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Post: Blog2 Post

#29 - Disillusioned with Movements

Updated: Jun 18

You can run into numerous Christian workers these days who have become disillusioned with movements. They got trained, they tried, and it didn’t work. They got disillusioned. Their number is growing. Others have not become entirely disillusioned but somewhat disenchanted. They got trained, they tried, and it hasn’t worked yet–––they still hold on to that hope. Sometimes the hope is stronger, sometimes the tension – between their ideal (a movement) and their sobering reality: no movement. 

If that is you, this blog for you. Or if you have such workers among your friends, your colleagues, under your supervision, or on your team. This blog offers a mental map that will help you name and navigate the tensions you find in yourself. This mental map has three essential elements: the tension between ideal and reality, the three circles of influence, and doable steps. This map has helped me personally in my own movement ministry over 20 years. And I have experienced great resonance wherever I’ve shared it, in personal coaching or at speaking engagements.

Between excitement and disillusionment

When we first introduced DMM to one of my previous missions organizations, one of the senior leaders objected: “If we adopt this, it will backfire. Our field workers will not find Persons of Peace, they will be disillusioned with DMM, and many will lose hope and eventually become disillusioned with ministry as such.” I did not share his objection to DMM. We introduced DMM anyway. However, he turned out to be right with his prediction. Many teams did not find Persons of Peace. And many teams did get disillusioned with movement ministry altogether. What did they do then? In most cases I don’t know their fate. What I know is that last time I asked, the attrition rate of that organization was worryingly high. 

I very recently had a conversation with a senior leader of one of the largest DMM organizations. He shared with me his concern about the growing number of Christian workers across organizations who have become disillusioned with DMM or with movement ministry in general. They have lost expectant faith and hope that they will ever see a breakthrough. And they are now just getting by in ministry. Some are just barely not quitting ministry yet, but they’re no longer passionately engaged.


Listening to my friend, my caring heart awakened. I asked, “Who goes after them?” “Who helps them process this?” The agencies committed to movements don’t, said my friend, because they are in the movement business. The agencies who object to the movement paradigm also don’t. Their perspective seems to be: ‘We told you. Return to biblical methods, and you’ll be fine.’

But what about those who wholeheartedly have come to believe that movement ministry is a very “biblical” approach, yet they don’t see movement breakthrough? Are they not worthy of the support they need at their current stage?

With this blog I hope to offer some perspective. Maybe taking the concepts of this blog to a friend or small community that offers safe space can be a first step to move beyond disillusionment and rekindle excitement.

The mental map

Element I: The tension between the ideal (“movement”) and sobering reality

Let me introduce the mental map to you. We all have ideals and aspirations. But we also have to deal with current realities. We often experience a massive gap, and tension, between the Already and the Not-Yet. The wider the gap, the greater the tension.

Our inner reality resembles an elastic band, as visualized in this photo.

This tension has increased among this generation of Christian workers. In the past, missionaries often aspired to start a church during their field service. That was also others’ expectation of them. A worker who returned from the field having planted a vibrant church was considered a success. Today’s expectation is much higher. Many missionaries have it toward themselves. And some sending agencies and field leaders have it toward them: catalyze a movement! 

Many of these workers honestly believe for a movement. It can be done. They pray for it. They hope for it. They work toward a very, very high aspiration. When they look around, however, their current reality may stare at them grimly. The status of their ministry may be rather sobering. Little fruit. Little indication of multiplication. No sign of a movement. The tension between the ideal and reality can be massive.

This tension is the companion of anyone with high aspirations. It will always be our companion, sometimes more strongly present than others. But it will never go away. Every person who has a dream experiences it. Even the non-Christian who lives by the motto “Live your dream!” experiences it. We have to learn to live with it and befriend it on our journey toward movements.

The higher the ideal, the greater the tension. The Christian fellow-worker who aspires to plant one church experiences less tension. The non-Christian friend who lives to make themselves happy experiences less of it. But by definition, the inner tension of those working toward a movement is very high.

There are only two ways to diminish this tension. One is to lower our ideals and aspirations. Lowering the upper hand on the photo that holds the elastic band up will result in lower tension on the elastic band. We could give up on movements and aspire to something more easily attainable. The other option to reduce the tension is to move the lower hand up. This would mean that the current reality comes closer to the aspired ideal. This means seeing more of an emerging movement around us. We’ll return to this in a moment, in Element III of our mental map.

The first helpful step is to name and acknowledge this tension between our aspiration of a movement and our current reality.

We have to learn to live with this tension and befriend it on our journey to movements.

Element II: The three circles of influence

The second element of the mental map are the three circles of influence, developed by leadership thinker Stephen Covey (1989). We need to learn to view reality through them. The three circles depict reality in the shape of three concentric circles:

  • The circle of control: things we can control directly, mostly only ourselves

  • The circle of influence: things we can influence indirectly in other people

  • The circle of concern: things we outside of our control we are unable to influence

Let us look more closely at the three circles.

A: The circle of control

We can essentially only control ourselves, but we cannot control others. See what we’re able to control: 

B: The circle of influence

People and situations around us we are able to influence. We aren’t able to control others like we do ourselves, we cannot make decisions for them and we cannot change them. But we are able to influence them. We do this primarily by our example and by how we relate to them. When we consistently treat our neighbor extremely lovingly, we will certainly influence them. We can influence others’ attitudes and beliefs. The circle of influence includes the people we collaborate with, as well as those outside the kingdom. The stronger our example and the stronger the trust we build, the more we can expand our circle of influence.

C: The circle of concern

Most people and realities in this world, however, we are unable to influence directly. Most of what you and I watch and read on the news falls into that realm. We can neither end the Gaza war nor make our favorite football team win. While we can share our vision with others, we cannot make them join our vision. And while we can pray for and share the gospel with our neighbors, we can’t bring them into the kingdom. Starting a movement lies in the circle of concern and outside our power. Realities in the circle of concern we can only influence indirectly through prayer. 

God created us in  such a way that we are not overwhelmed by reality. We function best when concentrating our attention on the circles of control and influence, while deliberately limiting our attention to the circle of concern.  Therefore, King David prayed: “Lord, my heart is not haughty, nor my eyes lofty: neither do I exercise myself in great matters, or in things too high for me” (Psalm 131:1, KJV). 

What to do with each circle?

Viewing reality through the three circles of influence enables us to see things much more clearly. Here is how:

  • A: The circle of control: we focus on what we are able to control, on what is in our hands.

  • B: The circle of influence: we exert influence in and through others, and widen the circle of our influence by building credibility and trust with others.

  • C: The circle of concern: we diminish our attention on it, and influence it through prayer.

Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr formulated what has become known as the Serenity Prayer: 

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”

Leaning on Niebuhr, I’ll formulate a ‘prayer of movement-determination’: “God, give me the courage to make any changes needed in the things in my circle of control, in my lifestyle and ministry habits. Help me know what people and things in my circle of influence are most essential to influence. And help me know what things in my circle of concern to earnestly pray for, leaving the result to you. Then grant me peace as I steer the tension.”

Once we view reality with greater clarity, 

  • our minds will be less cluttered

  • our emotions will experience less tension

  • our decisions about what to focus on will be better

  • our actions will be more purposeful.

The second helpful step is to view reality through the three circles of influence: to focus on the circle of control, expand the circle of influence, and pray into the circle of concern.

Element III: Doable steps forward

Movements are “a divine-human cooperative” (Garrison, 2014:55). God does his part, and we do our part. We take doable steps toward our aspiration: a movement. Ecclesiastes 9:10 teaches: “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.” We focus our attention on whatever our hands find right in front of us, as the next step to take, and we do that with all our might.

Too many Christian leaders jump back and forth between aspiration and status quo. In prayer meetings they pray for aspiration. After the “Amen” of the prayer meeting, they jump back to the status quo and old habits, without taking the necessary steps toward what they just prayed for. They hope that one day ”revival“ will come, or something else will magically change their reality and infuse their ministry with some potion that will bring about the desired breakthrough. Meanwhile, they keep doing what they have been doing. We will not move closer to our aspiration unless we take concrete steps forward ---no matter how faith-filled our prayers may be. Those steps are in our hands to take. God will not take them for us. He expects us to turn our prayers into reality, in partnership with him. We focus our attention not on the gap between our status quo and our ideal but, as Ecclesiastes 9:10 suggests, on the next step ahead of us that is in our hand to take. 

We will not move closer to a movement unless we take concrete steps forward. No matter how faith-filled our prayers may be.

I could mention many possible steps that we can take. I’ll list a few that were most essential on my journey to a movement:

  • Pray bold prayers filled with expectant faith, including for people of peace like tribal chiefs and Muslim leaders to come to Jesus. 

  • Develop ways to express love in tangible ways.

  • Learn how to turn every conversation into a spiritual conversation.

  • Develop a radiant spirituality that is visible to the community and attractive.

  • Grow in boldness and approach tribal chiefs, the power holders of society, with God’s message.

  • Believe God for more finances for compassion ministry projects.

These steps may be similar for you; they may be different. Your steps forward will become clear to you when you take God’s hand every day and pray: “Father, what do you want us to do, so we can see a movement here?”

Then we implement whatever steps God shows us, with ruthless determination. We evaluate, we adjust, and we take the adjusted steps. We evaluate again and adjust again. We keep going, until we begin to see progress. Maybe not a movement breakthrough immediately, but signs of disciples making disciples and multiplication beginning to happen. And so we continue to take step by step toward our vision of a movement.

The third helpful thing to do is to take doable steps forward toward a movement. 

Growth steps from disillusionment to new excitement

This completes the mental map. I encourage you to take it to your community and your trusted friends and begin a conversation with them. You will certainly benefit from the support that comes from that. And you may find others pleasantly surprised that someone addresses a tension they themselves have been wrestling with.

A coaching conversation always helps process. Currently I have capacity, and you can book one with me here.

These are doable steps that you can take to learn to live in the tension and apply the mental map to your life.

1.  Name and articulate the tension you experience between your ideal, “movement,” and your sobering status quo. Putting it into words enables you to grasp the emotion.

2.  View your situation through the circles of influence. Ask prayerfully:

  • What is in my hand to control?

  • What can I influence?

  • What is beyond my influence?

Then focus your attention on what you can control and on what you can influence.

3.  Prioritize your personal growth. Who you become underlies all your influence.

4.  Hold the Father’s hand every day and ask him what steps forward to take toward a movement.

5.  Focus all your attention on these steps and take them. No matter how small they may appear, if you take them consistently, they will take you forward.

6.  Extend the circle of influence in your life by being a credible example others want to emulate and by building trust relationships wherever you go.

7.  Bring change into the circle of concern by praying for God to change what you are unable to influence directly.

8.  Evaluate and adjust regularly. Wherever the steps forward don’t lead to desired results, adjust them.

9.  Whenever you feel disillusioned, don’t brush it under the rug. Face it. Bring it to the Father and ask him to shed light on it.

10.  Regain perspective mentally and rekindle excitement in your heart.

What are your thoughts?

I would love to hear from you. What are YOUR thoughts? What is your experience? Leave a comment below! If you prefer to private message me, you can use the contact form.

Learn more about the Best Practices of effective catalysts in my book Movement Catalysts. You can order your copy here.

If you found this helpful, how about you share this blog with your network?

Emanuel Prinz – Father’s Beloved & Movement Activist


Covey, Stephen R. 1989. The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Salt Lake City: Franklin Covey.

Garrison, David. 2014. A Wind in the House of Islam. Monument: WIGTake Resources.

Broken Dreams Bubble Pic: Created by Francielly Constantin Senra from Noun Project


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