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

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

Decisions

Decisions. Everyone is always being faced with making a decision of some kind, conscious or unconscious (a behaviour that has become a habit, so we don’t have to think about it anymore); during the course of a day, we will have to make hundreds of decisions. And remember, to decide to make no decision is still a decision.

When we put together all the decisions made by humans down through history, we come up with a world that looks exactly what we experience here today.

So what kind of decision-maker are you?

How do you use the time, treasure and talent you have at your disposal?

Are you making things better?

Or are you contributing to the world’s burden?

 Ella Wilcox said it better than I ever could.

She said,
There are two kinds of people on earth today,
Two kinds of people no more I say.
Not the good or the bad, for its well understood,
The good are half bad, the bad are half good.

Not the happy or sad, for in the swift-flying years,
Bring each man his laughter, each man his tears.
Not the rich or the poor, for to count a man’s wealth,
You must know the state of his conscience and health.

Not the humble and proud, for in life’s busy span,
Who puts on vain airs is not counted a man.
No! The two kinds of people on earth I mean,
Are the people who lift, the people who lean.

Wherever you go you’ll find the world’s masses
Are ever divided into these two classes.
And, strangely enough, you will find, too, I mean,
There is only one lifter to twenty who lean.

In which class are you? Are you easing the load
Of the overtaxed lifters who toiled down the road?
Or are you a leaner who lets others bear,
Your portion of worry and labour and care?

Want to find out more?

Why not go to: https://3colorworld.org/en/etests/stewardship/summary/about

And do the test?

You run the risk of finding more out about yourself than you really want to know!

Bless you as you seek to be the best you can for God and his people.

What is Reality?

The wife of a missionary couple serving in PNG became ill and was treated for malaria – given quinine. She did not respond to the treatment as expected and was taken to a clinic where the medical resources were somewhat better than the local situation. It was discovered she was suffering from bronchitis! She did not have malaria – which she was being treated for – and the quinine was slowly killing her. It was the wrong treatment for what was ailing her. Could it be this is happening in some of our churches? They are being treated for an illness which they do not have; the treatment is not improving them and, in some cases is making them even sicker. We need to be sure the measures we are taking to improve our churches are the measures they really do need at this point in their life.

If you have been lost in an unfamiliar city (without a map or a GPS), but have managed to make phone contact with one who knows their way round, they will always ask one question: ‘Where are you now?’ Until they know where we are, they cannot tell us how to get where we want to go.

One of the axioms Bill Hybels advocates is Facts are your Friends. In his book, Axiom, he tells about a pastor who didn’t like the ‘facts’ and, partway through a planning session, asked Bill to leave. Jim Collins (Good to Great) discovered that a characteristic of leaders who took their companies from Good to Great was they faced the truth. He says, “All good-to-great companies began the process of finding a path to greatness by confronting the brutal facts of their current reality.” Max DePree said the task of a leader is to define reality. Whatever field we are operating in, we need to know exactly where we are before we can get to where we want to go.

The Natural Church Development church heath assessment can help church leaders discover the facts of their current reality in order to know where they are starting from.

If you want to know more about Natural Church Development please contact me.

NCD: A Common Denominator

There was a time when going to church was a bit like going to MacDonald’s; that is, you could predict what the experience would be like.

Not anymore.

Very few churches are the same today, even when they are from the same denomination (stream) and have the same label.

One reason for this is that church hierarchy have encouraged their pastors to shape the local church to fit the community where that church is located. The idea seems to make sense, but there is one very large hitch. Pastors, like all human beings, do not come without bias. They are not able to shape anything without putting their own personal stamp on it. Even our perception of God is biased! When a pastor seeks to fit the church to the community, (s)he also unintentionally (or intentionally) shapes the church to fit him- or her-self.

Another reason the worship experience from church to church is so different these days, could be that many of them have removed denominational labels and named themselves simply ‘Anytown’ Community Church.

Local churches are becoming more individualistic (the truth is, like siblings, they always have been different – unique – even when they looked similar), looking different from one another. Comparing churches these days is like comparing apples and oranges; they appear to be so different.

Is there any way we can find common ground between churches that appear so different?

Yes, there is a way.

A church leader I know who had responsibility for the oversight of some twenty churches in his denomination, decided to invite them all to complete a Natural Church Development church health assessment. The great value for him was that in each church’s regular review he now had a measure that was common to them all no matter the size of the church; no matter how many (or how few) programs the church was running; no matter what leaders and/or pastors said about their church; no matter what kind of worship team, or music (even untuneful – make a joyful noise) or other components of the worship experience.

Natural Church Development (NCD) takes us to bedrock, to what is essential in any church.

·       Empowering Leadership

·       Gift-based Ministry

·       Passionate Spirituality

·       Effective Structures

·       Inspiring Worship Service

·       Holistic Small Groups

·       Need-oriented Evangelism

·       Loving Relationships

These are like the vital organs of a human being; it is difficult to go on living if someone removes one of our vital organs. And a group could scarcely be a church if any one of these is missing.

The good news for our leader who asked his church to complete the health assessment was they all registered a score in all eight qualities. The not so good news was that some were quite low. But that’s another story.

Natural Church Development Principles: Symbiosis

The Preacher says: “Pride leads to disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.” (Proverbs 11:2 NLT)

The ancient Greeks believed this, and so did the Preacher. Stephen Covey says that pride is the great barrier to Synergy or symbiosis. He gives this example: “The synergy mentality short-circuits conflict in the workplace, and the resulting spark of genius can be dazzling. But synergy does not come cheap, and the forces working against it are formidable. The toughest barrier to synergy is pride. It’s the great insulator that prevents the creative blending of human energies.

There is a whole continuum of pride, from the familiar “NIH Syndrome” (“If it’s Not Invented Here, it can’t be worth anything”) all the way to the hubris that leads to the downfall of people, organizations, and nations.

The ancient Greeks taught that hubris, or extreme arrogance, was the worst of crimes. In those days, a soldier who boasted of his own strength and humiliated his enemies was guilty of hubris. So was a king who abused his subjects for his personal gain. The Greeks believed that hubris would bring on nemesis, or inevitable ruin. Hubris, they said, always leads to tragedy in the end—and they were right.

Today we’ve seen the collapse of some of our most trusted institutions because of hubris at the highest levels. In the financial debacle of 2008, many key leaders were guilty of everything from blind overconfidence to outright fraud.

The main symptom of hubris is a lack of conflict. If no one dares to challenge you, if you receive little input from others, if you find yourself talking more than listening, if you’re too busy to deal with those who disagree then you’re heading for a fall. An example is the former head of the Royal Bank of Scotland.

According to reports, this man “brooked no criticism. . . . Every morning his immediate circle took part in a meeting where on occasions executives could he reprimanded seriously.” He referred to his unfriendly acquisitions as mercy killings. The Times of London called his leadership “hubristic.” Thus he was isolated from the truth about the oncoming banking crisis, for which his aggressively risky business dealings were said to be partly responsible

In 2007 his bank was worth £75 billion; by 2009 it was worth £4.5 billion and had suffered “the biggest loss in British banking history.”’

Looking at another example, it’s probable that the anti-synergy mind-set at Enron brought that company down. Observers see in Enron the classic model of a hubristic culture: “This was a company that purposely shut down alternative and conflicting views of reality to protect the status quo. In the name of preserving success and being in hard-nosed pursuit of greatness, an inflexible, intolerant culture developed in which new ideas were ignored, concerns were dismissed, and critical thinking got you fired.” (Covey, ‘The 3rd Alternative’)

The Preacher was so convinced of the folly of pride that he states categorically that it leads to disgrace, period. And he states it publicly as an axiom, a life principle, as though there is no escaping the disgrace that pride will bring in the end. Pride makes us think we’re better than we are. Pride prevents us from listening to the opinions of others as being valid perspectives in any given situation. Pride makes us think we know best. Pride prevents us from understanding that we, too, have blind spots, and that we need others to help us understand the whole picture.

Change and Natural Church Development

The church is just over twenty years old. It’s a suburban church. It was planted with the intention of providing a worship experience that would appeal to the unchurched of the suburb. One might suppose that would be the purpose of every church, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.

The pastors – a married couple – and their team worked well together. The church was established and built around the gifting of the pastors. It reached a peak attendance of just over 250 in the Sunday morning service.

Since the founding pastors moved on eight years ago, there have been three changes of pastor couples (with another taking up the challenge early 2017).

The last two sets of pastor were there for three years each – the last six years. And it was six years ago the church decided to engage with the Natural Church Development health assessment. They were somewhat disappointed to get this result:

Taken by itself, this is an encouraging result. But this church and the pastors were disappointed. They were especially disappointed because the church had a reputation for great worship. They were also disappointed because the pastor’s previous church had been healthier.

Five years, five surveys and a change of pastors, and all their efforts, and not much else has changed (although the level of frustration has risen!).

All six surveys have shown the same pattern – Minimum Factor: Inspiring Worship Service. Maximum Factor: Holistic Small Groups. Visitors to this church love the worship; why have the most influential lay people responded to the NCD health test so that it consistently showed this result?

At the beginning this church demonstrated so much promise.

What might be the trouble?

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 and Process

Allow ‘. . . yourself to win by following the process rather than being caught up in outcomes.’ (‘Legacy,’ What the All Blacks can teach us, p.105, James Kerr). This may have been written about the ‘business’ of life but it applies equally well to the church!

Is this what our church is like?
Do we know what outcomes our church is looking for?
Are we following a clear process to achieve those outcomes?

Natural Church Development says if we have a healthy church, growth (all kinds of growth – people, leaders, financial) will happen automatically – ‘all by itself’ (see the book by Christian Schwarz, ‘The All By Itself Pathway’).
The processes to follow in a church are those that result in a healthy church. That means we need to be aware of four things.

We need to know:
1     What a healthy church looks like (our goal)
2     Our church’s current state of health
3     What we need to do progress from where we are to where we want to be
4     We need to do it!

Number 1 informs us where we want to be, our destination.
Number 2 informs us where we are now. We cannot get anywhere without knowing where we are starting from!
Number 3 gives us the process we should follow to get from #2 to #1.
Number 4 is totally practical; we must follow the process.

The quotation from ‘Legacy’ continues: ‘. . . most organisations . . . tend to go for the one-off hits, which is unrealistic: a training session, an away day, an inspirational speech, but nothing continuous and progressive. Few focus on long-term development, on a programme of improvement.’