Usually, the call to be world-transformers comes from church leaders: pastors and theologians. It comes in different forms. Sometimes it’s the biblically defensible application of Christ’s announcement that his church is a city on a hill, his followers “salt and light” in the world. They are to be what they are where God has placed them, in their many different callings in life.
On other occasions, though, it is a more general and somewhat vague but nevertheless urgent call to a deeper, broader, and collective activism. On the right, it tends to be a call to greater personal and public morality. Reacting against a familiar agenda, many younger evangelicals don’t want to be the Fox Network at prayer; whatever their politics, they want to make a difference in the world by radical discipleship, sacrificing their personal comforts for suffering neighbors at home and around the world. No doubt sociological demographics plays a role in where one lands. Younger people, either single or without children, are freer to focus their energies on a broader range of neighbors, while later they find themselves focusing on the family, both at home and in the public square.
Maybe the obsession reveals more about the dangers of ministers stewing in our own juices—perhaps even suffocating in the caverns of regular ministry—that we don’t get out much. But what about their parishioners? Is the most important thing we have to say to them that they are not making a difference in the world, making touchdowns for Jesus, and transforming culture?
Think of the nurse who dragged herself out of bed to attend the means of grace after having worked a fifteen-hour shift. Ministers shouldn’t feel guilty for not having cared for the physical needs of hundreds of neighbors in the hospital this last week. But why should they load down this nurse for failing to “live her faith” because she extended hours of neighbor-love in her ordinary vocation rather than as an identifiable church-related “ministry”?
Or picture the parents of 4 children, one of whom has a rare blood disease. They both work tirelessly, one outside the home, loving and serving neighbors. They would like to have more friends and open up their home. Stirred by the opportunities and needs to volunteer for all sorts of good causes, they find that all of their time, energy, and resources go to caring for their family. Are they world-changers? Should they be giving more time to “finding their ministry” in the church, so that the church can receive the credit for having an impact on the community?
I also think of the banker who came to church today. On Thursday he stretched the “best practices” a bit to extend a low-interest loan to a responsible but disadvantaged young family for their first home.
I picture the mom and dad who, though tired at the end of a busy day, read Scripture and prayed with their children and then tucked them into bed with an imagination-building story.
A Sunday school teacher who labored over the lesson in between working two jobs, the high schooler whose vocation is to learn, grow, and assume civic as well as church responsibilities, the struggling artist who makes us all stop to imagine ourselves and our place in the world a little differently, the lawyer who prosecutes the claims of justice and defends the rights of the accused—who just this past week offered pro bono hours to a victim who couldn’t afford legal advice.
On and on I could go. Are these folks your platoon for your own vision of having an important ministry that changes your community and your world? Is it not enough to “aspire to live quietly, to mind your own affairs, and to work well with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one” (1 Thess 4:11-12)? To love and serve our neighbors—especially those nearest to and most dependent on us—regardless of the burden?
Sure, there are the Wilberforces who can truly be said to have changed the world. However, they did so in their worldly callings as believers and neighbors. It’s what James Hunter calls “faithful presence.” Moreover, they don’t set out to change the world but to live out their identity in Christ where they are in all sorts of ordinary ways that sometimes turn out to present extraordinary moments of extraordinary opportunities for extraordinary service. Rosa Parks got up one morning (December 1, 1955) in Montgomery, Alabama, and got on the bus as she usually did, only this time she refused to sit in the back as she was expected to do. She didn’t set out to become “the mother of the freedom movement” or “the first lady of civil rights,” but she was the right person, with the right convictions and character, in the right place, at the right time.
Now, all of these people are there before you. After their long week, filled with the hopes and fears of this present age, they are longing to hear something new, that they have not—could not—hear from the various institutions, media, and personalities they’ve encountered over the last six days. There are single people who are struggling with their relationships, wondering if they will always be lonely—and whether they’re to blame. Others are struggling in their marriages, troubled by the way their children seem to ignore them, wrestling with real possibility that one or both of them will be laid off at work. You are Christ’s ambassador, entrusted with his words. You dare not speak in his name, except for the fact that he authorized and commanded you to do so. What will you say?