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Six Questions for Leaders
A church is a living organism. To understand how God works in creating and sustaining life, we should look at nature. Here are six insights to consider in nurturing church life.

God has given us this vision to see healthy congregations within the reach of all people in Canada and beyond. Of course, for us to see this happen we need healthy leaders who lead with godly discernment and skill in sync with what the Holy Spirit is doing. But where can we go for leadership principles to help us keep moving in a state of health as churches and as leaders?

It has been suggested that if we want to understand how God works in creating and sustaining life, we should learn to think organically and observe principles that are evident in nature. Here are six observations with six questions for you to consider … especially if you lead a ministry.

Healthy organisms have interdependent parts. The Bible makes it clear that the church should think of itself as a body and observe the way that the individual parts are integrated into a whole system to make the body capable of doing much more than any individual part could. Each part is important, but functioning on its own, its impact is limited.

Question: How is the ministry that you lead integrated into the overall intention that God has for your church and community?

Healthy organisms multiply. An organism does not grow endlessly, but reproduces a form of "growth" that multiplies itself. For example, a tree does not keep getting bigger only; it seeds new trees, which in turn produce more trees and eventually there is an orchard. This is also part of what the Scriptures are getting at when the family is introduced as a metaphor of the church. Children are born into a family as a safe and supportive place to grow and mature, but ultimately, if at least some children do not eventually mature and have their own family, that part of the human race will become extinct.

Question: How is the ministry you lead planning to reproduce itself to build the family of God? (e.g., small groups birthing more small groups, congregations planting more congregations, leaders raising up and mentoring new leaders, etc).

Healthy organisms are able to transform energy–even negative energy. Through the ages, the Lord has used persecution and crises to advance His work. Crises, like viruses, attack the body and if the body ignores, or even worse, embraces this hostile energy, it will be weakened and can ultimately be destroyed. On the other hand, if crises are faced with godly courage and trusting faith, they can strengthen the body. Prayer becomes more earnest. People shake off lethargic indifference. The crisis is overcome by a united response from the body.

Question: How does the ministry you are leading respond to crises?

Healthy organisms have systems that work to sustain it. Trees grow leaves because leaves do the work of photosynthesis. When leaves fall off a tree, they are not garbage. If left to the processes of nature, they rot and turn into humus that provides nutrients for the further growth of the tree.

It takes energy just to lead a ministry. But what if every leader, while leading, also invests energy in another person who wants to learn to lead and gives them opportunities to learn to lead by observing and doing? When the project is over, the work is done, but perhaps even more importantly, another leader is on the way to competence. Keep this up and soon there will be a whole group of leaders to sustain and expand the ministry into the future.

Question: As you lead, is someone developing godly competence alongside you as a leader?

Healthy organisms benefit from symbiotic relationships. The oxpecker is a tiny bird that exists alongside wild animals in Africa. By picking ticks off the bodies of large animals like antelopes or zebras, this little bird gets it groceries and the large animal stays free of blood-sucking bugs.

This is an example of symbiosis which is defined as "the intimate living together of two dissimilar organisms in a mutually beneficial relationship." Diverse spiritual gifts and ministries can exist in mutual indifference or in competition that causes conflict, but how much better if the Creator's plan for symbiotic interdependence is practiced.

Question: Does the ministry you lead compete with others or are you intentionally looking for ways to form mutually beneficial (win-win) relationships with other ministries that have a very dissimilar focus from your ministry?

Healthy organisms bear fruit. This may sound like the same observation as the principle of multiplication above, but let's return to the apple orchard. Every healthy tree multiplies itself while at the same time fulfilling its creator's purpose to produce a crop of apples. If it is not producing apples (they have the seeds in them for future trees), they will not multiply. Sometimes ministries are created, but after a while, they become less and less fruitful for a number of reasons (changes in the ministry area; loss of leadership, passion or focus, etc). If a ministry loses its fruitfulness, there is no possibility of multiplication. Sometimes with a bit of pruning, ministries regain their vigour; sometimes they need to be chopped.

Question: Is the ministry you are leading still producing the fruit for which it was created?

Astute readers will know that I have been drawing your attention to the Six Biotic Principles identified by Christian Schwarz in his book, Natural Church Development. I think that he had some great insights. If we keep them in mind, they give us good questions to keep asking ourselves as we work together to develop healthy congregations in Canada and beyond, led by healthy, godly, competent leaders. I encourage you to think about these six principles and ask yourself the questions in connection with the ministries that you lead.

Rev. Keith Elford is Bishop of The Free Methodist Church in Canada.

Originally published in Mosaic, March 2006.




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