Seven Qualities of an Inward, Ingrown Church

Yesterday at the church where I pastor, I shared one characteristic of what C. John Miller calls an ‘ingrown church.’ Below are a synopsis of all seven characteristics from his book, Outgrowing the Ingrown Church  by C. John Miller(Zondervan, 1986) pp. 27-40.

1. Tunnel Vision

Members of the ingrown church body are characterized by tunnel vision that limits potential ministries of the church to those that can be accomplished by the visible, human resources at hand. These possibilities are often further limited by recollections of past negative experiences and perceptions of present obstacles. At bottom, this is unbelief based on a secularized ignorance of the Spirit’s power—His ability to supply us with God’s goals for the church and the supernatural means to reach them.

2. Shared Sense of Group Superiority

This visionless church is often characterized by a sense of superiority to “the others.” Many smaller congregations and their leadership have become egocentric because of their fear of extinction. Struggling churches are likely to exaggerate points of superiority they actually possess as means of compensation for their limitations. . . . This assumed positive feature leads to an unconscious elitist attitude. If we are proudly clinging to an ecclesiastical tradition and making it our hope, we may have secured our status in our own eyes yet failed miserably with the Lord.

3. Extreme Sensitivity to Negative Human Opinion

The members of the ingrown church are also likely to feel inferior and shrivel up and die at the first sign of opposition. A world of disapproval from a “pillar” of the church is enough to rattle the ecclesiastical squirrel cage and send everyone running for cover. . . . The sad truth is that one negative critic with a loud voice who speaks from within the inner circle of the ingrown church usurps the role of Christ, wielding the power to make or break programs. . . . An ingrown church has given in for so long to intimidation that its fears have obscured vital contact with the promises of God.

4. Niceness in Tone

The ingrown church has the shared desire to be seen as “nice.” What is often wanted in the local church is unrelieved blandness: a “nice pastor” preaching “nice sermons” about a “nice Jesus” delivered in a “nice tone” of voice. . . . It is likely that those who are walking with Him in close fellowship will not always be nice and predictable. But the introverted church wants to secure the church doors against divine surprises and unannounced entrances by the King.

5. Christian Soap Opera in Style

In the introverted church we find that the members use their tongues a great deal—not to witness or pray or praise or to affirm one another, but to publicly review on another’s flaws, doings, and sins. We all know how easy it is for church members to go home after hearing a sermon and have “roast pastor” for lunch. Why does this happen? . . . . Unbelief and fear characterize the mental outlook in the ingrown church. The members of the church do not see themselves as living, praying, and talking in partnership with Christ and one another through His indwelling Holy Spirit. There is often a failure to cultivate among leaders and people a spirit of forgiveness, mutual forbearance, and love.

6. Confused Leadership Roles

In many churches the members of the congregation do not want officers who are trying to be pacesetters for God’s kingdom. This is especially true of the small church, where fear of change runs high. In the typical self-centered church, there is a hidden determination to eradicate enthusiasm that disturbs the comfortable routine dictated by self-trust, self-exaltation, niceness as a defense mechanism, and the rights of gossip. . . . In this system elders also lack great convictions about God and His gospel and have little active role in the daily lives of church members.

7. A Misdirected Purpose

It is clear from the foregoing that the controlling purpose in the ingrown church has to do with survival—not with growth through conversion of the lost. We can recognize this misdirected purpose by noting what goes into the church budget (and what is left out) and how visitors to the church services are welcomed. No planning is devoted to finding ways to assimilate visitors into the fellowship.

Read through Romans 1, Psalm 95, and Matthew 28:18-20 each day for a week. Ask God to show you how to prevent or to overcome being an inward, ingrown church.

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All Lives Matter, So Make Yours Count

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If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.  But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again (Philippians 1:22-26).

What’s the first word here?  “If.”  Consider what faced Paul?  “If I am to live in the flesh…” meaning, “If I am to escape the possible execution I’m facing.”  I’ve been at the bedside of many who have been sick and/or dying.  When the possibility of death comes along, the vast majority of us approach this season with anxiety and dread.  We ask all sorts of questions about the life we will leave behind.  Paul could have asked these same questions about what would happen with his churches and those he won to Christ.

Our present life entails fruitful labor for Christ.  In verse 22, we read, “If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell.”  If Paul lived, then praise God—fruitful labor for him!  He would continue to tell others of the good news of Christ.

Compare him with the likes of Hezekiah.  In Isaiah, chapters 38-39, King Hezekiah was on the point of death.  He did not approach the prospect of death well!

And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came to him, and said to him, “Thus says the Lord: Set your house in order, for you shall die, you shall not recover.” 2 Then Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, 3 and said, “Please, O Lord, remember how I have walked before you in faithfulness and with a whole heart, and have done what is good in your sight.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly.
4 Then the word of the Lord came to Isaiah: 5 “Go and say to Hezekiah, Thus says the Lord, the God of David your father: I have heard your prayer; I have seen your tears. Behold, I will add fifteen years to your life. 6 I will deliver you and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria, and will defend this city.

Hezekiah wept at the thought of death.  He wanted to stay here.  But those 15 years that God gave him were tragic years.  At the beginning of Isaiah 39, a Babylonian delegate asked to see the Temple, the armory, the storehouses, everything.  Hezekiah was proud, so he allowed it.  Isaiah responded:

5 Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, “Hear the word of the Lord of hosts: 6 Behold, the days are coming, when all that is in your house, and that which your fathers have stored up till this day, shall be carried to Babylon. Nothing shall be left, says the Lord. 7 And some of your own sons, who will come from you, whom you will father, shall be taken away, and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.” 8 Then Hezekiah said to Isaiah, “The word of the Lord that you have spoken is good.” For he thought, “There will be peace and security in my days.”

He wanted to stay in order to glorify himself rather than God. Even when tragedy would hit, he took comfort in that this tragedy wouldn’t happen as long as he was alive—even if it affected his sons and people.

How different are Hezekiah than Paul!  But if we were to take inventory of our hearts in our culture, and even those who name the name of Christ, we identify more with Hezekiah, don’t we?  Some of you know that I’ve just started working on a team the North American Missions Board helping churches that are within two years of dying not to, well, die.  They’ve gotten to a position of looking inward more than outward, ministering more to themselves rather than to the changing communities around them.  Many of these churches would rather die than to change.  As long as they have comfort in their own community, they are fine–for at least there is peace and security in their days.

We wish for fruitful labor, that is, labor that bears fruit!  Make your life count, dear Christian! Do you believe that God’s favor is found in peace and security in your days–or fighting the good fight of faith for the eternal security of others?

 

Spurgeon on the Bible Defending the Bible

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Tim Keller’s book on preaching is a treasure. Included is a quote from Charles Spurgeon which is also a treasure.

There seems to me to have been twice as much done in some ages in defending the Bible as in expounding it, but if the whole of our strength shall henceforth go to the exposition and spreading of it, we may leave it pretty much to defend itself. I do not know whether you see that lion – it is very distinctly before my eyes; a number of persons advance to attack him, while the host of us would defend him. Pardon me if I offer a quiet suggestion: open the door and let the lion out; he will take care of himself. Why, they are gone! You know sooner goes forth in his strength and his assailant flee. The way they meet infidelity is just read the Bible. The answer to every objection against the Bible is the Bible.

Let’s trust the Word to do its work. Let lion out!

Can Anything Good Come from Sin? Yes!

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Can anything good come out of sin? Can anything good come out of walking through the valley of the shadow of death? Let me tell you something that has subtly crept into the church. Are you ready? We believe that church is just for us. We look at things in the church through the wrong lenses–and we know how that goes, when you grab the wrong glasses. So when something comes along, new or otherwise, we need to change our attitudes. But look at Psalm 51:13-15:

Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will return to you.
14 Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God,
O God of my salvation,
and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.
15 O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise.

Take, oh, our sin. We come along and praise God for forgiving us of our sin, then we stop. “Forgiven! Clean! That’s all the matters!” But look at what David said should God forgive him: “Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.” In other words, when God takes us through that valley of the shadow of death and our sin, He brings us out so we can teach others about the justice, holiness, righteousness, love, and deliverance of our mighty God! How?

Singing aloud of your righteousness. Did you realize that singing songs of forgiveness is a teaching tool? Granted, some songs say little, so the worship leadership needs to pick songs of salvific substance. Sing about the cross (1 Corinthians 2:2), the empty tomb (Philippians 2:8-11), the blood (Ephesians 1:7) and our sin (Psalm 51). Sing of His worth (Revelation 5:9-11). Thank him (Ephesians 5:18-19) and encourage in His Word through song (Colossians 3:15-16). Sing it loud!

Speak aloud of His praise! When God loosens the tongue, like Zechariah, we will sing praises to him (Luke 1:67-79). God intends for us to use our words to exalt him and to edify others around us in the gospel! Paul urges the Colossians, “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Colossians 4:6). Salt is used as a preservative, to preserve the things of Christ and the gospel in a lost and dying world. So may our speech in a world with a propensity to sin preserve the truth of the gospel, even if others do not wish to hear it.

Some lessons we only learn in the valley. But God will be with us in Christ, to help others who travel in that valley as well. Even God can bring good out of something so bad.

What a mighty God we serve!

Take Heart, Dear Christian! The Gospel is Advancing

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12 I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, 13 so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ.

Have you ever visited someone or talked to someone with every intention of trying to encourage them, and they turn around in their troubled times and encourage you?  When we see that “what has happened” to him was, as it said in v. 13, imprisonment!  Christ has called us to go to those who are sick, ill, and in prison.  Why?  To strengthen and encourage them.  Yet Paul tells them a great piece of encouragement:  all of what’s happened has proven to advance the gospel.  Not slow it down.  Not stop it!  Not obliterate it.  Advance it!

But where?  Notice where and to whom the gospel is advancing:  “the imperial guard and to all the rest.”  At the beginning of Romans, Paul said, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God unto salvation, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.”  That term, ‘Greek,’ doesn’t mean those from Greece.  In that culture, the Greek language and culture pervaded the Roman Empire.  It refers to all non-Jews.  Gentiles.  You see, we cannot understand Paul outside of His call in Acts 9:15-16:

15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. 16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”

Here, he carries it before Gentiles—but few likely expected that it would be among the Roman guard and other inmates.  But why do we find ourselves limiting who would hear the gospel?

All we need to do is look at the life of Jesus.  When my name sake, “Matthew,” left his tax booth and followed Jesus, he threw a party:

10 And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. 11 And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 12 But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13 Go and learnwhat this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

“Tax collectors and sinners.”  Over and over, Jesus received those whom the religious elite with their moral superiority rejected.  A pastor friend of mine told of a time when he met a fellow churchman at a Starbucks.  Over and over, the churchman kept saying, “How can we eat here?  Do you know the causes they support?”  To which my pastor friend said, “But aren’t these the very people we are called to reach?”

The gospel is advancing.  Jesus told the Pharisees that he came to call ‘sinners’ to repentance.  When you came to Christ, dear Christian, did you see yourself as a sinner in need of a Savior?  Or, as so many seem to believe, God saved you due to your goodness, your righteousness, if you will?  As you read through the gospels, you always sensed that the Pharisees believed God loved them because of their moral superiority.  And those are not the people Christ came to call.  He came to call sinners, and that’s the very thing that people in their flesh struggle with the most! Most people come into our churches wanting therapy, to feel better about themselves, thinking they we are essential good people needing a tune-up. Former quarterback and Joe Theismann explained to his soon-to-be ex-wife why he had an affair, said to her, “God wants Joe Theismann to be happy.”   So, both inside and outside the church, we believe there is some righteousness we have and that God is in heaven looking to us saying, “What will make you happy?  Let’s put it over the goal-line.” The gospel advances.  How joyful for the Christian!

Away with Social-Club Church, In With Gospel Partnership!

wp-1449632031481.jpgDid you know that the moment you surrendered to Christ, you became a partner in the gospel with every other believer on the planet? God sent the apostle Paul to plant and establish churches all through Asia Minor, into Rome, and likely into Spain. As he won many to Christ who rescued them from their sins both now and eternally, what God used him to do is acquired more partners in the gospel.

So Paul leads off his prayer with thanksgiving. Dear Lord, every time I think of these believers in Philippi, I am grateful and have joy because of having them as partners!  I wonder, would Paul be able to say that of me? Would he be able to say that of our churches here in Denver? Would he be able to say that of Arapahoe Road Baptist Church. As we see from the Ephesian church in Revelation, Christ told them they had lost their first love. The essentials had moved to the peripherals, and the peripherals move to the essentials.What are the essentials? Albert Mohler helps us out:

First-level theological issues would include those doctrines most central and essential to the Christian faith. Included among these most crucial doctrines would be doctrines such as the Trinity, the full deity and humanity of Jesus Christ, justification by faith, and the authority of Scripture.

While we could spend weeks on each of these issues, what we do see if that if a Christian or churches compromise on any of these doctrines, we undermine the gospel. The gospel is not simply believing a set of facts, but it is a surrender to all that Christ has revealed about His nature, His work in rescuing us, and how He aims to work in us! That’s the good news—God will not hold us according to our sins, but will rescue us according to His grace.

We are partners in this and because of this. And the apostle Paul modeled this partnership. Look at the first three words of this letter: Paul and Timothy. Paul was Timothy’s spiritual father. Paul was 12 years older than Timothy (Paul born in AD 5, Timothy born in AD 17), making them 45 and 33, respectively. Regardless of their backgrounds, they were partners in the gospel,servants of Christ Jesus, and saints.

It’s here we revisit the issue of surrender. Go back to verse 1 again: The word for ‘servants’ is the word doulos which means a bondservant, or a full-fledged slave. Slaves had no rights, but willingly surrendered them to their Master. We hear of slaves and automatically hearken back to the black eye of our history, in the race-based slavery found in our country in the 18th and 19th century. Here, slaves could be found in all strata of Roman life, and serve that way willingly in order to pay off a debt.

Saints come from the understanding of being set apart for His use. In fact,the word church many times in the NT comes from the word ekklesia, which means called out ones. A partnership in the gospel means that we have surrendered our rights to his, we are saints who are called out from the world while still in the world.

He also calls out the overseers and deacons. Overseers (from the Greek presbuteros) are the spiritual overseers and leaders of the church. Deacon are the ones in charge of the physical matters of the church. As the saints are the called-out ones from the world, the overseers and deacons are the called-out ones of the church (ordained, if you will). They are called out to be leaders in the church, as Hebrews 13 identifies,the ones who delivered the Word to you. The Word brings joy and unity, something that the leaders bring with the Word. Ephesians 4:11-13:

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers,to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.

You see, the unity that your leaders are to model and provide is a unity not just in being welcoming and friendly, but a unity in the Word of God— which makes us alive in the Spirit but also kills the flesh!

Let’s partner in the gospel, finding our joy in Christ and unity with one another.  The gospel brings joy in Christ, and the more we pursue Christ, the more unified we’ll be with each other.