Along with Christmas, December is the month of epic films. The big films come out in December so that they are fresh in people’s minds when it comes to being nominated for major awards, like the Oscars.
Some of you may have seen The Hobbit. If you didn’t, you may have read the book as a child, or an adult. It is the story of small man, a hobbit, named Bilbo Baggins, who goes on an epic journey to slay a dragon.
Here’s the thing about the Hobbit and the following trilogy, the Lord of the Rings: All of the adventures happen on the way to the destination. We never hear about the journey home. We know he gets home, but we know very little about that journey.
The beginning of the story is pure delight. Bilbo receives a visit from a great wizard. Gandalf the Grey. He says to Bilbo, “I’d like you to share in a great adventure!”
Imagine the weariness of the magi for their journey home. The journey to Bethlehem, as tiring as it was, I bet was pretty exciting. Quite an epic adventure. They leave their home in the far east to follow a star, a star that they believe marks the birth of a king. While the journey is weary and dangerous, they are pulled by the mystery of who they will meet and, we could guess, as they get closer, they know they are being led to something unlike anything the world has ever seen or will ever see again. They push forward on the curiosity and adrenaline from their visit with evil King Herod, to save a little boy.
When they arrive at Mary and Joseph’s home (not the stable. This is much later, at the family home), they find a boy, and they immediately fall down to worship him. These men came from a completely different world than the people of Galilee. They had no prophecies of a Messiah, no exile into Babylon, no baptist calling them to repent. They simply followed a star. And, yet, when they arrive in this very ordinary scene, a young couple and their young son, they bowed down and worshipped him.
The story of the magi is critical to our understanding of how God becomes incarnate in Jesus Christ. The people of Israel were longing for a Messiah. Throughout Jesus’ life, his followers grow into a new understanding of Messiah, from a military Saviour to a transforming force in humanity. The incarnation of God becoming human is the greatest gift of the Christian faith. That God did not send a great human being, but came to dwell with us, God’s beautiful created humanity in desperate need of salvation. And God does not just come to Earth for one country. The magi were led to this home because God came to dwell with ALL people, Jews and Gentiles, all nations and peoples. God longs to reach deeply into the hearts of all people and transform their lives. It’s a new beginning, and a completely unique and new relationship with God, a God who lives in the messiness of our hearts.
This winter we are beginning to look more deeply at how we at Christ Church live out this Epiphany, the desire of God to reach deeply into our hearts and transform us, and God’s desire for us to reach out to our neighbours like the magi were led by the star. We are embarking on a process called Natural Church Development, or NCD.
NCD begins with the knowledge that growth is the work of God. Our task is to be faithful to God’s teachings, and to work on creating a community that becomes an environment where growth can happen. First we find out what kind of soil we have based on key characteristics. We then begin to work on those characteristics of our community that inhibit us from growing, using our greatest strengths.
This is not a one morning or one day process. We will spend at least the next year, working with our coach, Kirk Vandesande, on this process. The survey has been done in over 77,000 churches around the world, and the data is quite remarkable. Canadian churches that have participated in NCD over three years have experienced, on average, 51% growth.
We begin with understanding ourselves. On February 3, 30 of our parishioners will fill out a survey, the results of which will give us a measure of how we compare with churches similar to us. Our committee met on Wednesday evening to pick our 30. It was a tedious task, going through 600 names to get a good cross-section of our remarkable parish. Once we have the results from our survey, we will have a good direction on which areas of ministry we will focus on as a community.
We are qualified on 8 characteristics of healthy growth.
- Empowering Leadership. How does our leadership enable every member of our parish to serve God? How do we model ministry?
- Gift-based Ministry. We all have gifts. Are each of us exercising our gifts, or are we simply doing jobs that we think need to be done, only because no one else will do it?
- Passionate Spirituality. Are our spiritual lives and practices limited to Sunday morning, or do we live out our faith in every area of our lives?
- Effective Structures. Again, do our structures exist because this is how it has always been done, or do our structures effectively support our ministries?
- Inspiring Worship Service. To what extent does our worship inspire us to practice a deeper faith in Christ, to seek Christ and participate in the work of the Holy Spirit?
- Holistic Small Groups. Any of our ministries that involve us working together are considered a small group: those who prepare our coffee, our sidespersons’ teams, our Sunday School teachers, as well as our bible and seasonal studies. All of these groups, even those that seem task focussed, should deepen our relationship with Christ.
- Need-oriented Evangelism. If you are a certain type of Anglican, hearing talk of evangelism sets your teeth on edge, images of delivering tracts and people who we like and wouldn’t want to impose on. Need oriented evangelism requires an awareness of the people who are outside our walls, and a servant’s heart to meet their needs as a community like ours can.
- Loving Relationships. When I talk to people who are new here, very often they say how very quickly they were made to feel at home here. How well do we love one another, take care of one another?
As you heard that list (if you are still with me) you may have found yourself drawing your own conclusions. Oh yeah, we have that one. Or, hmmm, don’t know how well we are doing there. Out of our survey we will learn which areas we are strong in and which areas we need to work on together.
The Christmas story, which ends today, is remarkable in the various characters, people who, under other circumstances, would not be connected. All the people in this story have one thing in common. Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, the magi, even an older Jesus at 12. They were all open to the possibility that God would speak to them. They all had their own plans, their own assumptions and they were led to change their lives through the voice of God, all because they had hearts open to the leading of the Holy Spirit. That is our role right now. Coming out of the Incarnation miracle of Christmas, entering into this New Year, we begin on a journey, maybe even an adventure. We will see.