Turning the church into a movement

starwars Robots

I was so involved that a friend had to convince me to go to the movies ...

When I was 19 years old, I was deeply involved in “movement politics.” I sat up late into the night for strategy meetings, hitchhiked a hundred miles or so to meet with the regional team, trained speakers, planned media events that won the entire front page of our city’s tabloid press, risked arrest (and did spend some time in a county jail) … all for the sake of the political movement I had committed myself to.

I was so all-in that at one point, a friend gently insisted that I had to go to see Star Wars with him and another buddy. “You act like you don’t plan to have any fun until all the world’s problems have been solved,” Henry said.

Of course, even while I was neck deep in our projects, I knew that our way of living was something not suited to “grownups” — people with real jobs and children to raise. One such friend I’d invited to a weeknight meeting looked at me in near despair as the hour approached 11 and asked, “Do you people ever actually DO anything?” He would have been happily hands-on, but was becoming worn out by the hours of consensus decision-making. (It has taken many years to become fairly certain that the “anarchist faction” of somewhat older activists who obstructed virtually every decision were probably informants).[

Still, those were heady years, and we were ultimately successful — thanks in no small part to historic events that buttressed our position — in being a part of changing the trajectory of US policy for the next decades.

Have you ever been part of a history-changing movement? Some of my friends identify with:

  • The Tea Party Movement
  • The Civil Rights Movement
  • The New Urbanist Movement
  • The Religious Right
  • The Feminist Movement
  • The Homeschool Movement
  • The Disability Rights Movement
  • The Anti-Nuclear Movement

 They don’t share politics, or focus, or even mostly friends (except me!). What they do share is:

  • They are focused.
  • They are moving.
  • They’re trying to move the culture with them.
  • They know why they want the culture to move.

By those criteria, very few people would call the church of Jesus Christ a movement. Which is unfortunate, because that’s what Jesus intended when he got the whole thing started:

“And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” Matthew 16:18

The Greek word (ecclesia) Jesus used that we translate as church is much better described in English as “movement” — the kind of movement we think of when we think of a political movement, or a gathering of like-minded people with a purpose. That’s why Jesus says that Hell will not overcome his “movement.” You don’t bother to “overcome” a bunch of people sitting behind four walls. Roll a tear gas cannister through the doors and you’re done.

There are a couple reasons we have such a hard time letting the church be a movement:

1. We find God’s direction confusing. God has been thorough enough to give us a written Word that includes direction for all people in all times — which means it’s often confusing and contradictory on the surface. And God has been kind enough to give us a living Word, the Holy Spirit, who can guide us through those apparent contradictions to the direction that is intended for us at this time. But given the choice between listening, waiting, sharing as a community in the process of understanding, we tend to prefer the easy road: defer to the stronger voices and factionalize as necessary. Plus, do you have any idea how much guidance God has given us? I’ve been cataloguing and I’ve reached 774, with much of the New Testament still to review. No wonder …

2. We can’t decide which direction to go. Without trying to recap a couple millennia of church history, I’ll just say that the world, the flesh and the devil continue to confuse and misdirect us, often in the form of pride (“our new understanding of the Hebrew scriptures helps us understand that Christianity and Islam worship the same God, and therefore we can meet as friends with dictators who are slaughtering hundreds of thousands” … “we marshall huge armies of voters focused on the single issue that is most important to God” … ).

And it can be hard to hear a still small voice from God directing you in the midst of a culture that has taken to speaking to you with a personal automated message as you walk past the department store counter, not to mention the constant background of personal music and the endless battering of broadcast commercial messages.

3. We think a movement of God must involve a lot of movement. This is my failing. I want to be on the barricades! But as a wife whose husband has a disabled brother, God’s movement in and through me has to be somewhat less dramatic right now. God expects me to have time for Saturday lunch with the brother and his friend: “My treat! I want to take you guys out!” God expects that I’ll be able at least to share in meal planning and preparation, and work with my husband to keep the house up (instead of just living graciously chaotic!) Sure, I can tutor for an hour after work, but it’s simply not the time to risk our lives when that means risking our brother’s life care.

But the core of this movement is love. And if I am able to love my husband, his brother, the oversized teens who confront me as I walk from work to my car, the disconsolate 8-year-old at our Boys & Girls Club who failed his end-of-grade reading test today … Then perhaps I am moving in the right direction. Toward our God who is love. Even if there is no movement that the eye can see at all.

How are you and your fellow Christians moving according to God’s guidance and purpose this week?

(Thanks to Youth Pastor Ryan Pendergraph for the sermon that inspired this post.)

About Carlene Byron

Writer, editor, publicist, communications project manager ... I've written technology and infrastructure; I used to edit New England Church Life and The New England Christian and I've freelanced to publications ranging from Commonweal to Christianity Today. I'm now living in my hometown in Maine and am speaking about global perspectives on suicide prevention.
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