[notice]A monthly column that reflects on living in the Kingdom of God.[/notice]
Few things are as powerful as the desire to live a significant life and ‘change the world,’ especially as a young Christian living in South Africa. I recently had the privilege of taking some young people away for a weekend to talk, pray and plan about how to live a significant life for God. One of the areas we discussed was what we called ‘the blind spots of a world-changer’. We all have them, and through the Bible and church history, we see that the same key issues come up time and time again. What are they?
Temptation of power
First and foremost, our biggest blind spot is ourselves. We underestimate the sin within. Leo Tolstoy commented: “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” I often hear excited, enthusiastic young people say to themselves: “I’m going to be the next president, or I’m going to work for the United Nations, or I’m going to change things in government”. Silently, I think to myself: “that’s great, but are you aware of the challenges you will face to remain integrous? What makes you think you can avoid the trappings of power and come out unscathed?” Author Landa Cope writes: “I worked in Washington, D.C. for several years. Christian groups were coming en masse with renewed vision for Discipling America. The ‘power’ of this capital was and is tangible. As new people arrived in the city you could see the environment begin to work on them. Whether they were politicians, activists, lobbyists, Christians or not, the shift from ‘national service’ to ‘national power’ as an objective was dramatic. I saw few who were able to resist this temptation.”
Remember the guy at school who became a prefect and power went to his head? Abraham Lincoln commented on this dynamic, saying: “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man, give him power.” DL Moody testified: “I have had more trouble with myself than with any other man.” We think the biggest problems are structures and systems out there, but Jesus tells us the biggest problem is in the human heart and mind. How easily we forget this. I’m told that GK Chesterton was asked to write an essay on ‘what is wrong with the world’. He replied in two words: “I am.” The former slave and first black Anglican bishop of West Africa, Samuel Ajayi Crowther said that he discovered something worse than slavery: the sin in his own heart. He declared: “About the third year of my liberation from the slavery of man, I was convinced of another worse state of slavery, namely, that of sin and Satan.” Without such an understanding of the human heart, and especially our own, we can easily do more harm than good.
Similarly, we cannot hope to change the world for good and for eternity without an unparalleled devotion to Christ in both heart and mind. Truth be told, holiness has almost become passé in Christian circles. Sadly, many ‘activist’ Christians are often more impressed with the wisdom of mere men like Socrates, or the methods of revolutionaries like Che Guevara than they are with Jesus. A most unlikely source, an atheist by the name of Matthew Parris challenged the world and the church with his 2008 article titled ‘As an atheist, I truly believe Africa needs God’, published in the London Times. In it, his contention was that missionaries, not aid money, are the solution to Africa’s biggest problem — the crushing passivity of the people’s mindset. How often do we flee from a Christ-centred approach to the latest fads. All this stems from not truly embracing Christ as the unparalleled Way, Truth and Life. Michael Goheen, professor of theology at Trinity Western University aptly reminds those of us who want to change the world what our goal should be, writing: “Social engagement is not first of all to change society — that may happen but it is not the goal. Rather, it is to witness to the Lordship of Christ over all areas of public life and to love our neighbour as we struggle against dehumanizing idolatry.”
The centricity of Christ
We often lose sight not only of the centricity of Christ, but also his method for changing the world. Yes, he did have a method, and he commanded us to use it until He comes back, instructing us in Mt 28 to “go and make disciples of all nations,” with the promise that as we do this, He will be with us “…always, to the very end of the age.” Billy Graham is indisputably the man who has preached to more people than any human being who has ever lived. In five decades Graham has led his ministry around the globe, speaking in person to more than 200 million people. One would think that the person who has touched more people’s lives than any other Christian would automatically see this as a success. In an interview, Billy was asked what he would do differently in ministry if he had the chance. He humbly replied: “I think one of the first things I would do would be to get a small group of eight or ten or twelve men around me that would meet a few hours a week and pay the price. It would cost them something in time and effort. I would share with them everything I have, over a period of years. Then I would actually have twelve ministers among the laymen who in turn could take eight or ten or twelve more and teach them. I know one or two churches that are doing that, and it is revolutionizing the church. Christ, I think, set the pattern. He spent most of his time with twelve men. He didn’t spend it with a great crowd. In fact, every time he had a great crowd it seems to me that there weren’t too many results. The great results, it seems to me, came in his personal interview and in the time he spent with the twelve.” The great evangelist George Whitefield displayed similar honesty when he remarked on his ministry, comparing his labours with John Wesley’s, saying, “My brother Wesley acted more wisely. The souls that were awakened under his ministry he joined in class (small groups, cell groups) and thus preserved the fruits of his labours. This I neglected and my people are a rope of sand.” Church planter and author
Floyd McClung wrote: “Did you know 85% of Christian leaders don’t finish well? And it’s not just a problem for spiritual leaders. I am amazed at how many ordinary Christians consistently struggle, fall, or just plain give up. They don’t “finish well”. Something is wrong! After 45 years of discipling new believers and equipping spiritual leaders, I am convinced the reason for this tragedy is that godly foundations were not laid well in people’s lives. Jesus said He would build His church. Paul said he was a wise master builder. Godly foundations don’t happen by accident — they are built into people’s lives intentionally through personal discipleship.” Often, the reason for this is that we are too busy building a ministry name for ourselves, and leave little time to investing in discipleship relationships. Robert Coleman, in his classic work “the Master Plan of Evangelism”, challenged us with the following: One must decide where he wants his ministry to count — in the momentary applause of popular recognition or in the reproduction of his life in a few chosen men who will carry on his work after he has gone. Really it is a question of which generation we are living for.
Neglect of family
Another massive blind spot is family. As pastors, we are often the worst. Why should we sacrifice our families at the altar of ministerial success? Perhaps the most memorable moment for me at the Karoo Might Men’s camp two years ago was something Angus Buchan said concerning this. He remarked with words to this effect: “I am often asked: what are your credentials for ministry? (His reply) My wife and children love and serve God; those are my credentials for ministry.” If only that were the case more often. Even some of our heroes from church history have often not seen their families as their first ministry before the multitudes. However, it is not only the ‘success’ syndrome of pastors that leads to the neglect of family. I believe that a key reason so many of our young people are leaving the faith is because dads and moms are too busy trying to further their careers, effectively leaving the crucial role of discipling their children to a domestic helper, the school, the television and the Internet. We want it all, and we want it all now, and our children are paying the price. Dare we even mention the possibility of mothers pressing the ‘pause’ (or even slow motion) button on their careers to devote most of their time to raising kids in their formative years? Less than a century ago, this was the norm. Today, mothers who do this are virtually revolutionary.
One of the most perplexing things for our ‘me-focused, wi-fi is a human right’ generation to grasp is where our dreams fit in to God’s bigger picture. Take the Hebrews 11 men and women of faith for instance. Verses 39-40 declare: 39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. 40 God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect. They had faith to do something in their generation, but none of them saw the fulfilment of their dreams in their lifetime. None, not one. The modern wannabe world-changer might ask: was it a waste of time? From our limited perspective, it may seem so, but from God’s, it was all part of his multi-generational plan. The message to us is this: God can birth dreams in our hearts that will never be accomplished in our lifetime, but only generations later. It often took generations to build a cathedral, and so it is with many God-given dreams. Our role is to remain in faith throughout our lifetime, and pass on the dreams and the building plans to the next generation, even if we are not seen as a ‘success’ by a limited human perspective. Perhaps a great example of this is David Livingstone. Although one of the most famous missionaries in history, some missiologists struggle with whether he was a missionary at all. The reason? Despite his heroic attempts and faithfulness in preaching the Gospel, some say that his only known convert was his friend Chuma, who then fell back into polygamy. How then, they argue, can he be justifiably called a missionary? If we look at the stats alone, they have a point. But if we look at his legacy and how that inspired waves of mission activity into Southern Africa, and how evangelists such as Reinhard Bonnke credit their fruitfulness to Livingstone’s pioneering efforts, how can he not be seen as a world-changer of a missionary? What if that was God’s plan all along, to send David Livingstone ahead to open up the way for future generations to reap a harvest? What if God births a dream in you and I for generations later to reap, even though we are never seen as a success in our lifetime? After all, we are talking about the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Harry S Truman declared: “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.” If we threw ourselves into God’s dream for reaching and discipling the world, we may never get the credit, and it may take generations, but why settle for fleeting acclaim when we have the privilege of being a co-builder in God’s cathedral?