Make a difference? Or make the world different?

Is Our Vision Too Small?
I read an article on the internet recently in which the writer made a critical assessment of world mission efforts during the last 100 years.  He said we had invested our energies in either Gospel outreach or social action and the results in many countries have been Churches dependent on the West for financial help. 

I must admit my first reaction was to be defensive. 

But when the writer went on to explain that people remained dependent because we had not worked intentionally to transform their thinking, I began to understand his point of view.

Is it possible God wants to transform whole communities?
1. God is a transforming God. He transformed darkness and void into light and meaningful forms. Jesus transformed fishermen into Apostles. He healed lepers; gave sight to the blind, and life to the dead! The Holy Spirit transforms believers into His likeness whenever we encounter the Lord. (2 Cor. 4:18)

 2. God called a community of slaves out of Egypt and made them into an example of how He intends every nation to live.  He gave Israel Godly leaders, His Law, His Presence, His guidance and His leadership.  God directed the development of the Nation and led them to a permanent homeland.  God transformed the slave people so they would be a missionary nation on the earth!

 3. The birth of the Church in any community results in significant transformation.  When the Church in Jerusalem was born at Pentecost radical community transformation began. The new believers began sharing their possessions and selling their possessions to give to the poor. (Acts 2:45)  Luke reports, “There were no needy people among them.” (Acts 4:34) Sick people were healed and the dead were sometimes raised. (Acts 5:12)

 4. Wherever the Lord has worked in revival there has been significant social transformation. In Wales, the swearing stopped in the mines and the Hotels were closed. In other places in the United Kingdom community transformation came through newly enlightened social consciences – children released from the workforce and taught in schools; slavery ended; workplace reforms; medical advances and laws adopted that delivered rights and justice to people in many nations. In Fiji, poisoned rivers flowed with new life. Wherever God has worked powerfully there has been wonderful community transformation.

 5. The idea of the Kingdom of God advancing in the world cannot be limited to the preaching of the Gospel and bringing relief to the poor. The Kingdom is the means of transformation! Whenever God works, transformation occurs.  We have seen evidence of personal transformation whenever a new believer is converted. Should we also expect to see evidence of a family transformed – then a workplace transformed – then a whole village or community transformed?  Why do we limit God to the transformation of only one? Could it be that the Western idea of the importance of the individual has blinded us to the possibility of the transformation of whole societies?

What would a transformed community look like?
Ray Bakke, a long-term advocate of the need to transform our cities, outlines seven characteristics of a healthy community from the heart of God (as expressed in Isaiah 65:17-25).

  • Public celebration and happiness (18,19)
  • Public health for children and the aged (20)
  • Housing for all (21)
  • Food for all (22)
  • Meaningful work (22,23)
  • Family support systems (23)
  • Absence of violence (25)

I am sure we could add additional dimensions, but there is enough challenge in Bakke’s list to make us re-evaluate our ministry goals and begin to flow more readily with the Spirit to be God’s light and God’s salt in the world.

What is our vision and what could/should it be?

The question we must ask ourselves is what is the expected result of our efforts?

Some possible answers are:

  1. that individuals will come to Christ
  2. that individuals who come to Christ are discipled
  3. that individuals come to Christ, are discipled, and become actively involved in spreading the Gospel (Church multiplication results)
  4. that individuals come to Christ, are discipled and become actively involved in spreading the Gospel (Church multiplication results) and working to bring transformation to their communities.

If we agree that only answer 4 captures the dimensions of the Kingdom of God as expressed in the spread of the Church in Acts, then we must raise the level of our vision and change our methodology to suit the real goals.

There are implications for those of us at the “front end” of delivering the training for future leaders; there are further implications for those who go out in teams in terms of their expectations and operations; and there are huge implications for the communities and Nations we seek to influence.

What may need to change?
Eric Swanson, describes, “Ten Paradigm Shifts Toward Community Transformation” in his article on  We should consider each of these carefully.

  1. From building walls to building bridges  (Matt 5:13,14)
  2. From measuring attendance to measuring impact (Matt 13:33)
  3. From encouraging the saints to attend the service to equipping the saints for works of service  (Eph 4.11,12)
  4. From “serve us” to service (inward to outward focus) (Mark 10:45)
  5. From duplication of human services and ministries to partnering with existing services and ministries  (Ecclesiastes 4:9)
  6. From fellowship to functional unity  (Philipp 2:2)
  7. From condemning the city to blessing the city and praying for it (Jer.29:7)
  8. From being a minister in a congregation to being a minister in a community (Luke 19:41)
  9. From anecdote and speculation to valid information  (Like Nehemiah in Ch 1 get to know the truth about your community and act on it prayerfully)
  10. From teacher to learner (James 1:19)

 Which of these paradigm shifts connect with you in terms of implementing your vision through training and strategy development?

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