk the aisle”—”Jesus longs for personal a relationship with you, so invite him into your heart.”

Others build everything around the idea of being non-Christian or “seeker” friendly. They remove churchy cultural barriers and appeal to “felt needs,” like relationships, fulfillment, and purpose. 

Still others emphasize the need for churches to remove all talk of boundaries and “incarnate” themselves in the culture.  So move into the city. Get involved with the arts, schools, and soup kitchens. Transform the culture. Serve and bring healing.

The Primary Question

The problem is, advocates of all three models often start with a secondary question—“How can we reach the world?” Good question, but it’s not primary. The first question is “How can we as God’s people be faithful to God?” Part of being faithful means trying to reach the world, but faithfulness is fundamentally about listening to God and doing everything he commands—“teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:20).

9Marks proposes that churches should begin with faithfulness, which brings us to another approach.

The Faithful Church 

Picture this: A bunch of people get together in a room. Someone stands up, opens a Bible, and says, “This is what God says.” He explains it. The church sings, prays, shares the bread and cup, and goes home, excited to share God’s Word with those who have never heard it.

Really, it’s nothing more than a picture of a faithful church.

A faithful church? That doesn’t sound very market savvy. About as exciting as watching a seed planted? Wait, there’s more: The words come with power, the Holy Spirit, and deep conviction. Consciences are pierced. Lives changed. People go home worshiping God by hating sin, loving each other, and seeking their neighbors.

A faithful church is a listening and humble church, and that’s supernaturally attractive. It’s distinct like salt and bright like light. The people even begin to look like…sons and daughters of God. Talk about appealing! And it all begins with listening to him.

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