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Read With Me: Outgrowing the Ingrown Church - Week 6

Merry Christmas!  As we left last night's service, I thought to myself as I often do, "I love this church."  I'm very grateful today and everyday for all those whom the Lord has brought into the body of Christ at River City.  Prayerful for your Christmas celebrations, wherever you may be!  

As my family watches A Christmas Story on TBS, I'm taking a few minutes to finish up our first Read With Me series of posts exploring C. John Miller's Outgrowing the Ingrown Church.  You can find the first five posts by following these links:

  1. Week 1
  2. Week 2
  3. Week 3
  4. Week 4
  5. Week 5

Having read this book about a year ago, it's been helpful and encouraging to work through it once more.  I'm excited for how the Lord has positioned our body to take part in his work throughout our community, and I've been reminded of how my drift is toward introversion rather than outward movement.  I've been confronted again with my wrestle over supposed comfort and "easy ministry" versus the amazing privilege of being used of God in the making/strengthening of disciples.  Lord willing, we'll continue on seeing a lifestyle of discipleship as a privilege regardless of the difficulties that arise.  For every tough situation we face, there's grace to endure as we watch God our Father do what he does.  

This week, we enter Section VI and the last two chapters of the book.  As we finish this book and move into the new year, another title will be chosen and worked through on a week-by-week basis. 

Section VI: Developing God's Missionary Programs

Chapter Eleven -- Opening a Window of Opportunity: Diaconal Witness

In the section title, he used the word program!  I don't know what connotations arise in your mind when that word is used, but I know how I respond.  Since trusting Christ, I've gone from a proponent of programmatic ministry, to a proponent of an "incarnational" approach, to now looking to the doctrine of union with Christ for empowerment in outreach.  J. Todd Billings' work on union with Christ has helped me much in this area, resulting in personal encouragement and something more powerful to put before our MC leaders.  Check out his book and an article that initially spurred me on to thinking critically on this topic.  Anyway, as much as we may want to avoid the word "program" in the ministry at River City, there are certain structures that we will invest in to a certain degree.  These are programs, and that's ok.  Our only real program is the Missional Community, which is more of a vehicle for discipleship, care for one another, and outreach to take place.  They're designed to let the Church be the Church, giving room for the Spirit to work in bearing witness to Christ (John 16:1-15).  

In his 11th chapter, Miller advocates for a strong diaconal ministry where service to the community is part of the outreach.  Miller looks to Cotton Mather, the Puritan Preacher, who advocated for small groups of believers who seek to do good in their neighborhoods for the sake of demonstrating the love of Christ and seeing people come to faith.  Being that Miller had a strong PCA affiliation, where there's strong diaconal and elder structures, what we can take here is the general principle of tangible service to our community as part of our outreach.  We may not call those who do this deacons, but rather hope that as an overflow of the Good News each person involved at River City will seek to care for others around them.  In this chapter, Miller is calling the local church to structures that allow for this kind of ministry to take place, which our Missional Communities currently offer.  Therefore, we'll spend less time in chapter 11 and more in chapter 12.  

Chapter Twelve -- Small Groups for Outreach

Miller defines a small group size as anywhere between six and thirty, which amply describes the Missional Communities employed at River City.  Another aspect of small group ministry Miller experienced and we have as well are the difficulties that is inherent in this structure.  "[We] discovered that small-group ministry can be exhausting in its demands if it is centered exclusively on the egocentric needs of troubled persons."  (Pg. 162)  Troubled persons are what we want coming into our Missional Communities, but if there's no proclamation of the Good News to them and then the means of proclaiming that same Good News to others, the group will move toward introversion.

"[Our] experience with small groups at New Life Church suggests it is easy for them to become protective spiritual nests for garden-variety people.  These groups do a wonderful job of assimilating new people into the congregation.  But they can quickly develop what Frank R. Tillapaugh has called 'a rear-echelon ministry' outlook.  The members of the group can meet, talk, and plan almost endlessly, without much happening, with the result that they tend to end up complaining and being critical of one another.  The reason?  They lack clear outreach goals and methods for fulfilling them."  (Pg. 163)

How true is that!?  Our group has experienced that a few times, where there's great talk and planning but a lack of proper implementation.  There was no clear discussion of the "why" or the "how" resulting in a lack of ownership amongst the rest of the group.  Two outreach opportunities fell by the wayside as a result.  

A third downfall of small-group ministry Miller experienced is always something we must guard against: developing friendships within the Missional Community at the expense of friendships with unbelievers outside the Missional Community.  Though close relationships amongst members of the body is a great thing and part of our focus, over time this drift will result in an us-versus-them mentality where the desire to serve and share are completely set aside.  Experience tells us that reorienting this is very difficult.  

Though these pitfalls exist and will affect each of our groups at one point or another, it does not mean that we throw out the baby with the bathwater.  The aspects of discipleship we're called to are still there and Missional Communities allow for them to take place.  Being aware of our drifts and the pitfalls will help us to remain healthy, multiplying more groups throughout our community.  Miller contrasts the term "survivorship" with "warriorship" as the attitude necessary for each member of a small group.  It's not about just getting by, but actively playing a part in the work of the Lord.  We need warriors, not just survivors.  With this warrior attitude, Miller gives three core elements of small groups:

  1. Spiritual healing and release.
  2. Worker mobilization.
  3. Outreach action.

At River City, number 1 above would fall under the general headings of discipleship and care.  Numbers 2 and 3 would be under the category of mission/outreach.  The core elements we hope to see in each group is present in what Miller sets forth.  These core aspects of small group life Miller attributes to a Wesleyan approach where each member of the group is seen as a "warrior-worker," playing some part in the group's discipleship, care, and outreach.  

Closing out the chapter and the book, Miller lists four models of small-group ministry.  My hope is that each of these are present in our groups, and thanks be to our God that you can look into all of our groups and see at least one of these flourishing!  

The Growth Model

Under this model, the leader is desiring for the group to grow numerically.  This happens through new church members being invited in as well as through evangelism.  The leader is intentional in having an "assistant" who is ready to split off as the group grows.  

"The value of this model is the santifying effect of its commitment to growth.  The best kind of nurture is given to believers when they are being stretched to do what seems beyond their capabilities.  In my experience, groups that have fallen into trouble invariably had neither a plan for growth in numbers nor active evangelism.  The alternative to the growth model seems to me to be the Dead Sea model, with believers constantly drinking in truth but stagnating because they are not pouring it out to others."  (Pg. 168)

The Healing Model

Many coming into our groups are not in a spot to be active in outreach and evangelism.  There's much sin and suffering that our groups must be willing/able to address in order for people to take an active role.  Therefore, pastoral care and "one-anothering" is absolutely necessary in our groups. 

"[What] is needed is to build faith by saturating the mind with the gospel of grace, so that lives can be built on the presupposition of Christ's atonement and His present availability as a living, loving Lord."  (Pg. 169)

The Worker Model

"Once we have saturated people with the gospel in song, testimony, preaching, and teaching, we ought to expect them to be able to serve others and to find increased liberation in that service."  (Pg. 170-171)

We have the wonderful opportunity to saturate our groups with the gospel, and that doesn't end on itself but results in tangible service to others.  Help people in your group understand how they're wired and how they can practically serve others in the group and people in the community.  

The Missionary Model

"Small groups are ideal for outreach.  They form natural teams for evangelism if they are properly prepared and understand how to do this work.  Preparation is essential, because many people get almost tongue-tied when it comes to witnessing.  I believe a fundamental reason for this is a lack of fellowship with the Father.  You can hardly talk about the wonder of His love in Christ if you don't really think He likes you very much and prayer is alien to you.  So all of us need ongoing release from acting like orphans living without a Father and without the empowerment of His Spirit of love."  (Pg. 171)

As the gospel is saturated in the hearts/minds of people in our groups, they will be mobilized to work and evangelize.  As leaders, we prayerfully and dependently create an environment where these things can take place.  We know it's not us who works these things among us, but even so there are things that we say and do which will spur others on.  May we understand the "why" and the "how" to Missional Community lifestyle, and hopefully this book has helped in that!  

Merry Christmas, excited and expectant for 2015.