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Read With Me: Outgrowing the Ingrown Church - Week 5

There was a time when during our announcements on a Sunday morning, we would essentially communicate that going to a Missional Community was more important than showing up on Sunday mornings.  Our hope in that was to show how important the life of the church outside of Sunday mornings was incredibly important, more so than our churched culture here in Fargo usually believes.  Being lovers of God and his Word, as an elder team and as pastors we had and still have a very high view of Sunday mornings, but that wasn't always communicated properly.  This week, continuing on in our blog series working through Outgrowing the Ingrown Church, we'll see more of why Sunday mornings are crucial and why our communication from the platform has changed.  

We start today with chapter nine, still in Section IV: Serving as God's Missionary Leaders.  Miller discusses the necessity of Christ-centered preaching and how that affects the life of the church in God's mission.

Chapter Nine -- Preaching by Faith: God's Missionary Fire

During seminary, Miller took part in a series of lectures from Scottish pastor and theologian John Murray who helped him frame out what preaching was all about.  The lectures were not on homiletics at all, but it was through his passion for Christ and his work that Miller was influenced in his broad gospel proclamation.  "It was mysterious, but from observing this Scot I understood what preaching by faith is all about.  It simply means that through the humbling presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we have seen the Christ of the Scriptures, and we have fearlessly handed to our hearers what we have seen."  (Pg. 121)

This is a great and basic definition of expositional preaching, and helps us begin to talk about how preaching is used of God to empower his saints for outreach.  

"Preaching ought to have the best wit, wisdom, clarity, and logical order that a preacher can give it.  But these qualities by themselves will not add up to preaching Christ by faith.  Something more is called for.  That something more is aiming the message at people, with the purpose of bringing Christ to them and them to Christ.  The goal is to change them by the power of the gospel.  If we as preachers have another goal, we will have short-circuited the whole process and confirmed ourselves and the congregation in our spiritual introversion."  (Pg. 123)

Preaching Christ and him crucified by faith, with the aim of glorifying him through the ongoing transformation of his saints is the empowerment behind effective outreach.  Sitting under this faithful teaching on a week-by-week basis is one means of grace used by God to make us more like his Son and find the power for outreach.  Apart from Christ-centered gospel preaching, a church will turn inward from one degree of inwardness to another.  

"The preacher should see preaching much more as a declaration of war, a conflict in which well-disciplined words march as to war to bring the hearers to surrender to Jesus Christ.  We need to use the pulpit as a battle station."  (Pg. 124)

On the flipside of this point, we as those sitting under the Word preached and leading discussion in MC, we need to see the words proclaimed from the pulpit in this light and use them as marching orders for our groups.  The redemptive truths preached on a Sunday morning light the fire that grows during MC discussion.  Hence the sermon-based discussion questions, taking those marching orders and showing those present in our MC how we got to that point and where it takes us.  

This kind of preaching by faith, argues Miller, is done by those with deep faith in Christ.  It's not a means by which the preacher grows in popularity with the body, but where the truth of the Scriptures are put before the children of God.  This is a wrestle for all who preach week-by-week, so please pray for Pastor Brett!  

"We must admit taht we are idolaters, get down on our knees before God like any other fallen sinner, and claim the righteousness of Christ as the sole basis of our forgiveness.  Afterward, we can read John 3:16-17 and identify ourselves with the lost world of mankind for which Christ died.  We should stay on our knees until we have the assurance that God's love for the 'perishing' includes us.  Then we can go to the congregation and preach Christ by faith, going as repentant sinners who love God and His people more than we love human approval.  If we do this, we will have all the compelling power of God's presence with us...Let us, therefore, make our messages sharp-edged instruments to do God's holy work -- to inform, to convince, and to motivate, with a view to transforming men and women into the image of Christ through faith in Him alone."  (Pg. 129, 133)

Sitting under this kind of preaching is the spark that results in missionary fire lived out throughout the week, by the power of the Spirit and the truth of the Word.

Chapter Ten -- Equipping for the Harvest Field

Looking to Ephesians 4:12 as the desire of the Christ-centered pastor, we move into what we hope comes from sitting under the Word preached.  Flowing from his earlier experiences in the introverted church, Miller sees the role of the pastor as preparing and training others for service as opposed to the one responsible for all the work of ministry.  This is a big distinction and important for the outwardly-oriented church.  

"I believe a major reason for this pastoral hesitation [to prepare and train the body for the work of ministry] lies with the established notion of 'the clergy' as an elitist class with a unique status that needs to be protected.  If we assume that the clergy represent an upper tier of the people of God, standing above the laity, it seems pointless -- and possibly wrong -- to train laymen to study and teach the Bible when only the ordained minister is really capable of handling the Word."  (Pg. 138)

There is something to be said for those who labor in preaching and teaching, for those called into the office of deacon or elder.  However, that does not mean that they have a double-dose of justification or are beloved of God in a deeper way than anyone else.  However, this attitude toward "the clergy" remains in our community, so there's a part of our work in preaching and MC leadership in showing that all of us are indwelt by the same Spirit with the same call to go and make disciples.  

Two things came to the surface for Miller as he saw the Lord working in his church.  Two specific ways he sought to equip people for the work of ministry included teaching them the gospel and training them to use their spiritual gifts to serve Christ (Pg. 142).  Understanding their full forgiveness and Christ, their complete acceptance in the doctrine of justification, is the beginning of equipping the saints for ministry.  Many have a functional unbelief when it comes to the depth of God's forgiveness.  Many have a surface-level understanding of how loved and accepted they are in Christ.  When this is understood more and more, in contrast with the breadth/depth of their former rebellion, an outward orientation ensues.  

From there, understanding the gifts they've been given and the function they play within the church allows them to serve Christ effectively and joyfully.  "The pastor must teach his people to face specific sins and fears, to apply the spiritual power of the gospel to put them to death, and to use the resulting freedom to exercise gifts in service to Christ...I submit that a willingness to reach out with the gospel to the 'unwashed' is the mark of a transformed heart and life."  (Pg. 144, 145)

As MC leaders, we have the privilege of helping people take what's preached on a Sunday and see it lived out in time and space.  We help people understand the depth of their forgiveness and acceptance, and how they can be used of God in his work.  May we enjoy the preaching of the Word, may we be transformed, may we be comforted and in turn share that comfort with others so they can do the same!