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!

29 replies

  1. I received three emails all asking essentially the same thing: “I’m confused. Are you for this or against it?” My position is this: I think this is exactly what we should be doing — mobilizing our entire denomination toward something positive outside of our own institutional, narcissistic navel-gazing. I would love for this to be a turning point. I am sceptical. We have been here so many times before… and if we are hoping that a denominational gimmick is going to make a lasting difference, then we will be sorely disappointed once again. This is the kind of thing that has to catch the imagination at the congregational and conference levels. This has to be something that people commit to, and for the long haul. This needs to become epiphany for The UMC — a revelation that the time has come to actually do what we say we want to. A defining moment? It could be — if we make it happen. It is a hopeful vision and a positive message — something we offer too rarely. But, unlike 10,000 Doors, this could have teeth. This could make a difference. I want to believe we can rally our fractured and fractious church into something noble and beautiful and good. Why not now?

  2. Part of our core process seems to be about responding to those who suffer. This event seems to be in support of that part. There are over 300 million cases of malaria each year. It will take much more in the way of prevention than those much needed nets that need to be replaced every 6 months to 4 years (for the efficacy of the insecticide on the nets). Nonetheless, this could develop into an even greater response.

    Creed Pogue’s message made me think about the dominant talk of volunteers and leaders with whom I have served over the past 18 years. Those closest to the one struggling speak of a loving or caring response. Those not so close speak of events, campaigns, programs and projects.

    I remember a campaign over 10 years ago to get food boxes to North Korea. The conference where I was organized an effort quickly and delivered about 600 boxes to UMCOR in southern Louisiana. Some doubted that the people would ever got the food for the logistics and the political barriers.

    It was right to make that effort then as it is to make an effort today to reduce the impact of malaria. More than a few view such efforts as alignment with our UMC mission. Peace,larry

    • Your North Korea example worries me. If someone at the general church level thought up the idea of sending food boxes to a closed society where the food won’t get there, then that is the worst of “feel good” that doesn’t accomplish anything.

      I am not opposed to making efforts today to reduce the impact of malaria. I certainly don’t believe that we should wait until we figure out how to raise $50 billion or so to subsidize overall quality of life. BUT, besides raising money and buying nets, what are we going to DO??? Others seem far better positioned to do more than we are.

      • I believe the UMCOR leaders did their job well. Those who doubted were members of local churches, who expressed their opinions during the food collection. There were just a few of them. I do not know much about your reference to “feel good” and its application and the question in your second paragraph. Dan has written previously about alignment with our core process. The answer to your question may be there. Peace,larry

  3. i’ve categorized some of these efforts at charity & justice. charity is the simple giving to a cause that is rather painless and of little financial or time investment on my part. justice are those things that we get committed into that are hard, take sacrifice and are usually one or two things/causes/persons in a lifetime.

    we seem to be enamored and inspired by those who are involved with justice they have committed to, but some of these efforts we are encouraged to jump into are just charities on our part.

  4. I continue to deeply question the process that Rev. Hollon and UMCom use to come up with these slogans. Getting local churches to think about hospitality and become “Welcoming Congregations” is very, very important. Yet, that is on the back burner (assuming it is still on the stove). Having a multi-media campaign to talk about United Methodism’s witness and inviting people to join it is very, very important (of course, it would have been great if THAT is what we did). Curing malaria is a good thing, but is the UMC really the BEST vehicle for it??? We have many ministries that are uniquely United Methodist (like our missionaries and UMCOR), but are instead following other groups.

    10,000 Doors appears to have been developed by someone with only a cursory knowledge of United Methodism. Why wouldn’t we have said 30,000 doors??? We have more local UMCs than everyone except the Southern Baptists and the Roman Catholics. Our churches are more widespread than anybody. THAT is a unique selling proposition, but we don’t use it.

    Most of our churches are doing things to change the world on a regular basis. If it is just doing good deeds and giving money to Nothing But Nets, what is the point???

  5. This is the first I’ve heard of this, and I just left a staff meeting where we talked about things our Conference is promoting, such as the “5 Talent Academy.” Are we really looking to step out, or is this the new flavor of the month? While looking to Change the World can be a good thing (especially if for Christ), might it just be another feel good effort to try and convince ourselves we’re really looking to do things differently and try to be better at reaching the world in general? Are we taking the Gospel out to the world, or just trying to be socially active?

    And can we, for the love of God, concentrate on doing one thing for the Kingdom that lasts longer than a minute?

    • I’m trying to stay positive, David. It very well could be the new “flavor-of-the-month,” but if it is we may finally be reaching the tail end of our social capital and credibility. Everywhere I go I encounter deep cynicism from young people about our sloganeering and lack of follow-through. We don’t have open hearts, minds, and doors, and we don’t seem to be rethinking much of anything… and people know it. Wouldn’t it be fantastic if we could deliver on just ONE of our slogans. We could still feel good and actually make a difference. I hope “Change the World” actually taps into the United Methodist spirit and leads us someplace new and better. If for no other reason than it would give us something to talk about besides how much we wish we had more people!

  6. Found a “Blurb” about it in our E-news half-way down the page. Guess it’s my fault I missed it – but couldn’t it be flagged better? Just a thought.

  7. Except through your blog, I haven’t heard about this yet. That’s one of the problems I’ve had with many of our denominational and conference experiments through the years – how we get the word out (or don’t) can make or break a particular event/focus/shift very quickly. If we aren’t clear and publicizing far enough in advance, many of us will be caught unawares. If there has been publicity that I should have read, I missed it.

    April 24-25 – that gives me two months to get ready – two months with BOM meetings for a full week, Lenten services and Easter events to get ready for. Gotta find a lay person who will spear head and hand it over to them! Then it will stand a chance.

    On the other side of this coin, part of the transformation I’m leading in Two Rivers is precisely to look outside the four walls into our community, discover the needs that are there, find a need that we can focus our energy, gifts, and resources with and then do it. We are beginning, but over the long-term, it will make a huge difference as long as the momentum continues to build for the long-term. Pastoral changes, deaths or moves of other key leaders, major problems which draw financial resources to fix something broken in the building all take their toll on that momentum.

    I will do all I can to uplift this event, and to continue to build momentum to reach our local community as well as joining with others to reach the world.

    • And this is where I think the challenge is for us. Two months is very little lead time for an “event,” but if this is the flagship event in a denomination wide movement, then we have all the time in the world. I am going to be fascinated to see how widespread and well-engaged the launch is, and to see how well the denomination will support congregations and conferences to sustain momentum once April 24-25 pass by. If this is just a “Rethink Church” one-time event supported only by UMCom, we’re in trouble. If this is something the General Boards of Discipleship, Church and Society, Global Ministries, Higher Ed, and other agencies like Women’s Division, UMM, our various caucuses, etc., get behind, we will really do something special. Like I said in the blog, if we can show the world that the “united” in United Methodist means something, we could do an amazing thing.

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