I talk about this book at the end…it does relate to my subject.
Can one person make a difference? That’s one question I have been pondering recently. As I told my business partner, it’s ironic for me, since I have spent my entire life working in small things. I grew up in a small town, pastured a small church in a small town, worked at a small radio station, directed a small ministry, taught at 2 small schools, tutored a small number of refugees, and now beginning something that is small, so far anyway. So how do I change the world? On the surface, I might seem to be unbelievably arrogant or simply deluded.
I preached at a small church, earlier this summer, and I just accepted an invitation to return, later this month. I have spoken to many small groups, and they all have similar concerns. They may not want to change the world, but they hope their little group will survive and, in doing so, be viable. I share their concerns. A church is like a family, and no one wants to see their family die out. A church is God’s family, and we also have a sacred obligation to welcome others into the household of faith. Ironically, again, I suspect many Christians wonder doubt they can make any real difference, no matter how often they are told to do it.
A foster parent of some of my refugee students recently admitted she shied away from organized churches because of the meanness of some. I’ve seen bad behavior, I’ve heard about it, and I have experienced it; and I have wondered what I could say that might make a difference. In any event, I would rather market Christian fellowship than try to sell it, up against boring, tradition-bound concepts of church. To many of us try to convince people they must to go to church since God has commanded it; that’s selling and it doesn’t work very well. I would prefer to offer a product, a service actually, that they want and cannot resist; that is marketing. The church needs more of it!
The answer is simple, but the execution is painfully difficult. Make a list of what people want, and then trim it down to what they really need. For this to work, they must need it, see that they need it, and really, really want it. The answer is love. People want and need to be accepted, valued, and cared for. In fact, we need it so much; most of us invest much of our thought and energy to acquiring it, often unsuccessfully and destructively to the very relationships that might provide it.
For a remarkably talented and optimistic fellow, I am very insecure personally. I am intelligent, well educated, and musically talented. I could also make a list of my disappointments and the reasons I suspect are responsible. When I am worn out, over-stressed, or find myself alone too much, I become obsessed with these negatives, at which point I usually drive my friends crazy. I start trying to get love, i.e. time, attention, affirmation, positive reinforcement, something that tells me someone cares. We all need that, so how can it be bad to try to get it?
That’s the problem and the key, I believe, to the future. The problem is that both human nature and our contemporary culture. Both foster a self-focused attitude, one that I am convinced is the primary cause of the high divorce rate, among other things. I am embarrassed to admit that it is also the reason I sometimes act like a jerk; perhaps you do it, too.
People concentrated on getting love tend to be grasping, greedy, needy, and generally unhappy. People who put their thought and effort into loving confirm the truth that it is “more blessed to give than to receive.” The former first try to force their friends and partners to deliver and then look for other partners. Since spouses, parents, children, bosses, employees, church members, and pastors, to name a few, all tend to disappoint and be disappointed in the quest for love, the typical result is dissatisfaction, frustration, complaint, and destruction of relationships and associations of every kind. That’s why the simple truth is also difficult. I can tell you what to do, but I must also confess that I sometimes fail to do it.
Before I attempt to offer a solution, allow me to emphasize why I think this is so incredibly powerful. Albert Einstein is credited with saying that the most powerful force in the universe is compound interest. Compound interest is a practical application of geometric expansion, of what happens if we start with a penny and double it every day (If anyone ever offers to pay you, on this basis, take it! If someone asks you to pay this, prepare to run out of money within weeks!). Loving others is like compound interest, starting with a little can produce enormous results.
Try this experiment (for which I give credit to an old friend, Paul). Smile. Most people will smile back. People will respond in kind to the littlest gestures of friendliness—a smile, a wave, or a bit of encouragement. This is the genius behind random acts of kindness or the “thousand points of light.” A little good goes a long way, and it works far better than the ugliness of our self-centered pursuit of what we want, even if we actually need it.
Why are some churches small? Half of American churches have less than 75 members, and it’s probably because most of them can’t get along with each other. Christians, like every other kind of religious person, fight for what they think is true. Jesus said, “The truth will make you free;” yet, ironically, there’s not much freedom in bickering or backstabbing over personally held opinions of truth. Jesus also said, “As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” The Church has been arguing for centuries, and the world remains unconvinced. I think it’s long overdue for us to try what Jesus recommended, don’t you?
Why haven’t we already done it? This isn’t new or unfamiliar. That’s the difficult part. As I have been thinking about my original question, “How can I, one person, change the world, i.e. make a difference,” I have thought about the work I’m trying to do now, the church where I will be preaching, the people I know and care about, and the foolish, inconsistent way I have behaved recently. It has forced me to face myself and to try to make a commitment.
I want people to care about me. More particularly, I want the people that I care about to care about me, and they already do. I just let my self-absorption, bad memories, insecurity, and fears overwhelm my knowledge and good sense. That part is painful because I know I will do it again and annoy, at the least, hurt perhaps, and alienate, at the worst, the very people I love. At the same time, I will neglect others that I also value and still others who value me, a range of folks from family to acquaintances of different kinds to neighbors to a few odd, even annoying types, who for some reason want something from me, perhaps nothing more than a little love.
What might happen to a little congregation of people who turn this equation around and love people, and genuinely, thoughtfully care for those who live next door or walk through the church doors? I have told many groups that they could fill their empty pews if they would simply love, but I think maybe I have overlooked the difficult part. That’s not an excuse for them or me, but it is something that we need to confess to our Savior and commit ourselves to change, for in changing ourselves, we may then begin to change the world.
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I just finished Blog by Hugh Hewitt, and now I’m reading An Army of Davids. Both make a signficant case for the ability of us folks to influence the big picture. One of our most important freedoms is individual liberty, and it is most threatened by big government, big business, big media, and anything else that is big. Blogs, as representative of the new media, are changing that. As Jeff Jarvis writes, “Small is the new big” http://www.buzzmachine.com/archives/2005_06_06.html. It’s an interesting confirmation of what I believe, in the broader sense.