Mission Issues

Thinking and re-thinking missionary issues

Ed Stetzer & Mike Dodson: Comeback Churches

I’ve just finished reading Ed Stetzer & Mike Dodson’s book: Comeback Churches. The sub-title is: How 300 churches turned around and yours can too. This book reminded me somewhat of Jim Collins’ book: From Good to Great, although the method they used in doing their research is totally different. The two authors made use of questionnaires which was sent to churches. The criteria which was used to determine whether a church is a comeback church are:

  1. The church experienced five years of plateau and/or decline since 1995 (worship attendance grew less than 10% in a five-year period)
  2. That decline or plateau was followed by a significant growth over the past two to five years which included:

2.1 A membership to baptism (conversion) ratio of 35:1 or lower each year and
2.2 At least a 10 percent increase in attendance each year

I am fully aware that one cannot necessarily determine a church’s spiritual status by looking at attendance. Our own church attendance in Swaziland is fairly low, for various reasons, mainly because we are “competing” against traditional churches where cultural traditions tend to take a higher priority than Biblical truths. But this research was done in the USA where increasingly, as in most first world countries, church members tend to leave the church. Comeback churches are those churches that are doing something to win people back into the church (and obviously to Christ), not by harvesting from other churches but by reaching people who are not traditionally church members (any more).
A few encouraging things I read in this book is that comeback churches are not restricted to churches with a certain type of worship, nor are they restricted to a certain type of pastor or pastors of a certain age. God can use any type of pastor and any type of church to reach people and the church can start growing.
The three factors that were dominant in the more than 300 churches that effectively turned around, were:

  • Renewed belief in Jesus Christ and the mission of the church
  • Renewed attitude for servanthood
  • More strategic prayer effort

The two other factors that followed in line were:

  • Setting goals
  • Valuing Relationships and Reconciliation

Going into more detail, the authors said that comeback churches were characterised by:

  • Growing deeply in love with Jesus
  • Growing deeply in love with the community
  • Growing deeply in love with the lost
  • Comeback leaders turned their churches outward
  • Comeback churches led people to care more about their communities than their own preferences

Looking at churches today, the focus seems to fall increasingly on larger buildings, more “wow” things, bigger and better bands, better video material, better sound systems. And although all of these things can play a role in the bigger picture, it does seem to me that we need to return to basics if we want the church to have an influence in the world.

  • Love Jesus
  • Love the community
  • Love the lost

Compare this with the attitude that we often find amongst Christians:

  • Love Jesus
  • Tolerate the community
  • Condemn the lost

This is a book that any church leader can benefit from, if they are serious in leading their churches to become the type of church that God intended it to be.

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Monday, June 22, 2009 Posted by | Book Review, Building relations, Church, Culture, Evangelism, Jim Collins, Leadership, Mission, Swaziland, Vision, Worship | Leave a comment

Using Volunteers instead of full-time Workers

I was the guest speaker today at the annual general meeting of a drug and alcohol abuse rehabilitation centre in South Africa. As the public was invited to attend the meeting and a group of government appointed home-based caregivers were specifically invited to attend, I was asked to speak about the principle of serving the community as volunteer – in other words, not doing this service for a salary.
In our ministry in Swaziland we make use only of volunteers. The Swaziland government as well as the South African government, have appointed a number of home-based caregivers, known as Health Motivators or Nomphilo (SiSwati for “Those who give life”). But the impression I get is that the systems in both countries are not very effective. Although they are supposed to be motivators, they themselves often seem to be unmotivated. And while I will never try and give the impression that every one of the 380 caregivers linked to our ministry are always motivated, I do think that on average they are achieving considerably more that the government people, in spite of them not receiving any compensation for this work.
The question is why this is happening. And then I often think back to the words of Jim Collins in his “From Good to Great” where he says at one place that you can never motivate someone with money. And although this may not be the full and final answer to the question, I believe that there is a lot of truth in this. On the one hand the government motivators are receiving some form of compensation, but to be honest, it’s not even close enough to really make a difference in their lives. On the contrary, I think what is happening is that the motivators are more frustrated, because they feel that they are being paid to do the work, but the salary is so small that it’s not worthwhile doing the work for the salary.
Amazingly, we have found that a number of the health motivators in Swaziland have left the government (where they received a small salary) and joined our group, where they are getting no salary, and yet they are now working more effectively than in the past.
I believe it all has to do with motivation. Am I doing what I am doing for the money I’ll receive or because I have a heart for the people and a passion to do something about the pain these people are experiencing?
Bill Hybels, in his book, Axiom, mentions one of his personal favourites: I’m not doing it for money! This axiom was born in a situation where he was travelling while he was sick and at some point, on an airport, he asked himself: “Why the heck am I doing this?” And the answer which came to his mind was: “I’m not doing it for money.” In other words: I’m doing it for God!
And possibly, this is the attitude which I want to encourage our volunteers to have. Why are you doing this work? (And believe me, hardly a day goes by that I don’t ask this question in my mind about the AIDS home-based caregivers.) And the only answer which I could get from them when I once specifically asked them this question, was because they wanted to be able to help the sick and the dying people of their communities so that they can realise that God loves them.
I’ve often wondered what I would do if I suddenly received half a million dollars, given with the intention to compensate the volunteers for their work. I’ll share it with them, of course, but I would make sure that they realise that this is not a salary – merely a way of showing our appreciation for the huge task they are doing as volunteers.

Thursday, October 9, 2008 Posted by | AIDS, Bill Hybels, HIV, HIV & AIDS, Home-based Caring, Jim Collins, Mission, Poverty, Support teams, Swaziland, Theology | Leave a comment

Leadership Training in Missions

One of the frustrations I often have in Swaziland is the training of leaders. The world seems to have created a perception of what a leader is and Christian TV channels have strengthened the idea that leaders are dynamic speakers, running up and down before the audience, shouting while they’re preaching and even more so when they’re praying, throwing in a lot of “In the Name of Jeeeeesusssss!!!” and so forth. Once they can do this, they consider themselves to be leaders and it becomes very difficult to tell them that this isn’t a very good definition of a leader.
I’ve just finished Bill Hybels’ book, Axiom. I’ve read a number of his books. Some I can relate to more easily than others. Of all his books I’ve read, this one is probably the one that meant the most to me. He compiled 76 leadership principles (which he calls “Axioms”) which he mentally refers to when having to make a decision about something. Having personally met him recently at Willow Creek during the Leadership Summit, I hold him in high regard as leader and although I would not necessarily agree with each of these axioms and although not all of these axioms are universally applicable in a country such as Swaziland, there are still 90% or more that I would be able to use in my own role as leader, both in our church as well as in our home-based caring project.
As I was reading this book and asking myself what I would consider as a good church leader, a few things sprung to mind. One is the ability and the willingness to take responsibility. I have so often experienced the frustration of having to ask someone over and over again to complete a task or to deliver a report. Quite often these are people who would, in normal life, be known as fairly good leaders. But when it comes to church matters they give the impression that they don’t really care to deliver work of a high standard. And it struck me, while at Willow Creek, that things were done – almost painfully – correct. (I’m not criticising them when I say this. Rather it’s a question whether “normal” congregations can deliver work of this standard at all times.) I think it is time that leaders be held accountable to deliver work of a fairly high standard.
Something which relates to this is the ability to take the blame when things go wrong. This is something I read about in Jim Collins book, Good to Great and which Bill Hybels also emphasises. Bad leaders take the credit when things go well and blame others when mistakes happen. Good leaders give credit to the team when things go well and take the blame when wrong decisions have been made. But the example which most leaders get from the TV (and which for most church leaders in Africa seem to be their sole training for leadership) teaches them to do exactly the opposite.
But perhaps more than anything else the ability to become servants is the most difficult for church leaders. Church leaders usually want to be honoured and to be held in high regard. And this is almost impossible if you’re down on your knees serving someone else. And yet this is one of the most important lessons in leadership that the Lord Jesus gave us.
How to change things around? I don’t know. What I have seen however is how people with supposedly very little or no leadership capabilities have suddenly developed into great leaders, not because they have attended leadership summits, but because they were willing to become servants of others. Within our home-based caring projects this has happened time and again. And every time I see this happening I know that Jesus spoke the truth when he said that the greatest leaders will be those who become great servants.

Sunday, August 31, 2008 Posted by | Africa, Bill Hybels, Church, Cross-cultural experiences, Home-based Caring, Jim Collins, Mission, Swaziland | 2 Comments

The Freedom Writers Diary

Some time ago I attended a church service which was led by my oldest son, presently in his final year of theological studies. During the service he showed a clip from the movie, The Freedom Writers, which he used as illustration to speak about God’s righteousness. Some time later I saw the whole movie and then decided to buy the book on which the movie was based. The entire book consists of diary entries written by the teacher, Erin Gruwell or by the children in her class, all of whom remain anonymous.
Starting as a young teacher in a class of “unteachable, at-risk” students, she intercepted a strong racist note passed around the class one day. This infuriated her and she told the learners that it was this attitude which had eventually led to the holocaust. Most of the children in the class also belonged to various gangs and there were frequent fighting amongst the gang members. Eventually it also came out that virtually not one of the learners had not lost at least one friend due to gang-related violence.
Through the reading of books such as Anne Frank’s and Zlata Filipovic’s diaries, she was able to make them understand that they had to learn to tolerate each other. But she also helped them to believe in themselves and this seemingly useless learners eventually became star children of whom many went on to college and later had a successful career. You can read more about them here.
While at Willow Creek on 7 & 8 September, Bill Hybels had an interview with Wendy Kopp, CEO of Teach for America. I first read about her in Jim Collins’ book: Good to Great and the Social Sectors and her story not only inspired me but also became a model for me when we train new volunteer caregivers for our Home-Based Caring program when I warn them that we are expecting a great input from them but that they will not be rewarded for their work through a salary. (Amazingly, we have found that instead of chasing people away, more and more people want to be part of this project through which they can serve their neighbours.)
Through excellent teaching methods, children who may never have been able to break out of their cycle of poverty and lack of education, are now getting a first-class education and are being enabled to make a success of their lives.
The Freedom Writers Diary is an extremely inspiring book to read. Perhaps, one day, the day will come when we will be rid of all prejudice and where every child will be able to get first-class schooling and where children growing up in bad circumstances will be able to start a new life.
I salute people like Erin Gruwell, Wendy Kopp and the thousands of teachers willing to walk the extra mile in order to enable students who would most probably have ended up in prison or rehabilitation centres to start a new life. In fact, this morning I started wondering if God would not want our church to do something about education in Swaziland as well. But I still need to pray and think about this.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008 Posted by | Church, Cross-cultural experiences, Home-based Caring, Hope, Jim Collins, Mission, Poverty, Social issues, Stigma, Swaziland, Vision, What I'm reading | 3 Comments

Motivated by love

After having started in January 2006 with one home-based caring group at Dwaleni, in the southern region of Swaziland, I had the privilege yesterday of attending the “handing out of the towels” ceremony at the eighth group which had been trained last week. I previously wrote about the background for this ceremony which you can read here.
Our latest group in an area known as Mantambe totalled 51 people! Before we start with the training, I always personally meet with the potential caregivers. When I met this group initially, there were 40 people which is actually not an ideal group to work with when you are training them in all the aspects of HIV/AIDS, caring, prevention and other related topics. As part of my “speech”, I stress the fact that we do not have the finances as yet to be able to support them financially for this work. They have to know beforehand that they are volunteers who will not be compensated for this work. I therefore invite anyone who had been attending with any other expectation to leave, ensuring them that there would be no hard feelings. I also emphasise the servant nature of this work, where they will often be doing thankless work for no other reason than because they believe it’s the right thing to do. As in the past, instead of my “speech” frightening people away, the group which eventually attended the training grew, this time from 40 to 51!
As we met yesterday, together with one of our previously trained groups working in a nearby area (Ezikhotheni) and also with leaders of the area, including representatives from the chief of the area, the local MP (Member of Parliament) and a number of others, my personal feeling of joy could hardly be contained. The church building which we had used for the week of training was too small to accommodate all the people present and we had to meet outside under some trees (which did not help much, because the sun really burnt me while we were busy.)
At one point the chief’s representative came to speak to me. I know him from the time that we trained the group at Ezikhotheni. He mentioned to me that the Swaziland government also have a home-based caring project. These people are known as “health motivators” and they receive a small stipend from the government for the work they do. However, as he mentioned, the system doesn’t really work. Having seen and experienced the effectiveness of the home-based caregivers which we had trained, he really felt that there was no comparison between the two projects. And he wanted to know from me why the one is effective while the other doesn’t really seem to function well.
I answered him that the one group is motivated by money. Not much – (I think they get less than $20 per month, which for many Swazis is still a substantial amount) – but at least something. Those belonging to our home-based caring project are getting virtually nothing. If and when we get donations of used clothing, we hand these out. At this stage we try and give each of these volunteers a small food parcel once every two months. But none of this can motivate anyone to do the work we expect of them. And my conclusion was that they are doing this work mostly because they are driven by God’s love to do it, in the words of Paul, they feel “compelled” to do it.
Jim Collins, in his magnificent book, From Good to Great, first opened my eyes for the truth that money can never motivate someone to do something. And after more than two years where I have been involved in establishing home-based caring groups in the southern and poorest region of Swaziland, working with hardly any money and where nobody (including myself) has any financial gain from this work, the truth of this has been confirmed over and over again.
But then the opposite is also true: When you are motivated by love to do something, you will probably continue with this work in spite of onslaughts which may come against you.

Friday, April 11, 2008 Posted by | Giving, Health, HIV & AIDS, Home-based Caring, Hope, Jim Collins, Mission, Poverty, Social issues, Sustainability, Swaziland | 4 Comments

Saying “No” to the wrong kind of money

I’ve just finished reading Jim Collins’ excellent book, Good to Great and the Social Sectors. The only problem I have with the book is that it is a bit overpriced, costing me around $14, for 35 pages! (People in the USA could get it for $10 plus shipping – which is still expensive.) But for anyone involved in the social sector, this book is a must-read. Actually, it would be worthwhile to read his previous book – Good to Great – first and then follow it up with the reading of this book.
The previous book was aimed at people in the corporate world, looking at ways in which a business could be run better. I learnt tremendously from this book, as I read it just before we started with out home-based caring project. It helped me with many leadership skills (I’ve never considered myself to be a “natural” leader), choosing the right people for the job and helping people to remain motivated and focussed on the task. But at the same time I realised that not everything from the corporate world could be duplicated in the social sector, which is the reason why I purchased the follow-up.
In, what Jim Collins describes as the Hedgehog concept, he wrote that in a business three principles are important to produce the best long-term results. You have to determine:

  • What you are deeply passionate about
  • What you can be the best in the world at
  • What best drives your economic engine

When writing his book aimed at the social sector, he got stuck when writing about the Hedgehog concept. The first two principles were still valid, but bodies within the social sector are not aimed at making a profit. We don’t make money, we give out money. And therefore, he had to re-think and re-write the Hedgehog concept. Eventually, after discussing this with people in the social sector, he came up with the following three principles:

  • Passion: Understanding what your organisation stands for (its core values) and why it exists (its mission or core purpose)
  • Best at: Understanding what your organisation can uniquely contribute to the people it touches, better than any other organisation on the planet
  • Resource Engine: Understanding what best drives your resource engine, broken into three parts: time, money and brand

In simple terms, what it boils down to, is to begin with that which you are passionate about (let’s say, in our case, doing something about the AIDS problem in Swaziland), then you decide how you can best contribute to the communities you touch (in our case it would be home-based caring) and then you tie your resource engine to the first two principles, in other words, whatever is received must be used to help you reach your goal. But then Collins ends this part of the discussion by saying something which I firmly believe in but which I have never found anyone else saying: “Those who have the discipline to attract and channel resources directed solely at their Hedgehog Concept, and to reject resources that drive them away from the center of their three circles, will be of greater value to the world.”
How I understand it, is that one will always be tempted to get as much money as possible for the church, welfare organisation or whatever other non-profitable program one is involved in, but money may come at a price. Therefore, when anything is offered which may jeopardise my vision or goal, then I need to be able to say “No” for what is offered, knowing that the vision is of greater value than the resources offered. Only if I am convinced that what is given will really be to the benefit of promoting the vision, may I receive it. Which means to me, that not only do we need to pray about how money is spent, but we also need to pray about how money is received.
Does this make sense?

Thursday, October 25, 2007 Posted by | Giving, HIV & AIDS, Home-based Caring, Jim Collins, Mission, Prayer, Social issues, Support teams, Swaziland | 6 Comments