Throughout the history of the church there have been significant periods of renewal that have been led by key leaders in response to spiritual revelation or theological breakthrough, usually resulting in the commencement of a new mission movement. These movements of renewal are often a break-away from the centre of the institutional church and originate from its periphery by a visionary leader. However, history has demonstrated that every renewal movement runs the risk of being drawn back into the centre of the institutional church when the mission becomes subservient to the mechanics of the organisation.
In his book, The Dynamics of Christian Mission, Paul E. Pierson highlights three warnings that renewal movements should guard against to avoid losing focus of their original vision and being drawn away from their primary mission...
- Institutionalization - Pierson warns, "Every renewal movement, including those in which we are involved, faces the danger of institutionalization. This happens when the maintenance of the institution becomes more important than the original vision of the founders." If you want to assess whether or not your movement has succumbed to this danger, take a look at what dominates the agenda of a leadership meeting, what consumes the majority of the budget and what is the primary focus of the prayer meeting (assuming there is a regular prayer meeting). More often than not, managing the growing size and complexity of a mission gets in the way of the original purpose of the movement. This can turn successes into liabilities when 'where we have been' and 'where we are' becomes the primary focus rather than 'where we are going.'
- Power - Pierson further warns that, "Movements also face the danger of becoming powerful both materially and politically." Combine success with wealth and that which should be a means of empowerment can easily become a means of enslavement, both to the movement and those whom the movement seeks to reach. Sadly, we don't have to look too hard to find examples of churches and church leaders who start out with all the right motives become intoxicated with misplaced power and misused possessions. However, if we keep influence and affluence right sized as being a blessing from God to be used for His glory and honour in advancing His kingdom, then this danger can be kept in check.
- Popularity - Pierson finally warns, "Movements face dangers when they become popular." I think it is fair to say that most movements would prefer popularity over persecution. However, history has also revealed that the integrity of a movement is most at risk during the former rather than the later. This is because the pursuit or protection of popularity can come at the expense of purpose, exposing the movement to a number of compromises that arise from conflicting expectations. While persecution is an undesirable state of being, opposition has a way of crystalising the mission. In seasons of popularity, we need to be careful not to allow the applause of people to become more alluring than the approval of God.
Renewal movements have been vital to the advancement of God's kingdom throughout the history of the church and will continue to play an important role in fulfilling the Great Commission. Therefore, we must guard the integrity and impact of new mission initiatives against these three dangers if they are to continue to function as a dynamic movement of God instead of a static monument to the church.