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Kicking Habits Upgrade Edition: Welcome Relief For Addicted Churches Paperback – May 1, 2001
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Existing congregations and denominations can become so addicted to self-destructive practices that they cannot change until they admit their bondage. These practices include a hunt for doctrinal purity on the theological right, and a desire for political justice on the theological left. The answer is a complete systemic transformation of congregation or denomination. Kicking Habits offers twenty shocking truths that thriving churches have discovered. Every church leader will wince over the declining church system that is St. Friendly-on-the-Hill, where intimacy in worship and personal healing are suffocated by activity and program. Kicking Habits is highly motivating reading for anyone whose congregation has stagnated, or is caught up in a seemingly irreversible decline. Indeed, Kicking Habits will come as a much needed early warning that, if heeded, can avoid a great deal of disappointment, frustration, and pain when the pressures on a weakening and vulnerable Christian community become overwhelming. -- Midwest Book Review --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
About the Author
Thomas G. Bandy is an internationally-recognized church consultant and leadership coach. He works across the spectrum of church traditions, denominations, congregations, contexts, and cultures. Tom coaches transforming and transitioning congregations, church plants, multi-site and cross-cultural churches, and faith-based nonprofits. He is the president of Thriving Church Consulting LLC and can be found in his virtual office at ThrivingChurch.com. He is the author of several books on congregational leadership.
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I did like Bandy's clever analogy for a declining church, that it is like a baby that "fails to thrive." Unfortunately, I was a bit disappointed with the book. It's very easy to see that churches can be thriving or declining systems. However, it's also too easy to blame particular symptoms as if they are the problems.
Bandy picks on his particular pet peaves and calls them "addictive," but watch out, because if you disagree, that's because you're stuck in the addictive system. Well, I disagree and it's not because I'm in the addictive system, but rather because I know enough about addictive systems to know that he blames the wrong things.
For example, Bandy blames the addiction to "vision by committee", addiction to strategic planning, committees, accountability through management, acceptable mediocrity (which Bandy also forgets has the flipside of change for the sake of change), addiction to debt freedom, worship as an informational event, expository preaching, unpopular music, burdening the youth with the future of the church, and the attitude that the church should focus on nourishing its own. Any of these CAN be stifling, but they do not necessarily spell an addictive church. We must ask the "Why" question to get at the root.
Also, Bandy seems to believe that seeking consensus in a church goes against the way the Spirit works who may only reveal His will to one person. While he makes a good argument, it fails to meet the Bible standards which suggests that the Spirit reveals itself to more than one person and that we are to "test all things" and move in unity. While Bandy makes a valid observation that organization and consensus CAN stifle the Spirit, his statements need to be balanced out. The flipside is that they can also be used effectively for good. We have to be careful about drawing BROAD conclusions, without looking at the "why" of what he's saying.
According to other family systems experts (see Edwin Friedman and Murray Bowen's research on family systems), addiction impacts a family system through the spread of anxiety like wildfire among people with low self-differentiation. From a Christian perspective, the underlying problem has to do with fear/anxiety versus Faith. Any of the things Bandy mentioned CAN be done anxiously, but they can ALSO be used effectively and non-anxiously (or in Faith). That's why I don't put any stock in Bandy's lists as long as he fails to address the reasons. Unfortunately, Bandy focuses too much on the externals without giving much of his reasoning as to how these changes would be helpful. If he had, then we might get a clearer picture of what he's looking at.
Unfortunately, Bandy violates his own belief that the spirit works differently for each church and that we should avoid prescriptive thinking. Bandy's book provides a "prescriptive" step-by-step one-size-fits-all plan for churches. While he's against linear strategic planning, his book is basically a linear strategic plan. Because of this, I believe Bandy's book MUST be missing the point.
Nevertheless, the 260 pages is not *completely* wasted as he does have some creative suggestions and some new ideas for re-thinking church. He at least outlines an intervention strategy for addictive churches, though I'm not sure what the rationale for how his intervention strategy would be effective in changing an addictive culture...does he realize how difficult it is to change a church culture? Not to mention, an addictive system? I just wish he didn't focus too much on his own pet peeves and the prescriptive details which fail to adequately address the problem of addictive churches.
Finally, while the book claims to be a "welcome relief" there is only 1.5 pages dealing with it, suggesting that the welcome relief is the changing theologies and changing attitudes towards the gospel. Where does God and His Higher Power factor into the strategy? How does non-anxious faith in God, demonstrated in transformational leadership, make any difference?
This book "transformed" my view of what a church can or should be. If I were now to "shop" for a new church, I would have a totally different set of criteria. Bandy's view of a "thriving church" is both inspiring and scarey - inspiring because it feels right; scarey because I find it hard to imagine my church being able to be so transformed; and scarey, in that I now, for the first time, am considering looking elsewhere... leaving this "church family".
When Bandy describes traits of a "declining" church, I was hit by "ah-HAH!" after "ah-HAH!". Things that bugged me, drove me crazy, had me thinking of totally different ways of doing stuff - all were confirmed in this book. Whether he is right or wrong, he has struck a big chord with me.
If your church service has a bulletin, plays mostly classical music, and needs more than 15 people to actually run the church (i.e. committees), read this book - if you dare.
The title, incidentally, is a bit too narrow for the topic -- this is a work about change in every system of church life.
Everyone who wonders what the heck has happened to make churches that used to work in the 50s fall into irrelevance and decline should read this book.