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Checkpoint

Disciple Making Movements Part 4: Speed and scope 

David Williams is the CMS Director of Training and Development at St Andrew’s Hall. In this fourth article in a five-part series exploring ‘Disciple Making Movements’ or DMM, David discusses the importance of a sense of urgency in mission, and its attendant dangers. Part one is here. Part two is here. Part three is here. Part five, a response, will appear shortly.   

This is the fourth article in a series exploring the world of ‘Disciple Making Movements’ or DMMs. In this article we will consider the themes of speed and scope.  

Speed and scope 

As we’ve seen in previous articles, DMMs use the vocabulary of speed in their definitions: ‘rapid multiplication’ or ‘spread quickly’ are commonly used expressions.[1] The definition of a movement also puts specific metrics around issues of scope and speed, so that a movement is defined by how big it is and how quickly it grows. A range of motivations drive the focus on speed and scope; however, DMMs are primarily motivated by a desire to complete the task of mission by making disciples of all nations, to see ‘mission accomplished.’ 

It matters deeply that God’s people should proclaim the gospel in places where the Lord Jesus is totally unknown. This sense of gospel urgency is a profound legacy from 200 years of Protestant mission history.

The importance and value of urgency 

One of the things that I most appreciate about DMMs is the sense of urgency they bring to mission. It matters deeply that millions of people around the world have never heard of Jesus. It matters deeply that God’s people should proclaim the gospel in places where the Lord Jesus is totally unknown. This sense of gospel urgency is a profound legacy from 200 years of Protestant mission history. James Hudson Taylor visited a church in England when he was on home assignment. He left the service early because he was so disturbed by the smug satisfaction of middle-class Anglican worshippers. He wrote ‘Can all the Christians of England sit still with folded arms while these multitudes in China are perishing for lack of knowledge?’[2] Jesus commands the shepherd to leave the 99 safe sheep to search for the one lost sheep; but Hudson Taylor argued that the reality is that one sheep is safe and 99 are lost. 

The riskiness of urgency 

At the same time, we need to recognise that the themes of speed and scope are risky for late modern Western people living in a secular culture. Charles Taylor has shown us that we live in a secular age that sees no need for God or for anything spiritual.[3] By excluding God or anything spiritual from ordinary, everyday life we have also changed how we experience time. As German sociologist Harmut Rosa has shown, we are experiencing social acceleration—we feel that time is speeding up.[4] A minute is still a minute, an hour is still an hour. But technological innovation has allowed us to cram more and more communication events into each minute and hour. Technology allows us to communicate with more and more people, more and more quickly. One way of illustrating this is to think about socially acceptable time frames for replying to messages. Aerograms required a response within a few weeks. Email messages require a response in days to a week. WhatsApp messages require a response in minutes or hours. Another illustration is to think about the rate at which things become socially unacceptable. Rosa calls this a decay rate. TV programs become politically incorrect far more quickly in 2022 than they did in 1972. Social acceleration speeds up the rate at which societal values and attitudes change. This in turn reinforces secularism. As Andrew Root says: 

Speeding up time creates and keeps us in the secular age. It does not just keep people too busy to go to church. It keeps their lives moving at such a frantic pace that all the transcendent quality of mystery, divine discourse, and openness to spiritual encounter is drowned out in acceleration.[5]   

Time is increasingly controlled by big tech, Silicon Valley. The message of Silicon Valley is that business success comes from reaching lots of people very quickly – speed and scope. The key to achieving speed and scope according to Silicon Valley is by harnessing our creativity and by innovating. Silicon Valley will provide us with the technology to enable us to do this. 

Unwittingly buying into ‘social acceleration’ 

The risk for DMMs is that we buy into social acceleration without realising it. Since, as Western Christians, secularism is the air that we breathe, it is impossible for us not to be shaped by the secular narrative. So when it comes to DMMs, it is easy for late modern Westerners to think being big and quick are ultimate goods. And it is easy to think that the way to reach huge numbers of people very quickly is through innovation. So we innovate specific new strategies and tools that will create a movement. We believe that as we design new creative approaches to mission we will find the tool, technique or technology that will unlock massive growth. But as Os Guiness says: 

Nowhere is the modern church more worldly than in its breathless idolizing of such modern notions as change, relevance, innovation and being on the right side of history.[6] 

Our great challenge, therefore, is to remain passionately convinced of the urgency and priority of gospel mission without getting sucked into secular narratives of speed and scope.  

  

References Cited 

Guiness, Os. Fool’s Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion. Downers Grove IL: IVP Books, 2015. 

Hudson Taylor, James. China’s Spiritual Need and Claims. 1st ed. London: James Nisbet, 1865. 

Root, Andrew. The Congregation in a Secular Age: Keeping Sacred Time against the Speed of Modern Life. Ministry in a Secular Age. Vol. 3, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2021. 

Rosa, Hartmut. Social Acceleration: A New Theory of Modernity. New York: Columbia University Press, 2015. 

Taylor, Charles. A Secular Age. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2007. 

  

 

[1] See https://www.cms.org.au/2022/08/disciple-making-movements-part-1-setting-the-scene/  

[2] James Hudson Taylor, China’s Spiritual Need and Claims, 1st ed. (London: James Nisbet, 1865). 

[3] Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2007). 

[4] Hartmut Rosa, Social Acceleration: A New Theory of Modernity (New York: Columbia University Press, 2015). 

[5] Andrew Root, The Congregation in a Secular Age: Keeping Sacred Time Against the Speed of Modern Life, vol. 3, Ministry in a Secular Age, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2021), Kindle Location 20.120. 

[6] Os Guiness, Fool’s Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion (Downers Grove IL: IVP Books, 2015).