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 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 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”)