What to do Under Covid-19 Lockdown

George MacDonald was a Scottish author whose books were very influential in the life of CS Lewis. Two of MacDonald’s books were “Phantastes” and “Lilith.” The quality that most impressed Lewis about these books was holiness. On the strength of that I purchased these books. Dare I admit it – I had difficulty even understanding them!

I am thinking of the current situation when I post this quotation from Phantastes by George MacDonald. It is the final statement from the book:

‘Yet I know that good is coming to me – that good is always coming; though few have at all times the simplicity and the courage to believe it. What we call evil is the only and best shape, which, for the person and his condition at the time, could be assumed by the best good.’ (Phantastes, p. 213).

You may need to ponder this from MacDonald for a while.

It really doesn’t matter if the panic over the virus is justified; or if the panic should be about something else (like, would one of the conspiracy theories be something more than just a theory?). In a sense, through the present worldwide crisis, God is speaking to all peoples in a way He has not spoken for a very long time.

Covid-19 is causing many people much pain. CS Lewis in his book, ‘The Problem of Pain,’ says: “We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
In my mind, George MacDonald’s statement above lines up well with pandemic fallout and Romans 8:28: And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

If you are uncertain as to how to respond to what is happening in our world today, then this action may work best to strengthen your immunity: “. . . give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:18

If you go here you will find 31 science-backed benefits of gratitude.

https://www.happierhuman.com/benefits-of-gratitude/

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.

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

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

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.

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 in the Bible

A fool’s proud talk becomes a rod that beats him, but the words of the wise keep them safe. (Proverbs 14:3)

Why such different outcomes over mere words? Words are much more than words. They are pronouncements that are supported by the nature of the person who utters them. They are extensions of his character. The words of the wise are spoken with integrity; that is, the words of the wise are aligned with their thoughts and emotions and their actions. They are holistic. The proud talk of fools has very little connection with reality. The fool’s pride prevents him from seeing life as it really is. Instead, he sees life as he is and, in his eyes, he is larger than life. Proud talk has very little to do with what the fool is able to achieve; he promises much but delivers less.

The tragedy of all this is the fool does not seem able to understand the Energy Transformation principle that is working against him here. He cannot for the life of him see how his ‘proud talk’ has morphed into a ‘rod that beats him.’