Giving Up Control: Why Movements Are Preferable to Revival (Book Review)

givingupcontrolThis little e-book is available on the Kindle for only 99 cents, and it may be the best money you’ve ever spent.   Author A.J. DeJonge was a staff member with Cru (Campus Crusade) in Australia, and this book details his own journey from the traditional Cru approach of staff led campus ministry to the Catalyzing of student led movements on campus. Although his ministry context is the university campus, the principles that drove this change were derived from the CPM and DMM approaches to cross cultural ministry, and he mentions various authors that anyone with knowledge of CPM / DMM would be familiar with.

One of the counter intuitive practices of DMM / CPM is the necessity of giving up control. In most churches and ministries, the mindset is that control is necessary to prevent heresy and enable growth to maturity of babes in Christ. But control leads to several problems that most of us in ministry are blind to. For one thing, control limits the size of the ministry. If you need a Bible College or Seminary trained man to be a pastor or to plant a church, the growth of your movement will be severely limited. There are a very limited number of them.   DeJonge saw this in his own campus ministry. The growth of the ministry was directly constrained by the number of people they had on staff to disciple students, lead Bible Studies, and organize activities. The ultimate goal of multiplication wasn’t happening, and would never happen unless they had access to hundreds of full time staff (they had 3).

Giving up control is scary. Giving up control means there will be a lower level of quality and professionalism. It means giving people room to make mistakes. In our western business mindset, control is good. If we want to produce a high quality product, we need strict quality control to make it happen. And we want quality. High quality is good. But ministry is not business. The Holy Spirit fills and works through weak people.

Strong quality control can lead to a big ministry, but it cannot produce a movement. Consider the mega church. If you’ve ever been to Willow Creek (or similar mega church), you know that everything is done at a high level of quality and competence. The weekend service is a production, and a very good one at that. It is polished. But it isn’t reproducible. At least not for most of us. There are a few people in this world who have the natural leadership talents and intelligence to take Bill Hybels’ model and implement it in a new city with success. Bill Hybels and Andy Stanley are what business writer Jim Collins would call a “Level 5 Leader”. Since there are very few leaders of that caliber, we will never win the world to Christ that way. Most people who visit Willow Creek will go home saying “If that is what an effective church is, I could never start a church”. High control means low reproducibility.

His own journey into experimenting with the catalytic approach to campus ministry resulted from his own disillusionment with the results of his ministry and his experience of burnout in having to make it all happen. These opened him up to exploring other options, which were at the time being encouraged by the leadership of Cru. In addition, he sort of discovered the effectiveness of the student led model by mistake when he gave his wife permission to develop an international student ministry on the side IF she only gave it 4 hours of her time each week. That necessitated giving control and responsibility for that ministry to the students, and relegated her involvement to a training / equipping / support role. The result was a dynamic and growing ministry among the international students that far exceeded their expectations.

DeJonge details in the book how he applied the principles of CPM/DMM to campus ministry. He borrowed the concept of MAWL (Model, Assist, Watch, Leave) from Curtis Sergent and tells stories of how they applied this and the challenges they faced in doing so. It became clear to him that many of their discipleship or Bible study methods were not very reproducible. Church planter Peter Roenfeldt told him:

“When I started teaching church planting to people, I wrote manuals on the topic that became thicker and thicker over time. But the complexity became their downfall, and I realised that if what I want to impart is going to be transferable, it has to be simple. So simple that one could fit them on a bookmark. So now I limit myself to a bookmark and use the Bible for our manual.”

DeJonge took this to heart and applied the same thing to their campus ministry. Roenfeldt also challenged him to think wider and deeper than just evangelism and discipleship. What was the ultimate goal, and how would they get there? He says:

“In Cru we often speak of WIN- BUILD- SEND as a strategic progression for spiritual multiplication and the path to seeing every University student reached with the gospel. But for many years of my staff career, I saw SEND simply refer to the process of graduating students into the workforce as more mature believers. Catalytic methodology is in my mind a sharpening of that focus on SEND – recognising the need for students to be empowered and released not at the point of graduation, but during their University careers.”

How many churches are doing the same thing? So much energy is focused on Bible Studies and preaching and worship services and programs, but where is the reality of sending people out in ministry?

Another core principle of CPM/DMM is to invest time and discipleship energy into those who put the training into practice.   Some DMM practitioners call it “Obedience Based Discipleship”, and wait for the disciple to put what has been taught into practice before teaching the next thing. This principle is seen in the book as well, but possibly not to the extent utilized in most CPM / DMM contexts. The Cru catalytic approach that he was learning (or developing on the fly) was certainly a hybrid of historic Cru programs and practices and CPM/DMM philosophy, and this was one of those areas that they had to wrestle with. In my opinion, from what he described in the book it appeared that this area needed more work.

Along the way, DeJonge faced some significant challenges in the transition. These included questions such as:

  1. How do we staff pull back and get students to step up?
  2. When they did pull back, they made mistakes in how to communicate to the students the new approach
  3. They made mistakes in selecting, retaining, and training leaders. He shares lots of real life experience in this area.
  4. When they did pull back, they had to redefine what their job as full time ministry staff was. What would they do with all the additional time they now had on their hands?

In his 1927 classic The Spontaneous Expansion of The Church, Rolland Allen discussed at length how the fear of losing control hindered the spontaneous expansion of the church that Paul and the apostles experienced:

By spontaneous expansion I mean something which we cannot control. And if we cannot control it, we ought, as I think, to rejoice that we cannot control it. For if we cannot control it, it is because it is too great not because it is too small for us. The great things of God are beyond our control. Therein lies a vast hope. Spontaneous expansion could fill the continents with the knowledge of Christ: our control cannot reach as far as that. We constantly bewail our limitations: open doors unentered; doors closed to us as foreign missionaries; fields white to the harvest which we cannot reap. Spontaneous expansion could enter open doors, force closed ones, and reap those white fields. Our control cannot: it can only appeal pitifully for more men to maintain control. There is always something terrifying in the feeling that we are letting loose a force which we cannot control; and when we think of spontaneous expansion in this way, instinctively we begin to be afraid. Whether we consider our doctrine, or our civilization, or our morals, or our organization, in relation to a spontaneous expansion of the Church, we are seized with terror, terror lest spontaneous expansion should lead to disorder. We are quite ready to talk of self-supporting, self-extending and self-governing Churches in the abstract as ideals; but the moment that we think of ourselves as establishing self-supporting, self-governing Churches in the Biblical sense we are met by this fear, a terrible, deadly fear.

Pastors, missionaries, and Christian workers of all varieties will have to choose between control and greater fruitfulness.

This is not a long book, but anyone interested in DMM/CPM practice will enjoy reading about AJ DeJonge’s journey into Catalytic Student Led Movements. The book appears to be written primarily for Cru staff, but anyone in ministry from pastors to missionaries in any context can learn from this book. It is an illustration of how the principles of CPM / DMM being rediscovered in our generation (previously well known to Roland Allen and John Nevius) can be applied in other ministry contexts.