Wednesday, December 28, 2011


You might call 2011 the "year of the uprising." It's been a year of riots and social unrest. All around the world we've seen people take to the streets in protest. There has been the "Arab spring" in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. In England a March on a police station led to a night of arson and destruction. In Athens over 100,000 revolted against pay and pension cuts. Millions protested in 80-plus countries during the Global Day or Rage.

While social media has been credited with facilitating these spontaneous combustions of protest, Twitter has ended up only being the paper on which the invitation was written. Researchers have identified two much more powerful, psychic contributors that actually provide the energy for large numbers of people to get off the couch and have their voice heard, at the risk of embarrassment, arrest or even death.

Clifford Stott, senior lecturer in social psychology at the University of Liverpool, has spent 20 years researching the dynamics of crowd violence, mainly among soccer fans. "Stott boils down the violent potential of a crowd to two basic factors. The first is what he calls legitimacy - the extent to which the crowd feels that the police and the whole social order still deserve to be obeyed. In combustible situations, the shared identity of a crowd is really about legitimacy, since individuals usually start out with different attitudes toward the police and then are steered toward greater unanimity by what they see and hear...The second factor in crowd violence, in Stott's view, is simply what he calls power: the perception within a crowd that it has the ability to do what it wants, to take to the streets without fear..." (Bill Wasik, Crowd Control, Wired, January 2012)

The transferability of these concepts to the Christian movement is obvious. The two co-conspirators to uprisings are 1) legitimacy, and 2) power. To see large numbers of people respond, the participants must be convinced that the cause is legitimate (worthy) and that they have sufficient power to do something about it.

For those of us who want to see Christianity spread like a plague, from life to life, home to home, and village to village, the insights are compelling. For Christianity to become a Great Awakening, participants must be imbued with the legitimacy of Christ's kingdom, and the feeling they have the power necessary to carry it forth. Of course, Christ is THE source of all legitimacy and power. In the commissioning passages (Matthew 28:19,20 and Acts 1:8), Christ even spoke of "authority" and "power." He was letting us know that we have everything we need to spark a movement.

The secular uprisings of 2011 may signal a deepening longing for people to be a part of something bigger than themselves, something world-changing. As Jesus described in Matthew 9, the people are "harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd." If the church of Jesus Christ can rise up in His legitimacy and power, 2012 may be a year when we see "a prevailing, multi-location church emerge that will transform the spiritual landscape." The harvest is great. Pray.