Why Be a World Changer?

28 March 2013, 06:00



548769_89971467Am I the only one who gets triggered by the idea of being a world changer?

My news feed is full of calls to be a world changer — all from different camps. One is from the “Truth Project,” another from IHOP (the ministry, not the restaurant), another from YWAM, another from…. well, I could list ten or so different religious organizations, as well as a couple of non-religious ones. Some of these organizations I don’t have a problem with — I have friends who have been truly blessed by them. It’s just this idea that crops up of being a world changer.

Bill Gothard has always had this emphasis in ATI and IBLP (the Advanced Training Institute and Institute in Basic Life Principles), if you will remember — which is probably why it triggers me.

The problem I have is that it is an incredible burden to carry. You don’t realize this at first because it sounds so good. Of course we all want our lives to matter! Of course we all want to do something significant! Of course we all want to make an impact! So we run down this path only to eventually fall with exhaustion and, worse, disillusionment.

Being in my 30s now, I’ve seen what happened to my generation when we tried to lift ourselves to that call. I also saw what happened to the generation slightly younger than myself (those roughly 5 to 6 years younger). Very often this pursuit of significance turns into depression or an identity crisis. Very often one doesn’t even know why they are depressed or going through a “midlife crisis” in their 30s. Though some of my friends have worked it out, from listening to many of their stories it seems to me that the thought that we were supposed to be world changers played a big part in their emotional crisis. We were groomed to make a huge impact. And even after we rejected ATI and its teachings, the compelling need to do something more significant than the average Joe wouldn’t let go of us, and so it drove us into disappointment with our less-than-perfect outcomes.

And now I’m seeing the same problem being recycled for the next generation. A bunch of teens and 20-somethings jump onto the same bandwagon, but they won’t heed my warning.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying we aren’t supposed to aim high. What I’m triggered by is the so-called need for you to do it. Every one of these organizations makes it a call and a spiritual requirement. Every one of them paints the average life in disparaging terms, so that if you are left standing in the average life, you feel like you’ve failed spiritually.

But here’s the beauty of walking with God: if I become who God created me to be simply from my own redeemed desires and delights, I end up connecting with everyone around me in meaningful ways. My friends, family, and I are there for each other, understand each other, and influence each other and everyone around us. Real lasting changes are made as we invest in each other. There is spiritual growth that keeps growing, and this growth lasts a lifetime. This might seem like an average life, but it isn’t. Nothing created by God is average. You begin to see meaning and connectedness in everything.

Contrast this to the many big pushes we made while “changing the world.” We went on mission trips, revival trips, city excursions. We worked with the homeless, inner city kids, and so on. These things are good and very important. I still do these things whenever possible. But lasting change or improvement can be much more rare in these efforts. Why? Because long-term relationships — lifetime relationships — weren’t feasible in these short moments.

As an example, my wife went to be a “world changer” with one particular organization when she was a teen. She spent a summer at an orphanage in India, formed precious relationships with those kids, and seemed to make a difference in their lives. But eventually she had to come back to the States. She implored people for help to either adopt or be some sort of presence in these kids’ lives. But without long-term relationships, the children eventually slipped back into their old life. This discouraged her to no end.

If you want to be a world changer, love those well whom you work for, live with, and care for. This creates a chain reaction that changes the world more than anything else. In other words, don’t worry about being a world changer. Give up the endless striving for spiritual importance. Give that burden back to God and just focus on being who and what He made you to be, right where He’s placed you now. If God has currently placed you in Small Town, USA, instead of Calcutta, India, keep loving Him with all your heart and love those around you. Isn’t this what the apostles taught in the New Testament? Settle down and live a peaceable life. Let people see the hope you have and the person God has created you to be. Focus your primary efforts on the long-term relationships in your everyday life, and do those extra charitable acts of service as you are able and as God gives you the desire.

Don’t get caught in the spiritual trap of feeling guilty for not doing more to change the world. If God wants you to go out and do more, He will give you the desire, or call you to it explicitly, through the leading of the Holy Spirit. But please don’t allow anyone else to load you down with false guilt, or burden you to become their idea of a world changer (which sadly is often just a call for you to staff their own little kingdom and programs).

Love God and love others — and you will do more than change this world. You will become exactly who God has created you to be.

Jonathan's family spent 7 years in ATI. While in the program, he took all the teachings to heart, eventually becoming a devout Gothard and IBLP apologist. Finally he hit a point where he realized that, despite his best efforts, he could never fully measure up. He sank into a series of failures and depression, and was on the brink of suicide when God reached into his heart and radically revealed His grace and mercy. Jonathan now lives with a heart set free to love God fully, walking in dependence on the Holy Spirit without fear of condemnation. He and his wife have four beautiful children, and together they find joy in loving God and loving others exactly where He has placed them in Small Town, USA.

All articles on this site reflect the views of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of other Recovering Grace contributors or the leadership of the site. Students who have survived Gothardism tend to end up at a wide variety of places on the spiritual and theological spectrum, thus the diversity of opinions expressed on this website reflects that. For our official statement of beliefs, click here.


  1. Ileata March 28, 2013 Reply

    This is so spot on. The way we were taught to be so significant has made normal life difficult. I think we were really taught a form of idolatry. The focus is on us and what we do rather than on Christ and Who He is.

  2. Tangent March 28, 2013 Reply

    This is a wonderful truth that the Lord is teaching me now! You express it so well in this article.

  3. Cricket March 28, 2013 Reply

    So true!

    • Cricket March 28, 2013 Reply

      And so many of us becone disallusioned as we entered out late twenties and early thirties. We were told that we could change the world. We were told that if we only followed all the rules and were yielded to God, we (emphasis on the we) would do great things for God. And when we didnt' becoem the pastor of a mega-church or get called to be a suffering missionary in deepest, darkest Africa, we felt betrayed. Where are all the great things that we were going to do? Why isn't God using us to do big, noticeable by men works so that all would look and see how God uses those who are yeilded?

      Why could we not see how much pride and how little true yielding was involved?

      • Cricket April 3, 2013 Reply

        "It's not what I want to do for God, but rather that I am available for what God wants to do through me." ~ Blackaby

  4. Thomas March 28, 2013 Reply

    This post makes me think of the song "Did Not Save The World Today" by Allen Levi:

    I did not save the world today
    Or change the course of history
    I walked the small and quiet way
    The life that God has given me

    I woke up with the morning sun
    I sat a while to think and pray
    I did my work till the day was done
    But I did not save the world today

    But I tried to live with gratitude
    To do the good that I could do
    To love the people close to me
    My neighbors and my family
    To share the kindness I’ve been shown
    To trust the Love that is my home
    To celebrate the tiny part I play
    But I did not save the world today

    I hear the politicians speak
    Such big ideas and lofty claims
    My life to theirs seems small and weak
    But in God’s big hand we weigh the same

    And the saints and the poets seem to know
    They know the law behind the ocean tide
    This world gets changed and moved along
    By little gestures multiplied

    So I try to live with gratitude
    To do the good that I can do
    To love the people close to me
    My neighbors and my family
    To share the kindness I’ve been shown
    To trust the Love that is my home
    To celebrate the tiny part I play
    But I did not save the world today

    There's no youtube video or I'd post it, but it's on iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/did-not-save-the-world-today/id293405116?i=293405150

    • WendyA March 29, 2013 Reply

      Thomas, your song post remind me of a poem I read many years ago. I've seen it attributed both to Brother Lawrence and to a 19-year-old scullery maid in 1920s England. Either way, it would be nice to see such things shared as a way to show that even the most humble of tasks can be elevated to holiness by our attitude toward them. SOMEONE has to get the meals and wash the plates. :-)

      Lord of all pots and pans and things,
      Since I've no time to be
      A saint by doing lovely things or
      Watching late with thee,
      Or dreaming in the twilight or
      Storming heaven's gates.
      Make me a saint by getting meals and
      Washing up the plates.

      Although I must have Martha's hands,
      I have a Mary mind, and,
      When I black the boots and shoes,
      Thy sandals, Lord, I find.
      I think of how they trod the earth
      What time I scrub the floor,
      Accept this meditation, Lord,
      I haven't time for more.

      Warm all the kitchen with thy love,
      And light it with thy peace,
      Forgive me all my worrying
      And make all grumbling cease.
      Thou who didst love to give men food
      In room or by the sea
      Accept this service that I do ---
      I do it unto thee.

    • Eliza March 31, 2013 Reply

      Love the words to this song! Thanks so much for sharing it.

  5. Mercy March 28, 2013 Reply

    What an awesome article! Thank you for sharing it. I can truly relate.

    I would like to recommend the book "Significant Work: Discover the Extraordinary Worth of What You do Every Day" by Paul Rude which encourages people who may think that they're somehow less worthy because they're not in full-time ministry and instead reassures us that we can glorify God in whatever place or job we found ourselves in.

  6. Gracekissed March 28, 2013 Reply

    Wow, thank you for this. Excellent thoughts for every Christian, because I think we all feel this pressure, ATI or not.

  7. Abigail March 29, 2013 Reply

    Its a horrible thing to awaken one day and discover you are ordinary. Not the best, not the brightest and in a room full of people you are at best mediocre. You feel so alone and its not because you are at the top its because you have no abilty to interact with others. Being the brightest of the bright is a heavy burden. Thanks for the article. It spoke to me.

  8. Chris Symonds March 29, 2013 Reply

    In Australia I worked for a Para-Church group the thing i found was how they were condescending of those who had relatively normal jobs and lives. I spent two years sacrificing all my income ton the cause for ever striving for that level of achievement and recognition. We sought the approval of or leaders but it seemed only those who did as they were told (yes men ever got anywhere.

    Ralph D Winter wrote quite condescendingly of the church which he described as a modality and those in the mission field as a Sodality.
    Modality those who made a decision but stayed babies and weren't serious.

    Sodality is those who made a second decision beyond regeneration and higher commitment to Christ going beyond Church affiliation

  9. esbee March 29, 2013 Reply

    Much of this world changing emphasis came from the world making so many rules against sharing Christianity I have had to face it as a public school teacher,here is my take on the p.c. situation---

    when I am standing in line to be judged and God asks why didn't I share my faith more with others and I say because men made rules I should not do so or I might get fired or worse- God will point down the line and say" You mean those men standing in line just down from you?"

  10. esbee March 29, 2013 Reply

    so true!!! a friend once told me what if when you went to church and heard a preacher preaching that the message was confirming something God had already told you?

    when our church went through a split over 20 plus years ago, in one of the services the music leader broke down and cried because he could not handle all the problems we were burdening him with like asking for help like he was the one who had all the answers. (even though this is what the church taught about not to do anything without approval of the church authorities- we were very much gpthardized)

    At that time I found a psalm- encourage yourself in the lord- which helped me back away from that way of living a christian life.

  11. Wendy March 30, 2013 Reply

    Yes, yes, yes. This article is so true. In our culture today there are so many voices clamoring to be heard, acknowledged, and obeyed (through radio, tv, podcasts, print media, conferences, etc). I think about what it would have been like for the Christians who lived and settled this nation before the media-age. I like to think they were possibly more concerned with carving out a life for their families and building up and supporting their communities. Did they feel guilty for not living a BIG LIFE! They did not have a gazillion para-church organizations to be involved with (not criticizing those).

    The one most important voice to listen to is the voice of the Holy Spirit.

    Also, in spite of the stated goals for 'doing great things,' the BG style of parenting does not produce individuals who are confident risk-takers and go-getters. The over emphasis on obedience and making sure one is under the proper authority throughout one's entire growing up experience seem to create a child-like adult. Add to that the fear of making mistakes, the fear of sinning, and the fear of displeasing God, and one is hesitant to pursue the new and unfamiliar. At least, that was my experience. I watched how all my younger siblings struggled through their 20's and even into their thirties. Especially my brothers who were supposed to be strong, confident, leadership oriented adults. They were told they would have successful careers while leading their families in righteous ness but they were not given the tools to do so.

    The people I know who are doing 'great things' had a LOT LONGER leash as children and the process to transitioning to adulthood began much earlier in life. They are raising their children the same way (yes, I took notes and raised my young people differently. To the shock of my mother, the results have been beyond my expectations. God is faithful!).

    Finally, I realize that people speak passionately about their passions but that doesn't mean one should jump on board with every persuasive speaker who comes along. Nor should one feel guilty about that. There have been some speakers who do use guilt and manipulation to try to get people on board with their ideas and that is a HUGE red flag.

    • Chris Symonds April 3, 2013 Reply

      I was thinking about your comment on child like adults. I think its more and attempt by BG to keep adults children while stifling any individuality, creativity and spontaneity.

  12. Eliza March 31, 2013 Reply

    Right on. I totally identify with this!

  13. An Ordinary Christian April 1, 2013 Reply

    So, SO true! Where's the "LOVE" button? For the article, the song, the prayer, and the posts. FYI, I'm a career missionary, and even though everyone expects you to change the world (after all, that's why they sacrifice to support you?), it's not a pressure you can live with.

    On moving to the missions field, the first thing I had to deal with was the realization that there's no way I can change this city, let alone this country or the world. Since then, it's a daily battle to remember that God is the one who changes hearts. I can't even save a child or keep my dearest friend from committing suicide. All I can do is be faithful. Most people might be surprised to realize how much of "missions" is actually doing what pretty much every Christian does day to day. We bring our couple of fish and loaves. It's when it's out of our hands and in Jesus' hands that the miracle happens.

  14. Hurting April 3, 2013 Reply

    On the flip-side there are those who try to make us feel guilty for trying "to change the world." I am trying to forget having a conversation with someone about mission trips being a legitimate part of the Great Commission. After they condescendingly said "I hope you have fun on your little trip to (a country God has give you a love for)", kept distracting from the conversations by saying some mission trips look like parties in the Bahamas, and showing me a video with a guy literally yelling Gothard-style legalistic, judgmental and ad hominem attacks on those who go on missions rips, turned around and called me legalistic and judgmental. There were faults on both sides, but that did not justify what happened next: the authorities at the IBLP location begin to discourage and question doing things for the Lord while spiritually and emotionally abusing me.
    Yes, there is diffidently room for improvement in both witnessing in Small Town USA and in foreign lands, but both forms of witness are commanded by Jesus. Be content to be a witness in Small Town USA but never let it discourage you from following God's call of global gospel proclamation.
    Just a few thoughtful questions to consider:
    Why do we condemn each other over how we share the gospel of love?
    How can we be legalist about sharing the gospel of grace?
    Why do we judge each other's action of sharing the gospel of peace?
    Why are we biting and devouring each other over sharing the gospel of forgiveness?
    Do we realize that our constant criticizing of other's witnessing is sometimes a bad witness?
    Grace and Peace in Jesus Christ.

  15. Blest April 14, 2013 Reply

    Jonathan said, “Every one of them paints the average life in disparaging terms, so that if you are left standing in the average life, you feel like you’ve failed spiritually.”

    I recently listened to an Alistair Begg sermon, where he mentioned talking to another pastor who asked him if he was having a revival soon. He snarkily said to his congregation, “I guess I should have told him we’d schedule one for Thursday”, but what he really said to that pastor was, “well, we are praying that God will bring revival”. His point was that God, not man, makes revival, and the idea that “our revival starts at Wednesday night service and goes to Sunday” is not what God or the Bible means when it uses the term “revival”.

    The same is true of any calling, whether a corporate revival, or individual life calling. They are all the callings of GOD, not of some board of directors at a ministry.

    God calls some people, like Saul of Tarsus, to great and earth changing things. Eph 1:1 says Paul was not an apostle of men, nor was he called by men, but he was an apostle of God, and he was called by God.

    And God calls some people, like Timothy, or the pastor of your local congregation, to lesser influence, though it may still be greater than the average person’s influence.

    And God calls some people, like Priscilla and Acquila to even lesser influence, within their own house.

    And He calls some to very narrowed influence, such as Tryphena and Tryphosa.

    The notion that everyone is “called” to somehow change the world on a large scale is unbiblical. It is also used very effectively by the devil to keep us running after “service” that God has not called us to, and at which we will be ineffective and burn out, because we will not have His energizing power while we do it.

    Hurting, when the person you were talking to said “I hope you have fun on your little trip to (a country God has give you a love for)", they meant it mockingly, but they unwittingly hit the nail on the head about one important indicator of God’s calling vs man's. God leads, He doesn’t push. And He doesn’t lead with guilt-trips, which is another sign of the devil’s schemes at work. God leads by shedding peace on us in where He’s leading us to, whether it be to a nation, or to the guy working at the loom next to us in the textile factory. That is, He gives us a love for the very thing or people He’s calling us to.

    Paul couldn’t fathom not preaching the gospel (1 Cor 9:16). A person called by God to India will be heartbroken to not go, and heartbroken to leave. And a person called by God to their office coworkers, if he then listens to the callings of men rather than God, will go to a foreign mission field out of pressure and feelings of guilt, not out of love for those they are going to.

    Only the schemes of the devil make us feel guilty, or pressured, or always needing to do “something else”.

  16. Lynn April 15, 2013 Reply

    "And how can they go unless they be sent." Some of us are senders and prayer warriors.

  17. Kin May 3, 2013 Reply

    Admin - I posted a comment here earlier, but I guess it didn't make it through moderation? Please check on that? Thanks!!

    • Administrator May 4, 2013 Reply

      Hi Kin, It's not being held for moderation. I double-checked our spam folder and it's not there either. So sorry---it must not have gone through.

      • Kin May 4, 2013 Reply

        Ok thanks for checking for me I appreciate it!

    • Heather May 4, 2013 Reply

      I've had comments that didn't go through either, sometimes something weird happens. Try submitting it again.

      • Kin May 4, 2013 Reply

        will do thanks

  18. Kin May 4, 2013 Reply

    "Changing the world" is such a nebulous term, it can literally mean anything to anyone. And therein lies it's power to influence. They imply that you should be doing SOMETHING, but never define exactly WHAT.

    The goal is to motivate you to make a decision, and hopefully you'll make the decision to join with the group that elicits that decision.

    Some men naturally change the world as if they were born to it, some change the world on accident as a by-product of an invention or discovery, some change the world oblivious to their own influence... there is no set pattern here.

    For the Child of the Kingdom the Gospel is clear, the Will of the Father is to be conformed to the image of Christ the Son, through the transforming of our mind through the Spirit's leading through the Word.

    The focus is to become "like Christ" - NOT "change the world" - you will not find the concept of "world changer" in the Scripture, you DO find the concept of "Kingdom Work" which is the spreading of the Gospel of the Kingdom, and obediance the Father. The men of the world are Born Anew through the Grace of God, and we are given the opportunity to be a part of this process IF we dedicate our lives to the spreading of God's Kingdom in the hearts of men.

    And the world is changed, not by us, but by the Grace of God.

    • MatthewS May 4, 2013 Reply

      Great comment! and great point about that phrase.

      It seems to me that nebulous phrases such as "changing the world" are helpful terms for scaring people with their own fears and inadequacies and for selling them their own hopes and dreams at a profit.

      • Kin May 4, 2013 Reply

        The natural man is lazy, and so our tendency is to look for pre-fashioned, pre-packaged, prepared-for-us options. We naturally look around for those who seem to "have it all together" or those who are "doing it right" and we try to copy, clone, steal & borrow whatever we can, without thought as to the future consequences.

        Even worse than this, we passively accept common worldviews, paradigms & philosophies of the day, influenced by the culture and religiosity throughout the land.

        Taking every thought captive does means EVERY THOUGHT. "Where did this thought come from? Why do I feel it's true? Why do I think this way?"

        Try doing that for just one day, and marvel at how many of our thoughts are NOT our own - they have their source outside of us and we've blindly accepted these assumptions to be true. "That's the way it is!"

        This again is the power of cunning doctrine, cleverly crafted to "seem right" to our eyes. It is the broad way indeed - and many there be that travel that road.

        We would do well to follow the example of the Pilgrims in Pilgrim's Progress who constantly discussed and explored their understanding of doctrine while they traveled the road to the Celestial City.

      • Kin May 4, 2013 Reply

        I would also also like to point out that very few people immediately ask "WHY do you say that? WHY is this so?" when presented with information.

        Our FIRST reaction to ANY doctrine from man SHOULD BE to ask WHY?

        Sadly many people feel this is wrong to do... even in the so-called "homeschools" - children are taught to "obey first, ask why later." That is not the model in the Scripture. Our Father gives us the reason why WITH the command!!

        "Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right. Honour thy father and mother; which is the first commandment with promise; That it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth."

        So when people ask you "Don't you want to change the world?" you should ask them, "Why do you say that I should want to change the world?"

        Keep asking why, why, why, why, why - there is no other way to know.

        Also, thank you MatthewS for your comment. :D

  19. rob war December 6, 2014 Reply

    I heard a former pastor say once, "God must love ordinary people because He made so many". Reading this article and the responses made me realize how glad that I've been away from this stuff for a long time. I read the book "Story of a Soul" by St. Theresa of Liseux. For the majority not familiar with her, she lost her mother a age 5. At age 15, she went into a carmelite monestery where they basically pray all day. She contacted tuberculosis and died at 24. For all intents a purposes, she isn't a successful world changer but her autobiography became a big sensation. In it she discussed that to serve God, we do it in little ways. We do it ordinary everyday actions towards others. To be great, we serve God by being little. It's the little things in life. The little everyday things we do with love towards others is how we serve God. It not to be some kind of big spiritual world changer, but our basic normal , ordinary lives in trying to serve others with love for God. This is the opposite of Bill Gothard and his big ego and this ungodly unrealistic pressure he put on others in this area.

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