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 Principles

In his Empowerment Diary, entry #127, Christian Schwarz (Founder and Director of NCD International) said: “Today I had an interesting discussion about the question of why we focus so consistently (the person I spoke to called it, “fanatically”) on principles throughout all of our NCD tools (the criticism was, “Not practical enough!”).

The answer is simple:

Principles are valid whether you believe in them or not. They will influence your life, even if you should decide to reject them. They apply regardless of your theological bent, your philosophy of ministry, or your favourite church model. And they even apply should you decide not to utilize them. In other words, whenever we are dealing with provable principles (rather than mere models or inspirational examples), we are on solid ground. Once we have identified the principles (which in our case works in a blend of empirical research and biblical/theological evaluation), the second step is to apply them to complex realities of an individual church – the core of any Mutual Empowerment Process.”

Stephen Covey (7 Habits) says: “I do not agree with the popular success literature that says self-esteem is primarily a matter of mind-set, of attitude – that you can psyche yourself into peace of mind. Peace of mind comes when your life is in harmony with true principles and values and in no other way.”

One such principle (and how they work) is referred to in a paper published at Harvard Business School where Michael C. Jensen, Werner Erhard and Steve Saffron explore the relationship between integrity and performance. Of integrity, they say: “Like the law of gravity, the law (principle) of integrity just is, and if you violate the law of integrity . . . you get hurt just as if you try to violate the law of gravity with no safety device.” (‘Legacy’ James Kerr, page 127)

Integrity is one of the principles that is unchanging and unchangeable. No one can ignore or ‘break’ the integrity principle without being seriously damaged themselves.

And integrity is just one of them!

People may accomplish remarkable things while ignoring these principles, but their work will prove unsustainable in the long run.

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 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!

Natural Church Development Principles and the Bible

Choose my instruction rather than silver, and knowledge rather than pure gold. For wisdom is far more valuable than rubies. Nothing you desire can compare with it. (Proverbs 8:10, 11)

My father often used to say to me, “Money does not grow on trees, you know!” It sounded reasonable at the time; but now I’m not so sure.

The Preacher has said we should choose his instruction over silver and gold and rubies. I suppose whenever we buy a book or pay for a course we are more or less doing just that; ‘more or less’ because not all books or all courses would be in the ‘wisdom’ category.

If it comes to a choice between wealth and wisdom, the Preacher says it’s a no brainer; we must choose wisdom.

Now he is making the reason for that clear (Proverbs 8:17-21): Wealth – silver, gold, rubies and other such treasure – is the fruit of wisdom. In other words, if we make worldly wealth our goal, there is no guarantee we will get it; but if we stake our life on finding wisdom we will succeed at finding it, and get wealth thrown in!

By going after money we are pursuing the fruit without nurturing the ‘tree’ that produces the money; that tree is the wisdom the Preacher is talking about.

This whole scenario is very much the way some Christians and churches set up for evangelism; they go after the fruit – converts – without bothering to nurture the plant – their local church – that produces and matures the fruit.

Natural Church Development Principles in the Bible

Those too lazy to plow in the right season will have no food at the harvest. (Proverbs 20:4)

Jesus said He always did what He saw the Father doing in both the spiritual and the natural worlds. In the world of horticulture, believers and unbelievers alike, do what they see the Father doing in the natural world. They know there is a right season to plough, and if they do not plow at that time they will come up short. There will be no food on the table. They are doing what they see the Father doing whether they believe it or not.

Several significant Principles are ignored by a lazy person like this one in Proverbs:

Sowing and reaping, Fruitfulness, Multiplication, Sustainability, Interdependence, Energy Transformation – all of these are working against this lazy person.

Fruitfulness: There will be no fruit because the ground has not been prepared at the right time to receive seed.

For Multiplication to happen, seed has to be sown and a crop harvested.

Unless someone else comes to his rescue, the life of this person will not be Sustained because he has no food.

Because he has failed to work, using the Interdependence that God has set up in His creation, he will starve to death.

This principle will also be working against him.

Energy Transformation: It is very clear that he is investing no energy whatever in doing what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, in the way it needs to be done, so there is zero energy going into the very thing that should be done. Investing energy in avoiding work could very well work against him in his muscles seizing up (what you don’t use, you lose); starvation (scarcity of food); strained relationships (who will continue to provide food and a bed for this sorry individual?)

These are some of the principles that God has woven into His creation and that Natural Church Development is based upon. They are always working whether we acknowledge them or not. And if they are not working for us they will surely be working against us.