"Natural Church Development: From Polarized to Pulling Together"

Oct.26, 2008 1Cor.3:1-17

The Wasted Worldly Tug-of-War Church

It's not a pretty picture Paul paints of the early church at Corinth. Young enthusiastic believers seem to have forgotten Jesus as their leader, and were lining up in separate camps behind two apostles, Paul or Apollos. A lot of energy was being wasted on in-house fighting. Paul calls them spiritual 'babies' - "mere infants in Christ", not even able to chew solid food yet. In v3 he calls them 'still worldly' because there is 'jealousy and quarrelling' among them: contention, strife, wrangling. There's a split or schism: one says, "I follow Paul," another - "I follow Apollos": they were clearly picking sides. Most un-Christlike; Paul says they're acting like 'mere men', not people who are truly spiritual or mature. It was a real tug-of-war, and entirely needless. Energy that should have been channelled into service or witnessing in one of the most notoriously immoral cities in the known world was being siphoned off into animosity against other believers!

If only that were the case just in the first century. However when church growth expert Christian Schwarz visits congregations, he often finds a similar split, and real resistance to church development for one of two reasons. (Natural Church Development figure p.93) He describes the two conflicting patterns of thinking as "Spiritualism" (left) and "Technocracy" (right). Spiritualists view things with a certain dualism between spirit and matter, organism (good) and organization (questionable or suspect), God's work and human labour, the supernatural and the natural. Institutional elements are seen as second-rate or downright evil. Spiritualists battle against rationalism, false security, and the technocratic 'can-do' mentality.

Technocrats on the other hand believe that tending to a church's institutional needs will automatically yield dynamic growth. They might think, "Celebrate your services in this way, and the Holy Spirit will automatically descend upon your congregation;" or, "Use this church growth pattern, and your church will automatically grow." They may suppose the right formula will do the trick; that the church can be manufactured. Technocrats vehemently oppose the irrationality and nebulous 'other-worldliness' of the spiritualistic approach.

In church history, overemphasis on either has had unhealthy spin-offs. (NCD figure p.95) The left-hand column lists exaggerated results of spiritualism, including relativism, libertinism, docetism, separatism, individualism, and anarchism. On the right you see listed some effects of over-emphasis on a technocratic approach: dogmatism, fundamentalism, legalism, sacramentalism, traditionalism. The psychological force behind the technocratic view could be termed a 'security mentality': rather than trusting in the person of Christ alone, they look for some form of outward security, thinking they can create institutions that will guarantee the church's health.

In our own congregation, to some degree in recent months, there has been tension between the 'spiritualist' and 'technocrat' poles when it comes to building a permanent facility. A 'technocrat' would want it built yesterday, or at least as soon as possible. They might subscribe to the Field of Dreams theory, "If you build it, they will come." On the other hand, the 'spiritualist' doesn't get too excited about physical structures; to them, the dynamic aspect of church is more exciting than the static. To the spiritualist, the organic aspects of church life such as ministry, mission, and relationships, are more important than the organizational aspects like structures or budgets and capital campaigns.

Paul frankly rebuked both camps for their quarreling and bickering - he didn't even condone his own 'camp'! Instead he holds up for them some images or word-pictures that offer a better approach than straining against each other in a wasteful worldly way.

The Growing, Developing Church

First Paul presents an agricultural metaphor. In vv5-9 the image is that of planting, watering: v9 "You are God's field". While Paul planted, Apollos watered (v6) - they are merely servants (v5): 'diakonos', servant or waiter, from the Greek meaning 'to raise dust by hastening'. The important thing isn't who's doing the hoeing and who's doing the harvesting, but that the crop is produced! "The Lord has assigned to each his task." (5) They are both privileged to be co-workers, fellow-workers (v9): syn-ergos, 'workers-with' God. But who gets the credit? V6-7, "I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow.So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow." Dividing up into camps is pointless, for neither Paul nor Apollos are looking to take all the glory: they're both pointing to God who gives the growth.

Let's think about this image of the church as a field, a living growing complex of plants and soil. Suppose a corn field. How many different factors would a farmer consider in a good corn crop? First he takes soil samples so he (or she) knows how much nitrogen, phosphorus, and potash is needed in the various areas - and that can vary a lot between the spots in the field. If an area's too acidic he might apply some lime. Choosing the right seed is important: the right day-length, it would be foolish to grow a 12-foot variety that's more suited to Iowa. Probably hybrid seed, perhaps resistant to corn borer. How close do you space the plants (what researchers call population density)? That's different in arid Lethbridge than muggy Ontario. How about amount of organic matter - does he practise no-till or plough? One method gets a slower start but holds the moisture and soil structure better. What about weed control - does he cultivate more or apply more herbicide? There are umpteen variables to consider, the ones he has some control over - that might limit the yield he could get.

But when all's said and done, the farmer has done his work, the inputs are all bought and paid for and dug into the ground - he can't MAKE the corn grow. He has to rely on God's mercy through sunshine and warmth and rain and length of season to supply the missing ingredients. To quote one of Jesus' parables about God's kingdom, "Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how.All by itself the soil produces grain-- first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head." (Mr 4:27f) When the conditions have been met, God's design causes growth to happen 'automatically' - 'all by itself'.

Christian Schwarz worked for years in research trying to identify factors affecting church growth. His model parallels this 'natural' process, so is called "Natural [or biotic or living] Church Development". Studying over 4 million survey results from 1000 churches in 32 countries and 6 continents, Schwarz identified 8 'quality characteristics' that are significant in making a church a healthy church. (NCD figure p.79) In each of these, the adjective is very important: is the leadership empowering, so pastors equip/support/motivate/ and mentor individuals, enabling them to become all that God wants them to be? Is ministry gift-oriented, helping members identify their gifts and integrate them into appropriate ministries? Is spirituality passionate, so Christians in this church live committed lives and practice their faith with joy and enthusiasm? Are structures functional, so elements that don't improve the self-organization of the church are changed or eliminated? Is worship inspiring, so people attend not just from a sense of duty but because they are fed and uplifted? Are small groups holistic, going beyond just discussing Bible passages to applying its message to daily life, and where members can bring up issues and questions that are immediate personal concerns? Is evangelism need-oriented, not just a canned 'program' but focussing on the actual questions and needs of non-Christians? Are relationships loving, where people make a point of getting together outside services, and leaders are aware of the personal problems of others?

None of these 8 'quality characteristics' alone is 'the secret to success'. But Schwarz found that whenever they all reached at least a 65% level, there was a 99.4% probability that that church was a GROWING church(NCD figure p.41). So churches can survey themselves and start working on one or two of their 'minimum factors' - like short staves that limit how much water a barrel can hold (NCD figure p.53).

We can't 'make' the church grow, humanly speaking. But there are practical steps we can take to eliminate factors that may be hindering the church from growing. When the key factors are addressed, God makes the church (and the kingdom) grow - 'all by itself'.

The Masterly-built Tested Church

From agricultural, Paul switches to an architectural metaphor: the church as building.V9 he says "You are...God's building." V10 He talks of laying a foundation as an 'expert builder' (literally wise master-builder or architect). But even here the image isn't totally static: those who build after must 'be careful how' they build. There is an evaluation coming: v13 the Day (of Judgment) will 'bring it to light' and its fire will 'test the quality' of each one's work - it'll either be burned up or survive. So even here the institution of the church is not a 'done deal': people keep building and evaluating their additions / renovations through the years.

It's not about Paul or Apollos; it's not about the spiritualist or the technocrat. It's not 'either' dynamic 'or' static, but both-and. Christian Schwarz calls this the 'bipolar paradigm' or way of thinking, just as our brains have left and right hemispheres - one more associated with rational thinking, logic, and speech, the other with art, imagery, intuition, and creativity. We need both parts together!

The Bible uses various images for the church which are both dynamic and static: (NCD figure p.84) living stones, growth of the temple, body of Christ built, God's field and God's building (1Pet 2:5; Eph 2:21, 4:12; 1Cor 3:9). Schwarz illustrates this (NCD figure p.85) as 'dynamic and static' poles: dynamic keywords - organic, grow, freedom, 'all by itself'. The organism. That growth in nature necessarily produces organization if it is to survive and multiply. Static keywords - technical, build, order, 'man-made'. That static pole stimulates or provides a launching platform for further growth - the dynamic.

Schwarz elaborates on these more in another diagram (NCD p.95) - the dynamic part of the church includes such terms as faith, love, fellowship, change, multiplication, spiritual gifts, social service; while the static pole consolidates these in helpful supportive forms - doctrine, the Bible, sacraments, tradition, offices, and order. We need both together - don't try to separate or oppose them! Yes a church needs to be alive, active in mission, it's people not a pile of bricks. But yes a building can be a helpful tool in a community offering visual identity and a platform for needed programs. There is no competition or tug-of-war between Paul and Apollos: the tasks are unique but the goal is God's harvest. The Lord may have put that person who thinks so differently from you here in the congregation precisely so you keep each other from flying off on a tangent!

Schwarz sums up his 'bipolar' model in what he calls the 'reformation principle': all institutions (the static or organizational pole) are evaluated on their performance by this - How useful are they for the development of the dynamic pole, ie for the church as a living organism? (repeat) For example, our women are prayerfully wrestling with their involvement in the century-old "World Day of Prayer". The 'reformation principle' would ask, "How useful is this event for developing the dynamic / organic elements of the church - faith, love, fellowship, change, evangelism, and so on?" If it's not useful in its present form, can it be re-formed or re-packaged in a more helpful way? I look at its 'who we are' on the web and see honourable challenging positive Christian objectives; yet that doesn't mean when it comes to this year's program we have to be 'stuck' for fear of the protest 'we never did it that way before'. (http://www.worlddayofprayer.net/)

The Spirit-at-home-among-us Church

In vv16-17 Paul calls the Corinthians back to basics - to the essence of the Church not as structure (technocratic) nor as something individual (spiritualistic), but a called-out sanctified community inhabited by God's Spirit. "Don't you know that you yourselves [plural] are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you [plural]? If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him; for God's temple is sacred, and you are that temple." Don't let that centrifugal tension cause you to fly apart: that tension is good insofar as it leads you to humble yourself, go back to the prayer-board, and seek to understand what God is showing your fellow member of the Body of Christ. Something special happens when Christians gather: God's Spirit dwells among us, 2 or 3 or more - Jesus is there in a special way. "The Spirit of God makes His home in us, not in temples made with human hands." (Acts 7:48, 17:24) That's a holy happening, worth preserving - and guarding from being destroyed.Let's pray.