For those of us in the Christian world, we often reflect in awe at movements of the gospel in history. Most Jesus followers want to be part of a movement. Many people call themselves one. Few people, I think, understand what they are. Before I tell some of my dumbest mistakes trying to grow a movement, here’s my attempt at a definition for what one actually is for Jesus followers:
MOVEMENT: “The rapidly multiplying, expanding influence of the gospel among a given population, with ensuing transformation in all spheres of life.”
After four years growing a movement on college campuses (or at least trying to), I thought it would be a good time to sit down and evaluate my mistakes. For some bizarre sociological reason, people respond better when I tell them the stupid things I’ve done, rather than just the sweet stories.*
Maybe being honest about our quirks and missteps helps pave the way for others. Before I tell some of my own painful blunders from the last few years, I’ll give myself some anaesthetic by relating a quick story of one failed expedition that led to others’ success.
About 450 years ago, a group of devoted, prayerful Jesuits set out to expand the gospel where it had never been planted before. The Jesuits were founded by ten friends, among them a quirky, often criticized guy named Ignatius of Loyola who once pilgrimaged barefoot all the way to Jerusalem (only to be promptly kicked out of the city and sent home). God often uses strange people to start movements.
The Jesuits were the most prolific force for expanding the gospel in unknown regions prior to (and in many cases, after) the era of modern Protestant missions. Along the way, several of them looked for a faster land route to get from India to China. One of them, Benedetto de Goes, traveled for four years by foot through icy, snow-packed mountains and murderously treacherous deserts searching for a new way to China before finally dying, a thousand miles short of his destination.** Before he died, he left some notes with a traveling merchant that (miraculously) made it back to his Jesuit friends in Europe. The contents of his note basically said:
“Don’t come this way.”
Sometimes our mistakes can help others get where they need to go. (Not to mention, ourselves.)
So, with a shout out to Benedetto, here’s a note from me about a few of my dumb mistakes in growing movements: “Don’t come this way!”
1. Build a Network and Call it a Movement.
For all my bros and sisters out there who want to change the world and expand their influence to start movements, I’ve got some sobering news: Networks are not necessarily movements. I’ve learned this the hard way: by trying it. We live in an era of unprecedented partnerships. The shrinking of our world and expanding technology make network building easy. I’ve spent literally hundreds of hours with other ministry leaders from various organizations, examining scenarios for how we can “partner” our ministries together to build a larger network. Some networks I’ve led; others I’ve joined with friends. Some of these networks have indeed yielded fun and fruitful projects. Large networks gain attention and make us feel good.
However, sometimes building a network is just a poor excuse for becoming busy not really doing anything that grows spiritual sons and daughters. You feel better because you feel bigger. And because you planned a lot of stuff. Think about this: Imagine if we networked every single Christian on the planet — Maybe we called it the “Global Christian Network” — absolutely zero net gain for the kingdom would happen just by virtue of being connected.
Yea for networks. I’m 100% for collaboration, partnership and working together. I’m glad to benefit from and sow into the different ministry networks which I identify with. We must collaborate as the Body of Christ. Networks can help us. Just don’t call building a network from the top-down the same thing as growing a movement from the ground up. I’ve tried. They’re not the same thing.
2. Whine about all the churches who are not growing movements.
OK, this is a wake up call. I love dwelling in the camp of those who are creating simple, reproducible models for making disciples and growing churches. I sometimes speak at conferences and rub shoulders with some well-respected pioneers among the “missional” thinkers and practitioners in the U.S. (thinkers and practitioners are often not the same thing, by the way). Most of them are awesome people who I respect and are doing great stuff.
However, so many of us “missional” people have attracted a following of complainers. Oops, I’ve been there. I said this was about the dumb mistakes I’ve made right? Somehow the mindset creeps in that, “If everyone would just listen to me and understand what’s wrong with the church, it would somehow cause a movement.”
Some of those frank discussions about the church need to be had. However, complaining about what’s wrong with the North American church doesn’t make more disciples; it just makes more whiners. It doesn’t grow a movement.
Stop whining and go love somebody who doesn’t know Jesus. Go make disciples. That’s what I plan to do more of.
3. Measure your progress by your Facebook friends and Retweets.
Social networking is a great tool. You might be reading this because of Facebook, Twitter, or some other social networking tool. But tools are just that: tools.
Believing a large Facebook fan base will cause a movement is kind of like thinking that the large crowds that followed Jesus were the great legacy He left behind in the world. (Remember, the crowds that cheered Him later yelled, “Crucify Him!”).
Or, perhaps a better analogy is the means of travel the 1st Century church used to expand the gospel to new cities. The roman roads and marine shipping lanes were a means to increase speed of travel, communication, commerce, and troop deployment. The Apostle Paul and others used them. But the means of networking different areas together didn’t cause the movements. They just helped connect people. Social networking can be used for the same thing.
The demographics in the U.S. where movements are needed most (lost, hurting pagans, the urban poor, etc.) don’t give a crap about my Twitter following. They’re probably not going to find Jesus because of some brilliant Facebook post I wrote. They’re out there in the real world, in a very different social network than is reflected by my online community.
I love how God can use social networking. Yea, for social networking tools. I use them. I advocate using them. But don’t gauge your sense of success by them or mistake Facebook activity and your Twitter connections as growing a movement.
The dumbest mistake I’ve made with Facebook and Twitter? Finding myself up at 11:30 p.m., watching to see who has responded to a post because I’m bored and want to feel like my ideas are influencing people. “DON’T COME THIS WAY!”
Oh, and make sure to tweet this article if you like it.
My resolve in 2012 is to get out of “Facebook land” more, and get into real-world relationships and disciple making more.
4. Start a Conference
When I first started training student church planters, I dreamed of creating a very large conference in a few years. It didn’t happen. Maybe it’s just because I kind of suck at creating large events, promotion, etc. Whatever. I started speaking at other conferences. It felt good. I think I helped some people. It was fun to see my picture on posters and online invitations. Nothing wrong with that, I guess.
I love big celebration meetings where there’s energy, momentum, and corporate experiences with God. Yea, for conferences. I look forward to some of them in the future. (OK, not really very many of them, but I don’t want to sound like a whiner. I’m in recovery).
But here’s the deal. We’re addicted to conferences. I was, and I didn’t realize it.
Somehow, somewhere along the way, this subtle idea crept in that the way to grow a movement was to get a big enough conference. God’s a good Dad. He still comes to our conferences. I’m pretty sure conferences can help movements, and they can be very good. It’s just a mistake to think that the way to grow a movement is to grow conferences.
My “mission field” is the next generation. It probably always will be to some extent. From what I’ve seen, there’s a sickness among the youth expression of Christianity in the U.S. We’ve so celebrated “fame” in Christianity, that many young Christians I meet dream of becoming conference speakers. It’s like you’ve truly “arrived” in the kingdom of God if you become a noted conference performer. “DON’T GO THIS WAY!”
Young people: I celebrate you when you have been faithful to walk with Jesus right where you live; when you have devoted yourself to bringing other lost people around you into following Jesus with you; and when you’ve embraced God’s heart for discipling the nations. That’s the stuff that will make you a leader in my book.
Conferences can be great encouragement for us as Jesus followers to keep going, to be encouraged, etc. Conferences where I’ve spoken have probably encouraged people. They’ve helped me be a little more popular (or a little more unpopular, in some cases). But most people who aren’t following Jesus aren’t going to get the gospel because of a conference; the gospel has to be brought to them, where they live.
A conference is not a movement. They may help movements, but be aware of the difference. That’s what I’m learning from my mistake.
Lastly, in the theme of dumb mistakes I’ve made, is being timid. It takes courage to make disciples. It takes courage to do the on-the-ground stuff to lead people to Jesus, train them to reach others, and walk with them to resist the enemy, remain faithful, get back up when they fail, and go on to make a difference in the world. I’d come out of such a controlling Christian environment, I started thinking being timid was a safer way to make disciples and grow movements. It’s not. “DON’T GO THIS WAY.”
If you want to grow a movement, it takes great courage, perhaps a bit like the humorous lessons from the shirtless dancing guy many of us have seen.
Jesus was humble, yet He was passionately assertive. He boldly called people into God’s purposes. I’ve returned to discovering that strong leadership and assertiveness in reaching lost people and boldly calling people to be disciple makers has brought more fruit than being hands off or timid. Yes, we need to be gentle and humble and celebrate the values of freedom. If you have a spirit of timidity, God didn’t give it to you (2 Timothy 1:7). Timidity is not a fruit of the Holy Spirit. Gentleness is. Gentleness is shown in the person of Jesus: the strongest leader who ever lived. It is HIS movement that continues to grow through history. He is our example for how to grow movements. (And He is the means to get up and keep going when you realize you’ve made some dumb mistakes.)
The last year, I’ve returned to courageously championing very intentional disciple making and celebrating every single changed life. I created a tool for making disciples that myself and others are using.
Perhaps I may write later about a few things I think I’ve done right as I’ve learned from my dumb mistakes. Whether that’s a future article or not, what’s “right” is sure to be pretty basic: Follow Jesus and make disciples like He did.
Let’s follow Jesus as our example so we can play our part in growing HIS ever expanding, greatest movement in history. That’s the way to go.
*I was inspired by a recent post by Steve Sjogren. Subscribe to his short blogs. They are super encouraging.
** Heroic Leadership, by Chris Lowney, pg 71