The crown of the whole thing was your obvious growth in your ability to listen. I know that could sound like a put-down compliment. But it is not at all.
My belief is that comparatively few leaders in the church today are really sharp listeners. I know I have an ongoing struggle with listening, especially when issues are being considered that are very important to me. I get afraid that the wrong ideas will prevail. At such times I have an overpowering urge to talk rather than to ask questions and listen for answers from others. It seems supremely important that everyone be immediately brought to perfect clarity by my powers of illumination and persuasion.
Sometimes what makes this confusing for me is that the Lord has given me a measure of insight as a leader. I do have almost thirty years of experience in planting and growing churches. But my mistake is that I want to persuade now without first gathering in all the knowledge I need and do not see the importance of taking time to hear others, to learn from them, and to reveal my love with a sympathetic response to what they are thinking.
Really patient, attentive listening is another way of saying “I love you and respect you.”
Not listening or half-listening is contrariwise, my saying, “I have a much higher view of my opinions than I have of yours.”
Expressed in that bold way, my not listening is exposed as egocentricity, perhaps even hardline pride.
Once Dave Powlison gently admonished me, “Jack, you are a born persuader as a leader. It’s a good gift, but persuasion should follow listening and asking questions. Give balance to your leadership by delaying your persuading until you have had time to ask questions and to listen closely to the answers.”
I could agree with that in principle and did not have so much trouble applying it to meetings where issues were not major.
But when the concerns being considered seem foundational to me, it is hard for me to listen closely, or to refrain from breaking into someone’s speaking. I feel a compelling need to get the problems and lines of thought into clear focus now. It’s almost as though I try to act as the head of the church.
I know that may sound pretty silly. Who, after all, is so stupid as to think he can replace Christ as Lord over the church and its mission?
Still the history of the church has very few pages that are not blotted by the megalomania of church leaders.
It is simply that we are prone to fall in love with our own authority as official leaders and unconsciously distance ourselves from Christ as the real Head of the church.
We begin to try to control the church or the members of the team and end up in personality conflicts with brothers and sisters who either dislike our control or want to impose their own control upon us.
When this happens, we are inwardly swept by anxieties. The irony of it all is that the more we try to control the work in our own name, the more the work and its problems control us. We begin by trying to own the work of God and end up with the ministry owning us. Perfecting the work becomes our bondage, and the bondage manifests itself by our losing the capacity to patiently listen to others and to be corrected by them.
Indeed, when we get into this perfectionistic frame, we can fall into some very nasty bondages in our leadership. We hate criticism, we get preoccupied with trivia and are willing to fight major battles over minor issues. We feel threatened when anyone disagrees with us or introduces an idea that is unfamiliar.
I once knew of a church situation where a pastor and his associate gradually developed such a rotten relationship that more than once they beat on each other with their fists!
So I want you to join me in having confidence in our human depravity as leaders.
Do not be surprised to find your corruption expressing itself in perfectionistic self-will in your own leadership style. Expect to encounter in yourself defensiveness, dominance, and poor listening practices.
But I also urge you to have a much greater confidence in Christ’s capacity to release you from such bondages.
He is the crucified Head of the church, the only One who knows how to perfect it! Just to know that fact, to rest upon it, and to build upon it, is to be released from the bondages which duty imposes upon our spirits.
You find His liberating grace through honest confession of sin and fresh release by surrendering the government of the church to its Head.
Excerpt taken from Letter by Jack Miller to Alan written Feb., 1986. You can find the letter on page 136 of “Heart of a Servant Leader” by Jack Miller.
Jack Miller Reflecting on the Relationship of Justification and Sanctification in Union with Christ in the Context of DiscipleshipPosted: June 11, 2016
For example, an able teacher like [Dwight] Pentecost takes the following strange position: “We affirm again that it is possible for a man to be saved without being a disciple of Jesus Christ” (p. 29, Design For Discipleship).
Among the Reformed as well as the Arminian forgiveness and acceptance with God has somehow come across to men as the end of the road and not the beginning. Discipleship has been misconstrued far too often as a second-step addition to salvation, the option reserved for the elite and the ascetic.
Since no human power can overcome these obstacles, you need to have God put his weapons in your hands. The first weapon is the promises of God. You will find that the promises of God will do more for you…
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A good deal of the impetus for the [Leadership] training program came out of dissatisfaction with the seminary/Bible school model of training for service.
The strengths of a seminary/Bible school model are largely intellectual. These strengths include extensive exposure to Scripture, textual criticism, and Greek and Hebrew, sytematic theology, and church history.
The weaknesses are too many ideas and truths given too quickly and sometimes superficially, without a sharp focus on the unifying power of the gospel and the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
The other critical weaknesses include a minimal interest in prayer and learning to work together as teams.
I do not mean at all to suggest that everyone who attends seminary is tainted with every weakness I shall mention. I am only talking about what is common enough to be said to be virtually typical.
The typical seminary graduate has these serious problems and often does not know he has them:
1. In a formal sense he likely has his doctrines straight. But his thinking about biblical truths lacks sharp focus. Why? Because of lack of understanding of the majesty, power, simplicity, and joy found in the gospel! And because of a failure to apply to himself concretely to the uncompromising demands of God’s holy law and to be broken by the exposure of his radical self-centeredness! Often the graduate is a man who sees himself as a repairer of the walls of the city of God but fails to see that his own walls are broken down.
2. He likely has a pretty hazy idea how his ideas apply to life and has not wrestled seriously with learning to communicate biblical truth with divine clarity, power, and concreteness.
3. He likely will see himself as a corrector of others without being awakened to the supreme importance of Jesus’ teaching in Luke 6 that we are to be correcting ourselves first. He may evidence more of the self-protectiveness that goes with pride than the openness that goes with the fruits and graces of the Holy Spirit.
4. He may not know how to control his own tongue or how to guide others in controlling theirs. He may have no idea whatsoever about working through conflicts in the church and how to engage in constructive conflict. The idea of spiritual warfare conducted by fervent prayer may well be virtually unknown to him. Why should it not be? Charles Hodge’s large three volumes on Systematics has a section of more than 300 pages on the means of grace, and of these 300 pages only 17 are devoted to prayer, and the quality of these 17 pages is not up to the fine quality of the rest of the volumes! A spiritual disaster for training to have that kind of embalance in a valued text for theological training!
5. He will be typically inexperienced and un-humbled through his working only with students. He will easily assume that the church is mostly a classroom. His ignorance of small group and congregational dynamics will be massive and he will likely have little idea how dangerous this is. Only a few seminary graduates that I have known had any idea that there is such a thing as congregational dynamics.
5. The net effect is that he is likely to be self-protective rather than seeing his whole Christian life as one of a son who constantly engages in repentance, both tasting of its sorrows and its joys.
Against this background, at the beginnings of New Life Church we strongly emphasized the congregation as training ground in prayer, repentance, and witness.
Reflections by Jack Miller in “Training and Mobilization: A New Form of Education.”
How does the Spirit become unleashed on the practical level of human action?
[First,] the answer is that the Spirit works as we go with the message of the cross to human beings and as we pray before and during this undertaking.
In brief, we must resolve to go with the gospel daily and to keep going . . . [T]he first step is to go no matter how I feel. I go to people and as I go I preach the gospel to my own heart. What does this mean “preach the gospel to my own heart”?
This preaching takes place as I go with the message as a “sent one” (Romans 10:6-17). No matter how painful and arduous it may be at times, I must go. But the Spirit of the Lord tells me to hear the preached word of the Lord in my heart as I “go” (Romans ]0:6-10, 17). As I witness let me look at the cross and meditate on the sheer awesome wonder of it.
Then, then, I know that my going is secondary; His going is primary.
What He has begun in the self-giving of His Son He now executes through the presence of His Spirit within me. In my speaking He is speaking.
My persuading of others is always marked by inadequacy, if not by sin and failure. But I now through the vision of the atonement of Christ have the beginnings of a humbled attitude, a brokenness over my continued unworthiness, and a new resting in the gospel which I bring to others. His atonement, the grace of His love, is changing me.
This is the unleashing of the Spirit.
The second step in learning to rely on the Spirit of grace is to pray for His presence. But what does this mean?
I am thinking of prayer of a certain kind, with a sharply defined biblical focus which leads me to face up to the depth of my self- reliance. In prayer I must face the mystery of the unbelief of my friends, relatives, fellow workers, and neighbors. And the mystery of my own unbelief which expresses itself in self- dependence and fear.
How does my sin of unbelieving fear express itself? Even in my prayers. Well, I pray, but as I try to pray I think of “their faces. ” Their faces — will they be angry? Supercilious?Indifferent? Cynical? Or open and welcoming? I am constantly weakened, if not crippled, by the thought: “What will they think of me?” Inwardly I fight battles that never need to be fought. My soul gets cast down by my own imaginings fueled by my own dark unbelief.
I do not mean there is no reason to fear rejection today. People at present despise a message which informs them that they are lost, or at least they are often profoundly indifferent to that which the Spirit reveals to us about the Father’s love. They can be so utterly heartbreakingly careless — outwardly — to the peril of their souls and God’s costly, crucified love.
But let me now pray for the Spirit to give me a vision of the peril of the lost and confess my fears. I pray desperately, feelingly, weakly, and then with growing awareness of the promise of the gospel found in John 3:16 and other great passages. And the Spirit then enters my heart in a new way.
This is a great paradox. I have the Spirit, I am already in-dwelt by Christ (Galatians 2:20). But I also need to have Him daily dwell in me by faith (Luke 11:1-13, Ephesians 3:16-17). He comes as I surrender my fears of rejection to Him. I confess the proud independence of spirit which lies behind these fears. Then I give my tendency to be ashamed of Jesus to God and ask Him to forgive it and take it out of my heart.
Then I directly and plainly ask the Father to give the gift of the Spirit to me. I who already have the Spirit claim the promise of the Spirit; I now wish to drink afresh from His vital life (Luke 11:13, John 7: 37-39) .
I also try to make my praying practical. I ask for the Spirit to give me comfort of soul and endurance. I think the key to effective evangelism is always the Spirit’s giving grace to be winsome and enduring, going on day after day in the work always with a smile and sometimes with tears.
About those tears. Here the mere talk ends and the walk begins. As I go with the message of the cross I must bear the personal cross He has appointed me. There is no other way. I must tell Him, with fear and trembling, that I am now willing to will His will. I am ready to be hurt for His glory. This ultimate surrender is very hard for me to do no matter how long I pray.
Jack Miller, Focus on What Matters Most in Evangelism, p. 8-9.
In our eagerness to rationalize God’s truth we may also ask all kinds of questions which can do more to confuse us than help. We may ask, When do I have enough of His sanctifying presence to witness? How do I know when the Spirit is speaking through me, and when I am witnessing out of my own strength? What do I feel when I have the Spirit’s active presence in my witnessing?
My counsel is to shift your vision from all mental agitations of this sort. Forget about them and look to Christ. Begin by taking time to meditate on the greatness of His love in His self-sacrifice on the cross. Think about this love for you and for lost sinners constantly. Talk about it, sing it, breathe it, and love it.
Think especially about the ministry of the Spirit and His eagerness to help you do the will of God in bringing in the harvest. I like to keep reminding myself of a few basic facts about Christ and His Spirit:
One, Christ has a great missionary purpose and has made me a partner in it. He aims to conquer the world by grace and judgment and now is the day of grace. He desires to use me as a partner in the fulfillment of that purpose.
Two, Christ is at work with sovereign power in accomplishing His grand goal. The basis for this working–and therefore the focus of my faith–is His victory at the cross, the empty tomb, and the ascension to the Father’s right hand for rule. The Spirit has been given to the victorious ascended Jesus without measure by the Father. And our Mediator has sent the Spirit into the world to do one great thing: to apply to hearts with convicting, revealing power the message of God’s love as summarized in John 3: 16.
Three, Christ wishes to confront my own secularized ways of thinking. Specifically He desires to expose the contemporary idea that I have a right to my own comfort of mind and life. Put crudely, it is the odd notion that God and the universe owe me something.
The pinch comes in the area of rejection. Typically the modern person thinks that rejection is about the worst thing you can suffer and avoiding the pain of rejection is primary for successful living. But the Lord wants me to know that to preach the cross is to pursue a way of rejection.
Therefore, I need to begin with my own self-centered fears of rejection. Do I have a proud mind-set which tells me that I ought not to suffer? I can see it in others, but what about me? My flesh wants to be transported via spiritual helicopter over the battlefield so that I may enter heaven without wounds or scars. But by the Spirit I repent of such an attitude, and resolve by grace to make “no provision for the flesh” and its love of comforts and instead to be “clothed with Christ” which includes a willingness to suffer, even to the point of giving my life (Romans 5: 13: 14).
Then I can see more clearly what is the ministry of the Spirit. His work is the enterprise of imparting holy love to those who do not deserve it in any way whatsoever (Romans 15:30, Colossians 1:8). Concentrate your energies on knowing God’s love, and you have pleased the Spirit of Christ.
Jack Miller, Focus on What Matters Most in Evangelism (unpublished), p. 6-7.
Now how will we define faith? I wouldn’t attempt to try at this point to give you a comprehensive definition of faith – in a practical way you could say that faith is to know Jesus Christ, to have trusted in Him, but maybe we ought to work it out in a few more divisions.
A Negative Definition of Faith:
Negatively, let’s say that faith is being silenced by the Person of God. That faith is to be silenced by God.
You’ve gone to church and you’ve heard ministers begin the service “The Lord is in His holy temple and let all the earth keep silence before Him.” And everyone thinks, “That’s a very nice thought”, etc., and they never think about it again.
As a matter of fact, you are hearing a negative definition of faith; knowing that God is, and that everybody and every mouth be silenced before that God. “Be still and know that I am God” – there’s where faith begins, a humbling of the heart before the living God. (2)
And so, in a real sense, faith is to shut your big mouth about your own power, about your own righteousness, about your own self-efforts – it really is to recognize that before God you have nothing to boast of, that you stand there condemned. And so, that is the negative side of faith.
A Positive Definition of Faith:
On the positive side, faith is a surrender of trust to a God whom you are convinced loves you, and has mercy for you. No one is going to have this kind of faith unless he’s convinced that God is for him, that in some way God has promises which invite him to come to God. It’s a surrender, then, of trust – and the Westminster Confession of Faith speaks of this saving faith as accepting, receiving and resting on Christ alone for forgiveness, eternal life, adoption, sonship, etc.
And so what we would say, then, even as we talk about this positive side of faith, listen, being silenced – you don’t have anything to boast about when you do that, do you? And when you surrender, you don’t have anything to boast about either, do you? If you conquered something, you could boast about it – but faith, then, is an act of surrender. It becomes nothing in itself.
And now we speak of “saving faith”, but the faith itself doesn’t save you. It only gives you Christ Who does save you. And so we really must speak carefully – repentance and faith in themselves don’t save anybody. The only thing they do is to turn you about and give you Christ, and Christ saves you.
And many people who really labor to believe and strain themselves and struggle, go about it entirely the wrong way. They think of faith as some kind of attainment, of which afterwards you might have a reason for boasting. But that’s not the power of faith – that’s not what it is at all.
So if faith does nothing in itself, How Then Is Faith So Powerful?
And that brings us to the third thing, that faith has power in it; and in the Bible it’s virtually a synonym – used virtually as a synonym – for the presence of the Holy Spirit.
Why? Because the person who has faith has Jesus Christ. If you have faith – well let me back up a little bit and put it to you in another way.
In the Bible we’re told that with God all things are possible – we’ll all agree that the Bible teaches that, I think. Now did you ever think of how strange it is that we are told by Jesus that all things are possible to him that believes. Do you realiize how staggering that is?
You know, we get into the habit of just reading through the Bible and we’re accustomed to these things, and they have a certain rhythm to them, and we just read right on through them.
Do you realize, then, what a staggering thing it is to say of a man’s faith, that all things are possible to him that believeth. Now the only One of whom you can say that about – that all things are possible – is One whose name is Omnipotence, the Almighty God.
Now [we’re] a very superficial [people], whether we believe it or not, so if we don’t reflect on that – the most amazing thing here – that the person who believes comes into posession of that which is God’s.
And, of course, that’s why salvation is ours — through faith we’re united to Jesus Christ.
[A]nd everything He has becomes ours and all that we have becomes His. And that’s why we’re so rich; for you know the grace of the Lord Jesus, brethren, that though He was rich for your sakes He became poor that you through His poverty, might become rich.
And so, we can put it this way, if you owned Montgomery County [Pennsylvania] you’d be pretty wealthy; if you owned Pennsylvania you’d be even richer than the DuPont’s; but if you could say you owned God, the Lord is your portion, you’re the richest of all.
So to him that has faith, all things are his because he’s in Christ and Christ is in God.
Therefore, when you turn to the Bible, you find that the most astonishing things happen when people believe. . . . And so, what it is, in faith you surrender yourself and then
a mysterious thing happens, you discover you surrender yourself and you get everything. And if you don’t do this you can struggle forever and ever and ever and you try to get rich with your own little handfuls and it all melts away.
So there’s this tremendous power in faith and, as I said, it’s virtually a synonym for the Holy Spirit’s working. It’s simply the man-ward side of that divine working by which God draws sinners to Himself by His sovereign mercy.
Jack Miller, Faith Vs. Magic In The Modern World (unpublished), p. 2-4.
Years ago in California the congregation that I set out to help plant was located in a neighborhood where many of the people came from Oklahoma.
To a man, they all loved country music. I did not love country music. I didn’t even like it; in fact, I could hardly tolerate it. My problem was much more cultural than I saw. Deep in my mind, I was convinced that country music was, if not actually sinful, at least unbecoming as a musical vehicle in worship.
Therefore with all the ardor of my heart I set out to bring these folks “up” to the worship level of the Trinity hymnal used by my own denomination. I knew there was a cultural barrier between these dear people and myself, and because I loved them I wanted them to cross [that barrier] to me via our beautiful denominational hymnal.
Let me assure you it didn’t happen. The great majority of them went to the independent and Pentecostal churches where the music was natural to their tastes, and those who came to us never really felt at home with the Trinity hymnal, nor with our whole worship.
Only slowly, reluctantly, did I come to see music forms are never sinful in themselves and that country music could be used as a vehicle for presenting the gospel to people who would not otherwise listen.
Let me repeat: the central article of godly wisdom is not to begin where I am culturally and insist that others must pass through my cultural preferences on the way to find Christ.
The only stumbling block that we we want people to face is that of the cross. If they reject that stumbling block, that is their problem. The blame is on them. But I must not impose my cultural values as a barrier between the sinner outside of Christ and Christ.
For me this is a kind of continual self-crucifixion. I have had to learn to appreciate country music, African music, and all sorts of things outside of my own tradition. But as you pray and learn to love people more deeply, you begin to find a place in your heart for their cultural values and sometimes by way of a surprise gift you end up loving what they love.
Jack Miller, Planting New Churches (unpublished), p. 10.