What Sparks a Movement?

  On a cold Halloween night long ago, a lone figure walked along the path near the Elbe River in what is now called Germany. As he neared the door of the Castle Church, parchment in hand, he knew his action in the coming moments would cause a stir. But he certainly could not have imagined the impact of the movement he was about to advance. Weary of the institutionalism and failed theological views of the established church of his day, this young monk had seen enough. He had written what became the manifesto of the movement soon to be called the Protestant Reformation.

The young monk’s name? Martin Luther. His document? The 95 theses. And his movement literally changed the world.

It Takes Clarity

Many besides Luther had problems with the Catholic church of his day. But his Theses proved to be the match the set ablaze a movement for the gospel of Jesus Christ, a movement that would go through various phases, to John Calvin in Geneva, the Anabaptists and the Radical Reformation, and Zwingli, to name a few.

It is one thing to sense the need for change. It is another to be able to state what and how change should come. For a movement to captivate others who will join in spreading its message, clarity is essential.

It is one thing to see the need for a movement. It is another to clarify a vision to accomplish the movement. Luther could do both. And today we need both again—a gospel-centered movement led by those who can teach others how to advance that movement today.

For a movement to succeed someone has to articulate an idea in a way that is winsome and easily communicated.

Today that is much easier because of the internet and tools such as Facebook and Twitter.

It Takes a Tribe

But for movements to spread, it takes others. It takes, in the words of Seth Godin, a tribe. “A tribe is a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea.”

And such tribes need to be led for a movement to matter: “Tribes need leadership. Sometimes one person leads, sometimes more. People want connection and growth and something new. They want change."

You have already made decisions about what you value. These decisions are reflected in how you spend your time and money, and how you raise your children. The importance of the gospel is seen in what you value. The “tribes” you associate with, and the level of passion with which you associate, grow out of your values.

Jim Elliot as a college student uttered these immortal words: “He is no fool who gives that he cannot keep in order to keep that he cannot lose.” Elliot understood the things of this life were not to be compared with the glories of the life beyond. That is why he could stand with his friends years later on the shores of a river in South America and be speared to death by those he came there to reach for Christ. The gospel mattered more than anything to Elliot and his friends.

If someone asked you the meaning of life, how would you answer them? If someone wanted you to tell them what mattered more than anything else, could you articulate for them how the gospel makes sense of everything?

Many movements have come and gone, some of which had clear statements of belief. Marx and Engel penned a Communist Manifesto, and the communist movement influenced much of the world. Today, however, no matter how well articulated communism may be, the only places where it is accepted are where totalitarian leaders rule with an iron fist. If the core values of a movement ultimately are shown to be wrong, the movement will ultimately fail.

But if the movement clearly speaks truth and gives a vision for living in light of that truth, it becomes an unstoppable force. When the gospel has been at the center of the faith of believers, Christianity has been such a force.

Godin grasps well the power of a movement clearly articulated and the possibilities afforded us through the internet today: “A movement is thrilling. It’s the work of many people, all connected, all seeking something better. The newly leveraged tools of the Net make it easier than ever to create a movement, to make things happen, to get things done.”

We stand on the gospel—the unchanging good news of Jesus Christ and the life that He provides. Sometimes our problem lies less with the assault from the outside than institutionalism from within which turns our attention from a risk taking, sacrificial mission to maintaining what we have.

It Takes the Master

We must take care to remember that the focus of our lives should not be on a movement, but on the Master of that movement. In Matthew 4:19, Jesus said, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” He did not say follow a movement. Many have been led astray by zeal to follow a movement whose leader took them down a path of harm, from Islamic terrorism to the White Supremacist movement. We must consistently, clearly articulate what our movement is about and what it is not about.

It is about Christ. It is not about our preferences.

It is about worshiping God. It is not about a style of music.

It is about telling others the gospel. It is not about our political or other views.

Certainly the movement of the gospel will speak to preferences, style, and politics. But we too quickly lose sight of Jesus in our haste to issues of secondary importance. We would do well to heed the words of Paul, a notable advancer of God’s movement: “I press toward the mark of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 3:14)

“Jesus was the first missionary,” Addison reminds us. “What Jesus did was to found a missionary movement that would one day span the globe.” When we become followers of Christ, we become a part of that global movement. When Jesus walked the earth He did not go after the cultural elites of His time. He called the outcasts and the ordinary. Folks like you and I are the kind of people He uses to articulate the movement He calls us to advance.

Alvin L. Reid is husband to Michelle and father to Josh and Hannah. He is a professor of evangelism and student ministry at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, as well as a popular speaker and author. He has written numerous books on student ministry, evangelism, missional Christianity, and spiritual awakenings.  Follow him on Twitter: @AlvinReid.

[This is an excerpt from Dr. Reid's forthcoming book by GCD Books, Gospel Advance.]