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

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 Principles

Some people might be interested to know just how many New Zealand churches are involved with NCD. I am not being flippant or smart when I respond: 100%. Yes. That’s correct. All New Zealand churches are involved with the principles of Natural Church Development, whether they are aware of it or not. So how can that be?
It is because NCD does not concern itself with programs; if the church is not healthy, programs run by that church will not be healthy either.
Neither does NCD promote the idea of model churches (or programs); the ‘model’ church implies that ‘one size fits all’ when the reality is every church is unique.
The main reason we believe every church (and organisation for that matter) is affected, is that central to the NCD thesis is the idea that everything – including the church – is governed by principles.
Stephen Covey said. ““The principles I am referring to are the basic universal principles that pertain to all human relationships and organisations, for instance fairness, justice, honesty, integrity, trust. They are self-evident, self-validating. These principles are like natural laws that operate regardless of whether we decide to obey them or not. I call them ‘true north’ principles because they don’t shift. They are always there, always reliable, like the ‘true north’ on a compass. And they provide us with rock-solid direction in our lives and in our organisations.
They are also principles that no one argues with. Everyone buys into them. There is a universal common sense about them.” (‘Rethinking the Future,’ Covey, p.36)
That is why we say, no church can avoid being connected with the core of Natural Church Development principles. For these principles are active and affecting everything we do, even if we try to ignore them.

How NCD can help your church: Principles

Natural Church Development has the potential to take a church from copying ‘Model’ churches to co-operating with God’s unchanging and unchangeable principles: 

When we look at another church as a ‘model’ we imitate what they are doing (This may be fine; and it may also be like taking someone else’s prescription medicine!). But with principles we can look at different churches from any location on the planet. We abstract those things that work in any culture and in any place: Principles. We ignore the local characteristics and flavour….the practices. We know that the principles have application to all other churches in general and to our specific church situation in particular. The Principles inform us “How” the Natural Church Development process should be engaged. 

One of the goals of Natural Church Development is to have pastors and people think principle.

 Christian Schwarz defines what is meant by ‘principle.’

  • Principles are universally valid. They apply to all denominations, to all church models, to all devotional styles, and to all cultures.
  • Principles must be proven. Some so-called principles are more properly ‘interesting concepts that are worth considering.’ The only way to know if something is a principle is to find out if it works in all cultures and settings.
  • Principles always deal with what is essential. Principles do not deal with cosmetic issues or secondary aspects of the Christian life. Therefore we may expect to find these principles also described in the Bible, even if we use different language and terms.
  • Principles always have to be individualized. They never tell you exactly what to do. Rather, they give you criteria which can help you discover what should be done in a given situation.

“Basing our happiness on our ability to control everything is futile. While we do control our choice of action, we cannot control the consequences of our choices. Universal laws or principles do. Thus, we are not in control of our lives; principles are. We live in a modern society that loves shortcut techniques. Yet quality of life cannot be achieved by taking the right shortcut. There is no shortcut. But there is a path. The path is based on principles revered throughout history. If there is one message to glean from this wisdom, it is that a meaningful life is not a matter of speed or efficiency. It’s much more a matter of what you do and why you do it, than how fast you get it done.” (Stephen Covey, ‘First Things First”)