C. John Miller's Outgrowing the Ingrown Church is proving to be insightful, convicting and encouraging. Early on in the book he lays out 7 characteristics of an introverted church that limit the church's movement on mission with God. If you have spent time as a part of an introverted church, you'll recognize them immediately. 1. Tunnel Vision. Miller says that an ingrown church is afflicted with a kind of tunnel vision that limits its potential ministry to those things that can be seen. It is faith/trust in the visible, human resources a church has on hand rather than in the promises of God. Miller says this is fundamentally the sin of unbelief in Christ's presence with and the Spirit's power in us as the church.
2. Group Superiority. Many ingrown churches become egocentric out of fear of extinction, and wind up focusing on one aspect of their church culture that makes them unique. This allows them to feel good about themselves while finding fault with other churches in the area who do not measure up. In my circles I have seen ingrown churches who want to point to their right doctrine not only as an aspect of their identity that sets them apart from other churches, but almost as a justification for their lack of growth. "We are Reformed, and don't play games like those sell-out churches up the street. If we played games like them we'd be growing too - but superficially." Miller's point is that ecclesiastic introversion allows us to feel good about where we are (stagnant, atrophying).
3. Extreme Sensitivity to Criticism. Fear of extinction creates anxiety over any negative criticism and conflict in the church, and encourages a church to avoid issues it needs to address.
4. Niceness in Tone. I mentioned this last week, but everything mentioned above leads to a "nice tone," particularly among leadership, that creates a safe place to exist. Safe and comfortable, as opposed to walking in lock-step with Jesus as he leads his people into the world.
5. Christian Soap Opera. Miller points out that an introverted church often tends toward a form of self-destruction via gossip (all offered in a "nice tone" of course). Weakness in faith as it relates to the missional promises of God leads to weakness in faith in other areas - in this case love and forgiveness. Miller has some great words on gossip's danger -check out the book.
6. Confused Leadership Roles. In the typical ingrown church leaders do not function as "pace-setting" examples, but as "sweet, but saltless" friends. The pastor is expected to do all the work in the church without challenging or equipping members to participate in the mission of God themselves.
7. Misdirected Purpose. Miller says that an ingrown church's controlling purpose has to do with "survival - not with growth through the conversion of the lost." I first encountered this idea a few years ago when I was still a part of our local SBC association. At the time Steve McCoy pointed out that our associational planning and strategy seemed to be about surviving (keeping the boat afloat) rather than thriving. The survival mentality robs the church of optimism (hope), and consumes her time with inward activity.
Miller doesn't offer these insights as a poke at "those churches," but as a reflection of what he found in himself and his church. He said, "we cannot change unless we know where we are and where we should be. Honesty about our aversion to God's purpose is the most important ingredient in repentance."