I have really been thinking a great deal lately about all these "movements" that are being talked about. Obviously President Obama used the language in a larger social context, but throughout the church, we too are using "movement" language. While I do love the power of the word, it does seem to be quickly becoming the next words de jour. That's cool, I am still going to use it . . . at least until CNN names a news show after it. But I digress.
First, let me say that I do believe there are many movements going on in the church: some dealing with social issues, others institutional change, others theological dogma . . . movements all around us. Over the past few years, like many others, I have been struggling to find my own place and voice in such movements. I think that I play a role in some more than others, am welcomed in some more than others and have yet to experience some to their full potential. What an exciting time we live in, in the church and in the world.
Lately, as I have been talking with folks about church movements I have been struck by the passion, creativity and commonalities. From this, I have come to at least one conclusion about any group of people coming together in order to be a transforming force; the true impact of any movement lies in the discovery of that holy place between its passions and its limitation.
While I feel like an old guy saying this, I come to this conclusion after nearly 20 years engaged in progressive politics and structures of the larger church, somewhat flaming out of my first call to a traditional congregation and then working towards starting a new postmod'ish congregation that I believe is trying to be a sustainably passionate movement of God's people. After all of this, I firmly believe that many voices and perspectives are needed, but that in the end it is a passionately humble holy place that creates sustainable change.
Now of course there is great generalizing in this, but here is some of my thinking about that humble holy space. Passion and conviction sparks a movement: is what keeps us going, it gives us meaning, defines our purpose and sets a common goal. The most passionate and convicted are the ones who hold the banner high, call those who waver to accountability and hold the fire to any and all who may be taking the movement off course. But passion and conviction held to an extreme by any group of people, no matter how lofty and noble is the cause, seemingly always fails to acknowledge its limitations and brokenness inherent in any gathering of human beings.
When challenged, the most strident of a movement retreat into enclaves of like-mindedness and those who were less convicted, but given energy by the community dissipate, are burned again by an experience that was more about being right than the empowerment of people moved to be the change. When this happens, while the passion may be real and valid, there is no movement, there are simply individual minds throwing stones at a house into which they could not gain entry. Bitterness, indignation and self-righteousness ensue and then the cause can then be labeled as extreme, arrogant and out of touch with "the people" – all of which may be true. We are then relegated to the side albeit passionate, articulate and prophetic voices. But the result is that we have lost a community of people, at least for that moment, who have not been allowed to experience the power and grace of communal transformation. And when this happens, maybe it was not a true movement in the first place.
Movements of genuine change acknowledge their limitations, be it any number of "isms" or other ways it does not honor God. When this happens the community is allowed to be real, humble, confident and not about a rigidity of purpose. In fact, I think admitting limitations and dealing with them with integrity and transparency gives more validity to the leaders and the movement itself. Acknowledging limitations does not signal weakness nor lack of conviction, in fact, it exemplifies our call as Christians to serve as Christ served.
Philippians 2:1-4 – Therefore if you have any
encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his
love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and
compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
As a movement grows in number, the process and outcome of the passions and convictions must change and adapt so that real change can happen. Some surely call this compromising, selling out, etc., but without actual people following, a movement it is not. As one of my preacher friends once said, "leading without any following is not leading at all, it is you taking a walk." In the same way, no matter how right one may be, a movement without people is no movement at all. One becomes the voice crying out in the wilderness, Sure, some are called to this prophetic witness, but this is not a movement.
As any movement grows, gains momentum and takes its shape, people will join, follow and gain a taste of the passion that is at its heart. We should rejoice in this when this happens and discover ways to sustain the real power and authority that these movements hold. These moments of grace that are achieved bring to bear that holy space where I believe God's true transformative power is experienced at its fullest. Again, this is a precious gift. Additionally, by the grace of God, if we find ourselves in positions of leadership in these movements, we must not take that this gift lightly. Our passions and ideas, no matter how well thought-out, articulated and righteous, will lose their power if we cannot live out a humility and compassion for those who whom we claim to serve.
So . . . as I strive to find my own place, my voice, my role/s of leadership or following, I hope to be part of many movements that do in fact impact the church and the world. But as I do so, I will watch carefully for those times when I or others around me begin to waver from a posture of Christ-like humility, for when we lose that, we are no longer a community grounded in the servanthood of Christ. And when we fail to be grounded and driven by the humbling grace that is extended to us by God, we lean on our own humanity and that in itself will never be enough.