What Makes a Movement?

While Christians may contend that the early church was the first, historians would say that the world’s earliest “movement” was the British abolitionist movement beginning in the late 1700s. The most famous movement, of course, was the American Civil Rights Movement propelled by the bravery of Martin Luther King. Other social movements in the last few hundred years have carved out a definition and prototype of what movements usually look like. Examples include women’s rights, peace, civil rights, anti-nuclear and environmental movements.

More recently there has been the feminist movement, pro-choice movement, right-to-life movement, gay rights movement, animal rights movement, alter-globalization movement, and dozens of others. Religious movements have included the holiness movement, latter rain movement, Methodism, word of faith movement, and the like. Some have helped the Kingdom, while others have provided a plethora of divisive religious trappings. Pentecostalism used to be a movement. Some would argue that it still is, but they usually site places that are not North American.

Pentecostal verbiage almost always uses the word “move.” We want a move of God. What we actually desire is a movement. In Canada, we urgently need a movement – a “move of God” marked by a demonstration of the Spirit’s power for the purpose of seeing unbelievers redeemed. We do not need the robes and garb of pentecostalism unless, in some way, they serve in the effort to reach the lost. After all, the real evidence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit is a transformed missional heart; albeit the initial physical evidence is tongues.

There are a few common characteristics in modern and historical movements. Here are a few:

Movements are not fads.

Movements and fads feel the same while they are happening. The difference can only be discerned by the rearview mirror. A movement produces long-term permanent change—a new normal. A fad is a nifty idea that creates a buzz and musters some excitement but doesn’t acquire enough substance to perpetuate a real change. A movement becomes a force, while a fad becomes a memory. To use post-modern examples, “emergent” and “house church” are fads, ranking up there with Cabbage Patch and Air Jordans. Conversely, “missional” and “the new Pentecostals” has the steam to become a movement. The difference is traction.

Movements are not eternal.

They start. They gain momentum. They are successful. They decline. They die. They are subject to the laws of social inertia. However, in their wake they leave a new status quo or a new norm. Almost all movements become monuments, if not museums. Don’t believe me? Browse the churches in Britain or a roam through Rome. If things don’t change, we too will be selling churches for a dollar, just like our other mainline friends.

The disturbing reality is that most of us are so bent on protecting the monument that there is little chance of embracing another movement. It is impossible to move forward if we have a death-grip on the paraphernalia of the past.

Movements have the same basic structure of growth.

First, people come to believe there is a problem. Like Dr. Phil says, “You can’t change what you don’t acknowledge.”

Secondly, people experience pain or deprivation. Someone once said that people don’t change until the pain of changing is less than the pain of staying the same. There is discontent with the current reality.

Next, a possible solution takes root and becomes contagious. This is the first inkling of momentum.

Lastly, people are mobilized. This is where talking, debating, and information gathering turns into doing. Chatter slows. Action accelerates. People do what needs to be done. (Sometimes I wonder if we will ever break free of our addiction to theory and orthodoxy and begin to produce activity and orthopraxy).

Movements begin with a catalyst – person or event.

Movements all ask a compelling question: “If we don’t do this, what will happen?” Thus, a movement starts with problem. However, something or someone is the igniter. (Think Rosa Parks riding in the whites-only section of the bus. Think Charles Parham began teaching that speaking in tongues was the biblical sign of the Holy Spirit’s baptism in Topeka, Kansas.)

Movements are always grassroots fueled and sustained, but a spark starts the process–a spark in the right condition. There is always a precipitating factor (or factors), perhaps an event that turns a concern into a cause. An undesirable picture of the future motivates a movement.

Movements have flexible structures.

All movements inherently beg for organization. New structures serve the movement well — until the inevitable fateful tipping point when the movement becomes an institution. Participants get overly concerned with precedent (if we do this once, we’ll have to do it next time for the next person), policy (rules reign), and procedure (linear and systematic is the order of the day). All of these things are good, but successful movements have always been low-institution and high-mission. They dream, decide, and deploy. The embrace the changeability of tabernacles and shun the immovability of temples. Therefore, movements are naturally offensive.

Movements always challenge the old, embrace the new, hope for the not yet.

Unfortunately it takes a long time for a church to die. Long after evangelism ceases to become their main activity, some churches live on. The air becomes filled with “back then” language with token lip service to a future glory that everyone knows is not coming but won’t admit. If the mission is no longer why you have a church, then really you don’t have a church – you have a morgue. We are left to count steeples and peoples.

Movements appreciate the past but embrace the future because they stick to the issues that matter most. A movement decelerates the moment the main thing is no longer the main thing. The minor things may be important, or even essential, but historically movements disintegrate with the onset of debates outside the scope of their prime directive.

Movements are organic.

They are self-propelling and self-propagating. Like an ocean wave, a movement is not to be made but to be ridden. We don’t create a movement; we embrace one. Therefore, movements find their leader, not vice versa. In a real sense, a movement is sovereign. There is no memo or proclamation that kick-starts it. The wind blows where it wants, and we hear its sound, but we cannot tell whether it’s coming or going.  Spirit-led people simply scatter on the shoreline in anticipation and race to ride the wave as it comes.

We need some more movements.

We need a church planting movement.

We need a youth movement.

We need a spiritual leadership movement.

We need a holiness movement.

We need a prayer movement.

We need a pentecostal movement.

Spirit move.


While boarding the plane I noticed that the executive class seats were mostly empty. In fact, many of the economy seats were vacant too. I took my place amoung the commoners and peasants in the cheap seats. My seat was 12D, which was an aisle seat in the row immediately behind executive class. Across the aisle from me was a middle-aged woman who was fumbling to find her ringing mobile phone. She launched into her loud-talker voice, telling her friend how “unfair” and “not right” it was that Air Canada would make her sit in economy when there were empty seats in executive class. I chuckled to myself as she expressed her frustration to her friend (and the entire plane) about how she shouldn’t be in economy class. In her twisted thinking, she was due a greater place. Though she paid the same fare as the rest of us, in her mind she was more deserving than the other 300 passengers. Perhaps she didn’t notice other passengers that were more deserving of that honour than her: senior citizens, folks with mobility issues, Canadian soldiers, and the like.

There are a few areas where I think we have departed from the way things used to be–to our detriment. One of these is the way we honour one another and those in authority amoung us. From child to parent, parishioner to pastor, peer to peer, employee to boss, dishonour is rampant in our society. We live in a culture of dishonour. Roasting and lampooning leaders is a common practice. Often we are experts at faultfinding. We think we are helping by pointing out these flaws but it has a harmful effect.

I visited two of our Bible colleges last week and it struck me as odd when the students referred to President Morrow and President Demchuck as “Bill” and “Dave.” I know the new catchword in modern leadership culture is relationship but in our attempts to equalize the hierarchy, and make everyone common, is there not still room for us to show honour? After 15 years of working together I still default to referring to my friend, and District Superintendant, as Pastor Doug. Sometimes in our interactions he gets the tag captain, chief, or boss, but rarely “Doug.” He has no preference of the name I call him; it’s just been the honourable label I’ve used – given his position and his advanced years. [insert chuckle here].

Children, especially, should be taught to honour adults. My children are not permitted to call our pastor, Joe, by his first name.   The names of unfamiliar adults in their life are called Mr. or Mrs.

Showing honour, of course, has little to do with name we use to address someone, but the way in which we speak about, or act around, another person testifies of whether or not we honour them. I believe that honour should be given to everyone; including those we work with, work for, and who work for us.

A pastor is worthy of honour because of the office he or she holds. Honour is not to be withdrawn from someone based on his or her performance.

I almost came unglued in a recent meeting when a layperson, on a tangent unrelated to the agenda, begin a rant about the excessive “perks” given to pastors. This man lives in ignorance, and is prone to dishonour. I would be the last person to advocate for a pastor’s pity party, but there are some realities unique to pastoral ministry. Apart from the perpetual state of readiness a pastor lives in, there is a continual pressure of being evaluated and assessed in every area of life and leadership.

Pastors don’t get 2-days off in a row, except on vacation. And, generally, the pay stinks – especially the pay-to-expectation ratio. What parishioners don’t know is that 45% of pastors will experience burnout or depression that will force them, permanently or temporarily, to leave their job. Almost half of all pastors have seriously considered leaving the ministry within the last 3 months. A third of pastors say that being in the ministry is an outright hazard to their family. 75% say that they’ve had a significant stress-related crisis at least once in their ministry.

I know that there are people in our congregations that work harder, longer, and for less pay than their pastor, but that regrettable reality is not license for pastors to be under-appreciated. Why can’t we give our pastors more than they deserve? What are we afraid of? What would happen if a pastor was over-paid, over-rested, and over-honoured? I think that might just be biblical: “And now, friends, we ask you to honour those leaders who work so hard for you, who have been given the responsibility of urging and guiding you along in your obedience. Overwhelm them with appreciation and love!” (The Message)

Leaders must honour their followers and colleagues.

“In humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” (Philippians 2:3-4) Every person is worthy of honour because of the high value inherent in being a creation of God. If we see God in the person next to us, we would treat them with honour.

We are to show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honour those in authority. Romans 12:10 reminds us to, “Be devoted to one another in love. Honour one another above yourselves.” Scripture also take the time to remind us to honour widows (1 Timothy 5:3), elders (1 Timothy 5:17), the elderly (Leviticus 19:32), parents (Ephesians 6:1-3), spouses (1 Peter 3:7), and bosses (1 Timothy 6:1). There are also verses instructing older ministers to honour the younger ones (1 Timothy 5:1-2).

As pastors and leaders we must commit to speaking honourably of other pastors and ministries. It is easy to find the faults, but godly leaders look for the positive. Andrew Carnagie said, “Finding greatness in an individual is a lot like mining for gold. When you go into the mine you realize that you will have to move a ton of dirt to find an ounce of gold. However, you never go to the mine looking for the dirt. You always go to the mine looking for the gold!”  If you go looking for dirt you will find plenty of it.

It is always sinful to join with others to create alliances around a cause that dishonours others.  There are appropriate times, situations, and places to voice criticism and complaint. Wise and godly leaders are able to discern these times.

Honour is held in the heart and shown in physical expressions.

Dress – When I ran a small business I occasionally would interview potential employees. I was shocked at the way interviewees would dress. One potential salesperson even came wearing flip-flops, shorts, and an ugly Hawaiian shirt. He had no chance of obtaining my employment. We show honour to another person by what we wear when in their company.

Deference – If we preferred and honoured one another as Scripture says, wouldn’t church parking lots fill up from the farthest space first, and then be filled from there to the more preferable spaces? [insert groan here]

Dialogue – How we talk speaks the most about whether we honour others or not. Whatever is in the heart will eventually come out the mouth.

To honour means to value. We honour what you value. We keep it in special place. We hold it in high-esteem. Honour for another person is displayed in our actions, evidenced by our words, and reflected in our thoughts. Most importantly, honour originates and is held in our heart, for if we do, speak, and think about honouring someone we still fail if we do not honour in our heart.

Withholding honour always produces negative results.

“If you receive a prophet as one who speaks for God, you will be given the same reward as a prophet. And if you receive righteous people because of their righteousness, you will be given a reward like theirs.” (Matt 10:41)

Some leaders and churches are not successful simply because they neglect to dispense appropriate honour to one another and authorities. Honour, according to Scripture, begets reward.

John encourages us to live in such a way that we will receive the full reward. We see this in Scripture as different people connect with Jesus. Mark 6:5 says that Jesus “could do no mighty works” in His hometown of Nazareth. It doesn’t say He wouldn’t do them, but rather, he couldn’t – he was restrained. What restrained Him? The same thing that restrains our churches and ourselves: a lack of honour. They dishonoured Him and received only small, partial reward – only a few minor healings.

Those who honoured Jesus, like the Roman centurion in Matthew 8, received a full reward. Honour was the key. Those who honoured Him in part, like the people of Nazareth, only received a partial reward. And, those who dishonoured him – even if only in thought, like the teachers and preachers of the law, received no reward.

The Scriptures declare that the way we treat others is the way we treat Jesus Himself. If we honour others, we honour Jesus. And there are rewards for showing honour. The blessings of God rest upon one who honour others.