Movements: What They Are, How They Grow, and How They Die

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As someone with a long history in and around the Messianic Jewish Movement, I was fascinated and enriched by reading a book by Steve Addison, titled Movements That Change the World: Five Keys to Spreading the Gospel. (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books), 2011. If you care about movements, how they grow, and how they die, this is a must-read. 

Steve Addison and his wife Michelle lead MOVE, “a mission agency devoted to training and deploying workers who multiply communities of Jesus’ disciples everywhere” (back cover).  This was his first book. He is also authored What Jesus Started: Joining the Movement Changing the World  and is the author of Pioneering Movements: Leadership That Multiplies Disciples and Churches.  He blogs at www.movement.net and holds a D. Min from Fuller Seminary, where his dissertation was on “The Continuing Role of the Apostle in the Church’s Mission.”

In this volume, Addison “deals with the characteristics of missionary movements in their most dynamic expression” (22). Using the ministry of St Patrick as a paradigm, in five chapters he identifies and explores “five key characteristics of movements that change the world.”   

Chapter One, “White-Hot Faith” examines how Jesus, John Wesley, and the Anglicans of Sydney, Australia model sacrificial faith that differentiates itself while remaining connected to wider societal contexts. For example, Wesley remained a loyal Anglican all his life and sought to be a renewal agent within Anglicanism. Such entities display a hardcore commitment born of pivotal experiences with God. Another example of this dynamic would be the Apostle Paul who, after his experience on the Damascus Road was manifestly all in. Chapter Two, “Commitment to a Cause,” explores how, “movements that change the world deal with ultimate issues. They are causes that make demands on followers. Apathy changes nothing and is the surest sign that a movement, organization or society is in decline. Change takes place because people care enough to act on their deeply held beliefs. They chose ‘to live divided no more'” (56). In the chapter he focuses first on John Wesley who modeled this commitment, required it of his converts and workers, and established structures and mechanisms to sustain and evaluate the commitment levels of those in his charge.  The chapter concludes by considering Jesus, his commitment, and the commitment he demanded of those who would follow him.

Chapter Three. “Contagious Relationships,” shows how movements grow through already established webs of relationship, and how low-cost word of mouth and face to face relationships trump expensive media approaches to communication and group development. His discussion of  “the strength of weak ties” is particularly noteworthy:  “Your close friends tend to link you with people you already know. By contrast, acquaintances link you to a variety of untapped social networks. They expand your relationship world” (78). He then briefly explores Malcom Gladwell’s three classifications of social linkers as connectors—who are people magnets, mavens, who provide expertise, and salesman, who are the persuaders who connect emotionally with others and convince them to consider and adopt new beliefs and behaviors. To all of these I would add “opinion leaders” who are the people to whom others instinctively go for validation of new options and ideas.

Chapter Four, “Rapid Mobilization,” explores how this requires recruiting, identifying, and on the job mentoring and training of leaders who should be released quickly to do the work of ministry and to learn as they go. Among those he considers as exemplars of this value are Francis Asbury and John Wesley, Ralph Moore of the Hope Chapel movement, Jesus of course, and Roland Allen, from whom Addison extracts catalytic principles with revolutionary implications still being mined for their prophetic usefulness nearly one hundred years after Allen wrote of them.

In Chapter Five, “Adaptive Methods,” Addison considers how we need to be intransigent in our commitments, flexible and adaptive in our methods, and always alert to what works and does not. We should avoid being heavy-handed managers, always equipping and releasing. His Conclusion examines some contexts where these principles are being employed. This is followed by an eight lesson Study Guide for use in training team members to understand and implement the insights of this book. And this is followed by two Appendices, one on “Gospel Presentations,” different ways of presenting the gospel to people, and the other on the Discovery Bible Study method.

Addison clearly writes to equip rather than to impress, but in doing so, is most impressive. His analysis of relevant factors, his contemporary, biblical and historical illustrations, and the tight logical structure of this and his other books, is impressive. What strikes me most about his book is the understanding he provides of what makes a movement a movement, when a movement is in decline, and when a movement is in fact, no longer a movement. His five points are simple but it seems, quite accurate in what they affirm. This is a book for practitioners and not for armchair theorists.

I admire his bold faith in simply sending people out to plant congregations knowing simple ways to share the good news while trusting in the power of the Spirit. I have no doubt this works elsewhere. However, here again, as in his What Jesus Started, the provided Bible lessons assume that the target audiences are biblically illiterate, unsophisticated, and responsive to formulaic presentations. This approach will not work with urban Jews, or Jews elsewhere in the West for that matter. The materials are also limited to those relevant to the propagation of the good news, while certainly, the whole counsel of God is far wider and deeper. That deeper and wider mandate is unexplored in this volume. Still, there is much to be learned from Addison’s book, and the five principles he explores are gold.

For the Messianic Jewish Movement, which has evolved into the Messianic Movement, this book raises some questions that ought not to be avoided. For example, Addison writes: 

Movements are informal groupings of people and organizations pursuing a common cause. They are people with an agenda for change. Movements don’t have members, but they do have participants. . . Movements are made up of people committed to a common cause. . . Movements are characterized by discontent, vision and action. Discontent unfreezes people from their commitment to the way things are. Movements emerge when people feel something needs to change. If the vacuum created by discontent is filled with a vision of a different future and action to bring change, then a movement is born. Movements change people, and changed people change the world (28-29).

From such a statement certain questions arise that ought to be faced and dealt with. Among these questions are these:

Is the Messianic (Jewish) Movement still a movement?

And what discontent is stoking our zeal?

And in reference to these questions, is anybody home?

Whoever we are and whatever our affiliations, after reading this book, what remains is for his principles to be applied to our own contexts, and his materials and approach adapted as the situation warrants, while those who do so pay due attention to other aspects of spiritual teaching and community formation that must not be neglected.

The book is a keeper concerning the propagation of a message and way of life we ought not to keep to ourselves.

3 Comments

  1. “What discontent is stoking out zeal?”

    For Messianic Jews, it’s the discontent of divorcing from Jewish identity to follow Messiah.

    For the gentiles in the Messianic movement, the discontent is with a Christianity that has replaced Israel and obsoleted God’s commandments.

    Movements are also driven by vision, and as it stands today there are competing visions for the Messianic movements. One vision sees us as a home for Jews following Yeshua, another vision sees us as Messianic Judaism for all nations, another sees us as Torah renewal for Jews and Gentiles.

    I’ve grown up in the Messianic movement, and it seems to me we are still a movement, but due to different visions, we may be multiple different movements.

    1. While all you are saying is true, it fails to address a core issue. A movement is supposed to be ABOUT something, it is supposed to be driven by a core discontent and a core purpose. When that purpose is replaced by another purpose or other purposes, regardless of whether they be noble or not, then the original movement has been replaced by another or others, but the original movement has either succeeded in its original mandate, failed in it, or abandoned it. And this should not be a matter of indifference.

      One of the core purposes and a God-given mandate of the MJ movement was to bring other Jews to a warmly Jewish and tradition embracing encounter with Yeshua the Messiah. No one that I know of would dare to say that we are succeeding in this area. In fact. most have abandoned it and have other fish to fry, some of which you name.

      They may be nice tasting fish to some people. But to call this anything less that a failure on the part of the movement is, in my view, dishonest.

      Frankly, the movement has been coopted by other agendas and considerations. Not universally, but without a doubt, substantially. The evidence is clear.

      1. It seems to me, Stuart, that you have not stated a core discontent to motivate your statement of a core purpose “to bring other Jews to a warmly-Jewish and tradition-embracing encounter with Yeshua the Messiah”. The only folks I’ve ever known who seem to feel some sort of discontent that drives them toward enticing Jews to “encounter” Yeshua as the Messiah are missionaries with a quota mentality. That is decidedly *not* the Jewish messianism which *I* encountered 48 years ago.

        What attracted me, and most with whom I associated at that time, was not driven by discontent, but rather was driven by the delightful discovery of previously unknown depths of understanding and insight into the biblical documents and the culture that had produced them. Now, I agree that the environment in which that occurred was “warmly-Jewish and tradition-embracing”, in at least some limited manner. It is natural to wish to share such enjoyment with others, but only in an organic relational manner. Buttonholing people to tell them something they have no initiative or wish to hear is neither warm nor Jewishly traditional.

        Consequently, I favor the positive approach of discovery within a warmly-accepting atmosphere; and I consider the missionary mentality inimical to Jewish existence, and thus something to be condemned and resisted as forcefully as possible. Hence I found Mark Kinzer’s “PMMJ” book a very refreshing read. Given this approach, we may ask what are the current problems facing Jews at the present time, and in what manner Jewish messianism may aid in their resolution. It may not be entirely a secondary consideration to ask in what way it also may influence non-Jews, particularly would-be disciples of the Israeli admor Yeshua ben-Yosef, because in their redemption Jews may find themselves freer to pursue their own fulfillment and calling.

        Thus, congregations and fellowships of Jewish messianists *do* need to serve as a home-y locus that fosters Torah and Jewish cultural renewal for modern Jewish disciples of their ancient Israeli rabbi. Affiliated congregations of non-Jewish ones need to pursue the redemption that Rav Yeshua enables them to do, particularly in the personal moral redemption that Rav Shaul’s letters to ancient non-Jewish disciples should encourage, but also in greater understanding of biblical Jewishly-originated teaching. Together, these congregations and fellowships should produce individuals whose capabilities have been improved to address larger problems in the sphere of their local communities of affiliation and outward unto wider governmental concerns. Perhaps they may even resolve local problems arising from existing intermarriages — possibly even preventing more of them.

        I would venture to suggest that one primary driving force to all of this should be a desire to prepare the way for the kingdom of a soon-to-appear Messiah ben-David, not unlike the Chabadnik exhortation to “Bring Moshiach Now”. While we may have no influence over the actual timing of that appearance, we can anticipate it, we can prepare ourselves to live accordingly, and we can encourage others to do likewise. I suspect that doing so will actually develop microcosmic societies in local communities that begin to experience some degree of the benefits that messianic rulership will bring. The demonstration of such benefits and the promise of such benefits, particularly those of a sound intellect and moral character in those who devote themselves to their underlying Jewish principles, should produce the strongest encouragement in others to wish to participate in the fun.

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