New Life was founded by the vision and drive of a remarkable man of God—Dr. C. John Miller, or as most knew him, Jack. There were many others who came alongside Jack, including Rose Marie, his wife, whom we still think of as the “mother” of our church. But as part of our celebration of our 40th anniversary I want to try and capture something of what compelled Jack forward in a ministry that included the starting of New Life Church and World Harvest Mission (now Serge). I will be asking others to do the same (and I welcome many of you to write if you have an insight that will add to our understanding), not to laud the man, but to remind ourselves of core values that are still critical to the kind of ministry that Jack and New Life has represented through the years.
One of my projects this month is rereading Outgrowing the Ingrown Church, a book Jack wrote in the 80’s telling about his own transformation, leading to the founding of New Life (still in print and available online from Amazon.com and Westminster Seminary bookstore). This is Jack’s challenge to leaders (he calls them “pacesetters”) to deliver their churches from mere survival for another week, to “radical commitment: to believe Christ’s promises and to do his will at all costs. That will is revealed in His command to the church to go with the gospel to the nations and make disciples of them. Our task, then, is a missionary task. This mission consists in the whole outreach enterprise of evangelizing and discipling mankind, and it involves the participation of every living member of the local congregation.” (p. 25).
Three things strike me as I read over that statement:
First, the call to believe God’s promises refers particularly to his promises to the church. Jack certainly believed that God was faithful to every believer, but he wanted his readers to be bold to carry out the charge Jesus gave his church. Jack was fully convinced, as is clear in his book, that the only way we carry out Christ’s mission is through a strong and vital community. So a key part of the radical commitment he called for is a radical commitment to one another in love and service.
Second, the primary calling of Christ’s church is to carry out his mission—evangelizing and discipling the nations. Perhaps that seems obvious, but if it is in theory, in practice, making disciples becomes one of many tasks of the church, and far too often one that becomes lost in the blizzard of church activity. Jack was relentless in calling the church back to her primary mission—not only in issuing the challenge but in leading the “charge” through evangelistic endeavors, personal witness and keeping wide open the doors of the new church to the broken and needy.
Third, carrying out the mission “involves the participation of every living member of the local congregation.” Is it unrealistic to expect that every member of the church will have some involvement in making disciples of others? That is obviously a worthy goal, but in practice the “typical” church falls back on the 20% rule—20% of members actually doing the work of ministry. But that is the point of Jack’s book and of his passion for our church—we don’t want to be a typical church. Part of Jack’s transformation was the recognition that “the normal Christian was Spirit-filled and so was the normal church” (p. 24). That means in the normal church—which is the biblical church—every member uses his or her gifts in ministry to the church and out from the church. As he introduced the themes of his book, Jack offered a check list that he labored to build into the church God used him to start. We do well to review this list and renew the challenge he put forth. “I am thinking of, 1) regular and thorough meditation on the promises of God, 2) ongoing repentance based on the intense study of Scripture, 3) continual personal and corporate prayer, 4) daring Gospel communication and discipling, 5) mobilizing every member’s gifts for Christ’s mission to the world, 6) and each congregation working to plant daughter churches.” (p. 19).
NEXT: A FRESH HEARING OF THE GOSPEL