loren Eric Swanson: The Nature of Movements Part 1

Monday, May 08, 2006

The Nature of Movements Part 1

I pulled this article off of Marc van der Woude's blog http://marcsmessages.typepad.com. Marc really has his fingers on the pulse of what God is doing in Europe

by: Martin Robinson


At its best, Christianity is a lay movement. Wherever Christianity is growing around the world, whether in South America, Asia, Africa or in Eastern Europe this single characteristic is the most significant element in that growth. That does not mean that there is no leadership, professional or volunteer but it does mean that the goal of leadership is to empower and release the whole body of Christ in such a way that the creation of movement is the result. Mobilisation and multiplication not attraction and addition are the hallmarks of this kind of people movement.

But perhaps the most extraordinary aspect of these various people movements is that in many situations there was little sign of dramatic growth thirty or forty years ago. More than this, if you had talked to any of the long term leaders who were in the field a single generation ago, they would have reported to you that the work was hard, the people unreceptive and the churches lethargic. Few if any would have predicted the outbreak of movement.

That reality is bound to cause us to ask, what is it that causes the generation and growth of movement? Before we address that question it is vital to be clear what we mean by movement.

What is a movement?

Not a fad or a fashion. We are not talking about a transient fad or fashion that is here today and disappears tomorrow. Movements do have times of growth and decline but we are talking about something which has a degree of longevity that at least lasts beyond a single generation.

Not a pressure group, campaign or cause. We are not describing a campaign or even a cause which is focussed around a single issue and which ends with the accomplishment of particular goals or outcomes.

A way of looking at the world. Rather we are talking about a change in the way people look at the world such that significant numbers of people are drawn to passionate commitment to a cause which is both significant enough to change their personal world and produces a determination to impact the whole world. Movements, especially spiritual movements, not only change a person’s worldview but have a shaping energy sufficient to impact and change whole cultures. What are the key stages in the development of movements?

Components of a movement

Energy - The Divine spark. Movements that impact whole cultures begin with individuals or small groups of people who are somehow transformed by a spiritual encounter that dramatically changes their personal lives. The occurrence of such encounters is probably more widespread than we sometimes imagine. Almost certainly, in every culture and in every generation some people have experiences of this kind. They cannot be planned for, predicted or arranged through a programme but they almost certainly happen unexpectedly and spontaneously.

Conceptualisation - an interpretative framework. For a movement to develop out of such personal experiences it is necessary for someone to offer an explanation of these spiritual encounters to allow others to be part of that experience. They may not themselves have the same experiences but an interpretative framework can allow people to identify with those experiences. Peter did just that on the day of Pentecost. He did not say to the crowd, “this is just one of those things”. Instead he explained that this is that which was promised in the prophecy of Joel. Having been offered such an explanation, and a clear way to identify with the experience, through belief in Jesus, repentance and baptism, others were able to join the movement whether or not they had experienced exactly the same thing that had just taken place. Later, Peter did something of the same when the Holy Spirit descended on gentiles. He offered an explanation, or interpretative framework that allowed that new group of gentiles to identify with the broader Christian movement. Movements are engendered when the initial participants begin to see a wider significance in that which they have experienced.

Mobilisation - the multiplication of many. The capacity to mobilise people such that the interpretive framework can be understood and explained by others represents the moment of take-off for a movement. It is vital that movement not depend on the explanation of the experts or professionals. If it does then multiplication is replaced by mere addition and dynamic growth is not possible. Movements have to be highly transportable and they are only transportable when every member can transmit the core explanation without help from an expert.

Organisation –giving power, permanence and purpose. Formal structures sometimes receive a bad press in relation to movements. There are many who see structure as the antithesis of movement. But in reality the creation of organisation actually adds power to the otherwise undirected energy of the initial movement. Of course, structures without creative energy do cause movements to plateau and then decline and it is often that phase of organisational life that people observe as the death knell of movement. But creative energy well harnessed to organisational skill represents the period of most rapid growth and impact for any movement.


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