Three levels of world changes we can make
This morning I was struck by this quote I saw retweeted on Twitter:
“@Herman__Bavinck: [The world] is constantly becoming, in contrast with God, who is an eternal and unchangeable being. II.429”
Theologically, we believe that God is a creator, and that he made mankind in his image as creators as well. He gave us the responsibility of stewarding creation as creators. Unfortunately, there is much in our planet that has become broken, for a variety of reasons. If we are living up to our responsibilities as stewards, these things ought to be set right.
In Genesis 12, we are told the story of how God called Abraham and promised that he would both bless him and make him a blessing. We are told in Galatians 3 that we who believe are children of Abraham, and so this promise applies to us as well. God says he will bless us so that we will be a blessing to the world. While theologically the ultimate form of this blessing is the Good News, practically speaking a key part of this blessing is to fix things that have gone wrong: to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, heal the sick, comfort the oppressed, release the captives (Matthew 25, Isaiah 58, etc).
Believers, who collectively form the church (ekklesia), should therefore be very concerned with how we might be a blessing. I am so very happy that much of the recent literature on Startups has come into being, because the current ‘Entrepreneurial’ phase of our culture shows us how a small band or group can have an outsized impact on the world.
There are three ways where broadscale change can be effected. To get us thinking about how we can be a blessing, I’m going to outline these three ways.
First, we can make a change. We, as individuals, can simply ‘buy’ or ‘execute’ a change. We do this when we sponsor a well, or pay for a medical treatment, or fund the construction of a school, or any other parallel activity. The Gates Foundation is doing this on a massive scale by simply paying for immunization campaigns and other activities to wipe out diseases. Although there is always some team-building and influence-spreading activities related to any large endeavor, this option is marked by the idea that someone with resources can simply act.
Second, we can crowdsource a change. There are two aspects to this. One is to launch some sort of crowd-funded campaign (e.g. a traditional mass fundraising appeal a la World Vision, or a Kickstarter-type appeal). In this model, a small team goes to a big audience, collects money, and then uses the money to accomplish something; if the audience doesn’t give, the thing doesn’t get done (which separates this approach from The Person With Resources approach). A second variation is to launch a campaign to train volunteers to do some kind of activity. Rather than having people donate money, we ask them to donate time. We train them in a specific kind of activity and then mobilize them to create their own teams to implement the activity. Get-out-the-vote and other grassroots political efforts are one example of this (though I’m not saying politics is necessarily a ‘blessing’); people running sports programs in neighborhoods or microenterprise programs in poor areas can be another. Another that springs to mind are people who respond to natural disasters (or mankind-caused disasters like cleaning up after oil spills.) This option is can be summed up as recruiting large numbers of volunteers, training them in a specific action, and training them to go and do it.
Third, we can create communities of change agents. This is where I think the church has the greatest chance of making a difference. Rather than either (a) directly funding/executing a single change or (b) recruiting volunteers to effect a change, option (c) is to create a community in which potential funders and volunteers are ‘birthed.’ Rather than focusing on a single change, we focus on training people to be change-agents for all the changes and fixes and repairs and innovations that need to be launched.
Every community has a vast number of things that can be identified and fixed, from small-scale problems (neighborhood pollution, sports for kids, what have you) to large-scale problems (addictions, crime, corruption, poverty, education, disease). By enabling the communities to take on these individual problems, we are enabling every community to positively change its neighborhood for the better.
Some may think I am focusing on a kind of ‘social gospel’ or on ‘social justice.’ I think theologically the Gospel is important: but once people have become citizens of God’s kingdom, they take on the responsibilities of citizenship. This includes being a blessing now to those around them. We pray for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven, so ought we not to be working for that purpose?