We all want our lives to be an epic story in which we are the hero or heroine. There is something exhilarating in the notion that, to quote J.R.R. Tolkien, “Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.” Every generation of youth catches this idealistic fever and believes that it is their turn to change the world. And Christian young people (my generation), not wanting to be left out, have made the power of the Gospel the fuel they are going to use to set the world on fire.
They have connected truths like making disciples of all nations and looking after the widow, the orphan, and the poor with changing the world. And when you connect biblical commands for all Christians with a philosophy of world change, being a Christian and being a “world changer” become synonymous. It is not just a hope, it’s a calling and a requirement. There is no doubt that Christ has called us to make disciples of all nations and care for the poor and marginalized. But is being the opposite of a world chaser truly being a world changer?
No offense to Jarrid Wilson, but while juxtaposing two ideas by changing around a few letters may make arguments compelling, it doesn’t always make them true. In this country we are indoctrinated with individualism and the American dream. We love “Cinderella stories” of people who come from humble beginnings, pull themselves up by their bootstraps, and make a name for themselves. It is difficult to reconcile this cultural worldview with a Bible that tells us that He must increase and we must decrease (John 3:30). In the world-changer mentality, we have tried to combine the two. We see that the world is striving after the wrong things (wealth and fame and pleasure), but we still want to achieve significance and be the hero of an epic story by making a huge impact for Christ. Too often this can become pride and self-promotion masquerading as spiritual fervor. The world-changer worldview still puts the focus on the world, and on our place of influence over it. It’s not the opposite of world-chasing,. It is the Christianized version of the same thing for which the rest of the world is striving. That’s why a Steve Jobs quote can be virtually indistinguishable from the world changer philosophy:
We don’t want to give up our striving for influence and significance, so we are basically mirroring the same philosophy as the world, and slapping “for Jesus” on the end to try to make it holy. But Christianity is not an Apple commercial (as inspiring and tear-jerking as those can be). In the midst of all of this striving for significance, the Bible actually requires a lifestyle that is the opposite of being a world chaser.
“But we urge you, brothers, to [love one another] more and more, and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.” – 1 Thessalonians 4:10-12
We are not called to be world changers. Yes, we should make disciples of all nations, but the goal is to lead a quiet life that honors God “so that we may walk properly before outsiders.” We are called to be broken vessels – jars of clay through which the glory of the one who can and is making all things new can be revealed. We’re not called to transform the world. We’re called to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. God is the only one who can change the world, and the focus should be on His influence, not the vain pursuit of our own importance. While he uses us in bringing people to Himself, He is the one powerful enough to make all things new. Our call is to live faithfully and to make much of Christ. And in a world He promised us would hate Him (and us, by association), that often looks less like world change and more like kicking against the goads.
I don’t know about you, but if Christians truly were called to change the world, I fall woefully short of that mark. As an accountant, I spend a lot of my time working with numbers and spreadsheets. I do people’s taxes and try to avoid talking about my job at parties so I don’t bore anyone to death. While I would like to believe that I am changing the world one spreadsheet at a time, I would be delusional to think that my budgets or financial statements had that kind of significance. My role in the church is very similar. I am a faithful attender, and I have participated in leading music and working in the nursery. But in the grand scheme of things, this part I play is not changing the world. And for most of us, this is the case.When we make world change normative for all Christians, that is actually a burden most of us are unable to bear. We end up having to modify the definition of world change in order for those of us who lead ordinary lives to not be utterly inadequate. Calling ordinary, albeit essential, Christian activities “world change” is much like giving a trophy to every child, regardless of whether or not they won the game. It aggrandizes the ordinary, but those who are honest with themselves know that the impact they are making, however important, is not at the scope of world change. Loving your neighbor, volunteering your time at a ministry, and serving your local church are all things that we are called to do, but if we are honest, they are not world change. Sharing the Gospel with co-workers and friends is vital and essential, but it is not world change.
“Life is usually pretty ordinary, just like following Jesus most days. Daily discipleship is not a new revolution each morning or an agent of global transformation every evening; it’s a long obedience in the same direction.” – Kevin DeYoung, The Glory of Plodding
Some of us are called to be a William Wilberforce or a Billy Graham, but the majority of Christians who are not should not feel guilt or that their faith is weak because they are called to a less conspicuous or far-reaching ministry. Your worth as a Christian isn’t measured by how many worlds you’ve changed. It’s about whether you’re doing justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God (Micah 6:8). Serving faithfully in small ways is not a Christianity consolation prize. It is our calling.
Aspiring to live quietly is what we are called to do, but it is often difficult to see the glory in the mundane. It is easy to “grow weary of doing good” (Galatians 6:9). But the good news of the Gospel is that we still get to be part of an epic story, better than the Cinderella stories of this world. We serve a Savior who didn’t start from nothing, but rather made Himself nothing on our behalf. And that Savior is now reigning as King and is making all things new (Revelation 21:5). In whatever you do, whether it be great or ordinary, He is seeing the work He began in you through to completion (Philippians 1:6). The burden of world change is not on our weak shoulders, but on the shoulders of the hero who has the power and authority to actually accomplish it. He gives us the privilege of participating in His work. When we complete the good works that He has prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesians 4:10), if He chooses to use those things for widespread change, His name gets the glory. And if instead we complete those good works without fanfare or widespread attention, much is still made of Him, rather than us. We may not be the heroes of an epic story, but by His grace we are being written into the greatest story of all.