The Church Can’t Change the World

I see many well-intentioned efforts within the church – specifically the United Methodist Church – to encourage people to move beyond their walls and help “Change the World”. Only problem is, the church can’t change the world.

Sounds like the wrong thing for a pastor to say doesn’t it? For those who attend Asbury UMC it definitely seems strange based on the fact that I have been part of a group of pastors developing and promoting the Pasadena Faith in Action day on March 27th. It’s a day dedicated to uniting the Body of Christ in every denomination in our city to go and make a difference in the community.

But you see, I’m not saying we shouldn’t do what we can to show God’s love and make lives better. We should. It’s just erroneous to believe that as a church we can change the world. For example, we are making great strides to eradicate malaria in Africa through our work with Nothing But Nets. It is an admirable, God-pleasing effort. But, even with all our efforts we will not stop disease from being a reality in the world. Others are working to stop child trafficking and sex-trade rings – again, a noble, Godly effort. But, even if we put a stop to those things evil will not be vanquished in this world.

The Church can’t change the world. But, the church can change lives. The key to being the church that works to bring healing is to also be the church that brings hope. When the Christians of Pasadena go to their neighbors house and put on a new coat of paint they must realize the paint will one day begin to fade and chip – that transformation won’t last. But, when you bring healing and renovation into people’s lives you can also bring the good news of life in Jesus Christ. When people experience the love and grace of Jesus Christ in the depths of their soul THAT transformation will last. Knowing that disease and decay and evil will still exist is a hopeless feeling unless you have a relationship with the one who can see you through every difficult time. The one who promises eternal life in a home not made with hands but eternal in the heavens. A place where death and crying and pain are no more.

The church can’t change the world, but it can change lives. The church can’t eradicate disease and evil, but it can reduce the number of people who feel hopeless in the face of such struggles.

Go into the world. Paint a house. Heal the sickness. Stop a child from being exploited. But most of all, offer them Christ.

Holy high five to you, Mike

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6 responses to “The Church Can’t Change the World

  1. Mike,

    Saw your posts on Dan Dick’s blog. Thanks for your courage in saying this.

    If the message is “Here’s THE day when WE’RE going to change everything” then, yes, the church can’t change the world. Not that way. One day of dozens, hundreds or even thousands of “random actions” in local communities, and no matter how much money is collected to help end malaria… well, that might make one or two news cycles, but it’s not enough. Calling that “Change the World” wouldn’t be just hubris. It would be downright preposterous.

    But I do believe the church is called to be, and can be, and indeed has been, a significant agent in changing the world. A little leaven mixed into much many times more flour creates enough bread to feed 1000 people. A few mustard seeds (or kudzu plants!) scattered into a field take it over and turn it into something else entirely in a matter of weeks. Small groups of Methodists meeting on Thursday nights and Sunday nights over a period of 50 years in England were that leaven and those mustard seeds (though not the only ones!) that ended the slave trade, started the labor movement, created hospitals, ended debtors prisons, and created the first child welfare system in England that then spread across the British empire– all in 100 years and all with zero blood shed in battles. Our British ancestors weren’t the only ones in any of those radical changes that did change the world– but we were the forefront, and our models for organizing passion into action were exactly what all these other movements, in which were also involved and often leading, followed.

    So I absolutely believe Methodists can be part of changing the world, and even be at the forefront of that effort in many ways.

    But we’ve got to get back to the roots of what made all that change possible. And you’ve named it– transformed lives. That doesn’t happen solely because we get involved in major “good works initiatives” (though those do help– they are a means of grace!). It primarily happens because we’re committed to being changed ourselves, to “growing up into the full stature of Christ.” And that happens precisely on the micro-level– accountable small groups committed to helping all their members get there and not being willing to be held back by those who just want to come along for the ride.

    Peace in Christ,

    Taylor Burton-Edwards

    • Taylor – thanks for the comment. The only thing I would add is “offer them Christ”. It is about more than our own growth into Christ, it is about calling others to know Christ. My hope is that we (and I am first in line) would be bold enough to invite others to know who we know. It is the piece I do not hear enough.

      I do agree that we cannot invite others to a new life in Christ when they do not see us living a life of compassion and grace (“Come know Jesus, we’ve got him locked in the church!” has, for some, become the unspoken truth). In that regard these times of changing the world are the witness that make our words and invitation valid and true.

      Grace and peace to you,
      Mike

  2. Mike,

    I couldn’t agree more.

    I cannot imagine anyone claiming to be “growing into the fullness of Christ” without “offering them Christ.” If we’re going to send people out (as we vow to do at baptism!) to live as “Christ’s representatives in the world” we must be giving them the tools they need– theological and practical– to offer Christ to all they meet, everywhere.

    Otherwise, we’re not sending out “ambassadors” (which is the idea here)– maybe just “fanboys.”

  3. What’s a little annoying to me about “CTW” is the apparent presumption that all the churches on one day should be doing “something.” What is the difference between that and “Make A Difference Day” in the schools?

    Hopefully, we are changing the world for the better EVERY DAY. That is the difference between churches and Rotary.

    • Creed, while you and I are of very similar minds in this issue, I do agree to an extent with CTW – one day of coordinated activity that reminds us and shows others who we are is not a bad thing – and yes, it must be more than one day. The problem I have is, that while we should be making the world better everyday, we must ultimately be making Jesus Christ known as the one who brings hope beyond the meal, beyond the shoes, beyond the paint. That’s the piece that’s missing. THAT is the difference between us and Rotary.

  4. Mike and Creed…

    Well, that, and the fact that Rotary has stronger membership and attendance requirements!

    Rotary is really a great organization. I was part of it for several years, but when I moved to Nashville and had a much more “itinerant” job, it simply became impossible for me to commit to weekly meetings.

    What they’ve figured out– correctly– is they can’t accomplish their mission if “their” folks aren’t staying connected weekly. So they will only keep you on as a member if you make that commitment, too.– and then actually do it!

    The church could learn some things from this.

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