Below is an extract from Craig Millward’s recently launched new book – Disciplemaker. If you’d like to, you can download a free chapter by clicking here:
When I began asking God to renew my vision and his will for the church I was called to lead I was quickly taken back to the text that had inspired me many years previously. I longed to be part of a church that looked something like the picture I found in Acts 2:42-47:
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
I was converted into a church that put a lot of energy into trying to persuade non-believers to believe as they did but to little effect. In Acts we read of converts from all races wanting to be part of Christ not just because they heard a sermon in their own language but because they witnessed the activity of God in the church. The deaths of Ananias and Sapphira put fear amongst the unsaved but crowds of them continued to flock to faith in Christ.(1) What better illustration of the vision within Genesis 12 is there in scripture?
How did these “priests of the human race”(2) miss their calling so spectacularly? The answer is found in an amalgam of many factors. Priests are only able to represent a God they know intimately. The story we have just recounted is a sorry account of a gradually deteriorating relationship between Israel and her God. Once God’s people began to lose sight of their true identity and calling, the religion that had once set them apart for God became seen by them as the reason they were superior to those nations they were sent to bless. The reception given to Jesus by his own people is illustrative of the extent to which humans, once they have lost sight of what God has bestowed upon them, can become hardened in their blindness and utterly committed to their own folly.
As I sat nursing what I believed was my call alongside the job that was earning me a living I was forced to admit that I no longer knew how to pursue both at the same time. As I looked at the church I knew that the missing key was a true understanding and commitment to forming disciples in a manner similar to the one Jesus employed. I knew I had to make a choice.
Wendell Berry, in his novel Jayber Crow, shows great insight in the way he describes Jayber’s feelings as he allowed his questions to surface and push out the limiting and restrictive denominationally correct world-view
he had lived in for so long. “The main thing”, he says “is that it made me feel excluded from it, even while I was in it.”(3) Jayber’s professor of Greek offers him wise advice: “You have been given questions to which you have not been given answers. You will have to live them out – perhaps a little at a time.”(4)
I described in the Introduction to this book how I began my sabbatical a few years earlier with the suspicion that the God who is the expert at deploying stumbling blocks was at work in the questions he had planted within me. I had a sense that God was not afraid to dispel illusions, wanted me to question my usual assumptions and was ready to open my eyes to hidden truths that had not been visible whilst I was doggedly committed to making the old model work better.
However, as an ordained minister within an established denomination, I returned from sabbatical feeling like I had learned a new language whilst I’d been away. It felt like no one understood me and it was ultimately necessary to step out of the box that constrained me from becoming what I knew I wanted to be. This is not to condemn other people as less obedient or denominational structures as inherently wrong. Nevertheless, I can’t help but ask: are there any patterns of thinking and behaving you know need to change? Are there structures within which you are insisting you must serve God that are unhelpful to you and are thus preventing you from fulfilling your calling? If any of these ring bells for you I ask God to show you how to submit yourself to him. I believe God is in the process of turning his church inside out for the sake of the lost and it would be a great mistake to hang on to structures that are resistant to his missional agenda.
1 Acts 5:13-14.
2 N T Wright – Following Jesus: Biblical Reflections on Discipleship (London: SPCK, 1994), 9
3 Wendell Berry – Jayber Crow (Washington, Counterpoint; 2000), 49.
4 Ibid. P 54.
Craig is married to Andrea, and together they have two children; Shaun and Bethany. He has served as a Baptist minister since 1990, and has spent the majority of that time leading a Baptist church in rural Norfolk. Under Craig’s leadership, this church grew and became known for its innovative culture and servant heart to the local area.
Craig currently works for 3DM Europe, developing partnerships with theological institutions and coaching leaders from historical denominations as they seek to establish a culture of discipleship & mission.
Craig holds a PhD in Baptist & New Church movements’ response to the charismatic renewal. He has also previously published a book under the title of Renewing Harvest: Celebrating God’s Creation.
If you would like to hear more about this or would value asking any further questions, you can get in touch with Craig and the team via the 3DM Europe website here.