Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

The Synergy Between Good People and Good Principles

Written by: on May 8, 2019

I‘ve been thinking about Diane Zemke’s work in Being SMART about Congregation Change when she pointed out that churches are either founded on the concept of common identity or common bond. She explained that churches founded on common identity tend to form around a shared vision of the founding members.1 Churches that start like this might emphasize social action such as helping the poor and the marginalized in society. 

On the other hand, churches founded on common bond form because of strong relational ties existing among the members. Examples of these kinds of churches are ethnic and minority groups who choose to worship according to ways they feel comfortable growing up in their native land. They tend to be primarily composed of families, friends and members who are known within their close networks.

What I’m wondering about is whether or not these are the only two ways of looking at how church plants form? I’m assuming no one is arguing for this dichotomy. It’s not that clear cut and perhaps might be a combination of both. However, what ought to give pause for pastors is to figure out the driving motivation behind these models. Do we form churches based solely on someone’s vision or a shared one? Do we take into account the Holy Spirit’s promptings to lead and guide our thoughts and actions when it comes to founding and leading churches? What about any thought to what the mandate of the church should be? Will the answer to these questions differ depending on whether it is the local or universal church in question? 

These questions are not easy to answer because it’s not exactly spelled out in Scriptures. That’s the challenge. One could try but there is no section in Scriptures that contains an exhaustive list of activities the church ought to engage in such as what one might find in an articles of incorporation document. This phenomenon has helped form the basis of what we observe church to be. Physical building structures, denominational distinctives, church polity and policies, contemporary, liturgical, seeker-sensitive types of churches and so on, all seem to have its proper place and satisfies the purposes for which Jesus Christ himself instituted.

So it appears God was pleased to provide some latitude in how believers conduct church. While worshipers may enjoy this freedom it could be a source of conflict as well. Consider a typical Sunday service. One group might prefer one style of music over another. Others might insist that expository preaching is the only way to preach versus let’s say, topical preaching. How do we adjudicate such matters? We might be tempted to find solutions in leadership books, wise counsel, prayer and other helpful resources. Those are helpful, especially prayer, but I think Zemke has given us some practical clues already. 

In general, I propose that when difficult issues arise within the congregation, pastors and other church leaders must closely examine both models of church plants. Not just focus on the common identity to the exclusion of common bond, and vice versa. Rather, consider the merits of both and work toward unity (contra uniformity)2. Unity in the body of Christ is so integral in the life of the church that our Lord made special mention of this when he prayed for us in John 17. There is a certain synergy, the outcome of which is greater than the sum of its parts, when we focus on people (common bond) and principles (common identity) in interoperable ways.

Leadership expert John Maxwell said “The more people you develop, the greater the extent of your dreams.”3 I find this true in my experience hiring people for in our department. Our greatest work related resource and asset are people. This is true for churches as well. Jim Collins in his research shows this synergism to be true that successful companies actually proactively recruit good quality employees regardless of whether or not there are positions open.4 In the end, good people create good principles and vice versa. The same is true in reverse, common bond worshipers create common identity and vice versa.

1 Diane Zemke, Being SMART about Congregational Change. Kindle Edition. Loc. 665.
2 Ibid., Loc. 1170.
3 John C. Maxwell, Developing the Leader within You (Nashville, TN: T. Nelson, 1993), 113.
4 James C. Collins, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap … and Others Don’t (New York, NY: Collins, 2009), 41.

About the Author

Harry Edwards

Harry is married to Minerva and has the privilege of raising two young men. He is the founder and director of Apologetics.com, Inc., an organization dedicated to defending the truth claims of Christianity on the internet, radio and other related activities. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree in Christian Education and a Masters of Arts degree in Christian Apologetics from Biola University where he currently works full time as the Associate Director of the graduate programs in Christian Apologetics and Science & Religion. Harry is currently pursuing a DMin (Leadership & Global Perspectives) from George Fox University. He is an active member at Ocean View Baptist Church where he leads an adult Bible study and plays the drums for the praise and worship band. In his spare time, Harry enjoys doing things with his family, i.e., tennis, camping/backpacking, flying RC planes and mentoring others to realize their full potential in the service of our Lord.

6 responses to “The Synergy Between Good People and Good Principles”

  1. Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    Good Looking Harry,
    What has been your experience of local congregations considering both common bond and common identity when resolving conflict? What would this look like? I am asking because this approach would certainly take longer and be more thoughtful (and considerate of the other!) Thanks for your thoughts and insights.

    • Hey Harry. Good questions. I’ve been involved with common bond churches only as an outside observer. The ones I can think of are Filipino churches here in CA. Of course what binds them together is culture.

      However, I still struggle with the idea that any church would form for the express purpose of ethnicity. I can see having ministries within established churches that help immigrants to assimilate to their new adoptive country. But to confuse church activity with ethnic solely cultural ones is, I believe, does not fulfill Jesus’ mandate for his church.

      So problems and challenges naturally arise because cross purposes can’t be reconciled. Do Filipino churches expand by only attracting Filipinos, some of whom travel a distance into communities they’re unfamiliar with. Or does the church reach out into their communications, loving and serving their neighbors regardless of race or social standing?

      For common bond such the one I described, the first step is to have their church leaders acknowledge before God their mistake. Then seek to develop a new and proper vision of the church’s real mandate to be salt & light in the community God has placed them in.

      It’s easier said than done. But in my experience I’m not even aware of any ethic church that admits this is a problem.

  2. Mario Hood says:

    Love the post and insights. Having been a part of a few different style churches I found myself saying amen a lot while reading this book. As an insider at my current church I would say we have a good mix of both as a multicultural and multi-generation church. It only happens if the leadership is intentional about it. In a lot of the new church planting movements (especially in my tribe) the goal seems less about building the church from the inside out (meaning Jesus 1st) and more about outside in (meaning look at the stats of the area). What do you says or how do you see this fitting into the 2 kinds of churches you wrote about?

    • Hey Mario. Your church is awesome. As you mentioned, it’s the leaders guided by the Holy Spirit that make it or break it.

      I’m not super familiar with church planning movements in terms of implementing systems, process, etc. But I see no issues with using all sorts of resources to build the church. It’s when we solely rely on these resources that we get into trouble.

      In the way you framed your specific comment, inside and outside, I’d say church leaders should use both. We always need to be careful not to fall prey to the logically fallacy called “false dichotomy,” thinking that there are only two opposing choices. In some cases, there are only two choice, i.e., true or false, etc. It only becomes suspect when our questioner forces us to choose only between two things, when there might be other options.

      Sometimes I like to put it this way. Our message doesn’t change (i.e., “Jesus First” in your example), but our methods definitely need to change with the time (i.e., looking at stats in your area).

      Just my two cents.

  3. Tammy Dunahoo says:

    Thanks, Harry. I also wonder if there is another way to think about the formation of a church. What if we started with the premise of making disciples period? What if the church was shaped around the shaping of people rather than the formation of a collective? Most of the common identity visions have to do with what a church will look like in its preferable future rather than what the individual disciples will look like. It may be the same thing but I keep thinking when the discpling of people is the point it will change the overall outcome of church. Robert Keegan describes it as a deliberately developmental organization. It sounds like that’s what you are doing with your employees.

    • Amen to that Tammy. Love it. Let’s go back to the great commission — making disciples of all nations, period!

      It appears we’r e pretty good at defining discipleship. But we still need a lot of help in applying that process properly to all people.

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