Jesus intentionally started a movement. He launched a movement that kept moving forward even after his return to heaven. Jesus empowered a small group of followers, and left them with a plan to permeate the entire earth with his message. If you and I had been one of the eleven disciples that remained, we would surely have felt intimidated with the task Jesus had just set before us. They were being asked to take the Jesus movement to the entire world. They did, and it is still moving forward from generation to generation. Jesus’ prayer in John 17 was for a movement that would continue after he left.
“20 “I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. 21 I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.
25 “O righteous Father, the world doesn’t know you, but I do; and these disciples know you sent me. 26 I have revealed you to them, and I will continue to do so. Then your love for me will be in them, and I will be in them” (NLT).
Jesus was praying for the disciples, but he was also praying through them to all that they would impact. Every believer alive today can trace their spiritual lineage back to that prayer.
The Church that was born at Pentecost became a movement that spread around the Mediterranean region, and eventually made its way throughout the entire world. It was said that the movement turned the world upside down as it spread (Acts 17:6).
The early church preached the message of Jesus everywhere they went until finally even some in the palace of the Roman emperor became followers of Jesus. It was an organic movement that spread much like a virus spreads among populations. Those who were contagious with a changed life couldn’t help but share it with others.
Paul the apostle and his team followed the Holy Spirit as he led them to various places to preach the message. They seemed to realize that if they would make contact with the uninfected, the gospel virus would spread throughout nations and generations.
Paul instructed Timothy about how to keep the message moving in 2 Timothy 2. “2 You have heard me teach things that have been confirmed by many reliable witnesses. Now teach these truths to other trustworthy people who will be able to pass them on to others” (NLT). The movement in this verse represented four generations of followers of Jesus. Paul told Timothy, who was told to pass it on to those who would continue to pass it on. The Church knew that keeping the movement going was dependent upon them following God’s leading, and being obedient to the teachings of Jesus.
Woodward and White in their book The Church as Movement used the example of the modern western church as a “Christian industrial-complex”. This example is taken from Dwight Eisenhower’s famous speech where he warned to watch out for the “military industrial-complex”. That was quite a statement coming from a WWII general.
The Christian industrial-complex has ceased to be an organic movement, as much as an institution known as Christendom. “A natural impulse for an organism is to collect resources into its own center of gravity. This is especially true for the church in the United States because of its large-scale rejection in society. The church as industrial-complex unintentionally turns spirituality into a product, church growth into a race, leadership into a business and members into consumers. Through this lens, more is better” (Woodward and White 25).
The Church as movement will grow and flourish, but only because of the organic life flow of the Holy Spirit. Otherwise, it depends on human effort which never works out quite right. The movement will only keep moving as the Church regains the direction, power, and life that Jesus left in the Church. If it isn’t done organically, discipleship is attained by serving the Church structures rather than the structures serving disciples.
Jesus began the Church as a movement, and he intends us to continue it as movement. It is wise to ask ourselves how much of what we are doing in ministry is a continuation of that movement, and how much of it has been hijacked by human efforts and plans.
Psalm 127:1 NLT
Unless the Lord builds a house,
the work of the builders is wasted.
Unless the Lord protects a city,
guarding it with sentries will do no good.