First Thoughts From The Rev. Canon David Smith: 

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The Scriptures with Natural Church Development in Mind

Posted by Emily Sanderson on Friday, January 17, 2014

This Sunday I am going to be working on my diocesan job preaching in
Bancroft and doing an NCD survey for them. So I will be approaching the
Scriptures with Natural Church Development in mind.

Hence my first thoughts for this week will be through the lens of the NCD
questions and the 9 quality characteristics. Perhaps this will remind us of
our own NCD plan and ministry.

I think you have  to stretch the imagination a bit  to find all of the
quality characteristics in the Sunday's readings but you would be surprised
at  how the readings reflect the heart of the NCD survey. This seems to be
especially true of passionate spirituality and need based evangelism
particularly when we read the Psalm and Gospel.  But upon closer reflection
you can see in our readings the importance of gift based ministries , loving
relationships and empowering leadership.

Psalm 40 is a heartfelt testimony of God's work in the life of the psalmist.
The Psalmist would  answer the survey question with a resounding,   yes I
experience God's work in my life.  In fact he heard my cry, he drew me up
from the desolate pit and set my feet upon a rock. In other words when
things were very bleak the Psalmist experienced God grace and mercy. A word
of caution is that  I do not think we should take from this testimony that
believing in God will always rescue us or preserve us from dangers and
trials. Unfortunately it is not that simple but in the Psalm we have the
heartfelt passionate  testimony of how God renewed his or her hope. We have
the passionate testimony of how the psalmist delights in doing God's will.
So clearly the Psalmist does not only experience God's work but he or she
tells others about it. And so the psalmist could also answer the NCD
questions with a resounding yes I often tell others when I have experienced
something from God and I share with others about my spiritual journey. In
fact the psalmist sings, " I have not hidden your saving help within my
heart. I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation" Psalm 40 is
also a heartfelt prayer of both thanksgiving and pleading for God's
continued presence," let your steadfast love and faithfulness keep me safe
forever" I do not think you could read this prayer and not conclude that for
the Psalmist times of prayer are inspiring for him or her, one of the NCD
questions. I know for me and for us as Anglicans in general expressing this
passionate love affair with God is hard. And sometimes our reserve can be a
good thing in our culture. But still how wonderful it would be to hear
people speak from the heart about their faith. Sometimes it would be very
positive other times the testimony might be very sad or from a dark place
but I agree with NCD that hearing how God is at work in others would be a
blessing. Part of our NCD plan was to invite people to give a testimony and
I think we should figure out ways to do this that would fit in our setting.

When I reflected upon our reading from Isaiah with an NCD lens I saw once
again a passionate spirituality but also  I thought of Gift based Ministry
and Need Based Evangelism. It is clear that the servant being spoken of was
gifted even from birth with what it would take to accomplish God's mission"
The Lord called me before I was born,... He made my mouth like a sharp
sword" and of course NCD highlights how churches are healthy when people are
serving using their God given gifts in the ministries  they are passionate
about. The servant in our reading could answer yes I know my gifts and yes
the tasks I perform match my gifts. The reading from Isaiah also highlights
the importance of meeting the needs of others and sharing the faith. What a
tremendous statement describing need based evangelism we find in our
reading. Describing the need of the nations as being in darkness God says to
the servant don't just be concerned with your own people but be concerned
with everyone, It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to
raise up the tribes of Jacob,... I will give you to be a  light to the
nations" What a great verse to inspire reaching out.

The Gospel reading is a great reading of John The Baptist pointing people
including his own disciples to Jesus. Once again it is a story of someone
giving testimony . Twice we hear of how John testified. He bore witness to
what happened at our Lord's baptism and to who he thought Jesus was , the
Son of God. And it is also a story of evangelism wherein not only John
invites people to meet Jesus but so does Andrew. He is so excited about
meeting Jesus that he goes to his brother and says we have found the messiah
and takes him to see Jesus. I never met her but I have heard of a woman
named Natalie who invited at least two families to see Jesus in the context
of worship at St. Philip's. I think we should have a Natalie movement at St.
Philip's where we invite friends and neighbours to come and see. One of the
questions I have struggled with in NCD  is one that asks if a church invites
new Christians to evangelize right away. I thought no way, I am going to get
to know them well first. But this is what happened in the Gospel reading and
I met a bishop from England who basically started up new churches with
people who were not Christians and he expected them to be disciples right
away. So maybe there is something to this.

If these three readings for Sunday emphasize passionate spirituality and the
I questions getting at personal faith, our Epistle reading balances this out
and focuses on the corporate life of a Christian community. Paul begins his
letter to the Corinthians by praising and thanking them for how God has been
working in their lives. Several questions in NCD ask if leaders and others
in the parish regularly thank and praise people for their contributions.
Well St. Paul certainly scores high here and I think it is so key to parish
health. And St. Paul in the epistle continually refers to the corporate. The
Corinthians have been called to be saints together which gets at the team
work kind of questions in the NCD survey. St. Paul also highlights the fact
that have been gifted by God which is a huge subject for this letter. In
other words he is beginning to address Gift Based Ministry. Not fleshed out
in our reading but you get a sense that Paul is alluding to troubles in this
church.  They have leadership alright but to use NCD language it is not
empowering but self-serving.   St. Paul is also alluding to the divisions
and quarrels they are having and so he starting them to think about loving
relationships. It is in this letter that Paul says if one hurts everyone
hurts and if one has joy everyone has joy. It is in this letter that he
speaks about the co-operating spirit of the Body of Christ and also writes
the great hymn of love , if I have not love I am nothing.  Sounds like NCD
to me

What are your thoughts?

Tags: psalm 40  natural church development  john the baptist  st paul