3 steps to revolution

January 12th, 2015

How have your resolutions been going? Sometimes a resolution is hard to get started. Sometimes it starts with a great drive but it loses steam and falls apart. Maybe you’ve been keeping your resolution but you're quickly discovering that it’s not much of a resolution — “I promise to breathe more in 2015.” Why do resolutions fall apart? Why are they really difficult to get going? Why do the resolutions we keep seem to not matter?

The United Methodist Church is asking these same questions about itself on the revolutionary scale. How can the church reclaim the revolutionary fire of Wesley’s 18th century movement without falling into the sin of trying to replicate the 18th century? All revolutions need three things in order to succeed.

First a revolution begins with idea and affirmation, or saying “yes” to an idea. Around the age of 30 Jesus said yes to God’s idea, and the idea was this: The world is worth saving. For God so loved the world, as the Gospel of John says. God looked at the world and saw that it was worth saving, so Jesus goes to the river Jordan so that John the Baptist might baptize him and offer a definitive beginning to the mission.

The Wesleyan movement really began when John Wesley said yes to deepening his faith. He had a longing for holiness, a longing to devote himself fully to God. In one of his early sermons, “The Almost Christian,” he writes (albeit in Latin), “Good people avoid sin from the love of virtue; wicked people avoid sin from the fear of punishment.” The difference between being an almost Christian versus being an altogether Christian is not the avoidance of sin, but the acceptance of love. If that’s not liberating for you … He goes on to say that the altogether Christian is one who loves God, loves neighbor and has faith in God.

The beginning of a revolution is saying yes to an idea, and the idea here is love.

Sometimes we have a hard time saying yes. When people talk to me about making a big decision I ask them two questions. The first question is, “What are you hoping I will say?” Rarely do we approach a decision truly on the fence.

“Should I move to Colorado and start a new job?”

“What are you hoping that I’m going to say?”

“I’m hoping you’re going to tell me that I should stay.”

“Sounds like you have a good reason to stay.”

Have you been in that place where you need to make a decision and you'd just assume flip a coin? “If it’s heads I’ll order surf and if it’s tails I’ll order turf, and I hope it comes up heads.” Just order the fish.

The second thing I ask is, “In saying yes, to what are you saying no?” Every “yes” to something is a “no” to something else. Saying yes to answering emails means I’m saying no to my daughter who wants to play. Saying yes to sobriety means saying no to alcohol being in charge of my life. Every yes is also no and every no is also a yes. Every revolution begins with saying yes to an idea, and in this case the idea is love.

The second thing every revolution needs is a clear mission. Jesus comes up from the water, spends 40 days in the desert and returns preaching a single message. Jesus says yes to God, goes into the wilderness to learn how to say no to temptation and returns preaching, “Repent, the kingdom of heaven has come near.” The mission was clear — turn around, God’s kingdom is here. Over time the message became more detailed and nuanced, full of parables and miracles and healing, but the mission was clear — turn around and know that God is here.

That mission didn’t change until the end of Jesus’ earthly life when he looked at the disciples and said, “I give you a new commandment — love others as I have loved you.” Then he gathered with them and said, “Do this in remembrance of me.” Finally Jesus said as he was ascending into heaven, “Go and baptized the world.” Go and change the world. At the end of it all the mission was, “Turn around, learn to love God and your neighbor, do it in remembrance of me and change the world.”

Or if you only have a bumper sticker — “Turn, Learn, Do and Go.” Early in Wesley’s life the mission was pretty simple — stay in love with God. He prayed that everything he did was done to glorify God. It wasn’t that he went to church more or prayed more or read more, but he saw each and every day as way to worship God.

The third thing a revolution needs is a first follower or in general, community. Here’s where resolutions, movements and revolutions fall apart. A revolution needs someone to say yes to an idea. Next, a revolution needs a clear mission. Revolutions fall apart because for some reason we think that we can do it alone. To be critical, the church is investing lots of money into developing leaders, which is no a bad thing, but what happens when you have a room full of leaders? Nothing typically. In terms of changing the world it’s not enough to say yes to God and yes to the mission of “Turn, Learn, Do and Change.” We need community and we need each other. It’s not that the church needs more leaders, per se. We already have a leader. Christ is our leader. We should be developing a community of first and second followers.

If we can approach leadership as a means of sharing in what Jesus has already accomplished, we might just see a revival! It’s not about being overly clever or necessarily innovative. Jesus wasn’t an innovator as much as he was one who remembered God’s story well. The same could be said about Wesley. He was driven by a longing for holiness, being in ministry with the poor, meeting together to pray and going out into the world to share the Gospel. All of this is found in the book of Acts. Of course, innovation is the fruit of listening to the Holy Spirit and without entrepreneurial leadership a movement’s fire can quickly cool, but it seems that what the revolution we call church needs is Leader as First Follower (or maybe this is simply a reframing of the existing Servant Leadership model already in the church).

Now is the time to say “yes” to God’s idea that the world is worth saving. Now is the time to say yes to the mission of “Turn, Learn, Do, and Go.” The almost Christian does these things to escape punishment. The altogether Christian does these things out of love. May you know love this day.

Just for fun, here’s a quick video of a TED Talk about how revolutions begin:

Matt Rawle blogs at MattRawle.com.

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