What is the “greatest” commandment in movement ministry? Different thought leaders and different practitioners give different answers to this question. To some it’s: Pray. To some: Pray and fast. To others it’s: Obey. To others: Discover. And to yet others: Multiply. Find out what our Master, who started the global Jesus movement, and the life practice of effective catalysts around the globe share as their common answer. In this post you will read how the greatest commandment of movement ministry manifests itself in the lives of movement catalysts. You can learn from their best practices how to follow it well in your ministry. And I will offer you concrete steps you can take to grow in it.
A powerful story exemplifies this greatest commandment lived out. Abu, a Nigerian missionary and friend of mine, moved to live among a people group in a remote village in Northern Nigeria, to bring them news of the kingdom. He lived in their midst for a few years and became like one of them. Wherever he went in the village, he expressed love in tangible ways. Abu genuinely cared for the villagers. He showed real interest in their lives and welfare because he truly loved them. He always took time for a friendly chat and a kind word. He was hospitable. He shared generously with the poor. He visited the sick and offered to pray for them (and gave medications when necessary). He worked with them to start a school and a market. He even served as the secretary to the king whenever the king held court. Abu simply loved them. And along the way, he told fascinating stories about Jesus, the friend of Muslims, of atheists, of sinners ––– of everyone.
But one night, the village head, who had been hosting Abu for months, suddenly became extremely agitated. He had never been upset with Abu before. But that night he was, and he expressed why. The words poured out of the elderly man’s mouth: “All these years, I have been observing you and listening to you. You have been telling your stories about this Jesus – who loved all people, worked with all, was kind to all, and never re-paid evil for evil, no matter what. And you have been inviting my people to submit and follow this Jesus so He can be their ruler and leader. But as I watch you, I see that you are really a con man. You are really that Jesus, aren’t you? I see all the things you told me about Jesus are the very things you are doing! So, when you ask my people to follow Jesus, you are really asking them to follow you. You want to take my place as the ruler of this people, don’t you?”
Abu had emulated the tangible love of Jesus so much that this man had concluded that he must be Jesus himself… a man who reflected tangible love.
Effective catalysts reflect Tangible Love
What is true for Abu is true for effective catalysts throughout the world. When surveying them in my global research into more than 170 movements, catalysts’ Tangible Love stands out. It radiates from them when you talk to them. When asked to assess themselves, they will tell you that they exhibit this quality very strongly. On a 1-5 scale, catalysts rate themselves on average with a very high 4.68, which means most of them say the description of Tangible Love “definitely applies to me.”
Effective catalysts rate themselves higher than other pioneers who have not catalyzed a movement, which means this quality distinguishes movement catalysts from non-catalysts.
Our definition reflects what we have seen in the story from Nigeria: Effective Movement Catalysts genuinely care for the people they reach out to; they express love and genuine interest in their lives and welfare because they truly love them.
What does Tangible Love look like in a catalyst’s life?
To help you feel what Tangible Love looks like in the lives of effective catalysts, I will share in their own words how they live out Tangible Love. One catalyst describes it this way: “Acting in selfless ways that build other people’s respect for catalysts, begins with the attitude of love and adding value to others and wanting them to be a success.” Another catalyst describes how Tangible Love features in his life: “Best practice is to express love in practical ways, often in times of need, without fanfare. Catalysts model life in Christ and ministry in ways that command respect.”
One catalyst relates, from his experience in a county in Southeast Asia, the impact Tangible Love can have in movement ministry: “The culture and government administration is a litany of lies and broken promises and that is what people expect. So when I – and also then our local leaders – keep their promises, it is a huge testimony. People often say that our faith community is different from other communities because we really love people.”
These words resonate with the words of another movement catalyst, who gave this charge to the people in his movement: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (Jesus Christ in John 13:34-35).
Another catalyst in Southeast Asia reports:
“A very successful national evangelist relates that the Lord had shown him how to win Muslims: “Just love them. Nothing in their religion loves. Just love them.”
Just love them! …
I can testify from my own movement experience how essential Tangible Love was in winning hearts of Muslims. One day our neighbor from across the road, almost as an aside, dropped this comment: “When your family moved into our neighborhood it was like angels had begun to dwell among us.” The honest admission not few Muslims made to me was: “You are purer and more loving than we are. You would be a better Muslim than we are.”
“These Jesus followers have done more good for our people than Islam has in centuries.”
Before a movement began to emerge, our team members had lovingly served the rural population of dozens of villages with a feeding program and mobile clinics. We had related to the villagers in order to express love to them. In a public gathering of village chiefs, one chief stood up and daringly claimed, in front of numerous Muslim powerholders of the region: “These sons of Jesus have been with us for less than a year now, but they have done more good for our people than Islam has in centuries.” This chief had clearly experienced the Tangible Love of our team.
What about the movement starter Jesus?
Jesus makes crystal clear the primacy and center of discipleship. When asked “which commandment is the most important of all” (Mat 22:34ff), Jesus highlighted as most important: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments” (Mat 22:37, 39-40 – NIV, emphasis added). In other words: all God’s instructions for following Him depend on these two. According to Jesus, the most essential activity in life in general, and in the pursuit of starting a global movement in particular, is to love God and the person in front of us.
Best practices from effective catalysts
These are best practices gleaned from effective catalysts. They reported on surveys that they have incorporated these practices into their lives and assess them to have contributed to their movement catalyzing:
BEST PRACTICE 1: “Sleeping on their floor.” This means sharing in people’s lives and lifestyle. I gave this name to this best practice because of the testimony of a catalyst from Southeast Asia who reported: “I don’t only do ministry with them in their fields, I get to know their families well, praying for them, sleeping in their homes (no hotels for me), living as they live. I’ve had many brothers tell me and others that they respect me because I’ve slept on their floor.”
BEST PRACTICE 2: Learning the love languages of one’s host culture. Different people and cultures have different ways of expressing love. Certain “love languages” (Chapman, 2015) are more predominant in certain cultures than others. And different people feel more loved through one of these love languages than through others. The love languages are:
1. Words of affirmation: words spoken that are loving and affirm the person in who they are
2. Acts of service: practical support that is helpful to the person
3. Physical touch: touch that expresses warmth, in culturally appropriate ways
4. Quality time: spending time together, engaging in meaningful conversation or joint activity that expresses the value of the other person
5. Gifts: gifts bought or made that are meaningful to the other
6. Likely others in your focus culture, which you need to find out. One example: In the Arab-African culture of Sudan where I ministered, the most important value is called karam in Arabic. This means generosity of time, resources and service, including hospitality.
Learn the love languages of the individuals around you, so they truly feel loved.
BEST PRACTICE 3: Learning the love languages of individuals Again, everyone feels loved in a unique way, through one of the love languages more than others. In order to express Tangible Love, we need to learn the love languages of the individuals around us, so they truly feel loved by us.
A Growth Path toward Tangible Love
These are specific steps you can take, in order to grow in Tangible Love, gleaned from the lives of effective movement catalysts and my own spiritual experience:
Daily allowing God to love you
Living in your identity as God’s beloved
Making loving others the central activity of your every day
Seeing others with God’s eyes as God’s beloved
Praying for God’s love to be poured out
Learning the love languages of your host culture
Learning the love languages of individuals in your life
Taking action by faith; feelings will follow.
Merry and loving Christmas!
In conclusion, to love is the Greatest Commandment according to Jesus, the one who catalyzed the global Jesus movement. We have no reason to believe that this has changed one whit. To love continues to be the greatest of all commandments, including in movement ministry. To love must be not only our central motivation. It must be our central practice to make every person feel tangibly loved. Those within our movement communities, and those yet outside the kingdom – whoever stands in front of us right now.
Writing about Tangible Love is not just a Christmas message. Tangible Love radiates from the very center of a catalyst’s daily life. It is indeed a Christmas message also. Let us apply the definition above to the person of Jesus, the initial catalyst of the global Christian movement, and his incarnate life on our planet: Jesus Christ (as an effective movement catalyst) genuinely cared for the people he reached out to; he expressed love and genuine interest in their lives and welfare because he truly loved them. He continues to do so today. And he desires to express his love to the people in your community – through your Tangible Love for them.
Let us follow his example. Let us love tangibly, as he has loved.
What Are Your Thoughts?
I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment below! If you prefer to private message me, you can use the contact form. Learn more about the other Catalytic Qualities besides Tangible Love in my new book Movement Catalysts. You can order your copy here!
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Emanuel Prinz – Father’s Beloved & Movement Activist
Chapman, Gerry. 2015. The Five Love Languages. Woodmere, New York: Northfield Publishing.