Review: The Church as Movement

the church as movement

The Church as MovementJ.R. Woodward and Dan White Jr., Foreword by Alan Hirsch. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press (Praxis), 2016.

Summary: An interactive guide for communities wanting to learn how to become “missional-incarnational movements” rather than “Christian-industrial complexes” through growth in eight competencies.

J.R. Woodward and Dan White Jr. believe there is something fundamentally wrong with an American church model focused around the metrics of “buildings, butts (in the seats), and budgets” (as one friend describes it). They refer to this as the “Christian-industrial complex” that has indeed become big business to the point that it shapes how Christians pursue life together and mission, and engage society. In this interactive guidebook, the authors propose a model of church as movement–one that focuses on our communion with God, our sentness as a community, and our co-mission to live as a “sign, foretaste, and instrument of his kingdom in ever-expanding geographical areas” (p. 23).

This happens as groups grow into eight competencies, around which the book is organized:

  • Movement Intelligence: Movements are on the street rather than the stage, multiply as they move outward and leverage a five-fold set of people gifts.
  • Polycentric Leadership: Movements organize around many centers of leadership in a flat structure rather than around a single leader over a hierarchical structure.
  • Being Disciples: Movements recognize that one must be a disciple to make disciples, growing in inward, outward, and upward journeys, overcoming soul pressures, and becoming sacred companions who experience a depth of vulnerability that enables people to embrace their true selves.
  • Making Disciples: Movements make disciples through “meta, reflective, and experiential” learning (a pedagogy used in this guide), build on a scaffolding of safety and stretching, and gather and develop discipleship cores through phases of forming, storming, norming and performing.
  • Missional Theology: Movements understand the missional story of which they are a part–God’s social and sending nature, the nature of his kingdom, the holistic gospel (in six acts), and the sacramental markers of baptism and the Lord’s table.
  • Ecclesial Architecture: This is not about church buildings but the structuring of a movement’s life around communion, community, and co-mission, the gathered and scattered rules of life that constitute a movement, and the different spaces of belonging (intimate, personal, social, and public) in which it exists.
  • Community Formation:  Movements develop a common life, a shared table and learning, healing, welcoming, liberating, and thriving environments. Movements are characterized by trust-building, truth-telling, and peacemaking.
  • Incarnational Practices: Movements come NEAR their neighborhoods: they learn its Narrative, Ethics, Associations, and Rituals and learn to be present in that context, often with the aid of a person of peace.

The guide follows a three-fold formational learning approach.

  1. Meta-learning is identifying the overarching essential truth in each section for one personally.
  2. Reflective learning explores how what you are learning makes you feel including points of conflict, clarity, or confusion.
  3. Experiential learning identifies real time action steps a group will take to attempt to put into practice what they are learning, and the learning that comes from this experience.

Each of the eight competencies has several sections concluding with a set of formational learning questions following this three-fold pattern. It is suggested that people work through this material with a group. Groups meeting weekly can take a section at a time and complete the guide in eight months. Alternately, groups meeting twice a month might take a chapter each time they meet and complete it in four months. The latter approach seems less workable to me because each competency provides several sections of content, difficult to cover adequately, and more difficult to experience in a single session every two weeks.

I can see several settings in which this might work. One would be for a church leadership team trying to make the transition from industrial complex to movement, to practice first within themselves and then to multiply through their church. A second would be for a small group within a church (or network of groups) who want to become “missional incarnational communities”. It would seem important after several weeks of meetings to “storm and norm” to get to a place of group ownership. Finally, a group, perhaps set apart by church to plant in a nearby community, might use this as a guide for laying the groundwork to plant.

What is helpful for all these groups is an approach that focuses on shared competencies rather than merely planting or growth strategies. Actually most of these flow from the practice of the competencies in a particular neighborhood context. So often, in the eagerness to “do something,” these competencies are neglected. Disciples are not developed. A nimble leadership is absent and there is a reversion to hierarchy, and often burnout. Instead of a compelling story, we recycle nostrums. Woodward and White, out of their own extensive experience of growing such movements provide a comprehensive guide for others warming to God’s missional heart.

One thought on “Review: The Church as Movement

  1. Pingback: The Month in Reviews: August 2017 | Bob on Books

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