Changing the World

The United Methodist Church is issuing a challenge: “Change the World.”  Billed as a “worldwide event,” this April 24-25 threshold event will show where the values, heart and soul of the UMC really is.  I am not talking about participation in this two-day event.  I am talking about whether it will be the launch of a new direction (a transformation process) or simply a single-shot “feel-good” photo-op.  The invitation to this event is “to bring the people of the church together to make a tangible difference in their communities and across the globe.”  Man, if we can do that, it would be an incredible witness to the world.  Of course, this cannot happen in two days.  Real change takes time, effort, commitment, and resources.  April 24 and 25 can be no more than a symbolic launch of a radical and fundamental long-term commitment on the part of the church.  And that’s exciting!  What if… we really mean it?  What if… we really do it!

The slogan of the “event” is, “Build community locally.  Fight malaria globally.  Change the World.”  In this simple phrase lies the key to global transformation.  It can’t be done by individuals; it must be done by communities — and communities of communities knit together as the body of Christ.  It is a fight, and as with most fights it will take time.  Malaria is but one simple factor in a much larger equation.  It brings to mind two conversations I have had with global sustainability experts about the larger implications of addressing malaria.  One man who I met at Vanderbilt University told me, “There is a huge difference between preventing a death and saving a life.  Preventing a death may only cost a few dollars.  But saving a life in Africa today costs approximately $74,000.  Your brochure says “Imagine No Malaria!” and that is a good and noble thing.  But if you do nothing but stop malaria, Imagine an Africa with hundreds of thousands of hungry and starving children, suffering from many diseases, without adequate clothing and shelter, where many young children join gangs and live with violence until they die or move away.  That is what happened the last time the “world” worked to eliminate infant mortality in Africa.  Actions have consequences, and giving life does not come without costs.”  Another sustainability expert from the University of Wisconsin makes a similar point. “Be certain that those who give money for an anti-malarial mosquito net are then ready with food and medicine, then with clothing and school books, and with building materials and jobs later on.  You may give $7 million to save 700,000 children’s lives, but who will supply the $50 billion dollars needed to guarantee these children will have a stable childhood unto adulthood?”  The challenge to “Change the World,” is enormous — exactly the kind of thing The United Methodist Church needs to give it direction and focus.  This could be a turning point time for United Methodism… if we take it seriously.  We have proven what we can do in the short-term with Haiti — when we really care we do amazing things.  The time has come to prove what we can do over the long-term.

Every church, regardless of size or resources, is encouraged to get outside the four walls of its building into their local community to serve the needs of others.  While there is emphasis on the “Imagine No Malaria” campaign, any activity outside the local church to serve others is welcome.  This campaign hearkens back to early Methodism when it was fundamentally a missional-evangelical movement, not an institution.  The motivation to “spread scriptural holiness across the land” was a vision that drove our earliest growth and impact.  The healthiest churches in our denomination today are those who equip and motivate people to live their faith out in the world.  They don’t count members and attendance; they count the number of lives touched, people served, and lives saved. 

This is a call to full commitment throughout our connectional system.  Anything else simply cannot “change” the world.  All too often, we throw around the term “transformation,” but all we do is behavior modification, launching a campaign or a slogan or an event with limited or no long-term impact.  What will make “Change the World” different?  We will… or we won’t.  Once more, we have raised the bar, saying to the world that The United Methodist Church is a force to be reckoned with.  Either we mean it or we don’t.  Time will tell.  But we have been given an opportunity to recover our credibility and restore our image — to put the “united” back in United Methodist.  Pray that we rise to the occasion, as a witness to the love and grace of our God and the redemptive power of the Savior, Jesus Christ!

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29 replies

  1. I struggle with our emphasis on good works to show our church to be “noble and beautiful”. Not sure we’re looking at changing the world the right way. I wrote about this the other day on my blog. It may be controversial and it is certainly provocative, but not the last word. I’m willing to be led toward a better understanding.
    https://mikeatasbury.wordpress.com/

    • I am using noble and beautiful and good in the classical philosophic, rather than the egotistical, sense. Do we believe the creation of God beautiful? Should we not reflect such beauty? Do we believe there to be a fundamental nobility to God and God’s people? Should we not bear evidence of such nobility? Is God good? Should we be less? If you disagree with this, that’s okay, but it is central to everything I believe. As God is, so should God’s people strive to be.

      • Rev. Lindstrom, are you saying in your message that this event and the ensuing response is inconsistent with the core process of the UMC? If so, will you say why?

      • I don’t disagree in that sense. I believe we strive for perfection – and noble and beautiful would be apt descriptions of what it looks like to be made perfect in love. But the conversations I hear are ones that say our “perfection”, our “beauty” is found in our good works. I believe our beauty and nobility is found in the good news of grace in Jesus Christ.

        What if every church did something to serve those in need and shared with them the good news of new life in Jesus Christ – the life that comes by grace through faith and the forgiveness of sin? And what if we never mentioned we were members of the United Methodist Church? What if we had absolutely no press coverage of the events? What if we quietly gathered afterward to thank God for using us to change a life? Would it be worth the effort? Would it be noble and beautiful?

      • This is part of my displeasure with the current church environment — when I did my study of healthy churches in United Methodism, almost none of them were “name” churches, and the majority didn’t want to be identified for the “good works” they are doing. Getting credit isn’t even on the radar screen. And my support for the concept of “Change the World” is the same — I could care less who gets air time, all I want to see is the United Methodist Church step up and do something as a movement and not just a few isolated exceptions. I don’t believe I have ever said anything that remotely suggests that this should be done for publicity. Yes, UMCom will exploit it, but that isn’t the point I have been trying to make. I think this could be a great thing if local churches and annual conferences take it seriously and act on it — not because it is popular, but because it is a good thing to do. If you have followed this blog at all, you know I am one of the harshest critics of the ulterior motives of the denomination. I wasn’t a fan of Igniting Ministry, I am not a fan of Rethink Church, and I have concerns about Change the World. Marketing campaigns do not a healthy church make, and if this is just another feeble attempt to make the world think we are something we’re not, it will fail miserably — and shame on us. BUT, we could make this something more if we want to. The question is, do we really want to?

      • That I can understand. I apologize if it seemed I was attacking your position. I was really responding to a concern I have relating to these issues. I think we stand closer together than farther apart.

        I do hope we MOVE beyond our walls for the sake of the gospel.

  2. Larry – I don’t know that I would say they are inconsistent. I just wonder if the effort is more about us then about the world around us. It may be my own perspective causes me to question something that doesn’t need questioning. Am I wrong to see the effort as too much about saving the UMC and our reputation and maybe not enough about bringing Christ to the world? If I am, then I stand corrected. And no matter how I see it, I pray God will use it to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

  3. Check out the Google earth map:
    RethinkChurch.org/ChangeTheWorld

    Seeing so many UMC churches across the globe already getting involved sends an inspiring and hopeful message about this campaign.

    Rethink Church has a real opportunity to materialize and make a tangible difference in people’s lives with the Change the World campaign.

    Despite the unexpected Haiti crisis, which called us to re-focus marketing efforts on raising relief funds, we still have an opportunity to promote Change the World and show that UMC is revolutionizing how we serve Christ. Your help in spreading the word about this initiative is truly appreciated!

    • Part of my confusion about these “events” is the knowledge that if your church doesn’t have any “outreach” or “Matthew 25″ or “least, the last and the lost” or “feed My sheep” ministries then participating in one project on one weekend isn’t going to make that better. If, on the other hand, you are doing regular things but not something that particular weekend, then what??? This feels like another example of a general agency pursuing its own agenda rather than resourcing the denomination.

      Instead of constantly creating new ideas from above, wouldn’t it be FAR more productive for His kingdom to emphasize the things that are ALREADY happening and need to spread further?

      Even relating to UMCOR, there should be more than one article from UMNS talking about the fact that UMCOR is still there more than four years later. I would think that there would be plenty of real events that could be publicized on a regular basis. NOLA wants us to know that “they are back” but they certainly aren’t wanting the fact that there is still a lot to do to be swept under the rug.

      • Dear Creed Pogue, your note made me think of the role of leadership beyond the local church and the actions of that leadership in support of the local chuch as “the most significant arena through which disciple-making occurs.” I had assumed that those who made available these “events” fully considered the significance of local churches in the mission of the UMC so that these “events” supported the role and significance of local churches. I also had assumed that any local church described in your first sentence would be held accountable to the extent that it does not participate in the 5 aspects of our core process. Paz,larry

  4. My hope and dream is that people who are cynical about church – whose current perception is that it’s about hypocrites and judgmental people gathering for a feel-good-about-themselves service once a week – may have that opinion shaken. If people like that engage people who are sincerely striving for faithfulness and embodiment of Christ in the world today maybe God’s kingdom/kindom will come on earth – and more people will come to a faith that both lives quietly and shines a light brightly for others -

    • Nancy, so much of what we think about the future of the church has been predicated on what we haven’t been in the past and what we aren’t now. It would be wonderful to shift the conversation to what we can be if we only apply our gifts, energy, passion, and imagination to creating the future in which we most want to live. We have to keep holding a vision of a Promised Land so bright and beautiful that every person will want to do whatever she or he can to get there!

      • Dan, I think you’re right. I had a professor say that we must shine a light on the places where we can say “Ah! There is the kingdom of God!” and that by noticing and giving thanks and shining a light, it would grow more and more. I hope that we can find ways to shift the conversation among seekers as they engage the church in service. We need to have small group opportunities and cafe discussions to follow CtW so that this conversation and hopefully work can continue -

  5. Larry,

    So we can understand each other: what are the five aspects of our core process? Is this Schase’s Radical Hospitality or something else?

    Unfortunately, I do not get the feeling that UM Com is working from a bottom-up process but rather from a top-down one. Otherwise, we’d be talking about “30,000 Doors” and how we have a UMC virtually everywhere. We’d be talking about how local churches are already working to “Change the World” and encourage other churches to emulate projects that are already working. “ReThink Church” would be in association with the “Call to Action” to streamline and right-size our general church agencies rather than an ill-defined push to make Darfur an emphasis when solutions (especially non-military ones) are very difficult to find. We need to encourage more “acting locally” rather than “thinking globally.” Slactivism is not a substitute for getting your hands dirty.

    • Yes, sir. I looked at paragraph 122 at this:
      http://www.umcneb.org/media/2008BookOfDisciplinePDFS/CONS001936QK004001A.pdf

      Dan wrote about this previously in a way that I had not seen before in a note that he called Methodist to the Core, if I remember correctly.

      Well, I am in a part of Mexico that is considered dangerous right now. Yet, there are people who still come here to serve. Usually, we do spend some time talking about that paragraph. I believe it deserves more than a modicum of study.

      I am not in a position to critique our leaders. If I were to try, I would try to judge how well they keep us aligned with that process described by paragraph 122. I would also ask about the proper allocation of human and financial resources amongst those 5 aspects. Those ideas can be found in Dan’s writings. Peace,larry

      • Entering the discussion, I agree with both of you: the core process/primary task of The United Methodist Church is 1) to reach out in the name of Christ and receive people into faith and fellowship, 2) to relate people to God through the means of grace, 3) to nurture and strengthen people in their faith through accountable community, 4) to send people into the world to live their faith and serve as the body of Christ, and 5) to work this process as a cycle — making the core process the work of the whole people and not just those in “church leadership.” If a church is not engaging the full process, it is failing to fulfill the mission. Many of our churches do some, but not all of the functions. All four are intended to be engaged with a depth of commitment, but many churches have little more than a superficial engagement with them. Ideally, the “top-down” campaigns call us back to this primary task, but they lack the leverage and power to make anything happen. Unless the leadership in local congregations “buy-in” these campaigns have no power to change anything. Then, at the local church level, unless the assembled congregation “buy-in” to the leaderships vision, the same weakness is present.

        I don’t think any marketing campaign has the power to transform anything. Short-term behavior modification? Sure. This is the fault I find with Igniting Ministries, ReThink Church, and is what I have lifted up as the potential failing of “Change the World.” As I have tried to make clear, this stands as a litmus test for the old UMC — does the denomination that has its roots in a missional-evangelical tradition and genesis hold “the transformation of the world” as a core value or not? Behaviors are the clearest indication of values, not words. We talk a great game — this is known as “lip service.” But at some point we need to show the world what we’re really made of. UMCom has done nothing but hold up a magnifying glass for close scrutiny as to who we really are, what we really believe, and what we’re really prepared to do about it. If April 24-25 come and go, and the churches that “perform” on those two days go back to business as usual, this will tell the world we are one kind of church. If April 24-25 are a threshold event that engage a critical mass of our congregations into a process of ongoing radical service to community and world, that will communicate that we are a different kind of church. I want to believe in the latter, but I am fearful of the former. (See “Sins of Nomission“)

      • If we aren’t doing the first three then the fourth doesn’t have much meaning. There are plenty of other organizations that do “good deeds.”

        There is a difference between expecting to attract people to our churches because we do good deeds and showing the world that we do good deeds because Christ loves us and we love Him and He told us to feed His sheep.

  6. Just a followup. We at our refuge called Casa Bugambilia in Matamoros have signed up to participate in this event as follows:

    Activities at Mi Casa Children’s Home for children needing therapy. Activities at Casa Bugambilia for the 17 ill and abandoned adults needing therapy. Home visits for the sick in colonias around Matamoros. Food despensas for 50 families.

    We may not appear on the GBGM Google Map of participants, but we will be out there with people from the colonias around us – responding as we can. There may be volunteers with us from the US, but we are not counting on it for the perception of violence in Matamoros at present.

    We expect that this event will be much more than a one-day event and seek to embrace it in the way Dan has written. Peace,larry

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