When GOOD Becomes the Enemy of BEST

By David Allis   [email protected]

I have always thought that ‘good’ and ‘best’ were very close together.  When I was at school, on the occasions that I got a ‘good’ result in a test or exam, it was usually very close to the ‘best’ result.

In a strange paradox, I can now see situations where ‘good’ is not close to ‘best’, but rather it is at the opposite end of a spectrum from ‘best’.  In situations like this, ‘good’ is good, but if we settle for ‘good’, we remain a long way from ‘best’, and hence ‘good’ is effectively the enemy of ‘best’.

Let me give an example to illustrate.  Imagine you are walking on a path though the forest, and your goal is to get to the beach. You reach a point where the path splits into 2 paths, and you can’t see the beach, so you are unsure which way to go.  The only sign giving any direction says ‘go this way to see the beach’.  Thinking this is a good choice, you follow the direction of the sign, believing that if you can see the beach, you should be close to it.  Unfortunately the path leads you to the top of a mountain, where you find lots of people sitting on their beach chairs enjoying the beautiful view of the beach.  The place you have arrived seems good – at least you can see what the beach looks like – but you have taken the wrong path and are now a long way from the beach.  Hence, this ‘good’ result (seeing the beach) has effectively been the enemy of the best result (getting to the beach).  To get from the ‘good’ to the ‘best’ in this situation requires a long journey, retracing your steps and then going down the right path.

As I consider some of the aspects of church and Christianity I see around me, I am becoming increasingly convinced that many of us are settling for ‘good’ results, that are often the enemy of the ‘best’.  We accept many things that are helpful in themselves, but are stopping us reaching out for the best.  Another simple example is that of a starving person, who needs a full meal, but instead eats some nice chocolate which staves off the hunger pangs and stops them searching for that nourishing meal that their body needs.

So what are some of the areas where the ‘good’ might be the enemy of the ‘best’?  Consider these possibilities, which might whet your appetite (you can probably think of further examples).  They all deserve more in-depth examination than this brief article can offer.

Sermons might be GOOD, BUT ….

  • Sermons are usually built around the ‘person of God’, who has had in-depth theological training, and has heard from God and is now disseminating the word of God to the people in eloquent discourse.  This creates a dependence on being ‘fed’ by the necessary combination of ordained ministers + theological training + eloquent preaching.
  • Sermons typically assume that God is saying the same thing to everyone.
  • Few people can remember a sermon the next day, week or month (often the preacher can’t remember it either).
  • Passive listening is a very ineffective way of learning.
  • Sermons usually allow no opportunity for questions or discussion.
  • People who have been in church for many years, and have often heard 50-100 sermons each year, still think they need to be ‘fed’ by a sermon each week.
  • In the New Testament, preaching is almost always linked to preaching of the gospel or kingdom to those that are outside or on the edge of the kingdom.  There is arguably no biblical basis for preaching in churches to people who have been Christians for many years, particularly as firstly the NT apostles were formulating new doctrine (which we aren’t allowed to do), and secondly we have the New Testament available to study ourselves, complete with many wonderful study aids.
  • BEST might be private and corporate Bible study, listening to God, discussion, and working together in community to help each other apply biblical truths in our lives and communities

Evangelism programs might be GOOD, BUT ….

  • We should take individual and corporate responsibility for ‘mission’ to our community
  • Church members often get so absorbed in church activities that they have little personal time left to form quality friendships with people outside the church
  • Many people involved in good ‘evangelistic’ churches seem to have no sense of personal responsibility for mission, but instead rely totally on the church evangelism programs.
  • Evangelism programs might help people feel good about themselves, but they are usually very ineffective.  Most western churches are static or declining, and few grow consistently at even 5% per year.
  • BEST might be individuals taking personal responsibility for mission, including building valuable relationships with people outside the church.  There would be significant changes if  normal church attenders started thinking & praying ‘If I was a missionary here, I would ….”

Church-centric programs might be GOOD, BUT ….

  • They are built around a ‘come to us’ thinking.  “build it and they will come’ might have worked for Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams, but it rarely works today
  • ‘Come to us’ thinking is one of the same problems that stifled the effectiveness of OT Judaism
  • Church-centric programs keep everyone too busy, and create barriers to the community
  • Church-centric programs have a bizarre need to ‘own’ the programs.  Churches seem to have an insane desire to start tramping clubs, playgroups, cafes etc, which seems a lot like keeping the salt in a saltshaker & asking the meal to come into the saltshaker.  It seems wiser and more biblical to encourage Christians to be involved in community-centred organisations and activities – the equivalent of adding a little salt to a meal.
  • BEST might be genuine community involvement with no hidden agenda.

Excellence might be GOOD, BUT ….

  • Commitment to excellence can restrict people’s participation in events, and put the emphasis on the outward aspects rather than the inward.
  • BEST might be opportunity, involvement and empowerment.
  • Contemporary programs to reach youth (loud, high-tech programs with all the bells and whistles draw the youth crowds in) might be GOOD, BUT ….
  • Church health studies show that whatever is used to draw the crowd usually needs to be maintained at ever increasing levels to keep the crowd.
  • It can be very hard to turn youth who are drawn to the bright lights, into true disciples.
  • BEST might be a counter-cultural call & training to radical discipleship

Teaching about the blessing of God for individuals might be GOOD, BUT ….

  • This often seems like a re-packaged, slightly more acceptable version of prosperity teaching
  • The Bible says very little about ‘God wanting to bless us and give us a wonderful life’, but rather it contains a strong call requiring us to commit to generosity, sacrifice and care of the poor, loving our neighbours and laying down our lives for them.
  • BEST might be teaching and obeying the Biblical emphasis on sacrifice, generosity and care for the poor.

Tithing to the local church might be GOOD, BUT ….

  • It costs a lot of money to operate a ‘normal’ church.  To quote a friend ‘while you have temples and priests, you need tithes and offerings’.  It seems reasonable that church members pay their share towards the cost of running a church – but there are good arguments questioning the Biblical basis for what is often taught about tithing to a local church.
  • BEST might be lower cost churches, and discipleship which incorporates a commitment to sacrifice and generosity.

High quality ‘professional’ worship services might be GOOD, BUT ….

  • They often seem like karaoke worship.
  • They often focus on what ‘I’ feel and get from it, rather than being an act of giving to God.
  • They neglect the wide variety of ways we can worship God.
  • They slot worship into a Sunday worship service, and ignore the possibilities for worship during the remainder of the week
  • Corporate worship is conspicuously absent from the example of the early church in Acts 2&4, and is hardly mentioned in the rest of the NT.
  • BEST might be genuine participation, variety, and the realization that we can worship God 24/7 in an amazing variety of ways

Bigger churches might be GOOD, BUT …

  • As churches get bigger, the structure gets more complicated and harder to manage
  • As churches get bigger, it is easier for people to hide (there is no back pew in a house church)
  • As churches get bigger, they get less personal and it is easier for attendees to not be connected with others.  Hence, bigger churches attempt to fix this problem through the use of cells or house groups
  • As churches get bigger, they get even more expensive to run (per person).  In contrast, house-based churches cost virtually nothing.
  • The larger the church, the wider the ripples when something goes wrong.  Terrorist cells have learnt this principle, and stay small to ensure that if anything goes wrong, it will only affect a small group of people.
  • Research (eg NCD) shows that smaller churches are more effective at evangelism, and empowering people to use their spiritual gifts.  In fact, Natural Church Development (NCD) studies show that overall, the only area that larger churches are better than smaller churches is in corporate worship.
  • BEST might be many smaller churches

Structured churches might be GOOD, BUT

  • In smaller, less structured churches there are usually no power struggles, as there is no power to struggle over
  • Unstructured or lightly structured churches can respond rapidly to adjust to changing situations.
  • BEST might be churches with minimal structure.

Measuring attendance might be GOOD, BUT ….

  • BUT Jesus didn’t seem to measure attendance – his focus was on the kingdom & discipleship
  • BEST might be measuring discipleship, or maybe measuring nothing and just being radically obedient.

Leadership training might be GOOD, BUT ….

  • I’m not sure there is much NT basis for the current emphasis on leadership
  • Leaders talk of ‘servant leadership’, but it seems strangely different from the version that Jesus taught & demonstrated
  • Current church structures typically necessitate a controlling form of leadership, particularly as churches become larger
  • BEST might be discipleship, service and radical empowerment

Ordained ministry might be GOOD, BUT ….

  • There is arguably little if any biblical basis for officially ordained ministers
  • The Protestant Reformation was birthed with the concept of the priesthood of all believers, yet we still usually have the power and spiritual gifts held firmly in the hands of the ‘minister’.
  • BEST might be empowered laity in a virtually unstructured church environment

Pragmatism (accepting models of church and christianity because they seem to work & get some reasonable results) might be GOOD, BUT ….

  • BEST might be rethinking the paradigms

Building the church might be GOOD, BUT ….

  • BEST might be building the Kingdom

Lets work together to ensure we don’t settle for ‘good’ and miss the ‘best’.

Risk Management

By David Allis

This week I went to a churches Risk Management seminar sponsored by EIG-Ansvar (a great insurance company).  It was a good seminar, covering areas of risk such as

  • buildings – insurance, replacement, alarms, alarm monitoring, fire protection, fire evacuation plans etc
  • equipment – how to stop your flash sound system & projector getting stolen, insurance etc
  • public liability insurance
  • how to stop child molesters getting access to the children in the children’s program, police screening, 6 month delay before new members work in the children or youth programs etc etc

These are all valid concerns for a normal church … but as I was listening to this wise advice, it suddenly clicked …. we don;t have to worry about any of these things ….

With a small church meeting in homes, we don’t have these problems ….. with no church building, no church equipment, no childrens program etc …. we don;t need risk management seminars, or to spend $ ,000’s on buildings, equipment, alarms, insurance etc.  A simple church is definitely much simpler …..

ORGANIC CHURCH by Neil Cole

I’ve just finished reading this new book – it was great.  I took a bunch of notes/quotes of things that stood out to me …..you might find them interesting … (get the book & read it ….)

The Growth of Neil’s network of organic churches

  • Yr 1 – 2000 – 18 churches planted
  • Yr 2 – 2001 – 52 churches planted
  • Yr 3 – 2002 – 106 churches planted
  • Yr 4 – 2003 – 200 churches planted
  • Yr 5 – 2004 – 400 churches planted
  • Yr 6 – 2005 – 800+ churches planted

P26-27’ “We want to lower the bar of how church is done and raise the bar or what it means to be a disciple”  If church is simple enough that everyone can do it and is made up of people who take up their cross and follow Jesus at any cost, the result will be churches that empower the common Christian to do the uncommon works of God.  Churches will become healthy, fertile and reproductive.

The conventional church has become so complicated and difficult to pull off that only a rare person who is a professional can do it every week.  Many people feel that to lower the bar of how church is done is close to blasphemous because the Church is Jesus’ expression of the Kingdom on earth.  Because church is not a once-a-week service but the people of God’s family, what they have actually done is the opposite of their intention.  When church is so complicated, its function is taken out of the hands of the common Christian and placed in the hands of a few talented professionals.  This results in a passive church whose members come and act more like spectators than empowered agents of god’s kingdom.’

P31  ‘The gospel says ‘Go’, but our church buildings say ‘stay’.  The gospel says ‘seek the lost’, but our churches say ‘let the lost seek the church’. Quoting Howard Snyder (The Problem of Wineskins)

P38 Someone once said that we shape our buildings and then they shape us.  It is not just a fact that buildings hold back growth; they also hold back our understanding of the Kingdom of God.  Our minds can be held captive behind four walls as easily as our actions are.

P39 The church is much more than a one-hour service held one day a week.  The only time worship and service are put together in Scripture has nothing to do with sound systems, pews, sermons or worship bands.  It is a 24/7 expression of Christ’s life in us.  In Romans 12:1-2 Paul writes that we are to present our own bodies to be His temple. …… When you imagine the amount of resources, energy and time invested in a service held only one day a week, it is remarkable.  With all the importance placed on this event, you would expect there to be a lot of scriptural directives to make sure people get it right.  But if you search all of the New Testament looking for commands or injunctions having to do with this important weekly event, you will find them sadly missing.  Instead you will find verses, chapters and entire books that speak of how we are to live together as a spiritual family.  You will find commands & injunctions to serve and worship, but not just one day a week.

P40 William Law was an 18th Century English writer and mystic who made a formative impression upon John Wesley and the Methodist church planting movement.  He made this observation many years ago, which flew in the face of his contemporaries, just as it probably does today: “It is very observable that there is not one command in all the Gospel for public worship; and perhaps it is a duty that is least insisted upon in Scripture of any other.  The frequent attendance at it is never so much as mentioned in all the New Testament, whereas that religion or devotion which is to govern the ordinary actions of our life is to be found in almost every verse of Scripture.”

P85 (paraphrased) Consider Mk 4:26-29 “The Kingdom of god is like a man who casts seed on the soil, goes to bed & sleeps.  The seed sprouts & grows – he doesn’t know how.  The soil produces crops by itself (automatically) …..”  As I read this parable, I recognize two things that need to be addressed.  First, we are all qualified to do the work, and the work is not really hard.  Second, we frequently expend our energy & resources in the wrong phase of ministry life. ….. p87 if you skip the important step of planting seeds and spend all your time expecting things to grow you will have few results to show at the end….. I am confident that if churches invested more time, energy, and money in planting seeds, they would not have to work hard at growing, and the harvest would be more abundant.

P91 The Southern Baptists have said that only 4% of the churches in America will plant a daughter church.  That means that 96% of conventional churches in America will never give birth ….  P92 Imagine the headlines if it were suddenly discovered that 96% of the women in America were no longer fertile and could not have babies.  We would instantly know two things.  First this is not natural, so there is something wrong with their health.  Second, we would also know that the future is in serious jeopardy.  This is the state of the church in America (& NZ) right now.  It is that serious and we need to take heed.

P98 As passionate as I am about church planting, I found it perplexing that the Bible never instructs us to start churches.  There is not a single command in all of the Bible to initiate churches.  The reason is quite clear: we are not to start churches, but instead to make disciples who make disciples.  That is actually the way churches are started, at least in the New Testament.  Jesus gave us instruction that is on the molecular level of kingdom life, for a very good reason: it works.  Trying to multiply large, highly complex organisms without multiplying on the micro level is impossible.  Ladies, imagine if you had to give birth to full-grown adults …..

P143 “Risk more than others think is safe, Care more than others think is wise, Dream more than others think is practical, Expect more than others think is possible” Cadet Maxim, West Point Military Academy

P173 Five POP Principles that help us start churches that will reproduce – from Luke 10 & Matt 10

  • Practice of Prayer
  • Pockets of People
  • Power of Presence
  • Person of Peace
  • People of Purpose

P204   What would I do differently if I were to start again (church planting), knowing what I know now?

  1. I would begin in the harvest & start small.  Don’t start with a team of already-saved Christians.  Start with a team of 2.
  2. I would allow God to build around others.  Don’t start in your own home; find a person of peace and start in that home.  Read Matthew 10 & luke 10, and do it.
  3. I would empower others from the start.  Don’t lead too much.  Let the new believers do the work of the ministry without your imposed control.  Let the excitement of a new life carry the movement rather than your intelligence and persuasiveness.
  4. I would let Scripture, not my assumptions lead.  Question all your ministry assumptions in the light of Scripture, with courage and faith.
  5. I would rethink leadership.  There is not a ceiling of maturity that people need to break through to lead.  Set them loose immediately and walk with them through the process for a while.  Leadership recruitment is a dead end. We are all recruiting from the same pond and its getting shallower and shallower.  Leadership farming is what is needed.  Any leadership development system that doesn’t start with the lost is starting in the wrong place.
  6. I would create immediate obedience in baptism.  Baptize quickly and publicly and let the one doing the evangelizing do the baptizing.
  7. I would settle ownership issues.  Stop being concerned about whether ‘your’ church plant will succeed or not.  It isn’t yours in the first place.

P 113 & 221  George Patterson, an experienced missionary & father to current thinking about spontaneous multiplication of movements suggests that what he calls obedience-orientated education is necessary to see spontaneous reproduction.  He lists 7 NT commands that all disciples must obey as the starting point of following Christ.

  1. Repent, believe & receive the HS
  2. Be baptized
  3. Love God & neighbour
  4. Celebrate the Lord’s supper
  5. Pray
  6. Give
  7. Disciple others