What to do Under Covid-19 Lockdown

George MacDonald was a Scottish author whose books were very influential in the life of CS Lewis. Two of MacDonald’s books were “Phantastes” and “Lilith.” The quality that most impressed Lewis about these books was holiness. On the strength of that I purchased these books. Dare I admit it – I had difficulty even understanding them!

I am thinking of the current situation when I post this quotation from Phantastes by George MacDonald. It is the final statement from the book:

‘Yet I know that good is coming to me – that good is always coming; though few have at all times the simplicity and the courage to believe it. What we call evil is the only and best shape, which, for the person and his condition at the time, could be assumed by the best good.’ (Phantastes, p. 213).

You may need to ponder this from MacDonald for a while.

It really doesn’t matter if the panic over the virus is justified; or if the panic should be about something else (like, would one of the conspiracy theories be something more than just a theory?). In a sense, through the present worldwide crisis, God is speaking to all peoples in a way He has not spoken for a very long time.

Covid-19 is causing many people much pain. CS Lewis in his book, ‘The Problem of Pain,’ says: “We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
In my mind, George MacDonald’s statement above lines up well with pandemic fallout and Romans 8:28: And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

If you are uncertain as to how to respond to what is happening in our world today, then this action may work best to strengthen your immunity: “. . . give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:18

If you go here you will find 31 science-backed benefits of gratitude.

https://www.happierhuman.com/benefits-of-gratitude/

Church is not a Building

A number of people have reminded us in these days the church is not a building.

The church is people. Not bricks and mortar, but flesh and blood, living people. So what has happened to the church? Well, what has happened to the people? That’s what’s happened to the church.

Some people want to plant a new church. They want to begin again with something that they say is more incarnational. I have news for them: They do not need to begin again in order to make the church more incarnational. The church is already as incarnational as it can ever be. The church is totally incarnational. Wherever her people are – at work, at school, in lockdown at home, as long as they are in their bodies – there is the church. Paul wrote to the Christians at Rome: And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. (Romans 12:1)

Paul pleads with them to give their bodies to God; what could be more incarnational? We are to give our bodies to God:

  • Fit or unfit
  • Overweight or malnourished (or anything in between)
  • Healthy or sick
  • Old or young
  • Male or female
  • Saint or sinner
  • Damaged or all intact
  • Skin colour is no barrier
  • Tall or short
  • Despised or admired

Whatever the shape or state of our bodies, giving them to God is the way to go. Only two requirements:

  1. They need to be living
  2. They need to be holy

Why does Paul want us to do this? Did you see it there: ‘This is truly the way to worship God?’ There are those who attend church regularly, but maybe do not worship. Then there are those who rarely darken the church doors, but continuously worship.

This interruption to our way of life need not disrupt our connection with God when we understand that all of life is worship.

Covid-19 and Change

The world will never be the same!

Did you see this coming? Perhaps you did; but it’s not exactly as you might have expected it to be! The climate change ‘experts’ have been warning us we are heading for disaster! Those who watch over our morals have been predicting catastrophe almost since the world began (not without cause)! Some political commentators are blaming Donald and Boris mixing it up with Xi and Kim. For several years now Bill Gates has been warning the world of a global pandemic; we should prepare ourselves. Professed scholars of Bible prophecy wonder where this fits into the book of Revelation; they are sure the ‘end is nigh,’ but they are unsure which of the ‘seals’ has been opened to let it out! Some very confident preachers are ‘confronting’ Covid-19 ‘in the name of Jesus;’ Covid-19 hasn’t taken much notice thus far. Other preachers are counselling that we should wash our hands and keep our distance; with greater effect.

Someone said of Covid-19, ‘The world will never be the same!’

That sounds very dramatic; I think he was right. But then, there have been any number of events and inventions that have made a huge difference in world history. Think about some of them: The invention of the aeroplane; the printing press; TV; WWW; space travel; the light bulb; medicine; education; and many other such things. Which is the most significant? I do not know which of these has changed our world the most; but I know of something else that has made a greater impact: the Word of God (the Bible) and the Son of God, the living Word. World history changed radically at His advent. He was here 33 years; and after He left, the world began moving in a different direction. It would be fair to say the reason we enjoy the lifestyle we do in this country can be traced back to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ!

“Praise the name of God forever and ever, for he has all wisdom and power. He controls the course of world events; he removes kings and sets up other kings. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the scholars. He reveals deep and mysterious things and knows what lies hidden in darkness, though he is surrounded by light. Daniel 2:20-22

Science and the Kingdom of God

When we take Science to its legitimate and logical and inevitable end, we find there the Kingdom of God. Science is simply knowledge. Jesus is the Alpha and Omega – the beginning and the end – of knowledge (as well as everything else). He created all things. He upholds all things. It all came from Him and it’s all moving towards Him (the unchangeable Person) and His (unshakeable) Kingdom. Scientists who are honest about their investigations will eventually find their way ‘home’ to the Kingdom of God. They fail to do this only if they begin with a false premise; that is to say, if they pursue their science and won’t allow any room for God. As some of the atheists say when studying biology, “It almost looks like intelligent design; but we know that can’t be right!”

E Stanley Jones writes:

“Someday science is going to put it down on the table and say: “This and this and this is the way to live. And this and this and this is not the way to live.” And we are going to look on those two lists and our eyes will open and open wide for we are going to say: “Why, Brother Man, the way you say to live is the Christian way, every item is Christian in its essence and in its object, whatever the language. And the list you give as the way not to live is the un-Christian way, every item is un-Christian. And the scientists will reply: We don’t know anything about that, but this is the way that life works and this is the way that life does not work.”

“The two approaches to life, the Christian and the scientific when truly Christian and truly scientific, are coming out to a common conclusion and more and more rendering a verdict on life and that verdict is a Christian verdict—the facts are coming out at the place of Christ.”

How do we know if a quality is a principle or not?

Covey says a quick rule of thumb for testing if a quality is a universal, unchanging and unchangeable principle, we should try to imagine living in a world where the opposite is the rule and practice. For example, what would it be like working for a company (or being part of a family) where everyone wanted to control, rather than empower, each other? And what about being in a team (or a relationship) where nobody cared?

He says:

“Principles are guidelines for human conduct that are proven to have enduring, permanent value. They are fundamental. They’re essentially unarguable because they are self-evident. One way to quickly grasp the self-evident nature of principles is to simply consider the absurdity of attempting to live an effective life based on their opposites. I doubt that anyone would seriously consider unfairness, deceit, baseness, uselessness, mediocrity or degeneration to be a solid foundation for lasting happiness and success.” (‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,’ page 35)

Christian Schwarz has a clear definition of the term, principle: “A principle-oriented approach to church development fulfils the following four criteria:

  1. Principles are universally valid. They don’t apply only to certain situations or specific circumstances. They apply to all denominations, to all church models, to all devotional styles, and to all cultures.
  2. Principles must be proven. Until we have clear empirical proof, we may be dealing with an interesting concept that is worth consideration, but we shouldn’t speak about it as a principle. There is only one way to find out whether or not a specific feature is a universal principle: research on a universal (worldwide) scale.
  3. Principles always deal with what is essential, never with secondary aspects of the Christian life. Therefore, we can expect to find the principles that influence our lives also described in the Bible, even if the terminology is different.
  4. Principles always have to be individualized. They never tell you exactly what to do. Rather, they give you criteria that enable you to discover what should be done in a given situation (‘Color Your World with Natural Church Development,’ page 19).

Jim Collins had just finished presenting to a group of internet executives when he was asked: “Will your finding continue to apply in the new economy? Don’t we need to throw out all the old ideas and start from scratch?”

Collins answered, “Yes, the world is changing, and will continue to do so. But that does not mean we should stop the search for timeless principles. Think of it this way: While the practices of engineering continually evolve and change, the laws of physics remain relatively fixed. I like to think of our work as a search for timeless principles – the enduring physics of great organisations – that will remain true and relevant no matter how the world changes around us. Yes, the specific application will change (the engineering), but certain immutable laws of organized human performance (the physics) will endure.”[1]

Which are those things that are timeless? They are the qualities we should pay attention to!

[1] “Good to Great” by Jim Collins, pp.14, 15

Principles in Organisations

Principles in Organisations

In any discussion about the way organisations function, including churches, someone will invariably make reference to principles.

Stephen Covey writes about the ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,’ and labels them ‘principles.’ By the title of his book Covey is saying these principles are so important to one’s effectiveness as a human being, they should be absorbed into one’s life as habits

Christian Schwarz identifies ‘eight quality characteristics of healthy churches,’ and ‘six growth forces’ in the natural world, and says they are principles. Schwarz has entitled one of his books, ‘Color Your World with Natural Church Development.’ He seems to be implying that the principles of Natural Church Development are not restricted to the church but apply across the board, to everything in the world we might engage with.

Jim Collins (Good to Great) describes the way a number of companies have transitioned from ‘good to great[1]’ – and Collins says any human enterprise can make the same journey, the ‘secret’ is not restricted to business – by means of paying careful attention to several principles uncovered by the thorough research project his team facilitated.

Warren Wiersbe said:

“About the only thing I remember from one of my courses at seminary is a bit of doggerel that the weary professor dropped into a boring lecture:

Methods are many, Principles are few.

Methods always change, Principles never do.

As soon as I returned to my dormitory room I looked up “principle” in my dictionary and found it meant “a comprehensive and fundamental law, doctrine, or assumption.” I read further and discovered that the word comes from the Latin principium which means “beginning.” I learned something from that definition that has helped to deepen and direct my ministry for many years: if I go back to beginnings and build on principles, I will always be up-to-date and in step with what God is doing.”

The church health assessment developed by Christian Schwarz can help you to discover the alignment between your church and the principles that are described in God’s Word (Natural Church Development – although different words may be used in the Bible, the meaning can be understood to be the same) and woven into His creation (Natural Church Development).

Please contact me if you would like more information.

[1] Collins defines ‘great’ in the book, ‘Good to Great,’ page 3

The NCD Process: Commitment

Why do church leaders do one or two or even more church health surveys, and then quit?

Why do they not commit to the process, and follow through to becoming a healthy church?

Perhaps the answer is hinted at, in part, in the front page of the NCD Story Guide (see picture):Story Guide

Notice how the results are set out. There is a column with common church Themes and another showing a list of the eight Quality Characteristics, in a different order than we may be accustomed to seeing them. Both of these columns run from strongest to weakest. The bold line in the centre has the caption at the top, ‘Comes more naturally to us,’ and at the bottom, ‘Comes less naturally to us.’

Changing a church culture in order to address weaknesses (read ‘health issues’) is no easy road. Changing oneself is difficult enough, yet that has to be the place where one begins.

There is no suggestion here that NCD is suggesting that we should ‘play to our weaknesses.’ When we think of ‘teams’ and ‘talents’ and ‘spiritual gifts’ each person must play to their strengths. They should focus on those things that ‘come more naturally’ to them; and the same applies to a church. When it comes to character issues, the fruit of the Spirit, or health, we cannot rely on others to compensate for our deficiency.

If the survey result reveals that a church’s strength (something that comes naturally to the church) is Need-oriented Evangelism, and church leaders are somewhat bemused at the lack of newcomers turning up, perhaps a closer look at those things that ‘come less easily to us’ – the Minimum Factors – might just give a clue. As will be very clear, Need-oriented Evangelism is never going to work as it should in the church represented by the diagram above without real attention being given to Loving Relationships. Jesus made that very clear.

Christian Schwarz (Founder and Director of NCD International) has demonstrated the eight Quality Characteristics to be interdependent. If one is weak, without appropriate attention being given to it, it will drag the others down. The church will continue to limp along (like an unhealthy person going about their business) only a fraction of what it could be, not measuring up to what God has in mind for it.

Perhaps church leaders are not committed to the NCD process of becoming healthy; they did a survey out of curiosity and they are finding the changes required to improve church health are just too difficult for them. So they have decided to ignore the survey result and go back to what they were doing before.

If your church fits into this category, let me encourage you to pick it up again; this time, really commit to the process. Follow through. Of course, if you do that you may have to lead the change that is required. As someone once said, “Be the change you want to see.”

Natural Church Development Principles (Energy Transformation) and the Bible

A wise woman builds her home, but a foolish woman tears it down with her own hands. (Proverbs 14:1 (NLT))

I would suggest the wise woman knows just what she is doing and is intentionally engaged in building her home, while the foolish woman may think she is doing what is right and actually be working against herself.

She cannot understand why everything she does seems to turn out wrong. She does not discern any appreciable difference between herself and the wise woman next door. The only difference she can see is in the outcomes; for her, things are falling apart.

If she is a real fool, and not just someone who is behaving foolishly, she will never be able to trace the disintegration of her family back to her own foolishness. She does not realize that she must begin by working on herself; after that, many other things she has tried so hard to do will begin to fall into place.

That does not mean they will not require effort; they will.

No matter how much she tried before, it seemed impossible to build her home; now she has corrected herself, that which was impossible before now becomes possible with a little effort; or maybe a lot of effort.

The principle of Energy Transformation is at work here. When we look at the Preacher’s comments about what constitutes foolish behavior, together with its Fruitfulness (with the foolish woman, negative, but with the wise woman, positive), we may understand why this woman is tearing her family apart.

This principle applies to both men and women; and it makes no difference what they are engaged in building: a business, a family, a life, a church – we receive back what we put in!

“The All By Itself Pathway” by Christian Schwarz

all by itself

  • How can your church grow in quality and quantity regardless of unfavorable trends in society?
  • How can you have the greatest impact on your church regardless of your level of responsibility?
  • How can you maximize your fruitfulness in all areas of life regardless of your present starting point?

The All By Itself Pathway invites you into a 90-minute encounter with Christian Schwarz, the founder and head of Natural Church Development (NCD).  Christian will reduce the discoveries of two decades of research in tens of thousands of churches to a handful of personal steps. While countless churches have implemented individual aspects of Natural Church Development, the majority have yet to discover the strategic key that Christian calls the All By Itself Pathway—
consistently living in line with the unique gifts, energies, and resources that God has already granted you and your church.

In this little book, Christian will explain (among other things). . .
How Natural Church Development leads every movement back to its roots!

The All By Itself Pathway eBook is now available online at:

Natural Church Development Principles and the Bible

Why are the nations so angry? Why do they waste their time with futile plans? The kings of the earth prepare for battle; the rulers plot together against the Lord and against his anointed one. “Let us break their chains,” they cry, “and free ourselves from slavery to God.” Psalms 2:1-3 (NLT)

When the people who rule the world, the most influential people on the planet irrespective of the position they hold, want to ‘break their chains’ and ‘free ourselves from slavery to God,’ what are they talking about?

It seems to me they want to turn their backs on the great unchanging and unchangeable principles that God has woven through every atom and molecule and cell of His creation, and they want to establish their own way of doing things that will result in disaster. Perhaps it is not only that they want to get rid of God as a Person and the great Creator; they also want to find their way around principles, like sowing and reaping, and multiplication. In part this may be seen in the so-called sexual revolution and freedom from the restraints as imposed by the seventh commandment, with subsequent STDs that have developed and spread (principles: sowing and reaping, and multiplication, working against us).

It can also be observed in the development of plants that will not reproduce, even the suggestion that it may become law that individuals are not permitted to grow crops from seed they have carefully gathered for that purpose. Those principles are like the iron rod that will break these decision-makers and leaders of earth (v.9).

It may appear to us that these unfortunate people are being punished for their sins after they have committed them, and that is true enough; but it is equally true to say that the ‘punishment’ was written into the matter from which God formed the earth, and even deeper than that, it was written into the very character of God Himself!. There is no way of escape from God’s great principles.

We may as well respond to the invitation of Jesus and ‘learn the unforced rhythms of grace.’