A Review of a Book Leaning Toward A Revolution: Steve Addison's "What Jesus Started: Joining the Movement Changing the World"

December 13, 2016

Steve Addison, What Jesus Started: Joining the Movement Changing the World. Downers Grove: IVP Books, 2012.

51k2ydvmw3l-_sx331_bo1204203200_Steve Addison and his wife Michelle lead MOVE, “a mission agency devoted to training and deploying workers who multiply communities of Jesus’ disciples everywhere” (back cover). He is the author of Movements That Change the World: Five Keys to Spreading the Gospel.  He blogs at www,movement.net and has a D. Min from Fuller Theological Seminary, where his project paper was on “The Continuing Role of the Apostle in the Church’s Mission.”

Addison tells us, “this is a book for those who want to follow Jesus and to have him train them in his movement” (17). Addison pursues church growth through multiplication rather than through addition. This means that a church planter should not seek to raise up one church, and then another, and another, in series, but rather should seek to raise up believers and churches that from the very beginning are geared and trained to replicate themselves. We would call such gatherings, God’s Yeshua-honoring Spirit-empowered familial groupings, havurot of a certain kind, in our case, the HaB'er Havurot which we are establishing.

Addison names, illustrates, and explains six activities that characterized Yeshua as a movement planter. His contention is that if we want to plant a movement, that is, if we want to deal in multiplication rather than addition, we will need to do these same things. Here are those six activities:

  1. Jesus saw the end
  2. Jesus connected with people
  3. Jesus shared the gospel
  4. Jesus trained disciples
  5. Jesus gathered communities
  6. Jesus multiplied workers

His argument is in four parts. In Part One, “What Jesus Began,” Addison shows in six chapters how Jesus modeled these six activities. In Part Two, “What Jesus Continued to Do,” six more chapters illustrate how these activities were evident in the pre-Pauline churches. In Part Three, “What Jesus Continued To Do: Paul and His Team,” he shows how Paul exemplified the same processes. After each of the three parts he presents an “Interlude,” a portrait of an innovative and successful church movement planter whose ministry illustrates the wisdom of the book’s thesis.  Finally, Part Four, “What Jesus is Doing Today,” is six more chapters where he tells stories about contemporary movement planters who are following this same game plan. The book then ends with a chapter calling the reader to begin, followed by an appended Supplementation Guide, proving sample lessons for doing the training the book commends.

 Addison focuses on the proliferation of God’s Yeshua-honoring Spirit-empowered familial groupings, churches,  in my context, HaB’er Havurot. This is a wise and necessary emphasis because of the Great Commission, and because people are most apt to become Yeshua believers in newly-formed groups. His six activities provide a lean, mean, and muscular approach to accomplishing the task.

Some would protest that he is trying to do too much too fast, and that neophytes need more attention, indoctrination, and training than his model requires, since that model seems more focused on proliferation than depth. Addison would respond that it is the Holy Spirit who builds and matures these little multiplying communities. Rolland Allen, whose 1902 ground-breaking volume Missionary Methods: St Paul's or Ours remains today a discomfiting challenge to prevailing assumptions. Such approaches as Allen and Addison commend remain a bridge too far for many today. But such a ground-breaking approach excites and unites the kind of movement pioneers Addison is addressing.

There are many quotable passages in this book, some because of the insights they embody, and others, because of the facts they summarize. For example,

The methods of the early church were surprisingly haphazard. Jesus commission to the disciples was clear but there were no instructions exactly how the task was to be completed. Other than the example of Jesus, there were no precedents for what they were trying to achieve. The disciples of Jesus had to learn on the job.” He goes on to list some of the on-the-job lessons the apostles and their associates learned.

  1. God took the initiative. Without exception, every major advance and every new breakthrough resulted from God's intervention. . .  What is surprising is their lack of central control of the mission.

  2. 2. God worked through his people.

  3. 3. God prepared parsons of peace--someone who would welcome the message and the messenger into their community.

  4. 4. God moved them on.

  5. 5. God used unqualified, inexperienced, under-resourced people.

The unifying thread that ties together the advance of the gospel from Jerusalem to the world is the work of God. Every advance is the result of his initiative. There are human factors, but there are no secondary causes. The world advances despite the failures of the disciples, despite the violent opposition, despite the reluctance from within the church to include the Gentiles. Nothing can stand in the way of the gospel's advance. Jesus still leads his way” (edited from 76-78)

This is fascinating stuff and counterintuitive. On the other hand the position is biblically demonstrable, and intensely motivational for movement pioneeers. 

And what comes next is pure gold for those of us working to plant HaB’er Havurot.

Saul the persecutor had gone from house to house dragging off Christians. He wanted to destroy the church. Paul the apostle went from house to house teaching the disciples with humility and tears.. . . The successful establishment of new communities of disciples was closely connected to the use of private homes. Homes served both as bases for missionary work and meeting places for new believers. they were the place that believers could gather in reasonable security for worship, fellowship and learning.

In the cities of the Roman Empire, most people lived in multi-story apartment buildings. Many families lived in one small room--too small for a meeting of more than a few people. So most Christians who lived in the cities met in small groups of up to fifteen people in tenement buildings. Large public facilities for meeting and sharing meals were not available. Gentiles met in pagan temples or private homes for community events and gatherings. Jews met in private homes or in synagogues, many of which were converted homes. Christians from both Jewish and pagan backgrounds were familiar with meeting in homes for fellowship meals. Larger gatherings required the use of private homes that only the wealthy could afford. The largest room in the home of a prominent person could hold thirty to fifty people. More could be accommodated if hallways and other rooms were used.

The conversion of whole households would have provided space for gathering disciples. Examples in Paul's ministry include Lydia the merchant, the jailor in Philippi, and Crispus the synagogue ruler and Stephanos in Corinth. If the church in a city or town was too large to meet in one place like the church in Rome, it met in a network of homes (Rom 16). Paul's letter to the Romans was not addressed to a single gathering of believers. Phoebe probably took Paul's letter to the Romans from one gathering to another throughout the city.

So 'church' could refer to a network of fellowship scattered throughout a city, or it could refer to one of the fellowships--'the church that meets in your home.' Small gatherings based around an individual household were the basic unit of the Christian movement.

Paul gathered new believers into communities of disciples. Through Paul's example and instructions, these new churches learned what it meant to be the people of God together. Each local church had a minimal formal organization. Leadership was determined by the leading of the Holy Spirit who gave gifts to each one for the building up of the community. Every ministry, including leadership, was a gift of the Holy Spirit. . . . Paul's churches were structured loosely, not systematically. . . “ (143-148).T

This is bracing stuff, full of possibilities for the present.

Although not at all surprised, I was disappointed to find supersessionist assumptions evident in the book, although not heavily so, as in this statement which continues to rankle and sadden me :  “Saul's surrender to Jesus meant his inclusion into the people of God" (142).  But what was he prior?  Paul was not a pagan!  He was already part of the people of God, and the Yeshua movement among the Jews was a renewal movement of the people of God!

Against the background of such assumptions, it should come as no surprise that nothing in this book addresses specifically Jewish concerns, nor is there a hint of Jesus being ever and always the Champion of Israel’s final destiny. These issues relating to the Son of David’s Agenda as mapped out in Ezekiel 37:21-28 are entirely missing: Jewish return to the land, Jewish unity, Israel’s repentance-renewal, Israel’s return to covenant faithfulness, the Divine Presence resting on these people, and the vindication of Israel as the people of God, and of God as the faithful God of Israel. All are missing. The only aspect of this agenda, which Paul terms “the fullness of Israel” included by Addison is allegiance to the Messiah (Ezekiel 37:24a). 

Of the strands of the HaB’er three-stranded cord of growing in relationship with God, growing in Yeshua faith, and growing in Jewish life, it is the growth of Yeshua faith and relationship with God which are to the fore, but neither in great depth.

The strength of the book is first its exemplary logical structure biblically justifying and then developing outworkings of the six activities Addison commends. Second, his case for these six activities is very strong. Third, his presentations of modern exemplars of his approach are compelling.

The weaknesses of the book include his failure to adequately address issues of the maturation and pastoral oversight of the groupings he plants. Certainly when considered against the background of his own convictions about an apostolic leadership model (as examined in his Doctor of Ministry project), he could have gone into greater length outlining the responsibility the movement planter has for continuing watch care of the congregations growing out of his efforts. This seems to be especially needful when remembering that in his model, many of those who will plant churches are themselves brand new converts.

An unaddressed and related issue is  how the learning curriculum of the churches he envisions is to develop. He gives the impression that all one needs is the gospel and the Holy Spirit. Sounds good. But is that exactly true?  Perhaps it is!  But perhaps not. I would argue that his lack of Older Testament materials, while focusing exclusively on the issue of soul salvation and founding new church plants, clearly indicates a gap in his approach needing to be remedied.  

Still, the book is valuable because his six activities, as adapted and even supplemented, cry out to be implemented in a wide diversity of contexts. In addition to his paradigm, his vignettes and historical data are well done and valuable to inspire and instruct movement planters. And finally, the book is most valuable for breaking us free of assumed paradigms which stifle the multiplication of God’s Yeshua-honoring Spirit empowered familial groupings, which he calls churches, and which I term HaB’er Havurot.



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