So many Principles

There are so many principles. How can a person be expected to take all of them into account?

The good news is it’s possible to cover all of them by living whole-heartedly by one of them.

Loving Relationships is a good example.

If we really love God and others (the great commandment), we will seek to empower our associates and fellow-disciples (Empower Leadership); we will be looking for ways to discover and develop their gifts and talents and engage them in their particular ministry (Gift-based Ministry); we will do this – and all things – enthusiastically, with passion (Passionate Spirituality); we will look for ways to be effective (Effective Structures); we will want to inspire them (Inspiring Worship Service); we will find ways and means – and people – to meet their needs (Need-oriented Evangelism); and we will seek to engage them holistically – head, hands and heart (Holistic Small Groups).

The same applies for any one of these quality characteristics. If we are truly to empower people, we must love them; we help them find out how God has wired them up by helping them discover and engage with their spiritual gifts; and so on through each of the eight quality characteristics of any church.

When it comes to the growth forces (also principles God has woven through His creation):

  • Interdependence
  • Multiplication
  • Energy transformation
  • Symbiosis
  • Sustainability
  • Fruitfulness

Naturally we will want them – all of the principles – to be working positively (not negatively) for ourselves, for God’s creation and kingdom and for all humanity. In other words we want to be working with these principles, not conflicting with them.

As Jesus said: ‘Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.’ (The Message)

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.’

Natural Church Development and “Legacy”

This is an appropriate time to recommend a book: “Legacy” by James Kerr. Subtitled, What the All Blacks can teach us about the business of life. It’s an appropriate time because we are in the middle of the 2015 World Rugby Cup in England, and the All Blacks are about to play a quarterfinal against France this coming weekend.
Let me select a very few choice pieces:
After the game, while the country is still watching replays and schoolkids lie in bed dreaming of All Black glory, the senior All Blacks are tidying up after themselves. They have had the debrief; now they have picked up brooms and are sweeping the shed. Doing it properly. They have a servant spirit.
Character before Talent:
Wayne Smith (one of the coaches) said: “Talent was irrelevant.” We used certain game stats that determine the player’s character, and that’s what we were after. We picked high work rate, guys that were unselfish and had a sacrificial mindset. It is the identity of the team that matters – not so much what the All Blacks do, but who they are, what they stand for, and why they exist.
Leadership and Empowerment:
The All Blacks have developed a leadership culture. The structure of the working week: The Sunday evening review meetings are facilitated by the coaches, thought significant input comes from the on-field leadership. Then over the course of the week, you see a gradual handing over of responsibility and decision-making. By Thursday, the priorities, intensity levels and other aspects are all ‘owned’ by the players. By the time they play on Saturday the players have taken over the asylum. Graham Henry (head coach at the time) says that enabling his players to take charge of their own environment is, of all his achievements in rugby, the thing of which he is most proud.
What would the church look like if pastors operated this way?
If you are able to make the connection, this is a great book on discipleship and leadership. It fits very well into the principles of Natural Church Development. I do not hesitate to recommend it.

Natural Church Development: Overworked Leaders

When pastors and church leaders are asked if they would like to consider ‘doing NCD,’ they often respond they just don’t have the time for anything more. They are already stretched to the limit. ‘One more thing’ may be the last straw for them and their team. Whenever I hear this, I think of the comment made by a school principal:

“This is not ‘one more thing’ we have to do. This is a better way of doing what we already do!”

He was referring to the principle-based approach to education as demonstrated by a school named A.B. Coombs (see the website for videos of some of those schools http://www.TheLeaderInMeBook.org).

These principles were not invented by Christian A Schwarz (Founder and Director of NCD International), Stephen Covey or James Collins or any other human being. They are largely common sense. All cultures have discovered them – and then forgotten them, and either disappeared or deteriorated. They apply to all human institutions, including schools, governments, family and the church.

Identifying and incorporating these principles is the very best way of journeying through life and building something sustainable. We are governed by these principles even when we are unconscious of them or do not even know they exist. They apply to all of life just as the law of gravity affects us physically.

Natural Church Development, the principle-based approach to church life, is happening in your church even as you read this. It can help greatly when church leaders know these principles and actively co-operate with them. What are they? Such things as Empowerment, Gift-activation, Passion, Effectiveness, Inspiration, Community, Need-relief and Love.

The question is: Which one requires your attention in your church or organisation right now? What happens if you neglect that critical issue (think about these questions in terms of your own health)?

What is stopping you from taking steps to identify church health issues right now?

Natural Church Development: The Importance of Regular Checks

Over recent months a number of churches have completed NCD surveys where there has been a 2-6 year gap since the last church health check-up. In each of these health has deteriorated quite markedly.
Perhaps the reason for this can be explained by something Stephen Covey said in his book, ‘First Things First’:
“Much of our pain in life comes from the sense that we are succeeding in one role at the expense of other, possibly more important roles.” (p.82)
If we do not focus intentionally on addressing our Minimum Factor-related issues (and they will be things we find most difficult to engage with) we will drift into working with those aspects of church life we enjoy most, areas that do not presently require so much attention, and we will neglect vital qualities that need to be attended to at this point in our history.

Of course, had those churches completed a church health check-up annually, the downwards drift would have been detected sooner and, hopefully, addressed sooner.

How NCD can help your church: Right Choices!

Natural Church Development has the potential to Assist Leaders to Make Decisions that will Help their Church and not Hurt it!

Is it possible for leaders, doing something good, to unknowingly damage their church? That’s a big question. What leader would want to harm their church? But some—maybe many—are unwittingly making their own church sick! When leaders pour resources into the wrong area FOR THEIR CHURCH, they run the risk of doing serious damage (my personal conviction is that most churches in New Zealand are in this state and have been for some time)! Why are the many good things promoted by leaders so ineffective? They are doing good things, but the timing is wrong. What happens when we do the right thing at the wrong time? It is counter-productive. It works against us, that’s what happens!

Consider: Why do leaders use a given programme in their church? Why do they pursue any given course of ministry? There are a number of reasons. The course of action was advertised at a conference; or a pastor friend used it with some success; or they came across it on the internet and it looked to be exactly what they wanted.

I suggest these are not good reasons for embracing any course of action in a church.

But isn’t the indiscriminate use of NCD falling into the trap of possibly doing the right thing at the wrong time? Christian Schwarz says there is just one time the NCD survey should not be used; and that is when there is division in the church. In such a situation the first requirement is reconciliation.

Furthermore, NCD should be considered in terms of process, not programme; we must think principle, not programme; we think health and allow growth to take care of itself.

NCD can prevent such a situation from happening by simply identifying the area that should be addressed at this point in the church’s history.

We go to the doctor. The doctor runs some tests, asks some questions, and may then give us a prescription which is specific to us. We are warned against taking other people’s prescription medicine, yet churches do this all the time. Using the NCD survey is like taking your church to the doctor for a medical check-up. The survey result will give you a very accurate diagnosis of the health of your church.

Prescriptive planning just became easier.