Confronting the Ingrown Church

pewsShortly after I stepped down as pastor this year, I came across an illuminating and deeply convicting book by C. John (“Jack”) Miller that addressed so many of the issues in my church—and in so many churches like ours.

The book is entitled Outgrowing the Ingrown Churchand though it is a little dated (1986), it gets at the heart of the problem that many American churches are facing—an unhealthy self-centeredness that undermines the missionary impulse of Christ’s church. While the whole book is worth reading, the opening section (“Where Missionary Life Begins”) was most helpful for me. In those two chapters, Miller outlines the deadly symptoms of the ingrown church. The rest of the book aims at remedying that introversion through means of fresh faith, radical repentance, and active, prayerful, outward ministry.

Let me lay out some of the symptoms of the ingrown church. If they look similar to what you’ve experienced in your church, pick up this little book and begin to work through it with the leaders in your church. Continue reading

What Does Revival Look Like?

fireWhen the First Great Awakening occurred in the 1730s and 1740s, Americans experienced a great outpouring of the Spirit of God. Many cried out in terror from a deep awareness of their sins. Many more wept for joy as they experienced genuine forgiveness and the power of the Spirit giving them new life.

Concurrent with these works of God, many false professions were also reported. While the Spirit “awoke” many from their spiritual tombs, Satan also manifested himself as an angel of light by deceiving many into believing they had experienced God when, in fact, they had not (cf. 2 Cor 11:14). As pastors of the era observed, many reported having heavenly visions while others heard God speak sweet words to them. Yet, what made these experiences prove false was the way that such people showed no corresponding change in behavior (i.e., holiness towards God and love towards others), nor was there explicit trust in Christ’s death and resurrection.

What does revival look like?

This was the question being asked in that era. And today, we ask it from another angle: How would we know revival if it came? Would it merely increase religiosity in our culture? Would it mean less crime, better families, or improved race relations? Or is there something more Christ-centered, even cross-centered, that must be seen? These are vital questions when considering revival and perhaps the best answer can be found from the Great Awakening itself. Continue reading

Operation World Wednesday: Europe

I have heard it said that the movement of Christianity from Jerusalem and Judea to Samaria to the ends of the earth has been like a ring of fire.  As the gospel moved west to Rome and Continental Europe, new fires blazed as missionaries like Patrick, reformations in Germany, Great Britain, and the Netherlands, and revivals led by the likes of Wesley, Whitefield, Edwards, and others produced abundant fruit.  Today, however, Europe is a shadow of what it once was.  Forms of Christianity remain, and renewal movements in places like Great Britain continue, but on the whole, it seems that the glory has gone out.

Hence, we need to pray for Europe.  With more than 700 million people, there are only around 18 million evangelicals.  Protestant make up less than ten percent of the population,while Catholic and Orthodox comprise  over fifty-five percent of the population.  In recent years, the greatest rate of growth have come in the Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, and Muslim contexts.  While the fires of reformation and revival have smoldered, the Spirit has not left the earth.  There are still many pastors, missionaries, and evangelists who are doing good work, and we need to pray for God to light the fires again.

Here is a little more on the history and current situation in Europe:

After the Muslim invasions of the 8th Century, Christianity was suppressed or wiped out in the lands of the Middle East where the early Church first took root. Fore nearly 1,000 years, Europe was the last bastion of Christendom.  The encircling Muslim lands–and Turkey’s occupation of southeast Europe–effectively prevented any missionary outreach to Africa and Asia [hence, the 10-40 window today].  The emergence of Europe as a colonial power in the the 15th Century and the theological impetus of the Reformation in the 16th Century provided the platform for the Church to become a force for world evangelization.  The last 250 years have been years of worldwide advance for the gospel, but, conversely, decline in Europe.  However, in many countries that have seen secularism and anti-religious social policies have their sway, and upswing of spirituality is also occurring (Operation World, p. 74-75).

Today, there are other sociological factors at work.

Massive cultural shifts are occurring right across the continent as Europe finally reaps the harvest sown from the Enlightenment through WWI up to today.  Christianity was effectively replaced by humanists philosophies and nationalism.  Europe can be regarded not only as postmodern, but also post-rational and certainly post-Christian.  [America should take note, because our culture is following suit].  It is not accident that the regions of the world where relativism, individualism, and existentialism reign supreme are also spiritually the bleakest.  This has several debilitating effects.

  1. Cynicism is not apparently the ‘ism’ of choice, as the younger generation increasingly disengages from traditionalism civic responsibilities, such as politics and community service, and fells alienated from older generations. The elevation of the individual and instant gratification spur on hedonistic, nihilistic lifestyles that often end in dysfunction, emptiness, loneliness, and despair.
  2. Moral uncertainty.  With transcendent authority undermined (and the authority of the Bible dismissed long ago), right and wrong are determined by consensual bureaucracy or individual inclination, leading to a morass of relativism.
  3. Societal disintregation.  Traditional values regarding the family, childbirth, marriage, sexuality, sanctity of life and community are being dismantled not just culturally, but also legally.  These have severe repercussions in the areas of demographic decline, future economic burdens and psychological and social health.  As traditional foundations of healthy societies are deconstructed in Europe, some suggest the term ‘sociocide,’ self-aware civilizational suicide, as an adequate description (p. 77).

There is great need in Europe.  May we pray this week for this continent, that God would send the light.  That those who labor in the darkness would be encouraged by the gospel, and that those who embrace the darkness would have an increasing dissatisfaction with sin, such that they begin turning from the systems of the world, to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

For more information on Europe, see Operation World’s website or pick up a copy of Operation World.

That the nations might glory in the only glorious One, dss