by Evertt Huffard
In the last article in this series, we talked about how when leaders have the ability to walk by faith in tough times, the potential for a healthy assessment of the crisis will be more likely. Today we will discuss the elements of a healthy assessment.
Elements of a Healthy Assessment
When invited to assist leaders in a crisis, I often discover that a lot of damage has already been done; emotions are high, morale is low, and leaders are exhausted. They long for the quick fix so they will not have to attend another meeting about the problem or endure one more sleepless night.
So what are the goals of a church consultation?
Giving advice or judging would not be a good place to start. I listen and ask questions. I seek to encourage, search for clarity to the crisis, and help them discover what the next step would be to become a healthy church beyond the immediate crisis.
To do that requires an assessment of the church as a whole–a systems approach–otherwise the focus on the problem will distract leaders from leading the church. Imagine the possibility of turning a crisis into an opportunity for the church to grow and to become healthier. To do so generates new energy and hope. It is possible that conflict could be good for a congregation.
One tool I find extremely helpful in bringing clarity to assessment of a church comes from Shawchuck and Heuser. Using a systems approach in churches, they identify four factors that every healthy church needs: spirituality, mission, organization, and relationships.
1. Spirituality: Because churches are much more than a civic group, family or tribe–spiritual realities make them what they are. Examples I look for in this area are faithfulness to God and the word; persistence to the point of making sacrifices for the sake of the kingdom; renewal when knocked down; spiritual discipline in setting priorities; high levels of trust and credibility; and fruits of the spirit.
2. Mission: This term gets entangled with “vision” so that the two will often be used interchangeably. However, because I would not use them interchangeably in the church context, both need clear definition.
God sets the vision because the kingdom belongs to him. As per Genesis 12, his vision is that the church blesses all nations through Christ. No need for long meetings and dialog for a church to come up with a “vision statement.”
It is not our church so we have no right to determine the vision. God expects every church to be a blessing. Our vision is constant and unchanging until the Lord returns.
Shawchuck and Heuser make the distinction between mission and vision by equating vision to spirituality. The critical question is HOW do we get it done? The answer to that question becomes our mission. Vision is permanent and mission is adaptable.
As the context and the church changes, so the mission changes. Churches often leave their neighborhood or even die because they lost their vision or could not adapt to God’s vision for a changing neighborhood. Warning: attempts to set the mission of the church will encounter stiff winds of consumerism and tradition or the tangled use of these terms. I have always appreciated the efforts of Shawchuck and Heuser to bring clarity to these terms.
The mission of a congregation is practical, concrete, always in process because the organization is in an environment that is always in transition–a stable, status organization is probably dead. The mission puts flesh and muscle on the vision, making it real.
3. Organization: A vision needs a spiritual imagination, but a mission needs an organization to be executed. The church is the body of Christ with each member working together for a common mission. Over time a mission can be lost but energy continues to be consumed (even wasted) by an organization.
The contract becomes obvious in a crisis when the major concern is maintaining stability rather than leading a mission. These are two very different concerns. A clearly-shared mission has greater power in pulling people together. A crisis or conflict may help identify the dysfunction of the organization, such as treating symptoms as problems, bottlenecks, non-alignment, or self-defeating practices. If more energy goes into maintaining the organization than the mission, something needs to change.
4. Relationships: The family of God exists with a purpose to fulfill God’s mission. Love and trust glue this family together as they work to honor the Father of all nations. Shawchuck and Heuser directly link the quality of interpersonal relationships to the mission and organization of the church.
“Eroding human relationships are not the cause of the problems, but they are the results of inappropriate and ineffective relationships between the congregation’s mission, environment, design, and spirituality.” In other words, to address internal conflict without attention to other factors will only lead to more frustration.
As illustrated in Figure 1, these four factors depend on each other to develop a healthy church. Take any one factor out of the equation and the church ceases to be what God created it to be. The size of the church also influences these factors. I have found that smaller churches struggle more with mission and organization while larger churches struggle more with spirituality and relationships.
For a small church in a crisis, the quick fix may be catering to the weakest member to keep everyone happy. In the large church, the quick fix may be organizing a new ministry with adequate communication and preparation. In these cases, the mission or relationships become the larger casualty.
 Norman Shawchuck and Roger Heuser, Managing the Congregation (Eerdmans, 1966), p. 46.
 Shawchuck and Heuser, p. 101-103.
 Shawchuck and Heuser, p. 101.
 Shawchuck and Heuser, p. 138.
 Shawchuck and Heuser, p. 209.