This is a little strange for me. I am about to write about a man who planted our church in the early '70s, and whose preaching I sat under till his death in 1996, but whom I never really knew. His books have lain around the house like throw pillows, and when I suddenly wanted to read one I couldn't find one. Impatient, I ordered Outgrowing the Ingrown Church on Amazon.
Jack Miller had been my professor at seminary too, in '77, and I thought I hadn't got my money's worth. I had a definite idea in those days of what my money's worth was, and it wasn't talk about relationship with Jesus, which we all already knew. I wanted paradigms and Greek words and gee-whiz hermeneutics.
There were plenty of books on church growth when Jack wrote his, but some of them, I think now, were like smearing lipstick on a corpse. Jack gently suggested that the problem was not program-related but faith-related. "In some cases, congregations and their leaders have even come to suspect zeal for witness as evidence of fanaticism-or at least a sign of immaturity." This is getting down and dirty, into the not so polite questions of what a church is supposed to look like.
Outgrowing relates that 1920s Baptist revivalist Vance Havner "frequently noted that to be a member in good standing in today's typical evangelical church, you would need to be a backslider!"-and that "only revival can bring back the fullness of Christ and a love for the lost."
Jack threw his net pretty wide when seeking insight. "Finally I asked him to criticize me frankly . . . about weaknesses that I might have coming out of my own life and denominational background. In response Dr. McGavran [missionary, and founder of Fuller Seminary's School of World Missions] said with a twinkle in his eye that, as a rule, people in my group were troubled by tendencies toward elitism. He also said that we did not seem to have much practical confidence in the power of the Holy Spirit as Christ's presence, and therefore we tended to be timid."
Well, that's a revolution right there, isn't it-crossing the street, as it were, to ask how the guy in a rival denomination sees your denomination. In fact Jack's book quotes so much outside my own tradition, and has so much to say about Acts and the Holy Spirit, that I don't know how he got away with it. Here are a few possibilities: (a) Church leaders didn't know what to do with him; he was an "enthusiast" and he made them uncomfortable but no one could get "the goods" on him because no one could refute his Bible reasoning; (b) we relegated him to the safe category of "eccentric"; (c) he was packing the church and writing books, so he gave our staid sacerdotal club some much needed panache.
Jack had only one sermon, really-believing the promises of Jesus to bring His kingdom with power. And that went a long way with ex-strung-out hippies, with the result that the old wineskins of traditional liturgy were going to burst if we didn't do something about it. So, securing the agreement of the elders, Jack jimmied the "fixed order of worship" just enough to give the Spirit room. Recent converts or people seeing growth in their lives "were regularly given opportunity to glorify Christ by explaining how His gospel and His Spirit had changed them. . . . This new outpouring of praise and prayer contributed much to the awakening of all of us to the greatness of God and our rights of access as a 'royal priesthood.'"
Time fails me to tell of the people with psychological damage whom Jack and Rose Marie took into their home, confident that the gospel had something for them.
There is a tendency to erect bronze statues to founders, even as we're moving far from them. Faith slips through our fingers as concentration lags. About three years ago a couple of the old-timers (what all hippies eventually become) noticed the slippage and gentrification and got together to pray for revival early on Sunday mornings. I joined them at some point. I see it as that little sprig that sometimes sprouts from a stump long thought dead. "There shall come forth a shoot. . . ."
If you have a question or comment for Andrée Seu, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.