Effective movements know who they are.

There’s something missing in the leadership atmosphere of denominational life these days. Name your faith tribe—it’s true in every corner of North America. That “something” is an overwhelmingly clear, unquestionably compelling, big idea of why the “collective” exists. It’s the esprit de corps of “what makes us unique.”

In Steven Addison’s book, Movements That Change the World, he identified this uniqueness as a movement’s “founding charism”:

Christianity is a movement of movements—monasticism, evangelicalism, and Pentecostalism, to name a few. These movements can find expression in movement organizations such as mission agencies and denominations. . . . . Each new movement has a unique contribution to make to the kingdom—its “founding charism” or gift of grace.

The beauty of the founding charism is often best seen at a movement’s start—when it’s in the air and you can’t help but breathe it in.

If you could have asked one of Jesus’ 72 disciples, “What are you doing?” how clear do you think their answer would have been? If you could have talked to someone who experienced the early 1900s revival at Azuza Street, how magnetic would you have found their response to be?

Now it’s your turn. Why do you belong to what you belong to? What is your denomination about  in 10 words or less? Go ahead—grab a dinner napkin and write something down.

As you think about your response, allow me to share a few guidelines to shape your “napkin sketch” answers.

Guideline one: Don’t answer with glittering generalities. If you tell me that your denomination exists to glorify God and make disciples, that’s great. But so does every other denomination, association and church-planting network. Go deeper and get more specific. Don’t be a restaurant whose only vision is to “serve food.”

Guideline two: Don’t let personal passion be your only criteria. The thing you write down—as passionate as you may feel about it—may or may not be what makes the movement unique. The “uniqueness of us” comes before and informs the “passion of me.”

Now, why are these questions so critical?

A denomination's founding charism is like a new car or a new pair of shoes. Through rugged use and unintentional neglect, the vivid awareness of our reason for being fades away. Eventually, leaders engage in things like strategic-planning processes that add layers of objectives and goals to the equation. Then we add more denominational structure and programs. Then this, then that.

As the organization matures, complexity eclipses clarity. Before long, the half-buried treasure of our movement’s identity is completely lost beneath the surface of our conscious focus and energy.

The safeguarding of the movement’s primal impulse is key to the movement’s ongoing existence. Without it, activity is amoeba-like. A movement without a crystal-clear DNA would be better called a mush-ment.

Ultimately, the decision to move with clarity or to mush around “doing denominational stuff” comes down to a choice: Do we live, work and play with the large calling of God guiding our way? Does the church universal need a faith expression like ours anymore? Should we call it a day and disband?

These are bold questions. And our day demands a courageous response. It’s courageous to move ahead with bold vision. It’s likewise courageous to acknowledge that an association or denomination has fulfilled its purpose in its time.

(This post is an excerpt from an article I wrote for EFCA Today, the magazine of the Evangelical Free Church of America)
Topics: Date: Dec 20, 2011 Tags: denominations / Founding Charism / movement / planting networks