John Wesley and Natural Church DevelopmentWritten by Rev. Canon David Smith
John Wesley and Natural Church Development
The Natural Church Development paradigm for engaging congregational health purports that there are eight quality characteristics or key (essential) indicators of a parish’s capacity to grow in quality and health. If these characteristics are strong in a parish community it bolds well that the parish will be receptive to God’s principles of growth. As in the Parable of the Growing Seed (Mark 4 :26 – 29 ), parishes are like the farmer who plants his or her seeds, but then while asleep seemingly all by themselves the seeds grow. Of course it is God who gives this all by itself growth both to the seeds planted by the farmer and to congregations who have planted the seeds of the Kingdom. St. Paul says much the same thing in 1 Corinthians 3: 5-7
I am impressed by how john Wesley in his dynamic and productive ministry employed the eight quality characteristics of Natural Church Development. Over the next eight weeks I would like to briefly highlight these interconnections in the hopes that it will inspire parishes to prayerfully evaluate where they are in terms of these important principles of parish health. I will begin with passionate spirituality.
Passionate Spirituality: Healthy congregations exemplify a passion for the spiritual life. Their members enjoy reading the Scriptures and consider the Bible a powerful guide in their daily lives. Prayer is inspiring for them and they speak to others of their experiences of God and it impacts their lives.
John Wesley certainly manifested this spiritual passion in his life and ministry. In fact it was a heartwarming experience of God’s grace that transformed him from a discouraged man, confused about his ministry and state as a Christian to a person utterly convinced of God’s love for him and excited about sharing God’s love to anyone and everyone. Wesley spoke of how his heart was strangely warmed, while listening to a reading of the introduction to Luther’s Commentary on Romans. He marveled that “I felt I trusted in Christ, Christ alone for salvation and an assurance was given to me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.” This passionate encounter with God’s grace led Wesley to enthusiastically seek to meet Christ where Christ promised to meet us, in the words of Holy Scripture and in prayer. Speaking of the Bible he said in one of his sermons,” O give me that book! At any price give me the book of God” I could go on a length to elaborate why he felt the Scriptures were so important but needless to say you can see his passion for its place in his life. Wesley also framed his life around prayer. He began and ended each day of his life with Morning and Evening prayer from The B.C.P. and in the words of his brother Charles hymn “he wanted a heart to pray. To pray and never cease, never to murmour at your stay or wish my sufferings away. This blessing above all, always to pray I want. Out of the deep on you to call and never faint” Once again you can feel the passion Wesley had for his spiritual life in Christ.
Wesley’s ministry was deeply influenced and sustained by his passionate spirituality and it points to the importance of prayer and Scripture reading in the lives of our congregations.
Quotes are from John and Charles Wesley: Selections from Their Writings and Hymns - Annotated and Explained by Paul Wesley Chilcote : Skylight Paths Publishing 2011
The Rev David Smith is the Stewardship and Congregational Developement Officer for the Diocese of Ontario.