Derailed Movements: Multiplication Runs On Relationships
By Neil Cole
The gospel spreads best on the tracks of relationships. This is the design of God. We are made to be in relationship, and that is the context for lives to change.
The term used in the Gospels to describe this is the word oikos, most often translated as “household” (referring to a set of familial relationships). Jesus’ instructions were to enter into a household with the gospel and stay there, letting the gospel spread from one relationship to another. Jesus instructed the apostles—and us—about extending the gospel of the Kingdom with the following words:
“When you enter a house [oikos] first say, ‘Peace be to this house [oikos].’ If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you. Stay there, [oikos], eating and drinking whatever they give you; for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house [oikos] to house [oikos].” Luke 10:5-7 NIV
Five times in the above verses, Jesus used the word oikos (household), emphasizing that relationships are the key to gospel extension. In fact, He goes so far as to instruct us to not greet people with our message (gospel) of peace (shalom) on the way (Luke 10:4). In other words, don’t evangelize void of the context of real, authentic, and vulnerable relationships. Why? He wants more than simply adding converts to the membership rolls in heaven. He wants nothing less than a radically multiplying, life-changing movement of the gospel that starts and spreads with oikos relationships.
I want to point out that the last command from Jesus in the passage above is in the imperative voice: “Do not move around from house to house.” Wait, …what? Yeah, He commands us to not go to the next household. Doesn’t Jesus want the gospel to spread from house to house? Yes, He does, but He doesn’t want you to do it all. He wants it to spread from one satisfied, saved and sanctified “recipient” to the next. He wants a true movement. Relationships have always been the tracks that the gospel is meant to move forward on.
For a locomotive to work, you need at least three components:
- The locomotive
- The tracks for it to run on
- The energy to make it move
In a similar way, we need three parts to see a multiplication movement spread:
- The message of the gospel (locomotive)
- Connective relationships with hurting people who need the message (tracks)
- Lives that have been changed by the power of the gospel (energy pushing the movement forward)
We are too often lacking one or more of these elements and so miss all chances of a multiplication movement. We may believe that the gospel is salvation in Christ by grace through faith alone—but then we act as though it is our own e ort and good works that make a difference. And then we have something less than a train. If we are only moral people— “cultural Christians”—rather than true, vibrant carriers of the gospel, then we lack any energy to propel the movement. But the middle element is also frequently missing. Most Christians have good relationships with other Christians but do not have strong connections with those who need the gospel most. We have no tracks for the movement to run forward on. A train full of steam but without tracks to run on is utterly useless.
Once someone is a Christian for longer than six months, most of their meaningful relationships are with other Christians. Their connections and friendships with people in the lost and broken world are cold and dead. If the gospel of the Kingdom spreads along the lines of an oikos connection and their entire oikos is already Christian, then any potential movement is derailed.
Even in the best of circumstances, this barricade to movements exists simply because a new life in Christ will be attracted to a spiritual family of like-minded people. Christ-followers, by divine design, long to be in fellowship with other followers of Christ. It is an internal and natural intent, which means that for most people, the days soonest after their rebirth may be their most productive for extending the movement from oikos to oikos. As time passes, it is less natural and more challenging to bridge into an oikos that needs the gospel.
Believing that a new spiritual life is too fragile to carry the gospel contagion and withstand the temptations of the world, we intentionally erect a barrier when people come to Christ. We extract them from meaningful relational opportunities and encourage them to solely connect with other believers. This is well-intentioned but misplaced faith that actually puts more confidence in the power of darkness than light. No matter what we say, we demonstrate by our actions that we believe our own methods and practices are better at protecting a new believer than the gospel, so we do all we can to protect them. We end up only protecting the unsuspecting world from the power of the gospel and preventing a new believer from experiencing that power in action.
Not only is a new follower of Christ, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, capable of withstanding the temptations of the old life, she is often better suited to make a difference than an older and more mature brother or sister. Why? The fresh relationship lines connect the changing life to those who are in most need of it. The tangible realities of the gospel transformation are most noticeable to these not-yet-believers because they watch their friend change right before their eyes.
Perhaps the most embarrassing truth about this misinformed practice of withdrawing a new convert from his old relationships in an attempt to strengthen the new believer is that in doing this, we actually slow the growth and maturity of the new disciple. Nothing will accelerate a follower of Christ’s spiritual development like telling others the good news. In fact, the more hostile the audience, the more the new believer will grow spiritually as they defend the gospel and practice obedience against hostility. Strength is developed against resistance.
By “protecting” the new believer from the temptations of their old life and friendships, we unintentionally collude with the enemy in stopping movements before they happen. We also stunt the growth and development of the new disciple.
The core truth of the gospel is love. Love is impossible void of relationships. Relationships with those who most need such love are key to the advancement of movements.
ACTION / REFLECTION
- What steps can I take to remove barriers to natural oikos and relational webs with people who do not know the love of Jesus?
- How can I recalibrate the culture of my network/church to view relationships outside of the church as critical to multiplication and Kingdom advancement?
- Identify ways to catalyze the tracks of relationships within your network, organization, or church to advance the Gospel.
This article is an excerpt from Neil Cole’s new book Rising Tides: Finding a Future-Proof Faith In An Age of Exponential Change. Reflection questions by the editor.