By Shannon Baker, BCM/D National Correspondent
COLUMBIA, Md.—While still a seminary professor in New Orleans, Randy Millwood committed a full year to studying the four Gospels and the first half of the book of Acts to discover what Jesus had to say about the Church.
He and his Church Health Institute colleagues—John Brittain, now director of missions for Arundel Association, Brian Upshaw, now Church Ministry team leader at the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, and his wife Adele, his lifetime ministry partner and administrative assistant, kept a white board full of their accumulated ideas gathered from reading their Bibles and as many other resources they could find. They studied their findings, added contemporary tags to the ancient language, and in the process, discovered their ultimate question being answered.
The question wasn’t “What’s wrong with the Church?” It was “What is Jesus’ intention for His Church?”
After studying and teaching about church health at the seminary, Millwood moved to Maryland where he served at the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware in the areas of spiritual formation, small groups and church strengthening.
He also spent two years at “The Life,” an increasingly organic simple church planted by BCM/D in College Park, Md., that fed the former seminary professor’s desire to enjoy Jesus “simply.”
At another teaching stint at the seminary, while he and his wife Adele lived closer to their growing family, Millwood added more academic research as well as more personal spiritual growth and understanding.
When they moved back to Maryland and back to the BCM/D, Millwood found himself doing a lot of consulting with church pastors and leaders in the areas of leadership and spiritual transformation. It seemed that they all were asking the same question: “What does God want from me and my church?”
A romantic at heart, Millwood knew that what God wanted from His prized creation was love, but what did that love look like?
As he continued pondering that question, he gradually grasped a hold of the Church’s true identity, as expressed through the New Testament imagery of Paul and John.
In his quest to discover what a healthy church looks like, Millwood landed on this powerful visual: “a healthy bride getting ready for her groom.”
And as his new book, “To Love and To Cherish From This Day Forward,” published by Missional Press, suggests, this love was a growing love marked by a season of preparation.
“When the brides in the first century were betrothed, there was a season when the bridegroom was preparing for their life together, and the bride was preparing for Him,” Millwood explained, emphasizing the similarity between the marriage experience and the relationship between Jesus and His followers. “We are betrothed to Christ with a deeper intimacy to come.”
Through his research, Millwood discovered the politically incorrect notion that the wedding was to be all about the groom—and not the bride.
“The notion that the wedding is all about the bride is a decidedly western thought,” he shared, noting that at the same time, Jesus is preparing for Christians. “The question is, when He comes back, will we be ready for Him?”
Millwood explained that Jesus keeps showing His followers piece by piece—His vision, His strength, His purpose—the future that awaits them when they are finally joined together.
And in return, Millwood believes that everything the Church does now must be in preparation for this greater intimacy with Christ. He equates this “betrothal” to the Christians’ sanctification, when they learn to embrace and express their new identity.
Like a bride who takes her husband’s name, Christians have a new identity, Millwood asserted. “We are disciples of Jesus who are making disciples of Jesus. If we do anything else, we are missing our identity.”
Millwood noted that Christians are also servants who lead, not leaders who serve, and are people in community, who live under His authority.
“In the ancient world, the bride made decisions under the groom’s authority,” Millwood noted. “It’s not a little thing; it’s a huge thing. We are not an advising cabinet for Jesus. We are His followers.”
Finally, Millwood noted that Christians live a life of worship in the same way a wife adores her husband.
“The longer she is with Him, she learns to finish His sentences … she learns what makes Him feel loved… she simply loves Him,” he said.
“To Love and To Cherish From This Day Forward” is available at Amazon.com (including Kindle format), Barnesandnoble.com and at the LifeWay Christian Bookstore at the White Marsh Plaza Shopping Center in Baltimore.
To pursue a deeper conversation with Millwood, visit http://simplymillwood.wordpress.com or find him on Facebook/simplymillwood or Twitter at @simplymillwood. Otherwise, contact him through the BCM/D at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (443) 878-4587.