Is God preparing the United States for a missional movement?


I was asked this question last week by one of the district leaders I am coaching: 
“What are the 3-5 essential things that are absolutely necessary for starting a missional movement in our region or district?” 
I love this question!  The vision of a fresh, Holy Spirit empowered, movement of disciple making that sweeps spiritual explorers into the family of God and equips Christians to obey the command of Christ to make disciples (who obey the things he taught) has captivated the imagination of so many leaders I serve.  And, while we rejoice to see this happening in China and Africa, our hearts long to experience it right here, in the United States.
Here was my response – thought it would be worth passing along.

1.     A disciple-making engine

No matter what missional vehicle you choose, and there have been many of them used by God over the years, it is only as good as the engine that propels it.  (See Mike Breen’s blog post.)
A consistent method of apprenticing believers in the words, works, and ways of Jesus who actually pay it forward is the only way mission becomes both Christ-centered and sustainable.  

2.     Leaders who go first

“Do as I say but not as I do” has never worked well for anybody.  A missional movement that saturates an entire group of churches must be sparked by leaders who both SHOW and TELL what it means to live as a disciple of Jesus.  Remove imitation from the process and you end up with just another program – no matter how good the teaching.  (See my earlier post on this.)

3.     Small beginnings in lots of places

The top down-we are going to plant 2,020 new churches by 2020-approach just doesn’t move most of us beyond initial excitement.  To hear our denominational leaders (like me) talk about our grand visions from the stage (that your churches are going to fund, by the way…) becomes exhausting as the goal posts are moved from year to year and from administration to administration.  However, pastors talking with their peers about how God is at work among their people multiplying disciples (even just a few at first) and forming redemptive relationships with spiritual explorers which lead to faith in Christ?  Now you have my attention.

4.     A good rehab program

The reality is that most of us as leaders, along with our churches, are addicted to a version of success that is measured in “buildings, budgets, and butts”.  We count what we value, and most of us count square footage, money, and attendance.  And, until we change what we care about, nothing much will really change. 
My father (who passed away last year) was addicted to alcohol most of his adult life.  And, over time, our addictions have a way of defining and shaping us.  But, the day came when the doctor told him, “Marvin, you have two choices: quit drinking and live, or continue to drink and die.”  And on that day 11 years ago my father chose life.  The power of addiction was overcome by the promise of life and the fear of death.  (I am incredibly proud of my dad for making this difficult choice and remaining sober from that day forward.  When I think of him now I don’t think of him as an alcoholic.  Instead, I remember him for who he was – a man who had the courage and tenacity to face his demons and chose love over fear, life over death.  A man my kids only remember as the Grandpa who loved them.)
A recognition and ownership of our misplaced affections…a true spirit of brokenness and repentance…the sense of urgency we feel when staring death in the face…the courage and tenacity to choose love over fear when it gets hard…the hope for spiritual grandchildren who begin families of their own.  This is the journey.

5.     The guidance, energy, empowerment, and conviction of the Holy Spirit

Christ said in John 15 that apart from him, we can DO NOTHING. Only as the Spirit moves in, among, and through his people will transformation come.  Only as we repent and believe the good news (over and over again) will God meet us in our brokenness and pour out his grace.  Only as we burn the idols of “success” in all their forms will we experience God’s kingdom come, and his will done on earth as it is in heaven.
These were the first five things that popped into my head when asked that question last week.  I would love to hear what you think.  Please take a moment to comment on this post and add your own perspective.

16 Responses to Is God preparing the United States for a missional movement?

  1. Great response Tom!

    These days I'm liking the phrase "missional holiness"… I don't believe a missional movement (or revival, to use old language) can happen without a pursuit of holiness.

    Curious: how was he defining "missional movement" or what was his ultimate hope?

  2. I do believe in a "pursuit of holiness"; however, from Christo-centric perspective rather than a works righteousness perspective. Man either derives his life out of God ek Theos or out of the devil ek diabolos. Man’s derivation includes everything about his being and function. This includes a derived nature (either “nature of wrath” or the “divine nature”), a derived identity (either “sinners” or “saints”), a derived character (either “sinfulness” or “righteousness”), a derived image (visible expression of God or Satan), and a derived “life” or “death.” So, in short, the only way man can walk in holiness or any of the attributes of God is to "choose" to allow God's character to be manifested his behavior. According to Col. 1:27, the only way to glorify God is to allow God's character to be expressed in and through our behavior. This also includes the mission. Jesus sums this up by saying, "Apart from Me, you can do nothing." So, true mission is intricately tied to the character of God-Holiness included.

  3. Tom, thanks for sharing this again. I've read it three times and each time I come away with the idea that this is solid stuff.

    I would like to mention that one thing that I think that needs to be posited more is the whole idea of being-our Union with Christ or the Christ life. Many struggle with vain ambition and a works mentality because they are not settled in their union with Christ. I know you mentioned the empowerment of the Holy Spirit in number five. However, I am thinking about the whole covenant/relationship/oneness idea: Galatians 2:20-21; Col. 1:27-29; 1 Cor. 6:17, etc, and its necessity on the front end of the conversation and training.

    I'm just thinking out loud. I hope this helps.

    Thanks for who you are and what you do!

  4. Hey Tom

    First I Think you hit it right on the button. We have been living this for the last three years and it has been the best years of our life, it has also been the hardest battle too. It has changed us in ways we would have never thought. The biggest battles will be first the leaders , Church and the people. The leaders will have to be brave and willing to change and sacrafice for Christ not just talk but do like Christ. The Church will need to change how they look at and measure success in not just bucks and butts as you say. It is a hard road ahead and like you said it wll also take many people in many small places doing many small things in a organized way that can be repeated like Christ. We will need to listen to the Holy Spirit and trust in God to do things not possible by us but only by Him. Are there leaders out there willing to risk it all for Christ . I believe the Holy Spirit is moving we just need to trust and move.

  5. Sorry this is Ken's post but i (Ruth ) agree and am so proud to be walking this out with my husband and you Tom and Sandy. Thanks for all you do.

  6. I especially resonate with points 3 and 4. Point 3 because I live in a rather out of the way place (Cheyenne WY) but I believe that starting a discipleship movement where I am is as vital to any sort of global movement as any other place. Point 4 because I have felt both the tension and the blessing of rehabbing myself. As a pastor I'm not where I want to be by a long shot, but I feel confident that this discipleship direction is where the Holy Spirit is leading me and the church I serve. The battles I face seem to be as much internal as external as I wrap my head around this new (for me) discipleship model of ministry.

  7. Well, I think that the post is solid and has a lot of great points. As for my perspective I would say that most churches and church leaders at some level seem to understand what it means to be missional but they view the information through the lens of their current church culture, not through the gospel and how the gospel is lived out in the day to day. There have been a lot of words used to talk about being missional and creating movements but I think people need more tangible examples rather than more words. Theories look really good on paper but a lot can be lost in implementation.

  8. Reg – appreciate your thoughtful response to Dr. Love. Our union, and therefore, identity in Christ is paramount. What I wrestle with is how to make this a practical, day to day, reality. The theological foundation is essential – I just have a hard time translating that when my ego feels threatened. For me, this is a constant exercise of the Holy Spirit revealing idols, my repentance and "progressive" belief in the Gospel. (Meaning, I take another step in believing the good news in one more formally unredeemed area of my mind and heart – that God is great, good, and gracious and MORE THAN the idol I had been looking to for life.)

  9. I am proud to be walking with you and Ken, also, Ruth! Hubbardston is a small place, and you may feel at times like what God is doing in and through you flies under the radar. But trust me, your own testimony of life transformation as you dismount the mile wide but inch deep model of ministry that saturates so much of the American church – and engage in the messy, slow, arduous, and incredibly life-giving ways of Christ as disciple-makers ripples far and wide.

  10. Steve, I couldn't agree more. Remember the three ways the enemy tempts us (see the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness):

    1. Appetite
    2. Approval
    3. Ambition

    My greatest struggle is with ambition – and sometimes a subtle attack through the side door of appetite. Those of us who struggle with ambition have wedded our identity to a certain definition of success. God can root this out of our hearts, but it is a slow process of dying to self (much like the crucifixion as we are naked – exposed – and alone).

    Our great hope as Christ followers? Death is not the end of the story – resurrection awaits.

  11. Yes, I do understand the "practical point". However, I think that once we are settled in the awareness of our union of Christ, we just do the "next thing" that represents "self for others." The primary temptation is the one that says that I am "independent" and must "do things" "for" God. We have been given (Jesus), and He is definitely our "functional" Source of life. So, we reject the lie that any other thing or person can make us okay (idolatry) and confess and operate from the simple truth that "Christ is my life" and He is operating in and through me right now-even in the little and ordinary things in life.

  12. Times of sharing life, our walk with God and sharing stories of His faithfulness as we live on mission become great sources of encouragement. A missional movement needs these rhythms to be healthy and walk in unity.

  13. I was preparing to present a Discipleship Hour (Sunday school) lesson on the topic, "What it means to be Reformed and why it matters." In the meantime I was asked to read and respond to your blog. I'd like to be part of the discussion but find myself just asking more questions.
    Why are so many churches, good Bible believing and Bible preaching churches dying? We have always been exposed to the truth of the Gospel but haven't been able to become the people God commanded us to be. The Reformed churches have always been missional. I learned something this week I didn't know before. John Calvin sent missionaries all over the world, including to Brazil where there is still a Reformed church that goes back to the early 1500's. So the mandate to be about making disciples was an important part of the Reformation. Do we need another Reformation? Or have Reformations been ongoing and I haven't been aware of them because I've been part of a dying church for so long? I'm hoping and praying that our bringing the two congregations here in Battle Creek together will bring a renewal to Covenant Hope and that we can impact the city for the Kingdom. So, yes, we need all those components you mentioned but especially #4 & #5. And I myself want to be one of those leaders who goes first and leads by example, living my life in such a way that others will want to imitate me. That's what I'm training for. Thanks, Tom for coaching me.

  14. Love your heart, Dirk! My 2 cents is that most of our denominations began as movements of the Holy Spirit that paid attention to 3 things:

    1. The words of Christ
    2. The works of Christ
    3. The ways of Christ

    Overtime we all tend to slip on the ways of Christ (of course, many vibrant, Bible believing groups have also given much ground on the words of Christ as Truth). For those of us who cling tightly to the inspired, authoritative word of God as revealed in our scriptures – and to the atoning work of Christ on our behalf, we get so focused on fighting those battles that we lose focus on the ways of Christ. Instead, we look back to the glory days of our movement and try to bring back (at least in our minds) the ways of that era. But, the only thing that will translate into any culture at any time in history are the actual methods of Jesus – not necessarily the way our founders did it back then. Too many of us are holding onto a form of godliness, but denying the power of the living Spirit of Christ to bring us to repentance and faith (again) in the good news of Jesus words, works, and ways.

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