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Read With Me: Outgrowing the Ingrown Church - Week 4

What an amazing privilege, to take part in the work of God in our community.  The Lord's design since before the dawn of time, before the foundation of the world, was to build for himself a Church.  A Body.  A group of people who exist by the grace of God to show off the grace of God, to show the richness of his mercy, the greatness of his love, the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness, his manifold wisdom!  (Ephesians 2:4-7 and 3:10)

My drift and our drift is to forget how amazing this is, knowing it intellectually but neglecting it functionally for the sake of status quo maintenance.  We don't believe that God is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think, through the working of his power in us (Ephesians 3:20-21), and end up ministering in our own power.  Self-glory rather than God's glory, something he doesn't share with another.  Hence our reading of Outgrowing the Ingrown Church from C. John Miller.  My hope is that through this series of posts, we can as a church be warned of our tendency to drift inward as well as be encouraged in how the Good News of the gospel and the grace of God helps us endure in outreach to our community.  Check out the first three posts here, here, and here.

We're continuing in Section III entitled "Uncovering the Sources of Missionary Power," looking at chapter seven which concludes this section.  We'll also move into Section IV, called "Serving as God's Missionary Leaders," getting into chapter eight.  

Chapter Seven -- The Praying Local Church

Chapter six moved into the more practical aspects of being an outwardly faced local church, looking at the necessity of hospitality.  Chapter seven addresses another practical and completely necessary practical element: prayer.  When we aren't understanding the character and nature of our missionary God, when we aren't faithful that he can and will do more abundantly than we ask or think, when we're operating in our own power seeking to maintain the status quo, prayer is neglected.  

Miller gave examples of regular prayer meetings he ran, one meeting that ended up failing and another that flourished.  One that slowly withered while another that became a place where people came to faith.  He boils down the difference between the failure and the success to his own attitude and approach.  Failure in the ongoing prayer meetings came from dependence upon his own intellectual work he put in during the week, and a functional misunderstanding of the nature of the Spirit.

As he was confronted with pastoring an introverted church, part of this confrontation addressed his theology of the Holy Spirit and his role in prayer.  As opposed to seeing himself as incredibly needy for the help of the Spirit, he saw himself as sufficient based on his own knowledge and experience.  Seeking to avoid an unhealthy level of focus on the Spirit alone, he ended up ignoring his work completely.  As his theology of the Spirit changed and grew, he began praying for the Spirit to work in all aspects of his life and ministry, including prayer.  

"In brief, my plea, based on the promise of the Spirit given in Luke 11:13, was for Him to meet with us and change us into a community of faith working through love.  Frequently I asked the Father to visit us with His Spirit to equip us with three things:

  1. His self-forgetting love for others,
  2. His wisdom for praying specifically and intelligently,
  3. His boldness for prayer and risk-taking witness."  (Pg. 97)

This becomes the basis for laying out his exhortation to focus on "frontline" prayer as a church, rather than "maintenance" prayer.  Is your prayer individually and corporately focused on maintaining the status quo, or is it designed to look to God for the power in transformation and outreach?  The drift is to maintain, flowing from resting in our own strengths and resources.  To humbly and honestly acknowledge your desperate neediness, asking for the Lord to work is something that isn't natural.  It takes the power of the Spirit, working in us to put others first, to bring boldness in our prayer and evangelism.

Miller gives four steps for implementing this kind of prayer in your church, and I believe these apply to orienting our prayers in MC in an more outwardly-faced direction:

  1. Become a better model yourself.
  2. Deepen your knowledge of corporate prayer.
  3. Seize every opportunity to talk with others informally about frontline prayer.
  4. Become more public in your teaching prayer.

What is the nature of prayer in your MC?  Which of these four steps above will help create a culture of frontline prayer?  Why is this necessary in the life of a MC or church?  

Section IV: Serving as God's Missionary Leaders

Chapter Eight -- The Pastor as Pacesetter

Chapter eight puts the pastor in the driver seat for reorienting the body in an outwardly-facing posture.  As MC leaders, we reinforce what's preached from the pulpit, helping implement this kind of lifestyle on the ground level.  Harmony between the Air War and Ground War means a complimentary effort between the work of the pastor and the work of the MC leader, in line with Scripture and the power of the Spirit.  People who end up coming to church often want to be given spiritual direction by the pastor.  For the pastor to ask intentional and directed questions of visitors as opportunities come is not always unexpected, and the same goes for MC leaders.  When someone shows up to your group, whether they know Jesus or not, they expect some degree of concern for their spiritual state.  In other words, there's more room for a bold and loving inquiry into one's spiritual growth than we think.  MC leaders can be bold and intentional in this way, slowly and surely affecting the culture of the group.  

"People commit themselves to a church where they feel wanted."  (Pg. 112)

As we take the opportunity to boldly engage, we implicitly and explicitly show them we want and need them in our fellowship.  An introverted church fears this kind of unpredictability, as new people come into a church or group, not knowing what baggage they may bring or the changes it may necessitate.  However, if there's an outward focus and a mission to take part in, there's something tangible that people can take ownership of and participate in.  Miller argues this introversion usually flows from "fear of people and the desire for human approval."  (Pg. 113)

This is something I've experienced myself, which prevented any real participation in the work of God.  It's more about me than it is Jesus, a bad place to be.  Inviting people to participate in the mission of God may get messy, or people may not want to take part!  I've experienced this as well, having invited people to come alongside our group in outreach to the Salvation Army.  

The introverted leader or pastor will seek to avoid conflict at all costs, neglecting the responsibility to encourage, exhort, and rebuke for the sake of easy, clean ministry.  Miller again points to the Good News for overcoming this laziness or fear:

"If we walk with Jesus, we will begin to take on both His lamblike gentleness and His lionlike courage."

In our union with Christ, his gentleness and courage are ours as well.  We can then be the type of leader that lovingly challenges people to join us as we join our Lord.  As we walk with Jesus, becoming more and more like him, this will be obvious to those around us who we are calling to follow us as we follow Christ.  To hammer this home, Miller calls upon Charles Spurgeon to show how understanding the Good News and whose we are is the empowerment for this type of lifestyle:

"Brothers, I beseech you, keep to the old gospel, and let your souls be filled with it, and then may you be set on fire with it!  When the wick is saturated, let the flame be applied.  'Fire from heaven' is still the necessity of the age.  They call it 'go,' and there is nothing which goes like it; for when the fire once starts upon a vast prairie or forest, all that is dry and withered must disappear before its terrible advance.  May God Himself, who is a consuming fire, ever burn in you as in teh bush at Horeb!  All other things being equal, that men will do most who has most of the divine fire.  That subtle, mysterious element called fire -- who knoweth what it is?  It is a force inconceivably mighty.  Perhaps it is the motive force of all forces, for light and heat from the sun are the soul of power.  Certainly fire, as it is in God, and comes upon His servants, is power omnipotent.  The consecrated flame will, perhaps, consume you, burning up the bodily health with too great ardor of soul, even as a sharp sword wears away the scabbard; but what of that?  The zeal of God's house at up our Master, and it is but a small matter that it should consume his servants."

-- An All-Round Ministry (London: Banner of Truth Trust, 1972), p. 125 as quoted on Pg. 115

As our zeal for Jesus and worship of him increasing in our community is apparent, as we understand the nature of our peace with God, this consuming fire will spread to those around us.  May we lead in such a way!  

Only four chapters remain, more to come next Thursday.