Movements that Change the World - Steve Addison

Movements that Change the World, Steve Addison. Missional Press, 2009. 142 pages. (Available in Australia from Koorong Books Study Guide available free, and in the new IVP edition (2011) the study guide is included.

The Forgotten Ways surveyed church history, systems theory, and the practices of adaptive leadership in the context of recovering a missional ecclesiology and missional practice. Movements That Change the World eschews the systems perspective for a social-historical survey of missional movements that have changed their world. It also incorporates some organizational theory, in particular the adaptive leadership perspective.

Addison is working at integration of theory and practice and does an admirable job. Overall his work is both inspiring and convicting: we in the west are in deep trouble and the maps we used in the recent past do not show us the way forward. Will we relearn dependence on the Holy Spirit in this liminal place?

Steve is intent on driving home his message: our task is to make disciples and to transform our world. And that is done primarily by means of living, vibrant and dedicated individuals who are part of dynamic movements. The TOC is as follows:

Patrick (St)

Why Movements Matter

White Hot Faith

Commitment to a cause

Contagious relationships

Rapid mobilization

Adaptive methods

Conclusion: The future is already here

While Steve comes close to denigrating theological education, he never quite tips over that edge, but instead simply points to the data: an educated and professional clergy has always limited the expansion of the church. Dynamic movements, Hirsch or Roxburgh would remind us, always surf the edge of chaos. The balance between design and emergence, Word and Spirit, is not achieved in classrooms but by risky adventurers who are out there on the edge following the cloud.

Steve describes five common features of vibrant moves of God, and these also comprise the five chapters of the book. In contrast to modern trust in technology, reason and sociology, it is not money, great plans and strategies, large numbers, or academic qualifications that will ensure the spread of the gospel and the transformation of the places we live. Rather it is radical dependence on the Spirit, radical commitment to Jesus and a passion for his kingdom that will produce expansion.

Steve notes numerous individuals and groups which exemplified these traits. These include the Moravians under Zinzendorf, St Patrick, Floyd McClung and the Dilaram House movement, Wesley and the Methodists, William Carey, Tim Keller, Ralph Moore, persecuted but thriving believers in Communist China, and many others.

I was struck again by the parallel between LTGs, Zinzendorf’s bands, and the triads being employed by groups like Life on the Vine. Alpha USA has also been using TIEs (“Three is enough”) to anchor discipleship and formation on mission. There is no better way to grow people than putting them face to face.

The last third of the book engaged me the most, beginning around page 76 with a look at some principles of social networks. From here follow two sections: Rapid Mobilization and Adaptive Methods.

Steve opens with a quote from a contractor who is less interested in the buildings than in building builders. This kind of vision and passion is the sort that forms dynamic movements. Steve relates a conversation with Des Nixon, who added an extension on his home. “I don’t build buildings, Steve.. I build builders.” Des has a kingdom vision and a plan to multiply himself. Steve follows this conversation with a look at the Methodist circuit riders and the explosive growth of the movement in the United States up to 1850. Then he summarizes some of the work of Roland Allen in The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church (a primary missions document and if you haven’t read it, find it).

Roland Allen describes seven ways to inhibit growth and expansion.

1. when paid foreign professionals are primarily responsible to spread the gospel, causing the gospel to be seen as a foreign intrusion

2. when the church is dependent on foreign funds and leadership. “How can a man propagate a religion which he cannot support and which he cannot expect those whom he addresses to support?”

3. when the spread of the gospel is controlled out of fear of error, and both error and godly zeal are suppressed

4.when it is believed that the church is to be founded , educated, equipped, and established in the doctrine, ethics and organization before it is to expand

5. when emerging leaders are restricted from ministering until they are fully trained and so learn the lesson of inactivity and dependency

6. when conversion is seen as the result of clever argument rather than the power of Christ

7. when professional clergy control the ministry and discourage the spontaneous zeal of non-professionals. They may protect the new believers from charlatans (Acts 8:9-24) but they also block unconventional leaders like Peter the fisherman.

And spontaneous expansion is enhanced under these conditions:

1. when new converts immediately tell their story to others who know them

2. when, from the beginning, evangelism is the work of those within the culture

3. when true doctrine results from the true experience of the power of Christ rather than mere intellectual instruction. Heresies are not produced by ignorance but by the speculations of learned men.

4. when the church is self-supporting and provides for its own leaders and facilities

5. when new churches are given the freedom to learn by experience and are supported but not controlled. The great things of God are beyond human control (strong echoes of Newbigin here)

This section closes with a look at Ralph Moore and the Hope Chapel movement. I love this, “we’re not smart, we’re relentless.” I was also caught by the simple little formula employed in the mini churches of Hope Chapel while reviewing bible material:

What did you learn (head)

What did God say to you (heart)

What will you do (hands)

Steve makes the strong point following this section that when training is insulated from mentoring and practice, it creates barriers to actual mission and ministry. Education doesn’t create leaders, though it can help in equipping those who are called. For Steve as for Ralph, minichurches are the best seminary. The final section, Adaptive Methods, opens with this great quote from Eric Hoffer (I had previously attributed to Al Rogers, so who knows?) In times of drastic change, it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned find themselves well equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.

Why are adaptive methods so important?

Steve writes, “A key to the success of Pentecostalism has been its ability to bring together supernaturalism and pragmatism in a curiously compatible marriage. The intense religious experiences that vie rise to new movements would remain fleeting unless they are embodied in some form of human organization. This presents every new movement with a dilemma: how to give the ‘charismatic moment’ expression in social forms without extinguishing it.” (107) This is the problem addressed in part by Howard Synder in The Problem of Wineskins, and later by Charles Hummel in Fire in the Fireplace. It is the ongoing tension between design and emergence, Word and Spirit.

Steve points out that sustaining a dynamic movement requires that we live in the tension between passion and discipline. A little later he notes that the decline of movements is often due to the “failure of success.” It simply becomes too costly, too risky, for some organizations to adapt. There is too much to protect: position, rank, authority, etc. Many organizations, like people, become risk-averse in midlife.

On page 112 Steve offers a helpful chart that contrasts Unsustainable Church Planting Strategies with Sustainable ones.

Fully fund every church planter
Require Seminary training for each planter
Provide a coach for every church planter
Train church planters to fund raise or become tentmakers
Multiply trainers in the field
Equip established church planter to train the next generation in the field



Steve closes the chapter with a note on the Adaptive Methods of Jesus.

In the conclusion (121ff) Steve relates a meeting with Oscar Muriu, pastor of the Nairobi Chapel in Kenya. This man was so successful at raising up and equipping new leaders that he faced a problem: his church of four thousand was filled with leaders. He knew that they would become bored and frustrated unless something happened, so he divided his church of four thousand into five churches, and sent many of the best interns out as church planters. He sent experienced elders, most of them in their thirties, to support the church planters. This was the birth of a church planting movement that now has more than 25 congregations eight years later.

Steve asked Oscar how he figured this out. Oscar’s reply: “You don’t have to be clever. I just copy. I look at Scripture and ask, ‘What did Jesus do?’ Then he made a statement that Steve won’t forget: “Steve, I don’t plant churches. I grow sons.’ And some of his best “sons” are daughters: about half his interns are women. - See more at:


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