14 Crucial Characteristics of Church Movement Leaders: Working Among Unreached Peoples

With the work I do, I often ask (and get asked) about Unreached People Groups (UPG’s) and how to see indigenous church movements started among them. This conversation always goes back to leadership and why movements (an act of God by the way) can’t happen without them. I have the privilege to labor among UPG’s in restrictive or creative access nations (CANS) and most importantly, serve alongside mentors, leaders, and friends with experience in seeing movements launched in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. Through personal experience, observations, and interviews with experienced practitioners, I’ve found 14 Crucial Characteristics of Church Movement Leaders who work Among Unreached Peoples. 


Some peeps wake up in the morning thinking about bacon or Instagram, others wake up passionate about furthering the glory of God among the nations. Movement leaders wake up with purpose and passion to see their UPG reached. They are captivated by this vision and see scripture passages in Revelation (and elsewhere), that describe a future host of people, languages, and nations before a worthy God, as the ultimate benchmark. This God-sized vision gets them out of bed and forces them on their knees to pray for sensitivity to the Holy Spirit’s leading for the day. 


There is no substitute for continuous dependency on the work of God to bring about his Kingdom among the nations. This passion for prayer permeates every facet of a movement leader’s life; from changing diapers to planning strategic village trips, from posting Facebook messages to writing prayer updates, from planting rice to raising disciples…prayer flows through every stream of action.

It can’t be understated how important it is for movement leaders to develop a culture of prayer for the lost and for their UPG’s. Prayer walking (a very common practice of pioneering teams) allows people to seek the moving of God among the UPG and pray onsite with insight. Teams engaging lostness can pave the way through relevant intersession, asking God to open the homes and hearts of places and peoples they can physically see and touch. Times must also be set aside to listen to the Father and hear what he is doing and plans to do among the people group.


Passion for your people must also translate into knowing your people. To know the UPG is to love the UPG. Movement leaders are focused on understanding the people, and many become experts on the UPG’s culture, language, worldview and values – or they partner with insiders who know the culture, language and worldview.

One of the greatest challenges to seeing sustained indigenous church movements among UPG’s is seeing minds and paradigms changed for the Kingdom. Unless pre-existing worldviews are being continually transformed, the people will be unable to live out their new identity in Jesus. They will be unprepared for the persecution and oppression that almost always follows new believers in creative access nations (CANS). They will be unable to function as a faith community and incapable of living out their identity as the purchased Bride of Christ. Movement leaders are not ignorant of these challenges nor are they ignorant of their UPG.


Pioneering movement leaders understand just that, that they are pioneers, or catalysts meant to raise up other leaders who are meant to raise up others. They see their role as releasers and influencers versus traditional Pastors/Teachers who often see their role as controllers and maintainers. All the leadership gifts (Ephesians 4:1-16) are needed to build healthy faith communities, yet because we are broken people, these are often in conflict with one another. Movement leaders navigate their mission according to their giftings and are sensitive to how God has shaped other leaders.


Movement leaders are also self-aware and realize that the color of their skin can be both a good and a bad thing. They understand that the Gospel flows through particular people in a particular culture and they know that they will never be a total insider among the people and culture they are trying to reach. This doesn’t change how movement leaders view the people and the Kingdom potential and value they see in them. Others see the remaining UPG’s on Earth as socially marginalized because they are the poorest, dirtiest, darkest, and dumbest UPG’s in the world. National partners, especially, often neglect and ridicule minorities whom they believe will never be able to lead themselves. Yet movement leaders, look beyond colors of skin and see a future for God’s people, that includes raising up indigenous leaders who bear fruit beyond anyone’s expectations.


In mission circles, movement leaders are sometimes called Strategy Coordinators (SC). These SC’s often impart God-sized vision, mobilize resources, and lead from the bottom up. They have a strong value of co-laboring alongside local partners to reach the UPG. They usually lead small, mobile bands, of missioners with like-minded biblical values – kinda like a team of special ops soldiers, but without all the war paint, violence, and swearing.

Movement leaders choose their core apostolic team very carefully. They are constantly filtering for faithful, teachable and obedient local leaders to train up. They know that national Christian workers are abundant but not everyone will take ownership of the vision, sacrifice personal safety, and develop a burden for the people. Movement leaders create a team culture characterized by common values that drive their methodology and practices.


Movement leaders are relatable, and their relationship with local partners evolves over time as they model, assist, watch and love from a distance. They are living life in community which includes living on mission. Practicing what they preach, living what they tweet, and obeying the same biblical truths, methods, and principles that they impart to others. Like the Apostle Paul, they say to their disciples, “…you should imitate me, just as I imitate Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1).


The image of Jesus as servant leader is the model that movement leaders seek to imitate. They are confident and bold, but not prideful, in speaking truth and love with authority into the lives of others. They lead not from a position but by influence. Their leadership is compelling not because of charisma but because of character.


While it’s true that movement leaders want to see self-leading and self-propagating churches that are discovering the Scriptures together, they also give a lot of direction and counsel to new emerging faith communities. It is critical in the early stages of simple church planting among UPG’s that leaders disciple, discipline and direct in love, leaning heavily on the Scriptures – its training, stories, memorization, and discovery as a community.

Infant spiritual communities are no different than newborn babies, it’s impossible for them to stand on their own. Without intimate leadership, new churches will not stand against the waves that will toss them to and fro. Movement leaders trust that only God can initiate and sustain movements but are also responsible spiritual fathers and mothers. Movement leaders seek to grow, mature, and reproduce disciples who make wise decisions based on the patterns and truths they were imparted with.


Movement leaders know that discipleship is not a neatly wrapped package or some silver-bullet curriculum. They understand that radical Jesus living is a process and contextual tools are used to address different stages of growth along the journey, which I describe as the 6G’s of Kingdom Growth (God’s Heart, Go, Gospel, Grow, Gather, Guides). They understand that immediate obedience flows out of abiding in Christ and vice versa. They see that training for obedience while building a firm foundation usually run congruent with one another. Most movement pioneers are ok with messy discipleship because they trust the Holy Spirit to bring transformation as they impart the missional DNA of radical obedience, deep abiding, and passion for God’s glory.


Movement leaders are also zealous about real-life discipleship. They understand that there is a place for solid theological training yet still believe that there is no substitute for application. As new disciples and groups grow they have different needs and face various issues. Movement leaders address these issues as they occur to sustain growth, maintain momentum, and model reproducibility. This is critical in the early stages of young churches as they deal with old practices, manage finances, navigate persecution, start social projects, etc. Movement leaders understand that biblical practices and tools are not created in some think-tank but guided by field experience.


No one argues with the fact that new believers are a lot easier to train up for obedience. Unlike existing believers, new followers of Jesus often have a lot less religious baggage and are ecstatic about their new faith. Movement leaders concentrate their efforts on disciples who are faithful, teachable, and obedient. The expectation is that every disciple is accountable to God and motivated by the love of God to obey God. Training obedient disciples who train others, who train others, is key to fruitful multiplication.

Group accountability ensures that biblical truths are being applied and that mission flows out of community. As Scripture is read or memorized as a story, members use discovery questions to discuss its meaning and application. Setting Spirit-led goals and making plans for where, who, when, and how forms the basis of effective accountability. Movement leaders understand that this process can be used to ensure healthy growth with any new disciple or group.

In addition to training new believers, movement leaders continue to love, mobilize, and challenge existing believers who come from traditional, institutional or legacy churches. They know that God is able to use all of his people for all his purposes. They believe that traditional churches need loving demonstrations of the simplicity and reproducibility of biblical disciple-making. Movement leaders will never give up on the church because they believe that each one has the potential to bear fruit.


Additionally, movement leaders will take prayerful risks and do whatever it takes to get to the people. Unreached peoples are unreached for a reason, they are damned hard to access. The barrier to accessing the UPG can be geographical, political, or religious, but movement leaders are always looking for open doors and trusting God for opportunities to engage the UPG. Sometimes they are forced to create platforms themselves, through business, education, development, technology, agriculture, etc. They are always pushing the boundaries to get both local and foreign missioners closer to the people.

Movement leaders are also not dogmatic about a particular methodology. They understand that there is a wide spectrum of practices, for example; some foreign missioners, due to security risks, decide to have no contact with the UPG and rely solely on local partners, while other foreign missioners believe that one must live and work directly with the UPG in order to ensure the accuracy of the Gospel presentation. Movement leaders understand the strengths and weaknesses of both approaches but ultimately trust the Spirit for direction in their particular context – and many end up with elements of both approaches.


Leadership multiplication is another challenge to church movement sustainability. Without leaders, there are no communities and without communities, there are no movements. Movement leaders have leader-centric ministries and focus on raising leaders from the inception of their work. They understand that the workers must be raised from the harvest and it’s from the harvest that generations of workers will emerge.

Many local leaders and partners among UPG’s struggle with livelihood and basic felt needs. Oftentimes they must attend to their rice fields and mission trips to other regions are seasonal. Some seek income in urban areas in order to assist their families in rural villages. Whatever the situation, movement leaders walk with their local disciples, assist them holistically, encourage them to do what they can, and challenge them to live by faith for God’s glory.


Movement leaders are constantly learning, growing and assessing. They are willing to look objectively at their ministries, methodologies, platforms, finances, and people in order to evaluate Kingdom progress in reaching the UPG. They are willing to ask the hard questions and ruthlessly assess things in light of the end vision. Not because they are driven by societal pragmatism but by biblical principles.

They are lifelong learners, seeking to stay humble, fluid, flexible and sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit. Most likely, you won’t find movement leaders organizing large conferences on missions, movements, and church planting. They are not the ones who would typically start a Bible or centralized missions training school….no, most likely you will find these men and women on the streets of South Asia, in the fields of East Asia, in the marketplace of the West, or under a tree in Africa…pouring into small networks of leaders that launch indigenous movements of churches planting churches. Movement leaders see new possibilities and press into them for the sake of the Father’s glory and the reconciliation of His people.


4 thoughts on “14 Crucial Characteristics of Church Movement Leaders: Working Among Unreached Peoples

  1. Pingback: This is a very good, well written and concise article on reaching unreached groups. | Missions Of Praise

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