A couple of weeks ago, I had a friendly discussion (see comments) with Ed Stetzer shared a little of his presentation of “Movemental Christianity.” The title really resonated with me as I have been spending a lot of time in Acts and considering the movement of the early church as the gospel spread to the ends of the earth (and how that should look today). Stetzer provides ten elements of movemental Christianity in North America, following the lead of David Garrison’s book Church Planting Movements. I want to take a moment to explain the premise and presuppositions of Garrison’s movemental Christianity as Stetzer calls it “excellent work” and “paradigm-creating.” For the sake of filling in gaps, here are Garrison’s ten elements found in every church planting movement:
David Garrison on Church Planting Movements
1. Extraordinary Prayer
2. Abundant Evangelism
3. Intentional Planting of Reproducing Churches
4. The Authority of God’s Word
5. Local Leadership
6. Lay Leadership
7. House Churches
8. Churches Planting Churches
9. Rapid Reproduction
10. Healthy Churches
Garrison later gives another ten elements found in most church planting movements. Well, you might be asking the question, “What is a Church Planting Movement (CPM)?” Garrison answers the question, stating,
“A Church Planting Movement is a rapid multiplication of indigenous churches planting churches that sweeps through a people group or population segment.”
Garrison begins his description of a CPM with five characteristics: First, there is rapid reproduction. Garrison says that CPMs “always outstrip the population growth rate as they race toward reaching the entire people group.” Second, there is multiplication. Garrison explains that CPMs “multiply churches and believers like Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes.” Third, CPMs are indigenous, that is, generated from within, contrasted with those influenced or started by outsiders. Fourth, CPMs have churches planting churches. At this point, Garrison hones in on the strategic point where things get out of control, like a cascade of falling dominoes. This reveals that “when the momentum of reproducing churches outstrips the ability of the planters to control it, a movement is underway.” Fifthly, CPMs occur within people groups or interrelated population segments. Church movements most naturally occur within “shared language and ethnic boundaries.”
Having articulated the nature of a CPM, Garrison makes the bold conclusion that “without exaggeration we can say that Church Planting Movements are the most effective means in the world today for drawing lost millions into saving, disciple-building relationships with Jesus Christ.”
The Need for Speed
Inherent within the existence and perpetuation of a CPM is the need for speed. By nature, a CPM cannot exist unless the conversion rate outstrips the birth rate; as a result, the defining or qualifying factor for the existence of a CPM is rapidity. When asked how rapid Garrison responds, “Faster than you think possible.” In order to make this “rabbit-like reproduction” possible, all elements not easily reproduced must be eliminated. While Garrison is quick to assert that “missionaries in Church Planting Movements would never admit to sacrificing orthodoxy for the sake of rapid reproduction,” one has to wonder just exactly what is eliminated to justify and sustain a CPM. Indeed, rapidity becomes the control belief that filters out others not conducive or productive to the movement for tolerating elements not immediately reproducible would potential jeopardize the existence of a CPM.
Questions and Concerns
Given that the IMB has embraced Garrison’s work on CPM’s and the praise it has received from respected missiologists, one should recognize the influence (for good or ill) of Garrison’s paradigm regarding movemental Christianity. Nevertheless, I would like to pitch a few of questions and concerns regarding this paradigm. First, should we be embracing a movemental paradigm that is singularly dependent up rapidity? While Garrison asserts that the origins of CPM’s can be traced to the life and teachings of Jesus, do we have sufficient biblical grounds to make speed the controlling factor for church planting? Furthermore, should such a control belief be allowed to arbitrarily eliminate all other elements that don’t comport to its necessary existence? In other words, if there are elements of a healthy church that are not immediately reproducible, are we simply to forsake them for the sake of rapid reproduction? Second, while Garrison provides examples across the world were CPMs have taken place across the world, are we to embrace, without qualification, CPMs as the “most effective means of reaching the world?” What are the long-term fruit and effects of CPMs? Have we seen multi-generational fruit and faithfulness in CPMs? In countries such as Sudan or regions such as Eastern Europe, are we to expect CPMs to come to fruition where there is such hardness and hostility to the Christian faith? Furthermore, is the success of CPMs measured only by pragmatic results or statistical analysis? Are any of these churches that have eliminated non-reproducible elements more susceptible to syncretism or reversionism? I realize that these are issues related elsewhere among non-CPMs, but the claims and promises guaranteed with CPMs warrant at minimum a measured response to questions and concerns similar to these that I have mentioned.
Ed Stetzer on Movemental Christianity
Ed Stetzer has adapted Garrison’s paradigm to suit a North American context which he has called “Movemental Christianity.” His ten elements are as follows:
5. Theological Integrity
Stetzer has provided a summary of each point but only in outline form (he plans on writing an article on this later). Having looked at the ten elements, one would find it hard to disagree prima facie with Stetzer’s ten elements. Yet, my concern is not so much what was on the list but what was left out. Perhaps I am the kind of guy who should assume more, but one thing that alarmed me was the apparent absence of the Word of God in either Garrison’s or Stetzer’s paradigm. Now don’t get me wrong. There is mentioning of scriptural authority (Garrison) and theological integrity (Stetzer), but that misses the point. To what degree does the Word of God play in movemental Christianity? Merely having a high view of Scripture does not equate a functional commitment to the centrality and sufficiency of the Word of God.
So Stetzer’s blogpost got me searching to find a biblical understanding of “movemental Christianity.” What I found was that movemental Christianity was defined by not ten various elements but one defining mark-the Word of God. I am not trying to sound overly simplistic or give a missiologically sophomoric Sunday School answer. But on the other hand, I fear that we find ourselves emphasizing things seldom if ever emphasized in Scripture and raise technique to replace truth.
Word-Driven Movemental Christianity
Upon a cursory glance of the early church in Acts and through the letters of Paul to the churches he planted, I found a reoccurring theme of a word-driven movemental Christianity. It was not defined by speed but by the Word, not validated by pragmatic measuring sticks but authenticated by transformed lives faithful to the gospel and mission. Consider how prominent the Word of God was in the movement of the early church in the book of Acts:
The Prevailing and Multiplying Power of the Word of God
* “those who received the word” (Acts 2:41) resulting in 3,000 added
* “many of those who heard the word believed” (Acts 4:4) resulting a totaling now 5,000
* “and the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem” (Acts 6:7)
* the first scattering from Jerusalem to Samaria is described as “those who were scattered went about preaching the word” (Acts 8:4)
* the evidence that gospel movement had taken place in Samaria was that they “had received the word of God” (Acts 8:14, cf. 8:25)
* when the gospel came to the Gentiles, the Holy Spirit fell on “all who heard the word” (Acts 10:44 cf. 11:1)
* after martyrdom of Stephen, the word spread as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch (Acts 11:19)
* after the death of Herod, Luke writes that “the word of God increased and multiplied” (Acts 12:24)
* the first place Paul and Barnabas went after being sent out was Salamis where “they proclaimed the word of God in the synagogue of the Jews” (Acts 13:5)
* in Antioch Pisidia, after Paul’s preaching, it is said that the Gentiles “began rejoicing and glorying in the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed. And the word of the Lord was spreading throughout the whole region” (Acts 13:48-49)
* Paul and Barnabas bore witness to “the word of his grace” in Iconium where “a great number of both Jews and Greeks believed” (Acts 14:1, 3)
* Paul and Barnabas revisited the places and cities where they “proclaimed the word of the Lord” (Acts 15:36)
* when the Philippian jailor asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” Paul and Silas “spoke the word of the Lord” to him and to all who were in his house (Acts 16:31-32)
* when the gospel came to Berea, they “received the word with all eagerness” so that “many of them believed with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men” (Acts 17:11-12)
* when Paul came to Corinth, he was “occupied with the word” and remained there eighteen months, teaching them “the word of God” (Acts 18:5, 11)
* Paul continued in Ephesus for two years until “all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks” (Acts 19:10)
* in Ephesus, after the sons of Sceva were run out and evil practices denounced, the Scripture says that “the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily” (Acts 19:20)
* when Paul departed the Ephesian elders, he left them with “the word of his grace” (Acts 20:32)
Now, having looked at the book of Acts, let’s see how Paul validated movemental Christianity and see what he emphasized:
Word of God and Most Successful Church Plants
Colossae: “Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, 6 which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and growing-as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth,” (Col. 1:5-6)
Thessalonica: “For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, 5 because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. 6 And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, 7 so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. 8 For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything.” [1 Thess. 1:4-8]
Berea: when the gospel came to Berea, they “received the word with all eagerness” so that “many of them believed with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men” (Acts 17:11-12)
Antioch: “for a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians” (Acts 11:26)
Ephesus: “this continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks” (Acts 19:10)
“be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish everyone with tears” (Acts 20:31)
Corinth: “and he stayed a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them” (Acts 18:11)
The evidence for a “Word-driven movemental Christianity” is quite impressive, no? But allow me to proceed into the biblical imagery of missional Christianity to see how the word is the essential element of biblical church movements. For instance:
Missional Imagery and the Word of God
If a Christian is a soldier of Christ Jesus, then his only offensive weapon to move forward is the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
If a Christian is an athlete running the race, then the way in which he is not disqualified is by competing according to the rules. I take that to mean that as Christians we must subject ourselves to God’s Word to run in such a way that we first are not disqualified and second run in a way so as to win the race.
If a Christian is a farmer, then he knows that the good seed that he sows is the Word of God upon the hearts of men, for faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ.
If a Christian is an ambassador, then the message he brings is he word of reconciliation–the gospel of Jesus Christ. He does not have a message of his own, but the message given by the one who sends him.
If a Christian is to be a light in this world, then it depends largely in part to his exposure to that Word which is a lamp unto his feet and a light unto his path.
In each of these images, what we find as movement/success/fruit or whatever way you want to put it is that the word of God is the sword that cuts, the seed that multiplies, the message that reconciles, the light that illumines, and the rulebook for the athlete. The Word is never assumed nor given secondary treatment. Sure we could talk about the dedication of the solider, the disciple of the athlete, the patience of the farmer, or the faithfulness of the ambassador, but if they have not the Word, they have not a movement. These traits, important though they be, are subsequent to the primary cause of movemental Christianity–the instrumentality of the word of God (and the agency of the Holy Spirit).
What we find in Scripture is that God is the principle mover, and the movement He authors will be orchestrated by His Spirit and centered on His Word. The movement of the Word is both
* internal (moving from mind, heart, to will)
* external (moving people to mission and communication of that word)
* powerful (bringing conversion and producing faith)
* exponential (“increased and multiplied, spread and mightily prevail”)
* horizontal (from Jerusalem to Samaria to uttermost)
* vertical (teaching them to observe all . . .)
I am all on board with movemental Christianity. It is a great passion to see the gospel faithfully communicated so that sinners are saved, churches are planted, and the kingdom of God is advanced. I long to see a movement of multiplication where churches are being reproduced and God’s church is revived. But the underlying premise and control belief of Garrison, namely that of rapidity, does not find biblical support (just see Corinth, Ephesus, and Antioch for examples). Instead, we find inherent in the Great Commission of Jesus to “teach them to observe all that he has commanded us” (Matt. 28:20) and Paul the greatest church planter refusing to not declare “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). Furthermore, the elements from Stetzer’s paradigm are helpful but miss the point of biblical church movement. The fact that either the Word is given superficial treatment, assumed, or dismissed, reveal that we have supplanted the gospel truth with missiological technique. Success is never guaranteed by the work of our hands but by the blessing of doing God’s work God’s way. The most successful church plants were never manifested in “rabbit-like” speed or by a myriad of secondary elements. Rather, they were established and multiplied because of the faithful exposition and application of God’s Word. They were led by men who “preached the word” in season and out of season as they did the work of an evangelist (2 Tim. 4:1-5).
To a seasoned missiologist or church planter, this may sound overly simplistic and naïve, but I remain unconvinced that movemental Christianity can be both biblically faithful and wonderfully fruitful apart from the word of God as the driving force. “Missional” has come to mean almost anything under the sun, and the ecclesiological practices of church planters are anything but uniform. We need a movement that is preeminently defined by Scripture-a movement where the Word moves inward (in our mind, heart, and will) and outward (to our world at large). We need a movement where God’s Word dictates the outcome, not trends or technique, and certainly not speed. I hear a lot about being 1st century churches today in the 21st century. Well, one thing we know is that the church went only as far as the Word took it. The church planters were not pursing a movement that got out of hand or “outstripped” their ability to lead in it; rather, they took great pains to revisit the places where churches had been planted and kept a hands-on approach for years to come, either through sending of disciples, writing of letters, or reoccurring visits.
It was Paul’s prayer that “the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you” (2 Thess. 3:1), and I join Paul in praying that we will see a movemental Christianity today that is neither embarrassed of the Word nor turn it into a matter of formality. We should pray for a movemental Christianity that is Word-driven not only because it is profoundly laced through Scripture, but most importantly because God is here and is not silent. With all the missiologists letting their voices be heard, should we not let the Author of the missio dei have the final word?
David Garrison, Church Planting Movements: How God Is Redeeming a Lost World (Midlothian, VA: WIGTake Resources, 2004), 172.
Ibid., 28. Emphasis mine. Garrison goes on to say that it “may appear to be an ambitious claim, but it is an accurate one, and an honest description of how God is winning a lost world.”