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.

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

Science and the Kingdom of God

When we take Science to its legitimate and logical and inevitable end, we find there the Kingdom of God. Science is simply knowledge. Jesus is the Alpha and Omega – the beginning and the end – of knowledge (as well as everything else). He created all things. He upholds all things. It all came from Him and it’s all moving towards Him (the unchangeable Person) and His (unshakeable) Kingdom. Scientists who are honest about their investigations will eventually find their way ‘home’ to the Kingdom of God. They fail to do this only if they begin with a false premise; that is to say, if they pursue their science and won’t allow any room for God. As some of the atheists say when studying biology, “It almost looks like intelligent design; but we know that can’t be right!”

E Stanley Jones writes:

“Someday science is going to put it down on the table and say: “This and this and this is the way to live. And this and this and this is not the way to live.” And we are going to look on those two lists and our eyes will open and open wide for we are going to say: “Why, Brother Man, the way you say to live is the Christian way, every item is Christian in its essence and in its object, whatever the language. And the list you give as the way not to live is the un-Christian way, every item is un-Christian. And the scientists will reply: We don’t know anything about that, but this is the way that life works and this is the way that life does not work.”

“The two approaches to life, the Christian and the scientific when truly Christian and truly scientific, are coming out to a common conclusion and more and more rendering a verdict on life and that verdict is a Christian verdict—the facts are coming out at the place of Christ.”

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

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.

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?

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.’