Dluxe's World

Friday, July 7

Wrap-up: Outgrowing the Ingrown Church (Miller)

With the moving, phone hassles, post office struggles (thanks to the supposed Jack Russell attack dog next door), and other assorted mess, I'm long overdue for a book review.

C. John Miller's book, Outgrowing the Ingrown Church, is a good example of a solid book that was published 'before its time'. Focusing on healthy, Bible-centered church growth, Miller's short volume is practically lost in the swirling flood of modern-day manuals telling you how to fling the doors open and fill the pews.

Early in the book, Miller lays his core message:
Church growth that is not inspired by faith in Christ's power to tranform lives is dangerous. Ultimately, I believe, it will prove to be as displeasing to the Head of the church as numerical stagnation. The congregation that is secularized and adds secularized members to its rolls is simply confirming itseld in its indifference to the will of the Lord. (p. 18)

When he was writing (c1986), Miller saw that churches had lost the missionary zeal that comes from being really confronted with and transformed by the Gospel of Christ. His observation was that such churches "give lip service to missions and evangelism, but inwardly they have given up - quit - having lost confidence in their being used by the Lord." (p.17)

What's really interesting to me is that recent trends are much different... Looking around today, we see tons of churches that are outwardly focused and actively engaged with the culture around them. The problem is that they are engaging culture with specific methodologies and strategies while allowing the message to fall to the gutter. Some modern growth experts are encouraging and 'ends justify the means' approach to bringing people into church. Instead of the gospel, we've come to rely on gimmicks and desires to be seen as cool/hip/trendy.

So, how do we rightly seek to grow a congregation and reach the communities around us? Outgrowing advocates a 4 step process for leaders seeking to renew the church's vision (rightly noting that renewal is a strictly a work of the Holy Spirit in the leader and the congregation):
  1. Develop an openness to God's vision for the local church - "What will emerge from such reflection, I believe, will be a vision of the church and its worship as a doxological fellowship, with praise leading the members of the church to go forth boldly with the gospel to the world." (p.73)
  2. Work to develop an honesty about your sins and weaknesses that lead to change - "I really do not come to every message with the thought that it will be hell for me if Jesus is not glorified in my proclamation of the Word... So honesty requires us to begin where we are, to confess forthrightly that we have sinned and fallen short of the divine glory." (p.74-75)
  3. Personalize your relationship with Christ - "It is the personalizing of the glory of Christ that motivated Stephen's unflinching courage [Acts 6 - 7] and made him a compassionate but effective confronter of his hearers... Stephen had no fear whatever of those who stand before him. Man and his stones meant little to him." (p.76)
  4. Commit yourself to express God's glory in every part of your life and service - "As my spirit more and more celebrated the power of the resurrected Lord, and as my faltering lips cried out for mercy from the Father, I began to meet God in a new way in worship, and so did other people." (p.78)
With the pacesetter's (Miller's term for the energized leader) priorities in order, Miller lays out a program of discipleship intended to pass the fire and tools onto the congregants. For the pastor, this primarily consists of the regular instruction and preaching of the gospel. Miller says:
Our preaching of the gospel is what builds people's faith in God and fills them with the assurance of His love, freeing them to witness to the world. The gospel of grace is to be clearly seen as the basis on which all exhortations to duty and pacesetting obedience rest. It is to be taught in the pulpit, in counseling sessions, during prayer meetings, at church planting meetings, in the sick rooms, and in cases of church discipline. As we embrace the message of the Cross in the presence of our sins and weaknesses, it becomes to us "the word of faith" living in our hearts and sounding from our lips (Rom. 10:6-10). (p.143)

Miller's book reminded me a lot of D.A. Carson's The Cross and Christian Ministry, which I read a few years ago (and am looking forward to re-reading soon). While growing churches is all the buzz nowadays, it's crucial that we consider what is responsible for the new butts in the pews. If we are bringing in people with a dog-and-pony show, we're really not accomplishing anything that the travelling circus doesn't manage when it comes to town. On the other hand, we have a promise from the Lord that He will grow and sustain the church that faithfully handles the Gospel.

I'm not saying methods, hip music, or any such thing are absolutely bad... However, when they become the means of 'converting' people as a substitute for the clear proclamation of God's grace in Christ, we have a problem.

If you're a pastor or layperson in a church just 'going through the motions', this book is for you. Thriving churches would would do well to look at Miller's book and challenge their methods with biblical scrutiny.

In closing, this quote from John Piper (at the recent T4G conference) sums up the point well:
Beholding the glory of the Lord, we are transformed from one degree of glory to another. This is God’s way of changing people. And if you say to me, "Doesn't work!" then I think you should keep on doing it anyway... People are changed the way God wants them to change, not the way you want them to change. Suppose you do find another way that works, have you produced what God wants - namely, glory-seeing driven change? And if you produce another kind of change, He may not be interested... There are people in the category of the perishing who will never see. Are you going to let your failure with them alter your method?



Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home