Our approach to planning rests on this promise of Jesus, the source of life. We invite church attenders, as individual believers and members of a community, to identify the expressions of Jesus' life in their congregations: what has given them life in the past, what gives life in the present and what they can build on to create a future that will lead to life to the full. We assume that every local church has had times of vitality in its history and that every church has a wellspring of life which offers energy, creativity and hope for the future.
This assumption rests on the fact that Jesus Christ and his promise of life is at the core of every believer and every Christian congregation. In the midst of our church life Jesus is:
- the bread of life (John 6:35)
- the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6)
- the resurrection and the life (John 11:25)
- the living water (John 4:14)
- the light of life (John 8:12)
- the life-giving vine (John 15:1).
This life is continually being imparted to us individually and communally through the Spirit of God, who teaches us the truth of the gospel and the path of faith and obedience and gives us all the gifts we need to build our church communities (1 Corinthians 12). These gifts enable us to take part in the purposes of God, the manifestation of his life in the world.
In the book of Genesis we are told that "the Spirit of God was moving over the waters" (Genesis 1:2). The Hebrew word for Spirit is ruah, which also means "breath". This image of the breath of God touching the void shows that the creative action came from the depth of God's own life, it imparted something of God's own self. Now, through Jesus, we have been allowed to share in this same Spirit: "He breathed on them, saying, 'Receive the Holy Spirit'" (John 20:22). It is our task and calling to live our lives in the Spirit. In part, we can do this by looking for the signs of life in our church communities and actively nurturing them.
Considering the NCLS Core Qualities is the beginning of such a process. It is the start of an active seeking out of qualities, events, practices and structures in a church community and bringing them into focus for storytelling, reflection and planning. St Paul commended this process of looking for life to the community at Philippi:
Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things...and the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:8,9)
First and foremost, then, planning involves identifying what already gives life to a church and encouraging churches and individuals everywhere to be fully connected to Jesus, the true vine and source of life-giving nourishment. It is only by recognising the truth of Jesus' words that "apart from me you can do nothing" (John 15:5) that churches will be able to find the wellspring of life.