Are we all heretics at Frontier Ventures for talking about Insider Movements in this issue of Mission Frontiers? Some people have said that in years past. What is it about Insider Movements that is so controversial and makes so many people in the church and mission world uncomfortable? Is it simply the fear of syncretism or is something else going on?See all the articles
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Are we all heretics at Frontier Ventures for talking about Insider Movements in this issue of Mission Frontiers? Some people have said that to me in years past. What is it about Insider Movements that is so controversial and makes so many people in the church and mission world uncomfortable? Is it simply the fear of syncretism or is something else going on?
Dear Reader, Blessings and welcome to this edition of Mission Frontiers (MF.) In the following set of articles, we are knowingly taking up what continues to be a divisive and controversial topic: insider movements. I say “we”, but as you will see from the articles, I am the author of the six different pieces we include here. That may need some explanation. Before I get to that, notice several other articles as well. There are some significant pieces about movements and being a catalyst for movements. While not directly connected to the questions of “insider” movements, the issues discussed there are very relevant. First, I have been involved with what eventually came to be known as insider movements since the early 1990s. I started writing about them in the late 1990s, and then more regularly after 2000. So, I am an insider to the insider conversation, you might say.
I am fond of saying that we are in the midst of a “movement movement.” It seems everyone in the world of missions is talking about movements. Books and articles abound, and conferences, training, and reports of movements proliferate. Thankfully this is because there are movements to talk about! This is an unprecedented time of movement growth and multiplication. This is in part why Mission Frontiers has been including reports of movements and discussions of movements as a central theme every time we publish, no matter what the stated topic of a given edition.
In Monty Python and the Holy Grail King Arthur approaches a French castle to explain his quest for the Grail and is told “we’ve already got one.” It’s a humorous scene, and of course, they don’t have the Grail. But then, how would they know if they did? In The Lord of the Rings, Gimli is riding with others towards Helms Deep and is expounding about his culture, including the bearded nature of the women of his culture which he admits has led to the idea that they have no women. He begins to comment on the ridiculous nature of such a view just as he unceremoniously falls from his horse. Some reactions to news about insider movements resemble the comments above: when I speak of insider movements and say we “have one,” I get asked “how do you know?” And since IMs don’t look like what people expect, there is a suspicion that they don’t really exist.
The movements we refer to as IMs required new vocabulary, and the nature of the movements under discussion led to the use of the word “insider.” Along the way, the question began to emerge as to how to refer to those “outsiders” who served in the early pioneering and ongoing growth of such movements. A term that seems to be gaining traction is “alongsider.” In fact, Frontier Ventures is beginning to weave this term into much of what we do, how we talk and who we seek to be.
He was wearing store bought camouflage pants and a white shirt when we left his guest room to join me for a visit to a Scripture study that was primarily involving what most would call “seekers,” members of the majority religion in our area wanting to read the Bible and learn. This man was exploring a longer-term call to work in this part of the world, and was visiting us as part of his process. He came from Central America, and between his English and less of my Spanish, we did well. After the study he had lots of questions. His asked about this group, of course, and about the nature of the movement which was, then, still pretty new. There were a number of more fully formed fellowships, with leaders. At one point he asked, “so who makes sure they don’t get it wrong when they are reading Scripture?” I am afraid I was not at my best and my first reply was simply, “well, who makes sure you don’t?”
It has become more and more common in my experience for people who have questions and concerns to arrive at a point where they can see a space for insider movements, and for individuals or small groups of believers to remain “inside” as a stage of their journey, with the assumption that at some point a break will need to be made and should be encouraged. And so, in this article I want to raise the question about the long-term future, vision, and hopes for insider movements.
Rather than making my own list of frequently asked questions or concerns, I want to allow those to emerge from someone actually asking them. In the spring of 2019 I reviewed the article City Under a Hill: 5 Problems with Insider Movements by Travis Myers (Professor, Bethlehem College & Seminary). The article is available here: https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/a- city-under-a-hill. I will primarily use the outline of the five points he raises, however I begin from one of his major subtitles near the beginning of his paper, When the Gospel Hides. By highlighting this comment and framing it as a major section of his paper he tips his hand to an assumption he is making about insider movements: they are secretive and hiding the gospel. This is of course hinted at in his title as well (city under a hill).
Kingdom Movement models have turned the world of missions among the unreached upside down. Segment by segment, people by people, place by place, movement engagement is realigning expectations back to book-of- Acts proportions. New missionary candidates now wrestle with higher longings for fruitfulness. They are looking for those who can train and mentor them into living out those expectations. The catalyst’s profile is no longer Western, seminary trained and laboring with low expectations. With over 1,300 global book-of-Acts movements starting over the past 25 years and adding nearly 70 million people to God’s family globally, grand expectations for the future don’t seem so far-fetched.
The Apostle Paul exhorted the Galatian church to walk in freedom. The young church had been infiltrated by Judaizers who wanted everyone to be circumcised. In Galatians 5:4, Paul writes, “You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.” As humans, we like to be doers. Church-planters and Disciple Making Movement practitioners want to do things right. We are always learning, searching, reading and talking to people about what is the most effective strategy or fruitful practice we can use to bring the maximum number of people into the kingdom as quickly as possible.
Longtime readers of Mission Frontiers are most likely familiar with movements. Movements are indeed an exciting work of God and no mere passing fad in missions. They have occurred in the past and will continue in the future. However, familiarity can sometimes be unhelpful if we have faulty assumptions or if we take too much for granted. One solution to this potential problem is to frame our quest for knowledge about movements through thoughtful and deliberate questioning.
In Hawaii we visited a volcano famous for its red-hot streams of flowing lava. As soon as the hot lava hits the air, it cools rapidly, forming black crusts so hard it can be walked on while molten rock flows inside. But the heat and pressure builds relentlessly until the powerful sizzling red lava breaks unexpectedly out of its casing here or there, forcing its way to the ocean. When I saw it, I was reminded of the history of God’s kingdom on earth. When Jesus announced the coming of God’s kingdom, He revealed the coming of a powerful movement of God that has worked its way relentlessly around the world ever since.
In a classic text on cross-cultural ministry Paul stated his policy of becoming all things to all people so that by all means he might save some (1 Cor. 9:22). This is sometimes treated as a specialist approach for experts in cross-cultural encounter, but the Bible presents it as a model for all ministry. It is exemplified in the incarnational pattern of Jesus who, due to the Father’s great love for the world, was sent as a true human being into a specific historical and cultural context to announce and effectuate salvation for the world.
As he shared with our worldwide staff recently, Frontier Ventures’ General Director Kevin Higgins summarized our overall organizational direction: Our board of directors and lead team see Frontier Ventures with a renewed clarity of apostolic purpose tied to a deep commitment to spiritual formation and community—a multi-centralized future in which most of our hubs are not in North America, and most of our members are not North American…. This is an intentional ‘re-investment of social capital’ with a different return on investment: a more diverse missiological voice, more microphones placed close to more voices in more languages, and more breakthroughs among more of the least-reached peoples of the world.