Learning From the Jesus Movement

Being a “child” of the 60’s and influenced by the Jesus Movement of that era, I can relate to many of the elements the emerging and missional movements espouse. Many of us were exploring and practicing them as part of the JM and still adhere to them today.

As eager as I am to see the emerging and missional movements advance, some apprehension arises. You see, many of us influenced by or that participated in the JM have already traveled this road and can report some of the perils that lie along the path. My motive here is not to attack or dissuade, but to exhort and caution, because I think the emerging and missional movements can learn from our journey.

Here are five perils that quickly come to mind.

  • Politics — We have to constantly be on guard not to allow praxis to drive us to political party activism, either on the right or left, red or blue. As Brian McLaren once wrote, we need “purple peoplehood — people who don’t want to be defined as red or blue, but have elements of both.” Reminds me of the title of one of Gogol Bordello’s song, “Start Wearing Purple.” We should never allow ourselves to be identified as Democrat, Green or Republican. We should be for justice and fair dealing, not a political party.
  • Aberrant Groups — The JM was generally unconcerned with theology, it therefore produced a number of aberrant groups including the Children of God. It also became an effective recruiting ground for such heretical groups as The Way International. We must be on guard and not allow the continual re-examination of theology and the desire to be open to differences in belief and morality to lead to heretical beliefs and practice. The revisionists types within these movements fail to appreciate the danger here, IMHO.
  • A Culture of Being Against — The JM was part of the counter-culture movement of its day. Once that counter-culture movement died, the JM faded away because it failed to construct ideas, concepts and practice that could sustain it. When it comes to things like evangelicalism, the mega church, or the institutional church in general, don’t fall into the error of negativism and form a culture based solely on being against them. You can’t develop effective ideas, concepts and practice that will sustain the movements based only on weaknesses in the institutional church. It is okay to deconstruct, but let’s not forget to reconstruct as well.
  • The Power of the World — A common mistake in the JM was underestimating the power of the world, the flesh, and the devil to pull one back into a non-Christian worldview. Taking a holistic view of the role of the church in society calls for a radical change in lifestyle and attitude for the average middle class American. The world, flesh and devil will be working to compromise your commitment to this radical lifestyle. Be on guard always.
  • Evangelism — It is easy for us in the emerging and missional movements to react so negatively to the narrow definition of the Gospel we see in most Evangelical faith communities that we are in danger of dropping any strong emphasis on evangelism. The JM was at its core about evangelism and, as Scott McKnight rightly warned, “any movement that is not evangelistic is failing the Lord. We may be humble about what we believe and we may be careful to make the gospel and its commitment clear, but we better have a goal in mind — the goal of summoning everyone to follow Jesus Christ and to discover the redemptive work of God in Christ through the Spirit of God.”

Mass baptism in the ocean of Southern California during the Jesus Movement.

15 Responses to “Learning From the Jesus Movement”

  1. colin says:

    This is an excellent synopsis of some of the lessons we need to learn from the past. I guess the old maxim is true: “Those who refuse to learn from the past, are doomed to repeat it.”

  2. Rick Meigs says:

    How true Colin. God has taught some good lessons which we should not ignore.

  3. jWinters says:

    Fantastic article, thanks! Reminds me of reading Stephen Prothero’s book “American Jesus” and linking up the similarities there to many of today’s emerging/missional ideas (of all sorts of risk levels – good and bad). Thanks for affirming what I was thinking!

  4. Rick Meigs says:

    jw, glad you found the post helpful and thanks for commenting.

  5. andrew jones says:

    love this post!!! and your insights on the JM and similar dangers to avoid. fantastic.

  6. Webb says:

    Wow! Great points. As per our conversation, this is a subject which concerns both of us. While I believe that missional is essential for the survival and regaining relevance for the church, if we are not careful we will diminish its effectiveness by relying on organizations rather than real people to carry forth the mission. When that happens, as always, we major in the minors, build institutions based on differences rather than on the Lord, and ultimately render the whole thing tantamount to just another entertainment trap.

  7. Rick Meigs says:

    Andrew: Cool and thanks for dropping in.

  8. Rick Meigs says:

    You are so right Webb. By focusing and relying on organization we also spend most of our money, our peoples available time and our emotional resources on maintaining the organization leaving little available for community engagement. Good stuff.

  9. Ted Ancelet says:

    I’ve continued to reflect on your post long after I read it…both as an individual and as part of a collective group of people pushing toward a common goal. Thanks for the stirring thoughts. It’s amazing how even the best of motives can be poisoned by our own woundedness and lead us to further bondage and cause us to become what we are fighting against. Man…do we need Jesus or what!?

  10. Rick Meigs says:

    Ted: I wrote this post because I also needed to be reminded. Many of us from my generation fought “the man” and then, as the years went by, we woke up found that we were “the man.” Man do we ever need Jesus and his way.

  11. pbandj says:

    i think this is possibly the best one post i have read about the limits and plusses of the emerging movement.


  12. Rick Meigs says:

    Thanks Peter. And thanks also for commenting. Always good to hear new voices.

  13. Matt Stone says:


    I agree, if the emerging church movement is going to be more than just another flash in the pan it needs to learn these lessons.

  14. Rick Meigs says:

    Matt: Right on. I wonder if they will?

  15. This is excellent. Keep shouting it from the rooftops until it is heard!