Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Book Review: Outgrowing the Ingrown Church by C. John Miller

If I take the time write a whole book summary/review you know that I have found either a really good book, or a really bad one. This, is a really good one. This is the 2nd book I’ve read from Jack Miller (first one was The Heart of A Servant Leader which was also excellent). It is really insightful as it discusses church function, purpose and ministry. But I’ll warn you, it’s rather convicting as well. Jack writes about an unfortunately tendency in churches today – the tendency to be ingrown, that is, focused on internal ministry and life. How many churches are seemingly strong doctrinally and internally, yet have very little to no community involvement, evangelism or outward ministry? Jack sees that “…it is the privilege and duty of each believer to become God’s zealous pacesetter in bringing the lost to Christ by every means available” (p. 57). As Christians we are meant to be active participants in the Great Commission, not passive supporters from the sidelines. We often tend to have “tunnel vision” and focus on internal ministries, maintaining what exists but in the process we end up ignoring Christ’s command to go and make disciples. 

As he discusses what can lead to a church being ingrown he concludes 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” (p. 72). On the flip side, in looking at what qualities consist of a church that is not ingrown he writes, “I’m thinking of regular and thorough meditation on the promises of God, ongoing repentance based on the intense study of Scripture, continual personal and corporate prayer, daring gospel communication and discipling, mobilizing every member’s gifts for Christ’s mission to the world, and each congregation working to plant daughter churches” (p. 19). This is pretty radical when you consider most churches today. It seems to me that many individuals and most churches tend to think they are pretty healthy, when they are in fact missing a whole lot. Also Jack talks about how many times we can think we are preaching the gospel, or think that we are doing ministry when we’re really not.

Jack spends some time talking about how to develop zeal for the gospel, which is essential if you are going to overcome any ingrown tendencies. This zeal springs from faith in the power of God. He goes on to talk about how faith is expectation – it’s expecting God to answer prayer and be at work in our midst. If you don’t have a faith that expects God to move, than you will have little zeal for the Gospel. There is a chapter devoted specifically to corporate prayer and sees this as essential to the health and growth of any church. He writes that he became convinced that “a normal Christian life requires participation in corporate prayer.” Too often, corporate prayer is minimized or nearly excluded from the life of the local church. Very little to no special time is set for prayer and any of that time is mostly focused on internal needs and ministry.

Another tendency of an ingrown church or person is a superior attitude (both in regards to other Christians and to non-believers) and out of that often flows a critical attitude towards others. For this reason Jack emphasizes teaching on and training the tongue. In his sections about discipleship one fragment that he emphasizes is teaching people not to be at all critical of others or unkind. He writes, “If you criticize others in the church, you are really attacking yourself – because we are one body in Christ. Indeed, to attack others with our tongue is really to attack Him, the head of the church” (p. 34). It is so easy for us to tear down other Christians (whether within our local church, or someone else cross country) when we should be pursuing peace and unity and be busy serving Christ. I confess my own tendency in this area - it is easy to criticize others when you don’t agree with them. However, it is one thing to call someone out when they are clearly contradicting Scripture, but it is something else to unjustly criticize others or to tear someone down over some terminology or minor things you don’t agree with. If you have the tendency to look down on and/or criticize others with whom you don’t agree, let this be a warning to you as it is to me.

All this to say, this is an excellent book and one I found very helpful! I hope you'll join me as I pray and seek the Lord for how and where He will have me be more active in the great commission. I’ll quote Jack’s closing remarks to inspire you to pursue and active role in Christ’s call: “So let us go forward with this vision. Let us give it no rest until we see more and more people in our churches changing from merely surviving to working for Christ, becoming His soldiers in the noblest cause this world has ever seen” (p. 173).

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