Imagine being a 16-year old, prize-winning debater at Cornell University and giving up your father’s business to step into the Father’s business. John R. Mott’s life changed forever when J.K. Studd (that’s his last name, and it fits), brother of C.T. Studd, came to speak a series of missionary messages in American colleges. On January 14, 1886, he spoke at Cornell. Mott arrived to hear Studd say, “Seek not great things for yourself. Seek them not. Seek first the kingdom of God.” That night, Mott couldn’t sleep nor shake the phrase he had heard. Mott sought out Studd and had a talk that forever changed his life. Never underestimate one encounter with the Holy Spirit and what could be set in motion through your obedience to jump into what the Father is doing.
Later that summer, while representing Cornell at the first international Christian student conference held by evangelist D.L. Moody, Mott heard a speaker from Princeton give a missionary challenge. A hundred students signed the “Princeton Pledge,” including John R. Mott. These guys started the Student Volunteer Movement (SVM), of which Mott was made chairman. The rallying cry of this movement was, “The evangelization of the world in this generation.” They held a SVM conference in 1891 in Cleveland that was the largest student conference assembled to date. The SVM sought to enlist every Christian objective of evangelizing the world. They were highly successful, for in half a century more than 20,000 students reached the foreign mission field, an astonishing achievement. D.W. McWilliams said this at the movement’s 25th anniversary services:
I think it is not exaggeration to say that the influences that have gone out from these school grounds on which we have gathered this afternoon in some respects have changed the history of the world…I do not think the history of the past 25 years can be written without putting in it something about the Student Volunteer Movement which originated here at Mount Hermon.
John R. Mott went on to win a Nobel Peace Prize in 1940 for developing volunteer movements. He wrote about how to build Christian movements. I want to rephrase his points about starting movements.
Mott on Movements
Without the ultimate Prime Mover, your movement isn’t budging. Jesus must be at the center of your life and the constitution of your movement. Movements have a dominant focus, and nobody inspires the human heart like the utter beauty of the Messiah. You must have a zeal for your Father’s house that consumes you. We have had so much teaching over the last decade on purpose, yet I’ve never seen so many people walking around without a purpose. The primary issues is that it’s not about you and me finding our own purpose, but discovering His purpose in Christ and fulfilling our assignment in that larger purpose. We were made alive and raised up by Jesus that He might show off His priceless grace. You and I become His workmanship, uniquely crafted and divinely designed for good works (movements), which God has made ready for us. Under the pressure of performance and mistaken assignments, we lose sight of our basic purpose to pursue intimacy with Jesus and love those around us.
When it comes to movements, the more impossible, the more appealing. John R. Mott said it is the impossible that brings out our own latent powers. You need to constantly bite off more than you can chew, get in over your head, and see impossibilities bow to Jesus. Mott said, “The heroic appeal makes possible the heroic response.” Sometimes North American Christianity suffers in its appeal because it’s not presented in a manner extreme enough to captivate a YouTube, adrenaline-junkie, X Games generation. Christianity in the Book of Acts was radical and fanatical. We don’t need any more watered-down sacrifices, discount devotions, and especially no virtual-reality virtues. We need to lay our hand to the plow of His movement and not look back.
Successful movements require that you appear on the battlefield. The ultimate outcome of any movement is not achieved in a saltshaker, where Christians hang out. You and I must go mainstream with our movement. You weren’t meant to hide in the closet; you are destined for campuses and coliseums. The believers in the upper room didn’t stay there; they stepped out into the open air in Jerusalem and went to the uttermost parts of the earth (see Acts 2). Regarding the 1735 Northampton Revival, Jonathan Edwards wrote, “There was scarcely a single person in the town, either old or young that was left unconcerned about the great things of the eternal world.” This only happened because the movement left the building.
Movements that raise the bar, and blow the roof off, elevate the human spirit. Mott said, “Christ never hid His scars to win a disciple.” We shouldn’t be afraid to challenge a generation to sacrifice. All movements have a cause and a call to spread message. Mott emphasized, “We should never be content with second best.” In other words, he didn’t want humanism, violence, false religion, or darkness to win on his watch, and so he discipled all who would listen to him. This philosophy must affect whom we hang out with and allow to influence our lives. Choose your friends; choose your movement. Since I’ve always sought to get people in my life who challenge me and are people of vision and conviction. Being around the fervent at heart has always kept me on fire. Look for those who are captivated by His presence and desperate to see God move in their generation.
Movements look to grow and enlarge priorities. The sum of Mott’s work makes an impressive record: he wrote 16 books in his chosen field; crossed the Atlantic over 100 times and the Pacific 14 times, averaging 34 days on the ocean per year for 50 years; delivered thousands of speeches; chaired innumerable conferences. It’s no wonder the man brought home the Nobel Prize. That takes focus, passion, and perseverance. Your daily devotional life must be a priority in your life if you are looking to grow. You must set aside time to get in His presence and learn to walk in it. A generation is coming forth that will do whatever they have to do to be spiritually ready to seize opportunities. One of the greatest challenges of sustaining a movement is the demand it makes on one’s inner life. We must have character and be authentic, free from a double life. once a movement gets underway, there’s a temptation to be prematurely satisfied with something less than what the Father wants to give us. At this stage, God will often release a precious gift of holy dissatisfaction. This holy dissatisfaction creates a longing for things to be different. Without a passion for fullness, the enemy can cause the dust of complacency to settle in. Go out today and launch a Jesus movement, but let it begin in you!
This is a book excerpt from I Am Your Sign: The Secret to Unleashing Revival and Igniting a National Awakening by Sean Smith. You can get your own copy of I Am Your Sign today and also connect with Sean through his website, Facebook, and Twitter @RevSeanSmith and @PointBlankIntl!