Some years ago Bishop Al Gwinn chided seminaries for cranking out pastors “who can only serve healthy churches. That excludes about eighty percent of the churches in my Conference,” said bishop Gwinn. Fostering the health of a church requires a wide array of pastoral skills. When I was bishop in Alabama, I got to see firsthand the good work of the Center for Healthy Churches. Their coaches and consultants give pastors the set of leadership skills required to encourage congregational health. Thus I was pleased to see this CRC shout out to a book of mine, What’s Right With the Church.
What’s Right with the Church?
Sometimes a book ends up in your hands at just the right time with just the right words. Reading that kind of book is like meeting with a mentor or friend. You read a bit and think. Maybe you write something in the margin. It becomes a conversation.
A book like this ended up on my desk about 30 years ago. I had served enough churches that I had faced some challenges and some discouragement. I was coming to grips with my own limitations. I had even had a conversation with a trusted counselor about doing some coursework to prepare to take the MCAT to apply to medical school. I wondered if I really should continue being a Minister of Music.
Fortunately, there were many voices that encouraged me to find a way to do more than survive, but to thrive in local church ministry. Among those voices was a book by William Willimon, What’s Right with the Church?  You see, part of my struggle was I had been taught to love the church in theory but I didn’t have much practice in loving the church in practice. My error: loving everyone but not every one.
Willimon’s book helped me to begin to reframe some of the resistance I had experienced from church folk. (I’m sure it had nothing to do with my “I-have-a-graduate-degree-in-music-and-we’re-only-doing-great-music-here” attitude.) There was much to appreciate, to value and to love about particular people and places. To quote Robert Webber, “All worship is local.” Yes, I could honor the gifts and callings bestowed on me but when I was at my best I would find ways to honor the story and traditions that made each church unique in God’s kingdom.
After Bill Wilson invited me to be a consultant in worship and music with the Center for Healthy Churches I began to learn about “Appreciative Inquiry” or “AI.” This approach to organizational development was developed by David Cooperrider and others at Case Western University in the mid ‘80s. Cooperrider was a graduate student doing some consulting at the famed Cleveland Clinic when he made a discovery. Using an interview approach with positive questions, Cooperrider focused the attention of the medical staff on success stories and what was effective. “The inquiry itself resulted in quantifiable increases in people’s attention to and valuing of the behaviors they had set out to explore.” AI is an approach to organizational development that assumes that in every enterprise there is something good and right happening. AI asks generative questions like, how can we do more of what is working?
Asking “what’s right with the church” is not simply positive thinking. It does not mean being naive or oblivious. But if we acknowledge that the way we see reality often shapes that reality, perhaps it is worth rethinking how our very questions influence the answers we seek and the paths we follow.
So, let’s end with some questions.
Can you stop and remember the thrill of the early days of ministry?
How can you do more of that which brings life and energy to your work?
Can you reframe your view of your life as one of discovery and challenge?
Can you become a student again and learn what this place, these people and God can teach you?
 William H. Willimon, What’s Right with the Church, (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1985).
 Diana Whitney and Amanda Trosten-Bloom, The Power of Appreciative Inquiry(Oakland: Berrett-Koeholer Publishers, 2010), 78.
Learn more about the Center for Healthy Churches at http://chchurches.org.