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Read With Me: Outgrowing the Ingrown Church - Week 3

We're jumping right in this week to Section III entitled "Uncovering the Sources of Missionary Power," looking at chapters five and six of Outgrowing the Ingrown Church by C. John Miller.  You can check out my recaps of the previous four chapters here and here.  Hoping this has been a helpful look at what I've found to be a helpful book!  

Section III: Uncovering the Sources of Missionary Power

Chapter Five -- The Local Church: God's Glory Its Missionary Motive

In looking at our motives for why we pursue and outwardly focused posture of a church, I very much appreciate what's laid out in chapter five.  God is worthy of all praise for who he is, not to mention all that he's accomplished through the work of his Son Jesus Christ!  The character and nature of God as revealed in Scripture should drop us to our knees in humble worship and adoration!  Yet, as we fight the flesh we are tempted to worship the creature rather than the Creator (Romans 1:25), and our world is full of people who worship anything but the Living God.  Our motives as missionaries stems from the fact God deserves all the glory, honor, and praise.  Miller, in his continued transformation, came to a working definition of grace and glory: 

"The glory of God is the difference between what we would naturally be or do and what we are enabled to do by God's grace."  (Pg. 68-69)

As his sons and daughters, we interact with, display, and proclaim the glory of God when we think and act differently than we would naturally.  When we respond to suffering with joy (Romans 5:3), that's the grace of God working in us for his glory.  When we hold our tongue with our spouse, and instead of using bitter and hurtful language, we encourage one another, that's God's grace working in us for his glory.  When we practice the art of gentle confrontation with a coworker, that's the grace of God working in us for his glory.  When we are motivated by the glory of God, we see grace working in and through us in ways that aren't natural.

The example of Stephen in the book of Acts highlights this grace and glory in action.  Miller looks to this Scriptural example, showing "the motivational root of Stephen's joy and his capacity to endure evil lie in his awareness of God's glory."  (Pg. 70)  It's this understanding that empowered the first martyrdom.  However, faith in this kind of transformation is weak in the ingrown church.  People have a hard time believing that believing the promises of God can, in time and space, result in a response a la Stephen.  

Fighting this inward drift of unbelief, Miller looks to 1 Peter 2 as he did in chapter three.  Again, knowing that we as a body are "God-owned, God-accepted, and God-separated" allows for a faith that plays out even to the point of being martyred.  Being a chosen people, we proclaim his excellencies even in the midst of great persecution.  "Any believer who knows what he once was and has now become by grace will shine with a 'glorious joy.'" (Pg. 71)  Knowing we were once separated from the people of God, but now have been brought near by the blood of Christ will result in a joy that shines regardless of circumstance.  This must be true, otherwise the grace we've been shown isn't only insufficient for our daily lives now, it's insufficient for when we enter eternity and stand before our Lord.  If a church is marked by unbelief in the motivating power of God's glory, and the empowering work of grace in every believer, introversion will continue to be the mark of that particular body.  

"Regretfully I conclude that the most fundamental lack in the inward-looking congregation is its loss of touch with the motivational power of the divine glory at work in the church and the world."  (Pg. 72)

From here, Miller provides four steps to renewal, which I'll let you read in more detail in his book:

  1. Develop an opennes to God's vision for the local church.
  2. Work to develop an honesty about your sins and weaknesses that leads to change.
  3. Personalize your relationship with Christ.
  4. Commit yourself to express God's gloryin every part of your life and service.

"The story of redemptive history is really teh record of the expression of this love of the Father and the Son for one another and their desire to share their community of love with the redeemed community."  (Pg. 77)

Chapter Six -- The Welcoming Local Church

Moving from the motivational to the practical, Miller begins chapter six by arguing that the essential marker of an outward church is hospitality.  

"What does the commissioned church do that is different from what is done in the stagnated, passive congregation?  The answer is essentially that the commissioned church is hospitable.  It aggressively and joyfully seeks out the unchurched, laboring to welcome them inot 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 world beyond.  The local leaders model a welcoming lifestyle and seek to mobilize others to do the same...I believe that is is often easier to inspire Christian people to go overseas as 'missionaries' than it is to get them to welcome their neighbors into their lives."  (Pg. 81)

The inward church may consider itself hospitable, but functionally not be to the degree they may believe.  I see that being something we have to very much guard against at River City.  Our Missional Communities have great familial relationships, however that is itself something that can be hard for visitors to break into.  Being a welcoming church is crucial to the ongoing outreach of our body, especially in the midwest where going to church on Sunday mornings isn't weird.  There will always be room to be friendlier, which can very often be an act of faith where grace empowers us to live for the glory of God.  This may mean you look someone in the eye, shake their hand, and say "Welcome."  That's it, but for many of us that's a scary and difficult thing to do!  Our drift is to go to that which is familiar and comfortable, like people in our MC.  That's good that they're a place of comfort for you, but if that becomes an excuse to avoid meeting new people, then there's a misunderstanding of God's glory and of his empowering grace.  

This also may look at the work of outreach and hospitality as something reserved for the leadership in the church.  Miller calls this "The Great American Church Trajedy."  

"That trajedy is the local church with an abundance of resources and spiritual gifts held back by unbelieving apathy and blinded by the strange notion that the work of missionary outreach is the domain of a few highly trained leaders."  (Pg. 84)

In a reformed church, this can also flow from a functional hyper-Calvinism where there is a fatalistic approach to outreach.  It also flows from a misunderstanding of the Great Commission from Matthew 28:18-20 and Acts 1:8, where Jesus says he's going to work through his Church to make disciples of all nations.  As we've seen, local congregations are the means used by God for this work.  When we forget that all of us, leaders and congregation included, are part of the local church, we don't see ourselves as having gifts and roles to play.  All of us may not naturally proclaim the gospel, but we can all partake in the art of gentle confrontation as we seek opportunities with those in our lives.  If a coworker or family member shares something flowing from secular humanism, do we just stand by and let them believe it?  Or do we call the leaders of the church and tell the to come address this false worldview?  

Miller goes on to rightly make hospitality a "gospel issue," as it is a reflection of the hospitality with God the Father we now experience through the finished work of God the Son.  After watching a church he was helping rededicate themselves to hospitality, there were more things on top of that he would have liked to work on.  I'll close the post with them listed here, again flowing from the motive of glorifying God through his empowering grace and continuing to be an outwardly focused church.

  1. "I would stress to the pacesetting pastor the supreme importance of preaching the gospel clearly and boldly, and his need to recruit people to pray regularly that this might take place."
  2. "I would emphasize the importance of orienting teh worship service around God's welcoming person and grace."
  3. "I would labor to make every organization in the church develop what our congregation calls an 'outward face' toward the world."
  4. "I would develop new programs designed to meet the needs of the community."

Next week, we'll continue in the practical elements of an outwardly facing church looking at the discipline of prayer.  After chapter seven, we'll hit another section and get into chapter eight.  May the God of all grace continue to work in us, for the sake of his great name!