The tallskinnykiwi recently summarized the “Practices of a New Jesus movement” based on his visits to Asia and exposure there to the “dynamism and commitment of young Jesus followers.” In one instance, he records that a network of Jesus followers started a 1000 new communities, many of them multiplying into the second and third generation. Most of these new communities didn’t start begin in any kind of “worship service” at all, but grew out of the following 11 practices.
As a staff member with an organization (CRU) committed to launching and building movements among faculty and students, I spent some time reflecting on how our “practices” match the practices of these replicating communities in Asia. Of course, my purview is limited and may be a long way off from your experience on campus. To get his wisdom, I’ve included verbatim the reflections of the tallskinnykiwi (tsk) and then added a paragraph of personal reflections (jll). I’d love to hear what you think, whether my reflections match current reality within CRU, or any other thots.
1. Simple and Regular Bible Study
The Bible studies were simple and regular. And there was a lengthy program of discovering Jesus in the gospels which took months to complete. Most who completed the study decided to follow Jesus by the end. Discipleship was based on an “obedience-based approach” to the Scriptures that happened around their 3 simple Bible study questions [see 4. Simple habits]. When the group meets again, everyone is held accountable to do what they said they were going to do and this way the Word becomes an integral part of life.–tsk
I wonder how many of our bible study or discipleship resources we have are rooted in the gospels. It seems much of our material begins and ends in the epistles, with occasional excursions into the gospels. I wonder if it might help us to find materials that “discover Jesus in the gospels” and advocated a simple obedience-based approach. Do you know of any such resources?–jll
2. Open houses.
The people were hospitable to visitors who seemed to come at any time of the day or night. Their houses were full of young people living there while their lives were being transformed. I did not see any buildings used for worship or church functions. Bible studies and events took place in the houses, with young people sitting on carpets and mattresses, but I would not classify it as a house church movement, since there was no regular worship service to invite neighbours into.–tsk
I think we’ve often failed to emphasize the gift of hospitality, meeting faculty and students “on campus” rather than opening our homes and apartments to free flow of young and old. Like the table fellowship of Jesus’ day, sitting around a common table in someone’s home or hanging out in their living room or front porch simply advances the impact of life on life. What would look different if we opened the front door more?–jll
3. Fringe focus.
The primary influx was young people from the margins, the underbelly of society and those discarded by it, drug addicts, and postmodern sub-cultures rather than mainstream folk. I have seen this trend all over Asia including Japan. Most of the leaders I met had come from these backgrounds also.–tsk
In my own simple analysis of historical movements, it seems that “concern for the poor” was common to all of them. As a movement committed to the gospel transforming the university, we’ve been wrestling with the weight of biblical mandates around God’s special concern for the marginalized. We’ve been elites reaching elites–college grads going after faculty and students, keying in on premier athletes, working with senior military or community elites. Certainly, elites need Jesus. Nevertheless, I just wonder what would happen if we added more concern for the disadvantaged and marginalized in the communities surrounding the university campus or in the 2/3rds world. Might we draw out better leaders from the campus when we plunge into the broken places? Might we discover new leaders among the marginalized to lead the church forward? It’s happening around the world. Besides, as Walt Disney once said, “it’s fun to do the impossible?”–jll
4. Simple habits.
Nothing took a lot of skill. Teaching Bible, sharing jesus, leading AA-type meetings, no need for a charismatic superstar to attract an audience and in fact, there wasn’t one. Anyone could lead after a short time of instruction. The Bible studies, for example, were based on the same pattern:
After reading a passage together, they all answered 3 questions:
a. What does it say?
b. What does it say to me?
c. What I’m going to do about it? – tsk
We’ve all had training in this simple obedience-based approach to the Scriptures. But I so want to show off my knowledge, my research into the passage, my clever take of “what it says” that I adopt a different approach when I lead. I’m going to go back and just see. Maybe a simple, replicable approach might better produce “disciple-makers”. Maybe the KISS (Keep it simple, saint) principle will take me out of the center of the interaction and puts the text and my fellow-colearners more in the center.–jll
5. Good business products.
Financial sustainability came partly from their micro-businesses. The organic products from these businesses were among the best and healthiest in the country, even if they had not yet found a way to promote or distribute them widely. They had also innovated in the production process and believed God gave revelation that is helping them produce more and better goods and in a way that blesses the environment rather than taking from it.–tsk
It seems that these replicating communities arose within the “economics” of life. New faith in God engendered a rediscovery of the imago dei and the co-creative role of individuals and communities before a living God. We so often think of the gospel response affecting our relationship with God, but fail to see how the gospel restores other relationships as well. Jesus sees us as whole persons whose brokenness extends beyond our relationship with God. Sin destroys our relationship to others, to creation, even to self (Genesis 3). Movements that replicate embrace sin’s destructiveness in each of our relationships and seek to restore them thru the power of the indwelling Christ. Good business products, concern for the environment, the dignity of work, etc arise from the healing of the gospel.–jll
6. System for rehabilitation.
They had a dedicated building for rehabilitation of drug addicts and also used it for multi-faith gatherings where people from every background could meet each other and build friendships. It was also a space for urban ministry folk to retreat to for refreshment.-tsk
If the gospel has power, if new life in Christ is really new, then our movements must embrace the various long journeys to restoration and healing. Since our movements often draw folks “mostly healed” already, we rarely see the dynamic of God’s work in bringing change to the visibly broken. In reality, each of those “mostly healed” folks, folks like me and you, actually have a long journey to Christlikeness. It’s just that our “outward health” allows us to hide the inward brokenness. Once we embrace the fringe, we see how hard “rehabilitation” is and we’re more open to reveal and work on our own need of “rehabilitation.”–jll
7. Native flavor.
The ministries did not smell foreign. Certain areas of their ministry were more raw and vulnerable than others and they did not want foreigners, especially white Americans, turning up and stirring up unnecessary attention among the neighbours. Although they had not heard of it, the description “insider movement” would probably fit. I recognized one or two Western songs in the singing and the music they created was in part influenced by the global scene, but the ministries were quite Hillsong-free. Not all the Jesus followers used the “Christian” term. The size of the ministry was played down rather than promoted.–tsk
I’m not sure how to deal with this. We’ve been exploring the challenges of building cross-cultural movements. We’ve opened up our own organization to freely embrace cultural and racial differences. We’ve launched a mixed bag of successful and not so successful ethnic ministries. But we can’t seem to crack the nut. Our organization remains predominantly white. I need some help here….how do we take the tallskinnykiwi observation that replicating movements don’t smell foreign?–jll
8. Daily rhythms.
Weekly services are sometimes not enough for those struggling to walk a new path, especially coming from addictions and deeply ingrained destructive lifestyles. Meeting daily, even if for a short time, was the norm. Some did this around meals, some around Bible studies.–tsk
Wow. Our movement building efforts don’t appear so incarnational that daily contact becomes a norm. I still separate at times my life into “this is my ministry time” and “this is my personal/family/hobby time.” I do ministry and then I do life. It seems the more biblical pattern is “my life is my ministry.”–jll
9. Not outreach TO but outreach WITH others.
The Christians organized the outreach events to the urban poor and young people from many other religious backgrounds participated. I saw Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims and atheists all join in and work together. These same people would later return during the week to hang out and talk.-tsk
Over the last two years in our Haiti summer projects, we’ve been trying to advance a gospel movement guided by this principle: We don’t do things to people or for people; we do everything with people. It’s been helpful, particularly when dealing with the materially poor and in developing the quality of our Haitian leaders. We’re also learning that bringing blessing to others WITH others is often the door to belonging and to believing. Many of our movements have seen how “being a blessing and creating a sense of community belonging” leads eventually to following Jesus–to belief in and reliance on Jesus as King.–jll
10. Something for the whole family.
Outreach to the discarded of society involved visiting the families of those youth and attempting some reconciliation or at best, informing the parents that their kids were OK. Baptisms were generally postponed until the whole family joined in.-tsk
I recently spoke to one of our former international leaders who commented: “Our years of student projects to key foreign universities in my country only produced long-lasting viable movements when accompanied by “communities/churches” that were opened to the whole family–from grandkids to grandparents.” Believing that God wants to take the “whole campus to the whole world” has driven us to some new realities. When you include faculty (and ideas) to our university movements, you suddenly confront families, the work/marriage/ministry balance, etc. We’re forced to go deep now–which is probably good. I wonder how prepared our missional team leaders are to building movements where non-staff leaders may have families. Child-care at the weekly meeting? Why not?–jll
I didn’t see legendary all night prayer meetings like the Koreans but prayer was a casual part of everything they did. There were many physical healings in answer to prayer and the supernatural was accepted as normal.–tsk
Again, I so often underestimate the power of prayer and God’s willingness to intervene. Paul Miller’s book, The Praying Life, has helped make prayer a more normal and casual rhythm within my leadership responsibilities. But I’ve so far to go. Any thots?–jll
The tallskinnykiwi summarized these new Jesus movements as follows:
Yes, the ministries were characterized by GRACE. Some of the leaders had fallen back but had bounced out and launched forward again by the grace of God and were embraced back into the community. And they were wonderfully generous. Being poor, they made many rich. Including our family who were treated like royalty. We left with our backpacks filled with gifts and our hearts filled with a sense of overwhelming debt of gratitude.
Also, the intentionality of the movement was focused on impacting people’s lives with the gospel and NOT on creating community or starting churches which they saw as a natural outgrowth.
I am SURE there were other factors that contributed to the success of this particular movement but alas, I am too young and too dumb to know what they were. So I humbly leave these 11 practices with you to contemplate and discuss.
For another provocative article by tsk see 9 Reasons Not to Plant a Church here