By Gillian Knight - NNSW NCD Coordinator
Welcome to the Natural Church Development (NCD) series of articles. In this new series we plan to share insights and discoveries about the NCD process and provide ideas on building a strong and healthy church.
So, what to talk about first? What is it that keeps coming up over and over, we keep talking about but nothing seems to change?... Loving Relationships.
How do we address something that is so personal and hinges on the conversion of the individual? This has been the focus of my prayers for as long as I have been looking at these surveys. It’s the nagging extra weight that I carry around but just can’t get rid of.
Literally thousands of books have been written on the subject of love so there is no excuse for us not being informed about what it is. So why is it so hard for us to do it? Of all the gifts the Spirit can give us… the greatest gift is love. We can all probably recite 2 Corinthians 13 by heart and we really believe that this is the key thing missing in this world, yet, it is still somewhat elusive to us.
Recently at a church debrief in which Loving Relationships was the lowest score (this is not unusual), I opened the floor for questions and was stunned by the question that came next – What is the definition of Loving Relationships? At first I was stunned and not sure how to respond, thinking to myself, “Are you serious? Do I really need to tell you how to be loving to another person?”
Since that day this question has played on my mind and I have thought about it a lot.
Here are two points from NCD on the subject:
1. All the questions in the survey on loving relationships address the degree to which the relationships in the church reflect what Christian Schwarz calls the scriptural “ingredients of love”. At the highest level, these are relationships which reflect justice, truth and grace. The higher a question’s result, the greater its contribution to the church community being biblically loving.
2. The questions are included in the survey because it has been shown to a high degree of accuracy in international statistical terms, that they distinguish healthy growing churches from those in decline. In effect, churches with higher scores in loving relationships are more likely to be growing, and vice versa.
Questions on Loving Relationships in the survey can be split into four groups:
“We appreciate each other’s contributions.”
Do people feel their contributions are undervalued or go unnoticed, or even feel taken for granted? How many of us have felt a lift in our spirits just by someone taking the time to say an encouraging word? Healthy churches have encouragement embedded in their culture.
“What is the mood here?”
It is amazing how quickly people will pick up the vibe or feeling in a church. It plays a significant role in whether a person will stay or go. Focusing on growing people and addressing tensions and conflict quickly creates a joyful atmosphere without criticism or avoidance.
“Are we friends?”
Trick question. If you can’t rely on your friends at church, are they really friends? This is about trust. What would be the consequences of being in a church full of dependable, reliable friendships?
“The relational onion.”
Christian psychologist Dr Larry Crabb spoke about a growing relationship being like peeling away the layers of an onion – the layers getting softer as you get toward the centre.
Relationships should grow to the point where people can share personal problems without the fear of being looked down on, judged or deemed unworthy believers. We need to be able to walk the journey of faith together openly and honestly. How many times have you heard people say, “We don’t talk about such things at our church”; “Our faith is private”; “Our church preaches victory in Jesus so I can’t tell others when I’m having a difficult time”; “There are lots of people here but I always feel alone and isolated”; “Our church is more about running programs than helping people grow relationships”; “I’d never tell anyone in this church what I was feeling, it leaks like a sieve”?
So, if we can’t even peel the skin off the onion, how do we get to the heart? A healthy church begins with genuine, loving relationships. It is only as I know, believe and experience His love that I can even begin to think about loving others. “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1). Praise God for His great love for us. God’s love for me is the only foundation on which I can build a life of love for others.