Those who’ve read any of my church renewal/small group books or who are familiar with my work with Easum, Bandy & Tenny-Brittian know that when I speak about DNA, I mean the six strands that answer the question “Who is this congregation?” A congregation’s DNA can be found in every part of the local church – the leadership, the members, and can even be found in participants who’ve been hanging around with the church for as little as three months. I define those six DNA strands as:
- The Mission
- The Core Values
- The Bedrock Beliefs
- The Expected Behaviors
- The Compelling Vision
- The Strategic Focus
In earlier entries, I’ve mentioned the need for congregation’s to work on expected behaviors early on in the discovery/discernment process. I return to the DNA topic because there’s been a LOT of conversation lately on the EBT Advanced Leadership Forum (an online coaching service that’s part of the EBT Community) about the congregational Bedrock Beliefs.
On that forum, much has been made of this particular strand of DNA … and honestly, it’s a very important strand. However, as I watch leaders from around the world struggle with their congregation’s Bedrock Beliefs, I wonder how much of it is all that necessary.
One definition of Bedrock Beliefs that has been put forth by my partner Tom Bandy is that Bedrock Beliefs are those beliefs you turn to for strength in times of trouble. Examples would include “God comforts us in times of trouble” and “God accepts us no matter who we are.”
I like the imagery of this, but when I work with churches I find it almost impossible to pin down these kinds of statements on a church-wide DNA basis. On a personal basis, no problem. I know what my Bedrock Beliefs are in times of trouble. But when it comes to helping a church define what the core of their heart is, I take a different tack.
When I help a church discern their Bedrock Beliefs, my purpose is to help them get to a bedrock place where they can, as a congregation, build a foundation that won’t shatter when someone lobs a theological grenade into the room. I’ve seen far too many churches get into a fray about what a small group of individuals find core, but the congregation as a whole finds tangental – but without defined Bedrock Beliefs there’s nothing to keep the fray from becoming a fight.
Now, before I write another word … I totally agree with Tom Bandy who says that Bedrock Beliefs are not a congregation’s systematic theology. That would simply be too much for any congregation to swallow. But it is the place where the congregation can agree and then can deflect the grenades.
Some congregation’s are confessional. “Officially” they already have their bedrock beliefs defined for them. I’ve yet to be in a church in USAmerica where that was actually the case, but at least it’s somewhere to start. But for those non-confessional churches (and even some of the confessional churches), congregation’s often come to the understanding that Jesus is the bottom line. Their foundation for their core values may well get stated, “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and we call on him as our Lord (boss, CEO, etc.) and Savior.” In general, few Christians disagree with this as the foundation. Great. Step one done.
If Jesus is the foundation of the faith, then everything gets built on that. I’ve found that churches find they can summarize their beliefs what Jeff Hubbard, a close friend, named “The Four Greats.” Jesus gave us four “great” commandments that can crystallize the Bedrock Beliefs for many congregations. (1) Jesus gave us the Great Invitation: Follow Me. In other words, we’re called to do what he did (and more) and to value what he valued. (2) Jesus gave us the Great Commandment: Love God. Our lives are meant to revolve around honoring God in all we do. (3) Jesus gave us the Great Commandment: Love Others. Everything we do and think and say must go through this filter: Is it loving? And not just is it loving, but would they receive it as loving? and (4) Jesus gave us the Great Commission: Make Disciples. That’s why we exist … that’s why the church exists.
When churches adopts the Jesus and the Four Greats as their Bedrock Beliefs, it helps put focus on what’s important when those “Grenades” inevitably get lobbed into Small Group meetings, Sunday School Classes, Board Meetings, and so on. Here’s one way I coach congregation’s in how to deflect (or even diffuse) those moments: “You know, that’s an important belief, but when it comes to what this congregation believes and practices, we lean on Jesus and the Four Greats. Anything else … anything … simply isn’t worth dying for or arguing about.” If the query comes again, just keep deflecting it. You might even turn to Paul’s words to Timothy to avoid senseless controversies (2 Tim 2:23-24), and since this belief isn’t a core belief in the congregation ….
Is there more we may all hold in common? Perhaps. But in general, Jesus and the Four Greats tend to cover it pretty well. And it heads off a lot of controversy.