How NOT to Launch an EFM Movement

  • by Jason Poon

I remember it like it was yesterday. CSU 2009. Moby Arena was packed and there was a definite buzz flying around about something big. I recall the first thing that I noticed was the large number of people wearing the same black t-shirt with something called "Cross 09" on it. I don't recall much of the meeting anymore, but I do remember going back to my team and wondering, "Well... what do we do?"

Our team had successfully launched and sustained an Epic Movement on our campus, so our next attempt would be to launch Destino. Despite our positive attitudes, alignment, hard work and even ability to get our students with Epic to help, it was a grand failure.

Years later, I had a chance to reflect back on it and wondered not just what went wrong, but also what I would do differently if I were to do it again. Here's a list of things that we did that I believe led to our unsuccessful launch.

1. Just Go Do it
One of the major problems with our approach was that we didn't really take any time to talk to anyone about launching Destino. We didn't talk to their national team or other teams in the country that were successful at launching Destino. We had the gunslinger attitude and just went for it without really thinking it through.While we did have a Latina on our team and there were some Latino students also interested in helping us, we didn't do a very good job in taking time to hear, listen and most of all, learn from them about what they needed and what we could do to help.

I think most of us had the same mentality. We were given the challenge and we were pumped up, excited and full of hope and faith that God would show up in amazing ways, but in all that adrenaline-filled, movement launching week we failed to take a moment and ask the question,

"What do Latino students need?"

Followed by,

"Who should we ask to help us with our first question?"

(Spoiler, the answer to the second question in this case was to ask Destino.)

Because we didn't ask either of those questions, we just jumped right into planning and we were unsuccessful. If we had asked and took the time to be learners, we still may not have been able to launch Destino on our campus, but at least we would have been humble enough to say, "We don't know what we're doing. Teach us."

2. Don't Recognize Your Leadership Bias
A few years ago, at an Epic Summer Project Briefing, the National Director, Tommy Dyo asked the staff a simple question:

"Take a few minutes and draw a picture of a leader."

After working in groups and coming up with our drawing, Tommy interrupted our work and asked a follow up question:

"Now take a few minutes to draw a picture of an Asian American leader."

This one took most of us by surprise as we all realized that our first drawing revealed that our vision of an Asian American leader was vastly different from just a picture of a leader.

Let me explain. In our first drawing, everyone drew the same type of person: a man, Caucasian, successful, well spoken, charismatic, bold, up front, articulate, etc. There was a very clear picture of what we all assumed was the model and ideal leader. Then when we drew our second image, there wasn't necessarily those same things. The most common theme we found for image #2 was that the Asian American leader was a servant. The leader would be an example and lead among his people by serving them rather than being the prototypical alpha leader that we drew the first time. It was more of a side by side leadership model than an hierarchal model (one up, one down).

This cultural difference in leadership was eye opening but unfortunately, I forgot to apply it when we were looking for that "person of peace" during Cross 09. In looking for a leader, we neglected to first examine and ask what kind of leadership attributes the Latino culture looks for in identifying their leaders. We assumed that our version of a leader was what was best and our assumptions showed our naivety.

3. Hold onto Leadership
While we were unsuccessful in launching Destino during Cross 09, I have seen some glaring misses when it comes to working with ethnic ministries. One of those has been an inability to let go of leadership and truly empower others. As someone who is a self admitted control-freak, letting others make the decisions is really hard to do, especially when you consider how much longer you've been doing ministry compared to the student leaders (or even new staff) and their relative lack of ministry experience.

The truth is though, in this context a 20 year old student can have more useful experience than someone who has been doing ministry for 25 years. An Asian-American or Latino student has experienced 20 years of being marginalized, and what it means to be an ethnic minority which gives them an insight that no amount of ministry experience can give. And no, living overseas for a few years doesn't count. Neither does being at an Impact Conference for a weekend give you a taste of what it's like to be a minority and to imply that it does is an insult to those who have faced racial prejudices their entire lives. There is no off switch for them where they can suddenly let their guard down and it precisely that kind of experience that makes them the best kind of leaders for our ethnic movements.

4. Believe You Are The Answer
Our staff and students were really excited about launching Destino. It was cool to think that God might use a group of Asian Americans to start a Latino movement. (And He could've.) But I also think there was a sense among us that we were needed and that we were the answer to the need that existed on campus.

An influx of cultural outsiders is not the solution to the need of our ethnic movements. I'm not saying the Lord can't use us, because He can, but we sell the vision short when we think we are the answer to the need that exists in another ethnic ministry.

This attitude, that we were the benefactors and that others were the recipients, I believe was an underlying current that led to some of the mistakes above. If you haven't had a chance to read the article that was put out by Caucasian leaders in our national movements, I would encourage you to take the time to read it here. It outlines five postures that those in majority culture can often have when trying to cross cultures. There is something in it for us all to learn and grow.

We are all works-in-progress and, as I hope my story illustrates, we all make mistakes. It's worth it to learn from those and to make sure we're intentionally pursuing those who can help us grow, especially since launching EFM movements is one of our national priorities.

Now go out and launch movements! Just don't do what I did.