In the years leading up to prohibition in America, opinions on alcohol changed dramatically.
Within years, people went from enjoying alcohol to arguing that it should be completely banned. Small, anti-alcohol groups grew in popularity and shared their ideas with others.
As anti-alcohol groups reached more people, opinions changed among the people, and prohibition was eventually passed by the government.
American change their mind slowly at first— and then it accelerates quickly. Take a look at this article (and the chart) “This is How Fast America Changes Its Mind.” Really— take a look. I’ll wait.
This is what happens with cultural movements: It starts with something small and ends with a tipping point that leads to change. As this change starts to occur, smaller groups of people begin to attract others, and more people respond to the movement.
In some ways, this can be true of gospel ministry.
We often see people choose to follow Jesus the more they are surrounded by Christians who impact them in new ways. But there is one huge difference between cultural movements and gospel movements: Gospel movements are not about the leader. They are about Jesus.
Think about it. In Scripture, there is an emphasis on the failures of Jesus’ disciples and church leaders. It is not a coincidence that we learn so much about Peter’s stupidity and David’s foolishness. In fact, our exposure to the mistakes of leaders emphasizes the fact that Jesus is truly at the center of the gospel movement.
So, if leaders are not at the center of these movements, what is our role in a gospel movement? I think two things are key— reproducible disciples and de-emphasized clergy.
First, our words and behaviors must be replicable. We must reproduce reproducible disciples.
We need to follow Jesus in a way that encourages others to follow Jesus in their own way. There needs to be a de-emphasis on ourselves as heroic leaders and a new emphasis on creating a system that can be replicated as people engage in a gospel movement.
That’s why one of my favorite videos is the “Shirtless Dancing Guy.” I explaining the connection to church movements when I talk about my friend Neil Cole. See “Leadership Lessons from the Shirtless Dancing Guy” to understand why.
But, churches and denominations are striving to get this more. A few years ago, I spoke at the national Wesleyan gathering. When they asked me what I wanted to speak on, I told them that I wanted to talk about multiplication. Specifically, how churches can multiply.
Instead, they asked if I could go broader and talk about everything multiplying. At the gathering, I talked about how we need to multiply disciples, groups, ministries, and churches so that we can, in turn, grow the church. Because, if you think about it, every movement is driven by people who eagerly multiply small groups into larger ones.
When our words and actions are replicable, the opportunities for multiplication become more frequent.
Second, we have to de-emphasize the clergy and empower all disciples.
For example, years ago, I served as interim teaching pastor at a church in the American South. Every week, they have an walk-forward response time.
One week, there was an awesome, energetic response, and a young couple approached me. I knew the family, and as they walked towards me, they introduced their son (not his real name), saying, “Johnny is ready to receive Christ. He asked some questions, but he’s ready to trust Christ. Could you meet with him and pray with him?”
I had a dilemma. I was eager to help the boy, but I also knew that the parents could do this. So, I politely told the family, “You guys have been going to this church for a long time. Why don’t you guys talk to him and lead him to Christ? You can help answer his questions.”
They were not particularly happy with me and told some folks later in the day about their unhappiness. But, I didn’t want to encourage a position where people in my church see the pastor as the only direct gateway to Jesus.
When the pastor does for people what God has called the people to do, everyone gets hurt and God’s mission is hindered.
And sure enough, two weeks later, the family came back and thanked me. They said, “Thank you for not robbing us the opportunity to pray with our son.” When we provide our people with opportunities to grow in their faith, we are doing something right.
Of course, in many churches, it has been the norm to rely on the pastor as our direct phone line to Jesus. People invite their friends to church and wait on the pastor to deliver a message that speaks to them. Then, the new members invite additional people, and many of our churches grow on the basis of the pastor sharing a message.
Now, I am in favor of church invitations! But, what we need more is God’s people mobilized on mission.
Live Reproducible Lives and Empower All God’s People for Mission
So, if we live lives that are reproducible, and empower all God’s people for mission, the potential for movement is great.
The solution is simple, yet complex. It is going to look like people in neighborhoods, workplaces, and families sharing the gospel with people they know. By investing time and effort into people, we are able to reach them on a deeper level.
This is why it’s so important that gospel movements are not centered around pastors, but are instead centered around reproducible actions that can be replicated by many people as they share the gospel with others.
This is how multiplication begins, and it’s how we revitalize gospel movements. It starts slow, but can rapidly grow as people see the impact in their neighborhoods and communities, and they too change their minds and directions (repent) and follow Jesus.
I want a movement again.
Ed Stetzerholds the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College, serves as Dean of the School of Mission, Ministry, and Leadership at Wheaton College, is executive director of the Billy Graham Center, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group.