According to standard human criteria, Jesus seemingly accomplished very little. He never wrote a book. He never ran for political office. He had no military victories to feather His cap. He never built an awe-inspiring, architecturally-designed place of worship. There were no monuments erected in His time to commemorate what He had done. Jesus left very little physical evidence at all, if you are looking for the standard kind of physical evidence that archaeologists expect to find and what we usually believe is important as human beings.
However, if we were to review a video of history from a satellite viewpoint, what we would quickly realise is that Jesus left a trail of transformed lives, a ripple of redemption that has continued to widen and widen until it has literally reached the ends of the earth. We see the kernel of the movement in the first group of followers that Jesus chose. This was followed by the first wave just 50 days after His resurrection, when Jews from around the Mediterranean witnessed the outpouring of His Spirit, heard the gospel in their own language and then returned home to share the incredible news with their families and the other people in their home towns. We see the subsequent waves in the missionary work of Paul, who brought the gospel to Turkey, Macedonia and Greece. We see His close followers themselves carefully recording their account of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, so that the message and the movement could continue to be spread with accuracy and clarity.
With the gift of the Holy Spirit, Jesus handed over the earthly mission to a group of ordinary people and sent them out to continue building the movement.
Jesus may not have left any physical evidence for buses of tourists with flag-waving guides to stop and photograph but He left something greater. Jesus launched the greatest movement the world has ever seen, a discipleship movement that has spread across the world and that continues to grow and grow and grow.
The amazing thing is that Jesus not only invites us to join His movement but to contribute to its growth. “Go therefore and make disciples of all people groups”1 is His invitation and direction. It’s an incredible call to join a global movement.
If we have been invited to join His movement, what are the most effective ways to grow it? While we might be tempted to identify and implement the most sophisticated strategies known to human beings, the reality is that the key to growing this movement is to identify and follow Jesus’ strategy for building a movement. So what was His strategy? These are the strategic steps we pick up as we read through the Gospels:
Jesus’ first step was to connect with people. He went to where they were and spent time with them, listening to their stories and meeting their needs. He healed people physically, emotionally and spiritually, and shared with them what the kingdom of God was like. John, a close follower of Jesus, described the process in this way: “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us”. This has been reinforced by the prophetic counsel that we have been gifted with: “The Saviour mingled with men as one who desired their good. He showed His sympathy for them, ministered to their needs and won their confidence.”2
The first step of connecting alone, however, would not create a movement. Jesus knew that He needed to take the next strategic step with key people, which involved inviting them to follow Him. He asked four fishermen down by the Lake of Galilee to follow Him. He asked a Jewish traitor, sitting at a table collecting taxes for Rome, to follow Him. He asked a rich young man to leave everything behind and follow Him. Not everyone accepted His call but in order to get a movement underway, Jesus needed to move from connecting with people to calling people to make a decision to follow Him.
With Jesus’ call to follow Him fresh in their minds and hearts, the reality was, though, that in many ways the disciples hardly understood what this call really meant. They seemed to think that it was about joining a political Messiah who would fulfil the widespread dream of freedom from Rome and the restoration of the kingdom of Israel. Jesus needed to turn their vision upside down and teach them that it was the poor in spirit who would inherit the kingdom of heaven. He needed to divert their political focus and strengthen their spiritual faith in Him as the Creator of the universe who was able to cause the blind to see and calm the wind and the waves. After winning them into His movement, He needed to build their understanding and faith in Him as the King.
If it all depended on His physical ministry, though, the movement would have never got off the ground. The salvation movement would have been bottlenecked geographically by the physical ministry of one single Person. In His divine wisdom, Jesus saw the importance of training His chosen followers to be able to carry out the same ministry that He was performing. We do not get too far into the Gospels before we see Jesus instructing His 12 disciples and then the 72 disciples to go out and reproduce His ministry in other towns and villages. The movement was starting to gather speed.
It all seemed to come to a grinding halt on that dark night in Gethsemane when our Lord was chained and led away to be executed. What the Sanhedrin did not grasp, though, was that you cannot destroy the Author of life and contain His body in the grave! Only hours later, Jesus burst from the tomb and the movement, “checked for the moment”3 , shifted into Spirit-led hyperdrive. Yet Jesus still had one final strategic step to take. When He miraculously appeared to His disciples in the room where they had locked themselves, Jesus told them, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”4 With the gift and promise of His Holy Spirit, Jesus handed over the earthly mission to a group of ordinary people and sent them out to continue building the movement.
And the movement that Jesus started has not stopped growing to this day.
The question is: are we joining Jesus in growing His movement using His strategy? It worked explosively in the first century and we have been told that this “method alone will give true success in reaching the people”.5 Research has shown that most churches devote 87 per cent of their time and resources to the “build” step, building Christians up in their faith. The strategic steps that we tend to struggle with the most are the “win” and “send” steps. It’s difficult to actually explicitly ask someone to make a decision to follow Jesus. It’s also difficult to send people out to start new groups, ministries and plant new Seventh-day Adventist churches.
God has called us to join His end-time, prophetic movement, which is inviting people to prepare for Jesus’ soon return. Are we attentively using Jesus’ strategy to grow this movement?
1. Matthew 28:19, literal translation.
2. Ellen White. The Ministry of Healing, p 143.
3. Tacitus. The Annals, Book 15, chapter 44.
4. John 20:21, ESV.
5. The Ministry of Healing, p 143.
Dr Sven Ostring is Discipleship Movements director for the Greater Sydney Conference’s Personal Ministries department.