How can gospel movements help the local church? Well, in parts of the world where there is no local church the obvious answer is that through gospel movements, we eventually want to see an indigenous church started. But, in North America, where the local church building is a visible monument to Christianity, the answer to the question is a bit more complicated. (Go here for a short description of movements.)
After years of working with local churches and ministry/mission organizations I can attest to there being some tension between the two. The tension usually appears around the issue of resources. There is a common perception that human and financial resources are constrained. This, of course, is a view based on a physical assessment, a scarcity mentality. It’s important to be aware of this background because the same economy is not a factor in the Kingdom of God.
In the Kingdom, Jesus made it clear that surrendering our will our goals and agendas and even the outcomes we anticipate, to the Father’s will, way, and time, will lead to there always being enough. When Jesus stated in Matthew 28:18 that all authority was given to him it also included all the power and resources that he needed to carry out the Father’s purposes. The “Therefore” at the beginning of verse 19 then rests fully on Jesus’s authority. There is no lack for God’s purposes. The catch is that we can’t usurp that authority and power – we must access Jesus’ authority and power as Jesus did, by only doing what he saw his Father doing (John 5:19). In our case Jesus says, “No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.” (John 15:4)
So, the first reason why a disciple making movement can be good for the existing local church is that the rapid multiplication of disciples is a work of the Holy Spirit among a group of people who, every day, are trying to live a lifestyle of hearing and obeying Jesus’ commands through the bible, the Holy Spirit, and our community. When people experience a movement, they are experiencing the fruit of a people spending time with Jesus. Inevitably, believers interact with other believers. In that process life rubs off on life – in other words, a high tide floats all boats. The abiding life is a fruitful life and leads to the advancement of Jesus’ mission, something we all share an interest in if we are true disciples.
“The abiding life is a fruitful life and leads to the advancement of Jesus’ mission, something we all share an interest in if we are true disciples.”
A second reason why a gospel movement can be good for an existing local church is that movements operate with a “go to” philosophy. A “go to” philosophy is essential to restoring a disciple making culture in local churches in Canada. Most of us are familiar with a “go to” philosophy and its benefits. Soccer coaches yell “go to” because the team that gets to the ball first controls the game. Colloquial sayings like “The early bird gets the worm” or “A stitch in time saves nine” are other ways to describe a “go to” philosophy. Most profound of all is the command of Jesus for the Church to “go into all the world and make disciples”. Having a posture of “going” in the power and leading of the Holy Spirit will bear fruit. Recently we heard a story of two friends getting together for a drink in a bar. Around midnight they did a discovery bible study (DBS) – in the bar. The person who didn’t know Jesus said that he was blown away with how simple the DBS was and how the passage spoke to him. He was so impacted that he immediately started to think of people he could share with.
To make a “go to” approach work there are a few things that have to be in place. First, as already mentioned – Jesus starts movements, so we need to abide in Jesus. Second, we must go light. What I mean is summed up in the statement “What we win them with, we win them to.” In other words, if the only way that we know how to lead someone to Jesus is by inviting them to a church service, the message that we inadvertently send is that’s how its done. So, when the new believer wants to lead someone to Jesus, they’ll do the same. Suddenly, a building, a congregation, a trained professional (pastor), worship team, etc. – all that becomes part of the (expected) pathway to discipleship and disciple-making.
Alternatively in movements everyone is empowered to lead someone to Jesus and disciple them to maturity. It’s not an individualistic activity either. Disciples need to be in a loving, supportive community. People committed to movements are expected to call on those who have gone before them to coach and mentor them, as they coach and mentor people who they are leading to Jesus. The difference is that every follower of Jesus is on mission with a few simple tools, at least one or two deep relationships, and the freedom to establish a decentralized network. Regular check-ins for prayer and accountability are part of the process of developing culture. Overall this approach is significantly lighter and more agile than many Christians are used to.
Honestly, sometimes the way a movement is presented sounds militaristic, reeks of individualism, and seems likely to only work for people who have a hyper-gift of evangelism. But early Christianity was a movement because of the counter cultural way that ordinary people loved each other and the stories that Jesus was creating when he was introduced to people. He changed people’s lives, and in turn people became disciples with their own stories to share, just like the Samaritan woman who said, “Come and see this man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” Modeling movement again in our day is not only a benefit to the local church, but the world.