Great white sharks rely on a way of breathing that requires them never to stop swimming. If they stop swimming, their oxygen is cut off, and they die. [1] Just as great white sharks can’t stop swimming, pastors and churches that are not continually improving will die. This brief article aims to encourage pastors and churches to strive to improve the ministry that the Lord has given them. In what follows, I will briefly address what continual improvement is, why churches must continually improve, and how pastors can begin to improve their churches.


What is a Church that Continually Improves? 

A church that continually improves “recognizes the Lordship of Christ in the totality of life and is committed to the regular reassessment of its methodology, activities, and vision regarding their effectiveness for the glory of God.” [2] Four things must be noted. First, if a church is to improve, it must value the Lordship of Christ and aim to give Jesus Christ the first place in everything. Second, the adjective “continual” is defined by one dictionary as “continuing indefinitely in time without interruption.” [3] A church that is committed to continual improvement is constantly improving. We don’t just make an effort to improve one time but at all times. Third, continual improvement is all-encompassing. Not only do healthy churches endeavor to improve at all times but also in all ways. Fourth, the motivation to continually improve must be to glorify God.

Four Reasons Why Churches Must Continually Improve

Churches must continually improve because Jesus Christ is the Head of the Church.

The Apostle Paul told the church in Colossae that Jesus Christ is the “head of the body.” (Colossians 1:18a) [4] To say that Christ is the “head of the church” is to say that He has all authority and rulership over the church. [5] Paul went on to explain how this reality is to impact the church when he wrote, “so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything.” (Colossians 1:18b) If churches are not actively striving to give Jesus the first place in everything, their ministries will degrade into meeting felt needs rather than glorifying God.

Churches must continually improve because Jesus Christ is presently judging every church.

In Revelation chapter one, the Apostle John records his vision of Christ as He is now, in His glorified state. John saw Christ standing in the midst of seven churches (Revelation 1:12-13, 20). These seven churches are “symbolic of the kinds of churches that exist through all of church history.” [6] Jesus is not absent from His churches. On the contrary, he is in the midst of them interceding (Revelation 1:13), examining (Revelation 1:14), and judging their faithfulness (Revelation 1:15-16). Those churches that are unfaithful and do not repent Christ will remove their lampstand (Revelation 2:5).

Churches must continually improve because no pastor has become perfect.

Even the Apostle Paul admitted his need to grow. He wrote, “Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13–14) Pastors are imperfect people, and no church rises above its under-shepherds. Not seeking improvement in the church is a proud assumption that the church has arrived, and God resists the proud (1 Peter 5:5).

Churches must continually improve because Christ will reward our good deeds.

The Apostle Paul tells the church of Corinth that the Christians ambition must be to please the Lord because “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 5:10a) The phrase “judgment seat” (bēmatos) eventually came to describe a raised platform on which an umpire sat in Grecian games in Athens to describe a judgment seat of rewards. [7] Paul goes on to say that every believer will “be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.” (2 Corinthians 5:10b) Christ will reward our good deeds! This alone is sufficient motivation to work for the church’s improvement.


How Can Pastors Lead Their Church to Improve?

Remember, you're in ministry because you love Christ, not because it's easy.

In John 21:15-17, we see Peter embrace Apostolic ministry because he loved Christ even though it would cost him his life (John 21:18-19).

Pray as an act of dependence on God and ask Him to use you.

God is our Father in heaven (Matthew 6:9). That means he cares for you and has unlimited resources. Therefore, beg God to use you to lead your church to improve for His glory.

Be an example of improvement for your church.

Pastors serve as examples to God's flock. That includes serving as an example of improvement. Paul said to Timothy, "Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them, so that your progress will be evident to all.(1 Timothy 4:15) When pastors make evident progress, it encourages their people to follow suit.

In a spirit of humility and love, call your elders to the next level.

Churches that don't continually improve are led by elders that are not improving. Identify critical growth areas and take them through a study that calls them higher.

Get outside coaching and feedback from trusted pastors and leaders.

Every pastor has blind spots, and problems are missed when they are immersed in the life of the church. Getting a fresh pair of eyes can be extremely helpful, but it requires humility. Leaders don't have to reinvent the wheel; they just have to do what Scripture and wisdom commands.

Lead your church to change by giving them a vision of your church's unique calling.

God has placed your church in a particular place at a specific time. The Apostle Paul said that God "made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation." (Acts 17:26) You are not where you are by accident, and Lord has work that He wants to be done.

Develop a plan for change and execute it in faith.

Hell is full of people with good intentions. When pastors embrace the need for change, there is a sense of relief and excitement. But knowing the church needs to change is entirely different from actually changing. Change is hard, and it requires faith. The key to change is not thinking you can do it, but that God will bless all Biblically sound initiatives that are in line with a church's gifts and are done for the glory of God. 



More can be said about continual improvement, but this article aims to serve as a primer to encourage you to think about the improvements God is calling your church to make.


[1] Meg Matthias, “Do Sharks Really Die if They Stop Swimming,”


[2] “Vital Signs of Healthy Churches,”


[5] Inc Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, 1996).


[4] Unless otherwise specified, all Bible references in this paper are to the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition (NASB) (La Habra: Foundation Publications, 1995).


[5] Wayne Grudem, “The Meaning of Kephalē (‘Head’): A Response to Recent Studies,” in Recovering Biblical Manhood & Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism, ed. John Piper and Wayne Grudem (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2006), 435–436.


[6] John F. MacArthur Jr., Revelation 1–11, MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 43.

[7] Ronald Barns, A Hero’s Welcome: The Doctrine of Future Rewards and the Bema Seat of Christ (El Cajon: Southern California Seminary Press, 2017), 79.