How Can Natural Church Development Help Your Church?

How can Natural Church Development help your church?

If you were able to discover something that had the potential to help your church in the following ways, would you want to know more?

  • Give focus to the church
  • Unite the church
  • Make the best use of your resources
  • Assist leaders to help their church and not harm it
  • Identify the church’s strengths
  • Locate the church’s area of dis-ease
  • Help discover the church’s back and front doors
  • Guide a church to its own unique identity rather than copying other church models
  • Point leaders to God’s unchanging and unchangeable principles
  • Help your church become more balanced in its ministry
  • Help you church become more passionate, caring, praying, gift-based, need-oriented, empowering, inspiring, holistic and effective

Natural Church Development can help your church in all of these ways – and more. But will it? It will, if the leaders of your church are amenable to working agreeably with each other!

I am referring to the Natural Church Development church health assessment.

If you would like to know more you can contact me at ncd@inspire.net.nz

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.

God’s Blueprint for a healthy organisation

God has a blueprint for the way organisations work best (no matter what that organisation may be). It’s known by a number of different names to different people. The weather man, and many others, often refers to it as ‘Mother Nature.’ The Bible calls it Creation. It is the most efficient and effective organisation ever, and it’s right there for us to walk through and notice, to experience first-hand, to examine and learn from. The fact is we are part of it. We are involved.

We all know Jesus is a genius.

We know it’s important to learn from the lilies because Jesus directed His disciples (Matthew 6:28): Learn from the lilies, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin. ‘Learn from’ the Greek word here is one that means ‘to study very intently’; a further component of the word Jesus used actually means to magnify the intensity of the study. In the whole passage He is saying, “Here is how my kingdom works. If you want to see my Kingdom come, and live your life in line with that, then rigorously study how the lilies of the field grow. That’s the way I’ve made them and I have implanted within them the way I want things to function.”

If we are going to learn from other organisations how to do things better, then it makes sense to learn from the most successful, fruitful, enduring organisation that we have ever seen – God’s creation. It is profound in its efficiency – its usage of resources, its harmonization and collaboration. If you walk into a rainforest, you don’t need trucks backing in pouring out loads of resources – everything connects, everything co-operates. It’s no wonder people like David Attenborough and Brian Cox are blown away by the way the systems work. And we have Jesus saying, observe this, look at this, find out how it works.

Some people think Jesus used these metaphors because it was an agrarian society. Today he would use something mechanical or electronic. I don’t think so. You cannot better what God has done. And the key that we can learn from living, breathing things is this:

Healthy living things make the best possible use of all that is available to them. That’s the definition of a healthy living thing. What happens when you give poor food, poor environment, poor everything – to a healthy living thing? In the beginning you can give it all kinds of garbage – and we do!

What happens when you give good solid food to an unhealthy living thing? Depending upon its present health levels, it won’t be able to take that kind of food; it’s something akin to giving solids to a baby before it is ready to take them. Paul – giving milk to some disciples because they couldn’t cope with solids. If it’s a healthy body it has extraordinary capacity to assimilate whatever is available.

It is no exaggeration to say than an unhealthy church, centre, organisation, is an unhealthy, regurgitating organism. The inability of an organisation to make use of the gifts, passions, abilities, talents, ideas, resource, of a particular person means: “We don’t know what to do with you.”

How do we apply this?

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

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.

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 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.

How Natural Church Development can help your Church: What will you do?

When we do the survey, control over the quality of our church is placed in our own hands.

God is showing us, through his people and by His Spirit where we should make adjustments so that He can better display His power through our church. Not only does the survey result enlighten us as to where God is doing His best work in our church, but where we should now focus in order that He is empowered to do what He has always wanted to do in and through our community of faith.
The Preacher says, “God detests the prayers of a person who ignores the law.” (Proverbs 28:9) The law here is not the ceremonial law, but the moral law, those great principles that God has woven through His whole creation. Sometimes our conscious prayers are contradicted by our unconscious prayers. If God were to answer some of our prayers it would be the end of creation.
I am serious about that. It would be impossible for God to answer because we are not in the right space, and if God were to respond to our prayers in the way we want Him to, He would be denying Himself.

Sometimes we pray God will act in our church when He is waiting for us to act; to address the issues uncovered by the survey result.