Why Be a World Changer?

28 March 2013, 06:00

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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.

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