Tag Archives: outreach

Characteristics in People of Biblically Healthy Churches

by Bill Vermeulen

1. A sincere love for fellow believers in Christ.

2. A genuine love for those who are lost without Christ.

3. A sense of significant purpose.

4. A high level of expectant faith.

5. A positive spirit rooted in God’s promises.

6. A strong outward-focus and desire for an abundantly spiritual harvest.

7. A deep concern for the glory of God.

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Gospel Confidence for New Churches

by Michael Kelly

Scripture never blames preachers when individuals or even entire cities reject the gospel. Evangelicals, on the other hand, question the man or his methods when ministry stalls. They spend millions studying and then trying to replicate “successful” churches. That irony may puzzle some, but it terrifies church planters who are often under tremendous pressure to deliver fast-growing ministries. Granted, the twentieth century presented compelling challenges to the church. We preach an absolute Word to a visual, hyper-subjective age that is more interested in “indigenous authenticity” than getting saved from, well, whatever.

For example, ministry in a city such as Seattle puts us in a culture with its own values and presuppositions. Early in our work here, my family stopped at an intersection and saw three pedestrians standing on the corner waiting for traffic to stop. One was in a beautiful flowing sari, another was pierced and painted in gothic style, and the third was in drag. We are not in Kansas anymore. In fact, not even Kansas is in Kansas anymore.

We can debate the cultural geography of Kansas, but the question remains: Can the church survive outside the heartland? Many believers wonder whether this age might just be too much for us. Struggling ministries and cultural morass peck away at our confidence and drive us to obsess about the only thing we can change-how we do ministry. Re-examining ministry can be profitable, even necessary, and the tabula rasa of a brand new church makes it ideally suited for thinking creatively. Unfortunately, we almost always do that under a marketing paradigm. We are children of our age who have been well-catechized by Madison Avenue.

In a backwards way our biblical commitment can actually work against us. We know that we cannot change Scripture’s message, but lingering doubts about its contemporary effectiveness are not easy to dispel. That tension makes us all too ready to believe the promise that marketing can help by changing the package without changing the product. The only remedy is to regain biblical confidence. Biblical confidence is not simply confidence that the Bible is God’s inspired Word. What I am talking about is more difficult to sustain.

To put it bluntly, biblical confidence is the conviction that the Bible’s message is so true that anyone who rejects it has a problem. That should not be difficult for us to accept. The gospel tells us that we all have a problem! It also tells us that accepting God’s work in Christ is the only solution. That alone has always been enough for the church’s best sons and daughters. They were confident that the gospel can prevail over any idea in any age. Although biblical confidence can overcome our market bias, it is not a “shut-up and listen” approach to culture. Instead, it rescues important questions about culture from ecclesiastical marketers and puts the work of crafting relevant ministry back in the context of missions, where it belongs. It leads us from a marketing paradigm to a missionary paradigm where cultural analysis and adaptation can be done from a position of strength and biblical theology rather than from a platform of fears, fads, and focus groups.

Not surprisingly, Christ himself models this kind of confidence. He went further than anyone else to meet people where they were, yet he could still look unbelievers in the eye and say, “You do not believe because you are not part of my flock. My sheep listen to my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:26-27). The steel in those words is our antidote to marketing.

How does a missionary paradigm based on biblical confidence influence church planting in a post-Christian America? First, we can get out of a contest we cannot win. Frankly, we are pathetic marketers, but we can be good missionaries. Unbelievers may not “get” the gospel, but they know it is not a product. Better to be what we are and speak to the world plainly rather than try to be what we think it wants.

Second, we can do better at applying the gospel to the forms and aesthetics of a post-Christian culture. Biblical confidence could be an excuse to sing the hymns we like while the neighbors we do not like perish-but that is self-righteousness, not confidence. Confidence does not lead us away from issues of context and ministry. It leads us through them by a better road. I cannot chart that course here, but a missionary paradigm forces us to think biblically about the work of planting churches cross-culturally, which is where the church in America now is.

Third, we can reject unrealistic expectations. No church planter wants to be the eighth son of Sceva (see Acts 19:11-17). The demands of the work are difficult enough without the burden of “success” that marketing imposes. Instead of patching faltering faith with stories about “great churches” (read “great” as “got big fast”), we should measure effectiveness in five-to-ten-year segments and by two-to three-hundred-member congregations.

Finally, we can focus on the man instead of his gifts. Of course, the church does not need any more bad preachers, but character compels where gifts only impress. In the world of the marketed church, “gifted” equals “effective” and “effective” equals “big.” But that equation does not always hold in biblical math. No doubt we should look for gifted men, but biblical confidence looks past gifts to the heart, as does God, who is not as impressed with packages as we are (see 1 Sam. 16:7).

The New Testament church knew a lot about rejection, but it did not obsess over ministers and methods like we do. Instead, saints pressed on and churches were planted. Along the way, many of those congregations faded into history but Christ’s church advanced. In fact, every faithful congregation that lifts its voice this Lord’s Day is proof that the gospel is worthy of our boldest confidence.

No bio information available for this author. Issue: “Reaching Out In Our Time” July/August Vol. 12 No. 4 2003 Pages 25-26 You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you do not make more than 500 physical copies. We do not allow reposting an article in its entirety on the Internet. We request that you link to this article from your website. Any exceptions to the above must be explicitly approved by Modern Reformation (webmaster@modernreformation.org). Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: This article originally appeared in the [insert current issue date] edition of Modern Reformation and is reprinted with permission. For more information about Modern Reformation, visit http://www.modernreformation.org or call (800) 890-7556. All rights reserved. This article is a permanently featured article, it will be available indefinitely.

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Finding Common Ground

A recommended book written by Tim Downs

Much of this book by Downs gave quite a bit of food for thought and consideration. Here are many quotes from the book that I found helpful or thought-provoking:

 

[There are postmodern] beliefs that are rapidly dominating post-modern culture.  The average Christian, armed with weapons designed to counter yesterday’s  modernist attack, finds himself frustrated and bewildered as the soil continues to melt away beneath his feet. p. 23

In philosophy, pluralism is “the belief that no single explanation or view of reality can account for all the phenomena of life.” By definition, to tolerate someone implies that you do not agree with his views.  You’re simply willing to indulge him. Dr. John Gray of Oxford University makes the point even more strongly”

[Tolerance] is unavoidably and inherently judgmental.  When we tolerate a practice, a belief, or a character trait, we let something be that we judge to be undesirable, false, or at least inferior; our toleration expresses the conviction that despite its badness, the object of toleration should be left alone.  This is in truth the very idea of toleration, as it is practiced in things great and small.  So it is that our tolerance of our friends’ vices makes them no less vices in our eyes: rather, our tolerance presupposes that they are vices. pp. 27-28

In our contemporary culture, Carter says, nothing is worse than an attempt to impose your religious beliefs on someone else.  Why?  Because an attempt to persuade someone else to your position presupposes that you believe his position to be flawed or inferior.  All attempts to persuade are judgmental.  They are, by modern redefinition, intolerant—and greeted with anger.  Samuel Taylor said, “I have seen gross intolerance shown in the support of tolerance.” p. 30

To me the student was only a “target.”  He was there to help me fulfill my obligation and return to my friends with a story to tell.  He was there to serve my ends.  I was communicating a message that could change his life, but it was all about me.   p. 36

Griffin argued that an ethical (and effective) Christian persuader must always seek to balance the requirements of love and justice.      p. 38

Yet in verse 12, Jesus said, “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.”  You can hear the voices of both love and justice in a single sentence.  “I have many more things to say to you,” said justice, “but you cannot bear them now,” said love.  Jesus said what He could, then backed off.  p. 39

Georgetown University linguistics professor Deborah Tannen describes modern America as the “Argument Culture.”  In her book by that title she wrote: ‘The argument culture urges us to approach the world—and the people in it—in an adversarial frame of mind.  It rests on the assumption that opposition is the best way to get anything done…The war on drugs, the war on cancer, the battle of the sexes, politicians’ turf battles—in the argument culture, war metaphors pervade our talk and shape our thinking.  Nearly everything is framed as a battle or game in which winning or losing is the main concern.  These all have their uses and their place, but they are not the only way—and often not the best way—to understand and approach our world. p. 41

John Woodbridge, professor of church history at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, wrote an article entitled “Culture War Casualties: How Warfare Rhetoric Is Hurting the Work of the Church.”  Woodbridge believes that when Christians join the argument culture, when we take on a warlike mind-set and communication style, it creates several problems:

· When we speak in the language of war it makes it harder for us to love our enemies because it inflames our own anger feelings.

· A war mind-set is an “us or them” mentality.  There is no room for middle ground or nuanced positions.

· The language of war makes even the gospel itself sound like angry criticism instead of good news offered in love.

· When we speak in the language of war we create the impression that we are the true enemies—and even the aggressors.

pp. 41-42

Our war mentality leads us to adopt a confrontational style of communication with unbelievers.  We assume their hostility in advance.  The unbeliever is not a seeker to be wooed and won, but an attacker to be repelled.  The Bible is no longer a love letter to the lost; it’s the gospel bomb that destroys the enemy stronghold.  When Christians no longer believe that the unbeliever will even listen, there is nothing left to do but testify.  I’ll say what I’m supposed to say, regardless of the effect it has on you.  p. 43

The church could not retreat from the world to pursue exclusively “sacred” activities because the world would not make the same retreat.  “Good philosophy must exist,” [C.S. Lewis] reminded us, “if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered.” p. 49

The underlying assumption is clear: If a graduate is saturated in science and briefly exposed to art,  he has everything he needs to make an impact on the world.  p. 55

Information has no power to persuade or transform until it is given art.

The Christian preference for science is strange indeed when you consider that our Sourcebook is a book of art.  Eugene Peterson wrote, “It surprises me when pastor friends are indifferent or hostile to poets.  More than half our Scriptures were written by poets.”  When God wanted to communicate His Word to mankind He packaged His message in every literary form known to man, including poetry, narratives, parables, proverbs, and even songs.  p. 56

The art of the Bible is no accident.  God wrapped His gift to us in magnificent and alluring paper precisely because the power and persuasiveness of language come through art—through the clever, creative, and memorable style of its delivery.  Is it an accident that Psalm 23 is a poem and not a set of propositions?  Is it an accident that almost 80 percent of the words in the Sermon on the Mount have only one syllable?  Is it an accident that the average adult in America knows almost nothing of Jesus but can remember at least one of His parables? pp. 57-58

Indirect communications share three common features.  First, there is no direct attempt to persuade—the real subject in question is often not even mentioned.  Second, the attack is against the line of supply, some underlying belief or attitude that is critical to the support of the primary belief.  Third, the style of the communication is as attractive and enjoyable as possible.  Art is the chief weapon of indirect attack.  pp. 63-64

I see the state of the spiritual battle that surrounds us this way: For the first time in many years, evangelicals have their opponents evenly matched or even outgunned on an intellectual, scientific level.  We have collected impressive weaponry and personnel, and we feel prepared to mount a frontal attack or to repel any direct attack made against us.  Look at these facts.  Read these proofs and evidences.  Listen to our philosophers and scholars.  Argue with us, debate with us, give us your best shot—we’re ready for anything you can throw at us.

But the enemy general, sensing the buildup of forces on our front lines, knows that it’s no longer to his advantage to mount a frontal attack.  If he attempts a major direct offensive and loses, he faces a crushing setback.  But even if he wins a direct attack, he only pushes us back against our reinforcements; he rallies our troops and creates a sense of solidarity and unity. pp. 64-65

The obvious objection to this suggestion is, “We can’t just go out tomorrow and make a film.”  No, we can’t.  Nor did our opponents begin making their film yesterday, nor did they begin learning the craft of filmmaking last week.  Many of them have devoted their entire adult lives to developing a craft that they can now use with great skill to promote whatever worldview they desire.  We will not be able to compete with that kind of artistry without a similar investment of time and energy—an investment that we won’t make, because we don’t value filmmaking.  p. 66

We must lose our fear of art without beginning to worship it.  Art alone is no greater virtue than science alone.  We must always work to strike a balance between the two—clear, scriptural thinking communicated in a powerful and relevant style.  p. 67

The greatest attacks on Christianity now come through art, not science.

The most devastating blows to Christian belief are indirect, not frontal.

The most damaging assaults on the Christian worldview are gradual, not immediate. pp. 70-71

We, too, can learn a lesson from the mole: There is great potential for spiritual impact when a Christian becomes an insider by working his way to a key position of influence and trust. p. 74

From the outside-in perspective, there are two options: (1) you can come out and be trained to harvest, possibly losing valuable influence you once possessed, or (2) you can remain inside and attempt to harvest, muddling by the best you can with competing time demands and no training.  You can harvest as an insider or you can harvest as an outsider.

But there is a third option, an option that has tremendous value—though few Christians currently recognize it as true ministry at all.  It is the philosophy of inside-out, in which insiders are encouraged to stay where they are—and to sow.  p. 81

Imagine, as [C.S.] Lewis would say, if every time a teenager turned on a radio, the music he heard was not proclaiming a Christian message, but was simply consistent with a biblical worldview.   Would that be of any value?  Would it have any effect on the mind-set of the teenager over time?  And could it have any effect on the way that teenager might one day respond to the direct appeal of a harvester?  p. 85

The parable of the Good Samaritan is one of the best-known stories in Western literature.  Like all great stories, it operates on a number of levels.  It’s like an onion; as each layer of truth is removed, another layer is revealed.  On the surface, it’s a story about racism and prejudice.  Near its core, it’s a story about separatism and pride.    p. 91

In our dealings with unbelievers, Jesus said, we are to be both shrewd and innocent.  One commentator described the tension this way: “His followers were to be, not prudent toward outsiders and innocent toward God, but both prudent and innocent in their mission to outsiders…The balance is difficult, but not a little of Jesus’ teaching combines such poles of meaning.”

The strange thing about this tightrope is that evangelicals almost without exception choose to fall off to the same side, as though the other side doesn’t even exist.  What a peculiar anomaly!  The law of averages tells us that roughly half should err to each side, yet some strange suction draws us all irresistibly toward innocence and away from shrewdness.   p. 94

It’s important to take note of the timing of Jesus’ warning to His disciples.  The disciples had watched Jesus teach the multitudes, heal the sick, cast out demons, and even walk on water without any mention of their need for shrewdness.  The disciples had worked, traveled, prayed, and fasted together without any special need for prudence or practical wisdom.  It was not until they were sent out to have personal contact with unbelievers that they were warned of the need to be both innocent and wise.    p. 95

What I discovered after several years of this kind of interaction is that, because of the separatism that exists in the evangelical world, Christians tend to learn the Bible as an isolated topic.  They understand biblical doctrine, but not what it has to do with business or politics or the family.  They understand biblical morality, but not how to apply it to the complexity of modern relationships.  They are superbly prepared to answer questions that non-Christians quit asking two generations ago.

John Wesley once commented that a mature Christian should be able to put his finger down anywhere in the Bible and work from that point to the gospel.  That’s an admirable goal, but I would like to suggest another skill that’s needed just as much because of those modern construction techniques: A mature Christian should be able to put his finger down anywhere in today’s newspaper and work from that point to the gospel.  Christians today must stop being satisfied with randomly collected biblical data and begin to aggressively pursue wisdom—the ability to apply what they know to their own lives and to the lives of unbelievers around them. pp. 98-99

What can we do to help reverse this dangerous polarization?  What can we do to reach out not only to those who are like us, but also to those who are most unlike us?  We can begin to think in a different way about communicating our faith.  When we think of communicating with those around us, we can begin to use this thought process: I may not be able to harvest yet with the Hindu, the feminist, or the evolutionist.  But what can I say to each of them?  Where can I at least begin?  How can I sow?     p. 107

 

Soil Deficiency 1: Ignorance of All Things Biblical:

The increasing biblical ignorance in America has one very serious consequence.  In more and more cases, when Christians try to witness to non-Christians, the non-Christians have no idea what we’re talking about.  Talking to an American about the Bible is now a cross-cultural experience.

The citizens of Cambridge intuitively understood a basic principle of human communication: The less knowledge a person has in common with us, the more carefully and thoroughly we must communicate with him.  Strangely, modern Christians rarely apply that principle when communicating with nonbelievers.  We forget that, when it comes to all things biblical, most Americans are from out-of-town.   pp. 110-111

Soil Deficiency 2: Prejudice:

It seems like almost everyone today has had some encounter with religious “proselytizing,” from a knock at the front door to a request for funds at the local airport.  The image of these encounters portrayed in the media is always negative: a lengthy, boring, irrelevant, unwanted intrusion by a glassy-eyed, too-friendly, Scripture-quoting devotee of some religious sect.  Thanks to these images, even those who have never had the direct experience feel as if they have.

I once asked the students at the Communication Center to describe for me the stereotype of an evangelical Christian in the eyes of the average American.  Here is a part of their list:

· Phony   · Intolerant   · Pushy  · Know-it-alls  · Manipulative   · Out of touch  · Politically conservative  · Out of date  · Socially conservative  · No sense of humor

How is this [the sower breaking the unbeliever’s stereotypes so he will listen] done?  A simple look at the Christian stereotype list above suggests some possibilities:

· Don’t be pushy or manipulative.  Don’t feel that every conversation with your neighbor must be turned to spiritual issues.  Don’t insist on forcing the harvest even when the fruit is not yet ripe.

· Don’t voice all your political viewpoints.  Your co-worker doesn’t have to know how you feel about welfare reform, capital punishment, and Rush Limbaugh.  And maybe it’s better that he doesn’t, if you want to talk about God later.

· Don’t know everything.  On some subjects, withhold your opinion.  Tell him you’re still thinking about it.  Ask him for his.  This shouldn’t be false humility either—you don’t know everything, and he can teach you something.

· Stay in touch.  Who won the World Series this year?  What was on TV last night?  Do you care about anything that he cares about—or are you so heavenly minded that you’re of no earthly value?

· Lighten up.  Nothing shatters the stereotype of arrogance and stuffiness as fast as the ability to laugh—especially at yourself.    pp. 114-116

Soil Deficiency 3: Personal Issues   p. 116

Soil Deficiency 4: An Inadequate Worldview:

The goal of the program is simple: To desire repentance you must feel guilt; to feel guilt you must believe something was wrong; to believe something was wrong you must experience the pain you caused.  Each belief is supported by a prior belief.   pp. 117-118

 

Soil Deficiency 5: Cultural Issues:

Books on cultural trends abound, but consider just a few societal attitudes that culture watchers have observed in the last few years that could greatly affect the reception of the gospel.

· Deeply imbedded skepticism

· Insistence on privacy

· Resistance to persuasion

· Relativistic view of truth

· High value on tolerance

· Commitment to diversity  pp. 119-120

 

Soil Deficiency 6: Personal Cost:

The story is told of a chicken and a pig who decided to have breakfast together.  “Why don’t we go out for some bacon and eggs?” suggested the chicken.  “No, thanks,” said the pig.  “For you, bacon and eggs is just a contribution.  For me it’s a total commitment.”    p. 121

The lesson is simply that timing is one important consideration; there are good and bad moments to try to inject the spiritual into a distracted life.  p. 127

An old principle of persuasion says, “The first purpose of a persuasive speech is to show that not much persuasion is needed.”  In other words: A wise communicator seeks to build agreements, not arguments.  We’re not that much different, you and I.  We come from similar backgrounds.  We want a lot of the same things out of life.  We only differ at this one point. p. 133

Many writers have observed that one of the most important elements for an unbeliever considering conversion is his perceived sense of Christian community—or lack thereof.  In other words, “I know the community I would leave behind; is any community waiting for me on the other side?”  People in general have a powerful desire to belong and to be accepted, and these desires are not eliminated by faith in Christ.  An unbeliever considering the gospel is not only asking, “Can I believe this?” but also, “Who would I know there?  Would I belong?” pp. 138-139

We live in a cynical age.  When a stranger is unexpectedly friendly, the first thought that comes to mind is, What does he want?  Is he selling something, or does he want to sign me up for his multi-level marketing scheme?  In the busyness of modern life, we often seek out others only when we want something from them.  Unfortunately, Christians are sometimes guilty of the same fault.  What comes to our neighbor’s mind when our first sign of friendliness is followed by an evangelistic presentation?       p. 139

As Christians we are essentially translators.  Our job is to take complex theological principles, first recorded in ancient Near Eastern texts, and express them in terms so simple and clear that the most uneducated modern listener can understand them.  Translation takes time, and it requires the knowledge of at least two languages: the language of your original text and the language of your listener.  A truly effective translation is faithful to both.   p. 146

Think of the term “Christian movie.”  What does it suggest to you?  How would you characterize it?  Sometimes after seeing a movie we will report to one another, “It was really good, but it wasn’t exactly a Christian film.”  What we mean is either that the movie violated some Biblical norm—there was profanity or illicit sexuality—or that the movie wasn’t blatantly and openly about Christian things.  There was no mention of God or Jesus or heaven or hell.  There were a lot of good questions, but no clear answers.  As I said before, Christians are answer people, and a film that gives no answers can hardly be called Christian.  We reserve the term “Christian movie” for Billy Graham films and the evangelistic videos we use in our youth groups—films that give answers.   p. 149

Psychologists tell us that two of our most compelling needs are the need for love and the need to work.  Sometimes in our hunger for fulfillment we confuse these two longings.  A lonely middle-aged man immerses himself in his career, consciously hoping to find acceptance, appreciation, and admiration—hoping to be loved.  But ultimately he feels unfulfilled in his work and unloved.  His work seems somehow unsatisfying, though his performance is outstanding.  There’s still something missing, a kind of gut-level craving he can’t quite put his finger on, so he pours himself ever more deeply into his profession.  He has made the tragic mistake of seeking to meet his need for love through work, and although the work can be fulfilling and meaningful, it simply cannot substitute for love.   p. 165-166

To put it another way, before the sower can introduce his co-workers to God, he must introduce God into his work.    p. 167

Work, when it truly fits us, may cease to be work at all.  “Find work that you love,” the old adage says, “and you’ll never work a day in your life.”   p. 172

To introduce God into our specific jobs, we need to think deeply about questions like these:

· What does it mean to both be a Christian and hold this job?

· How would I do my job differently if I were not a Christian?

· What biblical principles most apply to my daily responsibilities?

· How should my faith affect the way I relate to my co-workers, superiors, or employees?

· Do I know any experienced or successful Christians in this line of work?  Is there a way

I can benefit from their experience?

· Has anything been written by a Christian in this or a similar field?

· Can I meet with other Christians in my field to continue to explore these questions? p. 174

 

 

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Outgrowing the Ingrown Church

(Interacting with Dr. Miller’s poignant book).

Outgrowing the Ingrown Church was written a number of years ago by C. John Miller (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House; 1986).  I’ve read it at least three times in order to give my own life a swift kick in the rump. This book is a call to assess and reassess the pastor’s and elders’ work in the local church. It’s also a call to the local congregation to assess and reassess where it is at, where it is going and what God says about it.  It’s a call to humble repentance as well as a call to dynamic, vibrant faith for all parties involved in the church.

Miller said, Growth that is not inspired by faith in Christ’s power to transform lives is dangerous (p. 18). … So congregations and their leaders today are perilously close to losing the elementary principles of faith that motivate qualitative and quantitative church growth. I am thinking of regular and thorough meditation on the promises of God, ongoing repentance based on the intense study of Scripture, continual personal and corporate prayer, daring gospel communication and discipling, mobilizing every member’s gifts for Christ’s mission to the world, and each congregation working to plant daughter churches (p. 19).

Pastor Miller’s story, out of which this book came, is one of a man who was also a seminary pastor, faithfully involved in a local church.  The church had been complacent, stagnant and ingrown.  After a period of discomfort and personal restlessness, Miller began to seek ways to revitalize the church and to fulfill God’s call and vision for the church.  In his times of prayer and study he learns,

I had rightly discerned that this promise of Christ’s fullness had a past reference to Pentecost and a future reference to the transformed world; but I had missed the emphasis in the Gospel of John on the present application of this promise to those who “are believing” or “keep believing.” I had missed the fact that God wishes to use such promises to awaken us daily from our dryness to claim the Spirit’s refreshing life (p. 24).

Pastor Arzurdia brings this same message out in his wonderful book on preaching. So much of the life of the church, and of my own ministry tends to fall back upon self-effort. How we ought to recall and fall upon those great and  precious promises for a life filled and controlled by the Holy Spirit.

Pastor Miller pushes  further: So let me call you and your congregation, not simply to survival for another week, but to radical commitment: to believe Christ’s promises and to do His will at all costs. That will is revealed in His command to the church to go with the gospel to the nations and make disciples… (p. 25).

Such a commitment cannot only come from the leaders or pastor. It must be held by others, especially those in leadership positions.

In his chapter, THE INGROWN CHURCH: God’s Call to Faith and Repentance, the author gives more than an apt description of so many churches.  He says that ingrown churches are gripped by several, if not all, of these following characteristics:

1. Tunnel Vision

Members of the ingrown church body are characterized by tunnel vision that limits potential ministries of the church to those that can be accomplished by the visible, human resources at hand. These possibilities are often further limited by recollections of past negative experiences and perceptions of present obstacles. At bottom, this is unbelief based on a secularized ignorance of the Spirit’s power – His ability to supply us with God’s goals for the church and the supernatural means to reach them (p. 29).

2. Shared Sense of Group Superiority

He (C. Curry Mavis) observes that many smaller congregations and their leadership have become egocentric because of “their fear of extinction.” In his view, “struggling churches are likely to exaggerate points of superiority they actually possess as means of compensation for their limitations.” What they do is build an attitude of superiority over others by elevating a positive feature in the church life of tradition and then comparing this feature with groups which lack this quality (p. 30)

3. Extreme Sensitivity to Negative Human Opinion  Whatever form the opposition takes, we will discover that an ingrown church has given in for so long to intimidation that its fears have obscured vital contact with the promises of God. As a result, fear casts out love for “a world that is falling apart,” a world that desperately needs a community of love (p. 31).

4. Niceness in Tone  Indeed, each Christian should diligently seek to be all of that. But what is often wanted in the local church is unrelieved blandness: a “nice pastor” preaching “nice sermons” about a “nice Jesus” delivered in a “nice tone” of voice. What is twisted about all this is that “niceness” is being substituted for Christ’s holy love, a heroic quality that might not in some circumstances prove to be nice at all. What we really want is to be comfortable and undisturbed. “Nice” is just another way of being safe (p. 32).

5. Christian Soap Opera in Style.  The niceness of the inward-looking church does not go deep enough to hinder the soap-opera style in which many a congregational life is lived. Soap operas are basically a series of endlessly repeated conversations, and gossip (for that is what it is) is often the only kind of “body life” an ingrown church knows (p. 33).

6. Confused Leadership Role.

7. A Misdirected Purpose. It is clear from the foregoing that the controlling purpose in the ingrown church has to do with survival – not with growth through the conversion of the lost….The unity is essentially that of the comfortable, private club determined to protect its institutional values and privileges (pp. 35-36).

Miller, a few pages later, characterizes the problem when he said that we can learn from the Pharisees.  This truth brings us face to face with what appears to be a critical problem: If this awesome authority and invincible, inward power are Christ’s gifts to the church of God, why is so little evidence of all this to be found in the local congregation? …R.C. Sproul compares many local churches to the company of Pharisees active during Jesus’ time on earth. He writes, It was the Pharisees who developed the doctrine of “salvation by separation.”  …To be sure, this is a familiar issue when we are dealing with the ingrown church, with its false separation…. Why is it so prevalent when the authority and the power of Christ are so sovereignly compelling? What is the church missing today?  The answer is to be found largely in our lack of trust.  The passive church member is a person weak in faith. (p. 57).  How accurate a portrayal and evaluation he has made.

So what does he propose as an answer? The first thing he recommends is to evaluate where the church is and measure it against where it ought to be. This requires knowledge of what God has to tell us about the vision, mission, purpose and direction for His Church. From that point we can gain a rather substantial view of where the church is currently at and where it ought to go.

Pastor Miller also suggests several things that is required of a local church, and makes worthwhile recommendations for change. The first is that the local church is to be a missionary church. The living, transcendent God came to claim Israel as His special possession, an act that prefigured the Spirit’s coming at Pentecost to make the church the new people of God, he writes. Peter squelches the idea that the church has a right to exist for its own egocentric interests and comforts. It exists for God, and He is His infinite majesty lives in it as a troubling, transforming, barrier-breaking presence (p. 43). It certainly has no right to live for itself. Yet this is where so many churches find themselves.

In this regard Miller lays out Four Steps to Renewal:

1 Develop an openness to God’s vision for the local church (p. 72).

2. Work to develop an honesty about your sins and weaknesses that lead to change (p. 73).

3. Personalize your relationship with Christ (p. 75)

4. Commit yourself to express God’s glory in every part of your life and service (p. 77).

Secondly, the local church must be a welcoming church. What does the commissioned church do that is different from what is done in the stagnated, passive congregation? he asks. The answer is essentially that the commissioned church is hospitable. It aggressively and joyfully seeks out the unchurched, laboring to welcome them into the church as members of the body of Christ. Its leaders self-consciously reject a “Christian clubhouse” atmosphere and devote themselves to developing in the congregation an open face to the community and the world beyond. The local leaders model a welcoming lifestyle and seek to mobilize others to do the same (p. 81). 

But why do so few Christians today open their hearts and homes to the non-Christian community? The reason is that they are fearful of being hurt by involvement with others. They do not want the trouble and the risk, the exhaustion that hospitality brings, the struggles with sloth that it requires, and all the rest of the suffering that it entails (p. 87).

This statement was highlighted during a pastoral visit I made years ago. The couple have been members of the particular church to which I had just arrived, for many years. One of their complaints was the lack of hospitality that was going on among one another, especially among the elders. The husband protested that in all the years (if I recall it was around twenty years) he had been at the church he had only been invited to three other homes!  While that was certainly a sad commentary on the state of affairs, it was not right for him to be so critical without examining his own heart and behaviors.  So I asked, “Have you practiced hospitality?”  “No!” was his abrupt and quick reply. And why not? The first answer was that it was too much trouble, but probing further, it became clear that  they were fearful of being rejected for not providing adequate or acceptable hospitality. Truly sad.

The third area Miller sees as important for a local church to become is a praying church. There can be no doubt that this is so crucial for a church. So much of the life of the church hinges upon prayer. Miller then brings out something quite interesting when he poses for us just what kind of prayer time do we have?  He titles this section, Two Kinds of Prayer Meetings: Maintenance or Frontline? This prayer meeting in Pennsylvania, he tells us, was intended to function as a frontline battle station. The earlier meeting in California was largely designed to maintain the existing life and ministry of our congregation.  Believers came to the earlier meeting to be edified by a Bible study …and to pray for the internal needs of the church. Expectancy seemed to be at a low ebb among the attenders, evidenced by the fact that none of us bothered to keep a record of prayers offered and answered. I also do not think that Christians came to this prayer meeting expecting to meet God in a life-changing encounter (p. 98).

Miller tells us, By contrast,(to the maintenance-type church) people came to the frontline prayer meetings to be changed. They discovered what Augustine has emphasized, that man’s chief need is to fellowship with God, to find fulfillment in Him, and to experience the abiding presence of Jesus (Pss. 27:4; 36:7-9; John 14:18-23; 15:1-10) (p. 98). Herein is what we need at church – life changing times of prayer!

 

Conclusion

If there is one thing I would critique, it would be the fact that his focus is a slight bit unbalanced. It seems plain to me that the Bible indeed urges churches to fulfill the mandate to disciple  people. But it is equally plain to me that the primary purpose is to have a passion for, and a love and desire to honor, worship and glorify God. In short, we are to have passion and compassion for God as well as for others. In loving God fully, we then would faithfully respond by loving others: other believers in His church, and loving others outside of the church.

The reason for going out to make disciples, as John puts it in his gospel, is to seek after those who will become worshipers of God. This emphasis would be more balanced, because it would be more biblical. This emphasis would more fully address the malady and sin of an introverted church.

Having said that, in my opinion, the author has done a splendid job helping us define and describe the conditions and symptoms of an ingrown church. He has offered many worthwhile remedies, and urged us toward biblical repentance and the need to think and act biblically. His concern for being outwardly focused is not only commendable, but biblical. As members in the kingdom of God, we are to serve others. His passion for making disciples through evangelism and missions is something we all need to catch. For this reason I highly commend this book.

 

 

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