Review – Movements that Change the World
The Forgotten Ways surveyed church history, systems theory, and the practices of adaptive leadership in the context of recovering a missional ecclesiology and missional practice. Movements That Change the World eschews the systems perspective for a social-historical survey of missional movements that have changed their world. It also incorporates some organizational theory, in particular the adaptive leadership perspective.
Addison is working at integration of theory and practice and does an admirable job. Overall his work is both inspiring and convicting: we in the west are in deep trouble and the maps we used in the recent past do not show us the way forward. Will we relearn dependence on the Holy Spirit in this liminal place?
Steve is intent on driving home his message: our task is to make disciples and to transform our world. And that is done primarily by means of living, vibrant and dedicated individuals who are part of dynamic movements. While Steve comes close to denigrating theological education, he never quite tips over that edge, but instead simply points to the data: an educated and professional clergy has always limited the expansion of the church. Dynamic movements, Hirsch or Roxburgh would remind us, always surf the edge of chaos. The balance between design and emergence, Word and Spirit, is not achieved in classrooms but by risky adventurers who are out there on the edge following the cloud.More…
Steve describes five common features of vibrant moves of God, and these also comprise the five chapters of the book : a white hot faith; commitment to a cause; contagious relationships; rapid mobilization; and adaptive methods. In contrast to modern trust in technology, reason and sociology, it is not money, great plans and strategies, large numbers, or academic qualifications that will ensure the spread of the gospel and the transformation of the places we live. Rather it is radical dependence on the Spirit, radical commitment to Jesus and a passion for his kingdom that will produce expansion.
Steve notes numerous individuals and groups which exemplified these traits. These include the Moravians under Zinzendorf, St Patrick, Floyd McClung and the Dilaram House movement, Wesley and the Methodists, William Carey, Tim Keller, Ralph Moore, persecuted but thriving believers in Communist China, and many others.
I was struck again by the parallel between LTGs, Zinzendorf’s bands, and the triads being employed by groups like Life on the Vine. FORGE Canada will also use triads to anchor discipleship and formation on mission. There is no better way to grow people than putting them face to face.
The last third of the book engaged me the most. It consists of two sections: Rapid Mobilization and Adaptive Methods. Steve opens with a quote from a contractor who is less interested in the buildings than in building builders. This kind of vision and passion is the sort that forms dynamic movements.
Steve relates a conversation with Des Nixon, who added an extension on his home. “I don’t build buildings, Steve.. I build builders.” Des has a kingdom vision and a plan to multiply himself. Steve follows this conversation with a look at the Methodist circuit riders and the explosive growth of the movement in the United States up to 1850. Then he summarizes some of the work of Roland Allen in The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church (a primary missions document and if you haven’t read it, find it).
Roland Allen describes seven ways to inhibit growth and expansion. Here are a few:
3. when the spread of the gospel is controlled out of fear of error, and both error and godly zeal are suppressed
4. when it is believed that the church is to be founded , educated, equipped, and established in the doctrine, ethics and organization before it is to expand
5. when emerging leaders are restricted from ministering until they are fully trained and so learn the lesson of inactivity and dependency
6. when conversion is seen as the result of clever argument rather than the power of Christ
And spontaneous expansion is enhanced under these conditions:
1. when new converts immediately tell their story to others who know them
2. when, from the beginning, evangelism is the work of those within the culture
3. when true doctrine results from the true experience of the power of Christ rather than mere intellectual instruction. Heresies are not produced by ignorance but by the speculations of learned men.
4. when the church is self-supporting and provides for its own leaders and facilities
5. when new churches are given the freedom to learn by experience and are supported but not controlled. The great things of God are beyond human control (strong echoes of Newbigin here)
This section closes with a look at Ralph Moore and the Hope Chapel movement. I love this, “we’re not smart, we’re relentless.” I was also caught by the simple little formula employed in the mini churches of Hope Chapel while reviewing bible material:
What did you learn (head)
What did God say to you (heart)
What will you do (hands)
The final section, Adaptive Methods, opens with this great quote from Eric Hoffer (I had previously attributed to Al Rogers, so who knows?)
In times of drastic change, it is the learners
who inherit the future.
The learned find themselves well equipped
to live in a world that no longer exists.
Why are adaptive methods so important? Steve writes,
“A key to the success of Pentecostalism has been its ability to bring together supernaturalism and pragmatism in a curiously compatible marriage. The intense religious experiences that vie rise to new movements would remain fleeting unless they are embodied in some form of human organization. This presents every new movement with a dilemma – how to give the “charismatic moment” expression in social forms without extinguishing it.” (107)
This is the problem addressed in part by Howard Synder in The Problem of Wineskins, and later by Charles Hummel in Fire in the Fireplace. It is the ongoing tension between design and emergence, Word and Spirit. Steve points out that sustaining a dynamic movement requires that we live in the tension between passion and discipline. A little later he notes that the decline of movements is often due to the “failure of success.” It simply becomes too costly – too risky – for some organizations to adapt. There is too much to protect – position, rank, authority, etc.
On page 112 Steve offers a helpful chart that contrasts Unsustainable Church Planting Strategies with Sustainable ones. The first three are these:
Steve closes the book with a note on the Adaptive Methods of Jesus.
Overall it’s a good read, helpful and reflective, and includes some stories we can learn from. I particularly liked the last two chapters. Nicely done Steve!