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Thursday, January 20, 2005

The Newberger Project: Building the Perfect Church

BuildingToday, we start a new series with Church Conflict Resolution specialist Ken Newberger.  We're entitling this new series:  The Newberger Project:  Building the Perfect Church.  It's going to be an exciting adventure!  Ken writes:

We have a wonderful opportunity through Monday Morning Insight to take our thoughts and channel them in a way that would be most edifying to one another as well as our churches.  The idea came to me that I use my column to collectively think through the elements of the perfect church.  Does such an animal exist?  Of course not.  Will we actually be able to detail it even on paper?  No.  As a diverse group of individuals, we will never agree (which already tells us something of what we are up against when we try just to create a “better” church where we serve).  But I anticipate that the exercise will be most profitable.

Vision vs. Conflict
Here is my underlying premise:  Just as repentance is the flip side of faith (Acts 20:21, Hebrews 6:1), my underlying premise is that conflict resolution and problem solving is the flip side of vision.  Vision tells you where you want to go.  Being skillful at resolving conflict and problems along the way is the mechanism that will get you there.  This is my area of specialization, particularly within churches.  By its very nature, the resolving of conflict is predicated upon the assumption that “there is a better way.”  If there is no vision of what should be, there can be no resolution of what is.  Properly understood, the term “conflict resolution,” a seemingly negative concept, is anything but because it can only exist in the larger context of, “a better way,” “higher ground,” “a more perfect union,” etc.

Going to the Next Level
Accordingly, I want to take this column to “the next level” by starting with a positive concept and then dealing with the problems inherent in making that concept a reality.  This is actually a huge undertaking.  However, we don’t have to wait until the end to benefit from this exercise.  The real “take-away” will not be the product, that is, the conceptualized “perfect church.”  (What sets one person free may be another’s prison).  Rather it is the process of thinking through how to best resolve the kinds of problems that a ministry leader will have in attempting to make his or her vision of “good” a reality.

Iron Sharpens Iron
At this early stage, the way I envision this project to unfold is as follows:

(1)  Next week, I will write an introductory column that will set forth the 4 overall areas by which any society, organization, or congregation can be categorized.  I will then introduce the first category we will be discussing.  Within this category, I will introduce the first “element” we will focus on.

(2)  Then comes the real “meat and potatoes:” you’re input.  As the weeks progress, this will become more complicated than any chess game because each new element will then have to be put in proper “relationship” to the others.

(3)  Then I will attempt to make sense out of your varied input over an increasing number of inter-related components, as well as incorporate my own ideas, to set forth my vision of those elements within that category of “the perfect church.”  If we are of the same mind that we are not going to agree on what I come up with, we will be fine.  It is hoped that as iron sharpens iron, we will sharpen one another in becoming more effective in ministry.  My synthesis is secondary.

Let's start out the discussion though this week with your thoughts on what you think the "perfect church" would look like...

Until next week, your “positive” church conflict resolution consultant,

Ken Newberger


© 2005 Kenneth C. Newberger
Ken Newberger, an experienced church conflict resolution specialist, earned his Th.M. from Dallas Theological Seminary, has ten years senior pastoral experience, and is in the dissertation phase for his Ph.D. in Conflict Analysis and Resolution at Nova Southeastern University, one of only two accredited doctoral programs of its kind in the United States. If your church needs help resolving conflict, if you need individual coaching, or if you would like to introduce a proactive conflict management system into your church, please visit Ken's website or call 301-253-8877.


You are invited to attend Ken's free conflict resolution seminar entitled, “How to Convert Church Problems and Tensions into Energy Leading to Deeper Relations and a Positive Outcome.”  This event is sponsored by Regent University at its Alexandria, VA campus (just outside of DC).  The date and time is March 7th, 7:00 – 9:00 pm.  For more information, contact Lolita Cobbs.  Email: lolicob@regent.edu. Phone: 1-866-REGENT-U or 703-740-1409.  Come join us for an interactive and edifying time together.

QUESTION: What do you think?  Let's hear your comments and perspective again this week!

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Todd - I look forward to these articles. They are so timely. We area church that is making a public (at least to ourselves) resolution that we are a church in transformation. This should always be the case, but has not been for many years at this church. We have changed the structure (government) accepted a mission and vision, and now, as in the past, the conflicts arise, mainly because of a perceived and real loss of power and control. The difficulty is meshing, if possible, the two together.

Michael Deutsch
Dearborn, Michigan

Posted by: Michael Deutsch | Jan 20, 2005 8:51:23 AM

It seems that the greatest impediment to achieving the New Testament concept of the church is the prevailing idea that we must somehow construct a "contemporary" church. Church members have clamored for a "20th Century" church and now a "21st Century" church almost as a rule in my 25 years in the ministry. I have adopted the manner of Jesus in saying, "In the beginning, it was not so..." and I have struggled against so many misinterpretations of what the church actually is and should be doing. For instance, the initial method of God for fellowship with man was the "walk in the Garden." For Christ, the original method of evangelism was His everyday walk along the path of life. Corporate-copied visitation blitzs using telemarketer memorization from colorful and glossy packets are millenia away from introducing the people in our life-path to our partner in life, Jesus. Construction of the "perfect" church was not possible in the 1st century because human beings were fallible. That task remains impossible today because, in addition to being fallible, we insist on improving on the original ideas given to us by the Originator. If we "upgrade" the Great Commission and misinterpret and then misapply the original method, message, and mandate, how do we even get close on other spiritual concerns of the church? One may produce something that the 21st century would tout as the "perfect" church, but would it resemble the original plan God had in mind? That, in my estimation, is the underlying question in the discussion of the "perfect" church.

Posted by: Kermit P. Soileau | Jan 20, 2005 9:18:35 AM

Thanks for doing this series. I think it's so vital that we have a clear picture of what we're aiming for, which should always be what God has in mind. I have a fundamental concern at the outset of the discussion - a subtle (but significant) change in our view of personal and corporate spirituality over the years. It is the mindset that says,

"Let's dream up and aim for the best, even though we know none of us will ever reach it."

I believe this is self-defeating and contradictory to what Scripture says. I think the perfect church is one that believes that God can enable what He commands - love from a sincere heart.

I've just spent the past weekend at a conference about the Trinity. One of the speakers, Bart Campolo, spoke on how God is perfect love because He is community, and how He created us, not because He needed someone to love, but because the nature of His love was to include and to share.

I think the perfect church is one that models that kind of love, one that grasps God's love firts, loves its own community second, and then reaches out to include more and more people in its vortex of love. It can be done! Let's not buy into the defeatist mentality. God enables what He commands, "And my commandment is this - love one another as I have loved you."

Posted by: Phil Laeger | Jan 20, 2005 9:22:23 AM

Conflict resolution is not the flip side of vision, change management is. Conflict resolution, which is reactive, is a subset of change management, which is proactive.

Posted by: Seth Barnes | Jan 20, 2005 9:29:10 AM

The church is not made up of perfect people, but we can certainly strive to have a perfect union with one another. It is people serving in their callings and staying focused on being unified with others around them, although we have to keep our eyes on the Lord and not the short comings of others. People excited about giving and going forward. Everyone in full participation of worship and praising God with thankfulness, and the most important aspect of a perfect church is people having a great burden for a lost and hurting world. The pastor has to have a vision to serve, grow, and evangelize to his congregation and the world and meet the constant needs for resolution between those in conflict. His leaders should carefully watch for problems that arrise and make them known to the Pastor. There is a great need for people to love the Lord and to love each other and to keep that love in every part of their ministries. We all need to be excited about the potential that God creates in every ministry and study His word with and present it with power.

Posted by: Leslie Messer | Jan 20, 2005 9:39:42 AM

The perfect church would look like this:
- At the top would be the Lord Jesus Christ, not a man.
- Led by a group of elders who ministered according to their spiritual gifts and who were equal as undershepherds.
- They would be motivated by the Holy Spirit, not by ego.
- Their desire would be to equip the saints for the work of the ministry. That would include helping all in the church to discover and develop their spiritual gifts.
- Worship would include contemporary music, with a standing open mic so anyone in the congregation could testify of what the Lord is doing in their life.
- All communication from the front would always include visual aids such as video or slides. (To make it relevant to our video age.)
- Worship would be the first half hour or more of every service.
- There would be no "turn around and greet someone" until the end of the service.
- Announcements would come last.
- Only a brief welcome statement and a prayer would preceed worship.
- Lengthy prayers would follow worship and preceed the sermon.
- There would be no offering plates/buckets, but a box outside the sanctuary to drop money in. Money wouldn't be mentioned.
- People would be encouraged to request special worship music by dropping a note in the box on their way out.
- The lesson/sermon of no more than 30 min would be an exposition of Scripture with emphasis on application.
- Every week's message would be the next few verses of Scripture, so the pastor/teacher would simply teach through the Bible verse by verse, chapter by chapter, book by book, year after year.
- The elders would lead by example, not by edict.
- Everyone would be trained to do their volunteer duties in the church.
- Small group participation would be modeled by the elders, and taught from the front.
- Small groups would be by affinity: i.e. fishermen together, soccer fans together, etc.
- There would be classes every day and every evening at the church and from house to house.
- There would be fellowship dinners weekly at the church.
- The church building would be built for economy.
- When the flock outgrows it, the church would "half off" and start another assembly in another geographical area of town.
- Giving to missions would be by fully supporting and sending the church's own missionaries.
- Missions would get the largest share of the budget.

Posted by: Rob Sexton | Jan 20, 2005 9:52:20 AM

Who defines "perfect"?
Is there such an animal?
To me, it has the connotation of an absence of problems.
I still prefer the word "healthy" to "perfect".
Living with paradox and complexity seems more achievable, than resolution.
Or am I settling my sights too low?

Posted by: Larry | Jan 20, 2005 9:57:04 AM

The perfect church would be one in which the unchurched come into and automatically feel welcomed, loved, and accepted. The perfect church would be one that stategically and prayerfully plans programs targeting the Non-Christians in their community. The perfect church cares for their own members and functions as a family. The perfect church balances the five purposes as described in Ric Warren's book and thrives in them. And most of all, I believe, the perfect church is full of Spirit-filled leaders and members who love Jesus with all their heart, mind, soul, and strength.

Posted by: Aaron Dougherty | Jan 20, 2005 10:00:16 AM

I have seen the front lines of the enemy for years only to see him win battle after battle. I know he has not won the war and he will not. Here is what I think. The people of God can be just as carnel as a lost person and sometimes not even knowing it because the heart has hardened. The church suffers because we try to put unity above love. Big mistake. Unity should never supersead love...... When it does we begin to see those compromise the very Word we claim to protect. I look forward to this topic very much.

Posted by: chris | Jan 20, 2005 10:02:10 AM

I am interested in the weekly articles and it will help my insight even more. I don't believe that there is a perfect church, in the sense of flawless, but rather perfect in the sense of fulfilling the call of the church. I think we have been programmed to believe that there is a perfect church based upon what we see; a huge congregation, a great band, great media presentations, great sermons, and great programs, thus, we have called this the perfect church. I am not opposed to these different elements of ministry, i think they are wonderful but must be used in conjuction with opposed to supplementing the purpose of the church.

If you have all of these wonderful ministries, and don't have a heart of love and compassion for one another, if you don't evagelize, if people aren't being convicted of sin, and having their lifes changed, then what we think is the perfect church is not perfect at all, it's not even close.

What was it about the Acts church that caused it to grow, not only numerically but spiritually? it was the love of Christ and the committment to Chirst. Christ was more concerned about others than himself, the disciples were the same way, they were more concerned about spreading the gospel than they were about their own lifes.

You must display these characteristics of Christ to be a church that He builds upon, a rock that the gates of Hell will not prevail against.

Posted by: barbara custard | Jan 20, 2005 10:05:24 AM

Well this is certainly a timely subject for my self and wife. We are looking for a new church and this will assist us in understanding what we are looking for in a church; both as a member and a leader in that church.

That said, the biggest item that we are looking for is a church that fosters sacredness without formality. One that seeks holiness, but is not controlling and dictatorial. The church is to be a body of believers who are gathering together to seek God in everything that they do, not just on Sunday morning or some other meeting time. The church should be free enough to allow the expression of all the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the blooming of the fruits that would come from those expressions.

The individual church body is to be composed of men and women that have a relationship to God through the Jesus.

I look foreard to see where this discussion goes in the following weeks.

Posted by: Donald | Jan 20, 2005 10:30:30 AM

Rob's list of the attributes of the perfect church are the perfect illustration of the problem. His perfect church is the perfect church according to his preferences. What about someone who prefers announcements at the beginning, for whom passing the offering plate has meaning, who enjoys a topical sermon?

I'm with Larry. I don't think there is such a thing as a perfect church because the church consists of imperfect people. However, imperfect churches can achieve a level of health which allows it to become effective in sharing the Gospel. Developing the habits of a healthy church is far more realistic than developing a perfect church.

Posted by: Rich Viel | Jan 20, 2005 10:32:37 AM

The conceptualization of a "perfect church" is a good, outward exercise for churchmen (and church-ladies). As Lutherans, we center our thinking on "church" on things like the "marks of the church" - that is, the Word and Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord's Supper. A perfect church is a place where God and His people come together around these "means of grace" for the purpose of relationship and faith building. Then comes the hard part: taking what we have received by the grace of God and then extending such gracious to seemingly ingracious people. The "us vs. them" thinking that is often (if not subtly) expressed by church-going folk is not a reflection of the gracious God who calls us out of the darkness of sin, death, and hell through the sacrificial death and resurrected life of His Son.

I look forward to seeing where this discussion goes!

Posted by: Mike Ramey | Jan 20, 2005 10:33:49 AM

We first need to seek after God in all His glory, through His son and our savior, Jesus Christ.

The church was a movement. It has become an institution.

Preach the Gospel, teach the flock, care for people. When God's people put Him first, they will move into the ministries that He has gifted them for.

Evangelism, personal witness, helping the poor and those in need, discipleship, and fellowship are not programs. These activities flow from an abundance of the Love God pours into us.

It's not about us.

Read 1 John; that is what the perfect 'church' looks like.

Posted by: Bennett Miller | Jan 20, 2005 10:50:37 AM

Larry says:
"I still prefer the word "healthy" to "perfect".

I very much agree. Aiming for "perfect" may incline to propose programs, whereas "healthy" may help encourage the goal of relationships (relationships are sorely needed and should be one of the prime goals for a church).


Posted by: bernie dehler | Jan 20, 2005 10:55:26 AM

I don't want to pastor a perfect church. I would mess it up really quick.

The perfect church could be a place where sinful people find redemptive grace from God and from each other.

Beyond that, it becomes personal taste and preference.

The Never Perfect Pastor, in seek of an authentic courageous group of Christ followers,

Posted by: Tom | Jan 20, 2005 10:59:38 AM

As we all know, perfection has only been achieved by one person, Christ. So as close as we could come to a "perfect" church would be a group of people all striving to be as much like Christ as possible. But as we also know the church has many people within it that are no more concerned with conforming to the image of Jesus as they are to jumping off a cliff. So, let's just get all the "strivers" together and have a perfect church? Don't think that would work either.
Agape love, accountability, concern for others over self, pleasing God rather than pleasing people - these are just a few of the characteristics that would promote a better church.
I am thankful and looking forward to that day though when the church will be perfect and Christ will receive it when He comes again. That alone should motivate us to strive for perfection in all that we do in an effort to push our own church closer to perfection.

Posted by: Gary | Jan 20, 2005 11:08:28 AM

A perfect church...hmmmm. The minute I step in the door that's all over. I do think the comments shared thus far have dealt much with personalities within the body of Christ, thus to what Ken said:

"By its very nature, the resolving of conflict is predicated upon the assumption that “there is a better way.”

I've lived with the concept that "if there IS a better way to do something, find it." To me that keeps a vision fresh and under constant analysis. The METHOD of how we achieve our goals to reach the lost becomes so very subjective without direction from a strong leader and a good vision of how to get there.

Part of a perfect church (from my subjective opinion) is to be able to have government structures that are based more from scripture and less influenced from the world. It's the structure we have that creates conflict within the body. Most want a democracy........ not sure that a lot of our secular democratic process fits within the context of scriptural church government structure. Just a thought.

I like the posts. Thanks Ken.

Posted by: WJM | Jan 20, 2005 11:14:28 AM


Talk about a can of worms...perfect church...good to great...healthy vs sick...

I love this stuff...

I want to be part of going from good to great...

God called us into ministry...we want everything God has for us...

What is the perfect chruch to me

a united effort to Love God and Love people...

Posted by: phill | Jan 20, 2005 11:32:24 AM

WJM says:
"Most want a democracy........ not sure that a lot of our secular democratic process fits within the context of scriptural church government structure."

I think 'democracy' implies that we are equals among peers, as Christ taught (v. 8 esp.):

Matthew 23:
" 5“Everything they do is done for men to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; 6they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; 7they love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have men call them ‘Rabbi.’
8“But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. 9And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven."

Too many Pastors want to "Lord it over others" rather than be a servant.

The key is to not be yoked with unbelievers. A democracy with unbelievers is an unholy alliance.


Posted by: Bernie Dehler | Jan 20, 2005 11:32:53 AM

I can see by the comments that you have your work cut out for you. I think we have gotten away from the basic biblical principle that "they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.." A lot of folks see their preferences and have no biblical basis for them. It donesn't mean they are wrong - it just means that they have a different way of worshipping. If we can worship, if we can win souls, and if we as believers can be strengthened, then the entire worship experience has been accomplished. If, however, the worship service is not accomplishing these things, then we have failed to accomplish what the church is commanded to do.

I look forward to see where this ends up.

God bless,

Posted by: Dave Stacey | Jan 20, 2005 11:49:20 AM

I look forward to this new help. This church is still struggling and fighting the taking of the first step in moving to the next level.

I trust these messages will help us to at least move us up to being a "good" church. Being a perfect church seems so far in the future for us.

Posted by: Tom Corwin | Jan 20, 2005 11:53:18 AM

If by "perfect" we mean "complete or whole or even healthy", then I think the perfect local church can be built and does exist. But if by perfect we mean, without sin and always right, then that church won't come into being until our Savior returns because every local church is comprised of sinners ...saved by grace.

Churches are like families: There's an infinite variety of healthy, complete, whole families. Likewise there's an ever growing number of healthy, whole local churches and each one is unique.

There are common beliefs (and behaviors that spring from those beliefs) that define a healthy family, there are certainly common beliefs (and again practices that come about as a result of those beliefs) that any "perfect" church must have.

Some of the common beliefs are:

>The Love of Christ,
>The direction of the Holy Spirit
>And obedience to our Heavenly Father's Word.

One of those admonitions in His Word,of course is that we maintain unity within the body of Christ. Sure, there are others, but for the sake of this discussion, unity is an important one.

As Christ prayed for our unity,..."that we would be one just as He and His Father are", each local church should live out unity in such a way that our behavior would indeed be an outward sign to non and prebelievers of our Love for Christ.

Now, since we know that where two or three Christians are gathered together, there will certainly be at least four or five differences, all of us in the local church would be wise to learn how to resovle our differences.

Since churches are like families we will always be unique in how we do our Fathers Will. In one neighborhood, the "perfect" church may look like a "Mega-Purpose Driven" church. In another part of the world it may look like a "Healthy Village of Small Groups" church. And in another region it may have the flair of a "Gen-X High-Tech" church.

No matter how we practice these beliefs or in Ken's verbage, carry forth the vision, we will always have differences, so I pray we'll be able to come away from this series of discussions with useful ways to resolve conflict.

Love and Blessings/ST

Posted by: Sharon Thurmond | Jan 20, 2005 1:36:35 PM

For this topic, I narrow it down to one of the aspects of a "perfect" church = worship. My husband and I are looking for a church - knowing that NONE are "perfect". We have been to a lot of churches now - different denominations, and nondenominational. And we've experienced extreme differences in the worship atmosphere of the churches. Some are highly traditional, others attempting to become more contemporary while others have completely done away with tradition (i.e. no hymns). Some are reserved and others are liberated. Some folks raise their hands in the air and others keep them by their side. Some never speak a word and others speak out their words and speak out loud in tongues. How do you find the "perfect" church for a couple with differing opinions of what should or should not be experienced in Sunday worship?

Posted by: Diane | Jan 20, 2005 2:07:54 PM

Highest than the highest human thought is God's ideal for His Body, the church. Perfect church? Of course! Be ye perfect even as your Heavenly Father is perfect (in Agape). Our perfection as individuals and as a corporate Body is wrapped up in that of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. We appropriate, by faith, His perfection and His righteousness and we therefore become such a people. The church will one day be without spot or wrinkle meanwhile it goes from one level of maturity (teleos/perfection) to the next. This is only achievable IN Christ, through the direction and power of the Holy Spirit. How will this church look like? Simple. The Body and the Head (Christ) will look like they belong together to the onlooker. It will be defintely georgeous in every sense of the word. All heads will turn to marvel at its loveliness and its LQ (loving or lovable Quotient) and be irresitibly drawn to it. To be church is not the same as to do church. The former is Scripturally Christ Centered and Spirit driven. The latter is culturally, sociologically, economically, etc. conditioned. Nothing wrong with the latter as long as we are aware of the dangers and pitfalls and let ourselves be informed and corrected by Scripture. How this expresses itself practically and creatively is up to the local congregation. No two families are alike. No two churches, even within the same Christian denomination are identical. You can be a perfect church of any dimension: small, medium. large, or mega, Now!

Posted by: Claude | Jan 20, 2005 3:18:08 PM

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