I really don’t think we can ever renew the church until we stop thinking of it as an institution and start thinking of it as a movement. —Clarence Jordan, letter, 1967
Michael Curry is the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church and is passionate about the church rediscovering itself as a movement of Jesus:
Jesus did not establish an institution, though institutions can serve his cause. He did not organize a political party, though his teachings have a profound impact on politics. Jesus did not even found a religion. No, Jesus began a movement, fueled by his Spirit, a movement whose purpose was and is to change the face of the earth from the nightmare it often is into the dream that God intends. . .
That’s why his invitations to folk who joined him are filled with so many active verbs. In John 1:39 Jesus calls disciples with the words, “Come and see.” In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, he asks others to “Follow me.” And at the end of the Gospels, he sent his first disciples out with the word, “Go . . .” [. . .] As in, “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation” (Mark 16:15). . . .
If you look at the Bible, listen to it, and watch how the Spirit of God unfolds in the sacred story, I think you’ll notice a pattern. You cannot help but notice that there really is a movement of God in the world.
Curry identifies several characteristics of the Jesus movement :
First, the movement was Christ-centered—completely focused on Jesus and his way. . . . Long before Christianity was ever called the Church, or even Christianity, it was called “the Way” [see Acts 9:2]. The way of Jesus was the way. The Spirit of Jesus, the Spirit of God, that sweet, sweet Spirit, infused their spirits and took over. . . .
The second mark of the movement is this: following the way of Jesus, they abolished poverty and hunger in their community. Some might say they made poverty history. The Acts of the Apostles calls this abolition of poverty one of the “signs and wonders” which became an invitation to others to follow Jesus too, and change the world. . . . It didn’t take a miracle. The Bible says they simply shared everything they had [Acts 4:32–35]. The movement moved them in that particular way.
Third, they learned how to become more than a collection of individual self-interests. They found themselves becoming a countercultural community, one where Jews and Gentiles, circumcised and uncircumcised, had equal standing [see Acts 15:1–12].
Curry concludes, taking inspiration from the early church for our own moment:
Ministry in this moment . . . has to serve more than an institution. It has to serve the movement.
 Curry draws on Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza’s book In Memory of Her: A Feminist Theological Reconstruction of Christian Origins, 10th anniv. ed. (New York: Crossroad Publishing), chapter 4.
Michael B. Curry, Following the Way of Jesus (New York: Church Publishing, 2017), v, 3–5, 6–7, 9.
Explore Further. . .
- Read Diana Butler Bass and Greg Boyle on Christianity as a diverse, inclusive movement.
- Learn more about this year’s theme Nothing Stands Alone.
- Meet the team behind the Daily Meditations.
Image credit: Khamkéo Vilaysing, Lonely Tree (detail), 2017, France, photograph, Unsplash. Anastase Maragos, Calm Tide (detail), 2020, Canada, photograph, Unsplash. Clark Gu, Untitled (detail), 2020, Korea, photograph, Unsplash. Jenna Keiper & Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge image.
Image inspiration: We cannot see the wind, but we feel it. We recognize its presence by watching the world around us move in response to its power. At times, the movement of Spirit towards justice feels invisible and interminably slow, but like waves slowly shaping the shoreline, in time we see the fruits of God’s movement.
Story from Our Community:
Your reflections this week on prophetic renewal “movement” throughout church history has been great. One of the more inspirational and happy times of my life was volunteering in my teen years at the Catholic Worker in NYC with Dorothy Day in the 1960s, working the soup line and helping get out the CW newsletter. Throughout the place, Dorothy’s love, spunk, humor, and gentleness was infectious. —Terry S.
Prayer for our community:
God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough, because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.