We all desire change in some form, whether it be our careers, finances, relationships, health, etc. In sum, change is at center of our everyday lives. However, what exactly is change? Why do we need it? How do you go about achieving it? As an academic whose research interests center on social and institutional change, these are questions I regularly attempt to answer. Reflecting on my 2016, below I briefly discuss these three questions as it relates to a “change” effort I currently lead.
A little background info. Those who know me recognize my Christian faith plays an integral role in my life. In fact, my faith is what ultimately led me to my research in that I believe the Bible is the very foundation for justice, with Jesus being the greatest example of a social and institutional change agent; and as Christians, we are called to emulate Jesus in every way. As fallible beings, we fall short daily, but if He is our true and one standard to live up to, it is only right that we, too, be change agents.
THE WHAT—As noted above, change comes in various forms. The foremost type of change I’m interested in is the change that occurs in one’s heart when they decide to give their life to Jesus. In my opinion, there’s no greater freedom than when one gives their life to Jesus. Accordingly, my lovely wife and I started a life group, comprised of co-ed college-aged students, in an effort to highlight the change God can do in them (and through them) if they give their full and entire selves to Him. In short, we host bi-weekly gatherings at our house where we eat, play games, laugh, and discuss best practices for living a Christian lifestyle. It’s a crucial point in each of their lives, and we hope to provide some Godly wisdom during their stay here. We went into the process with the mindset that if we could positively impact merely one person, we’d be happy. We’ve thoroughly enjoyed the experience, and to date, our most joyful moments have been those people who consider themselves “un-churched” and reveal to us how the group has guided them either back to living for Christ or living for Him for the first time. Case in point:
I loved the laid back atmosphere and I wasn’t nervous to participate at all. I felt like I was in a room with friends that I was comfortable with, even though I just met them. Just meeting with everyone tonight, and hearing everyone’s stories and struggles, made me want to start praying again.
THE WHY—I’m often asked, “Why would you do such a thing? Invite students into your home, feed them your food, etc…” Well, it’s quite simple, actually. When God puts something on your heart, you do it! Not to mention, through Jesus’ Great Commission (i.e., basically His last meaningful words in terms of instruction), He instructs us to go and make disciples (Matthew 28:16-20). He knows Michelle and I are not far removed from being at the same critical point as these students. He called on us to walk with them during this time, knowing we are able to identify and understand the trials that arise during these years and how these trials may affect their walk with Christ.
THE HOW—Academically speaking, we know from research the majority of change efforts fail. Yet, that should not deter someone from trying (see Philippians 4:13). The manner in which the Apostle Paul lived his life (i.e., post-conversion) serves as a great model for those attempting to lead change. In 1 Corinthians 9:19-23, Paul encourages meeting people where they are: “…To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some…” (v. 22) Now, this doesn’t mean conceding one’s convictions in an effort to win people over. In contrast, it means engaging people in their respective social worlds, not judging them, and gaining their confidence and trust in the process of building healthy, authentic relationships with them. So, in our case, it’s not just a matter of having people over for Jesus discussions; it’s bigger than that. It really is about doing life with them, even in the event that they decide not to join us for our gatherings. Churched or un-churched, I love each and every one of them as a baby brother or sister and let them know that both my wife and I are here for them if they need anything. After all, Paul stated “some” in relation to reaching people. There’s an admission that you won’t reach everyone, and that is totally fine. Because what is life if you only love and do for those who love you back and desire the things you want? This is where I feel many Jesus-centered change efforts disappoint. That is, Christians failing to follow Paul’s lead of meeting people where they are and loving them unconditionally, as Jesus loves us. So in sum, perhaps those seeking change should focus less on the complexities of making change and focus more on just loving people and being an illustration of the change they long for. Maybe then you’ll start to see the fruits of your labor, witnessing people walk alongside you, pursuing the change(s) you want. In the end, it’s all about sacrifice (see video below).