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Classical Christian MovementSCL Updates

SCL Movement Leadership Distinctives, Part III: The Multi-Generational Vision of CCE 

By February 13, 2024February 20th, 2024No Comments

*The Nature of Movements

“Success is not about growth at any cost, but about growing in a way that aligns with your values and goals.”  ― Paul Jarvis, The Company of One 

Christianity grew exponentially in the early years after Christ’s death and resurrection, explains Steve Addison in his book, The Rise and Fall of Movements. The church exploded when it seemed most likely to dissipate. Addison outlines the nature, cycle, and dynamics of the Christian movement as missionaries spread the gospel and established the church. Addison extrapolates the principles of the early missionary movement and the spread of Christianity to analyze modern movements and instruct missionaries. Addison’s insights are helpful as we try to be faithful leaders in the classical Christian movement.

What is a movement? A movement is a group of people, institutions, and networks committed to a clearly articulated and coordinated cause. Movements often seek to change something on a broad scale at the social or political level. They often have a shared set of ideas, leaders, voices, and networks employed to leverage change.

Movements are exciting because they provide a burst of energy, focus, and impact. A movement rallies people around a core set of ideas that translate into tangible good in the world (there are bad movements too, of course). Movements catalyze the formation of institutions, leaders, and networks. We have observed the classical Christian movement do these very things and mature significantly as a result.

However, the reality is, movements come and go. The term implies an ephemeral existence. A movement in a symphony is composed for one portion of the piece. And then it is over. For those of us who were around in the 90’s, we can all name Christian ministries that were launched to transform the culture. The movement came, personalities were exalted, people were excited, pronouncements were made, much energy was exerted, and then… it faded. This is the lifecycle of a movement. Addison outlines the cycle this way:

 

Birth –> Growth –> Maturity –> Decline –> Decay –> Rebirth

 

Just because movements have an inevitable short-term lifecycle, does not mean they are unhelpful or inherently problematic. The civil rights movement forever changed the course of American history, for example. Movements can revive, renew, and ignite ideas, people, and networks. They move and mobilize. The inertia of critical mass creates a broader platform from which to lead. As movements grow, what may have seemed fringe becomes compelling and creates renewed interest.

And yet, there are numerous challenges, temptations, and issues to consider. The desire to maximize results and momentum can be alluring. Consequently, speed, impact, and results can be prioritized over clarity, depth, and influence. If this happens, compromises and distractions will abound. A movement can produce faction, diffusion, and confusion as it branches out and becomes more complex. The desire to latch on to the popularity and brand can produce counterfeits and opportunistic impostors, even while the founders and leaders are seeking clarity about the movement’s identity.

Additionally, movements can, and do, produce counter-movements as correctives to the first iterations. I have already seen this as newer schools are beginning to nuance their model in contrast to aspects of classical Christian education they observed over the last few decades. For example, I have seen a host of newer schools launch with more focus on the common arts as a more faithful and humane distinctive that most classical Christian schools did not incorporate in the early stages. Of course, corrections are good, but they potentially undermine the cohesion and unity that movements tend to enjoy during the growth and maturity stages.

Movements can often suffocate themselves by overly prescribing, systematizing, bureaucratizing, and standardizing the ideas that birthed them. As leaders, institutions, and networks are formed, the temptation to police and protect becomes very strong. This can cause internal splintering and unnecessary inefficiencies. Of course, without some organizational structure, movements often struggle to find stability and longevity. Just look at the conservative movement from Russell Kirk to the present, for example.   

Movements can also ingratiate the “founders” as purists who cannot and will not tolerate any perceived deviation from the original version. For this reason, Addison argues that movements must operate with “medium tension.” They must function between what he calls high commitment and isolation. High-commitment groups want deep levels of conformity and prescription. They tend to isolate and even define their movement fundamentally by separation rather than influence. 

However, if there is to be sustained influence, the grip of idealism must be loosened, and the core ideas must become both clearly defined and easily adaptable. Otherwise, the purists lapse into obscurity, unable to preserve the movement’s identity amidst the inevitable variability that growth demands. There are many more challenges that come with the evolution of a movement, but suffice it to say that the issues above are not insignificant barriers to the budding educational renewal we all want to see flourish.

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* This article is part of a series on SCL distinctives and the CCE movement. Next week, I will discuss how classical Christian education embodies characteristics of a movement, but pursues ideals that transcend the changing cultural, political, and sociological aspects of a movement. The following week, I will argue that classical Christian educators need to maintain a multi-generational vision that focuses on long-term influence rather than short-term impact. Read the last two installments here.

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