You’re Probably Not Going to Change the World… Get Over It

I remember as a youth pastor that I had a fair swag of ‘you can change the world’ sermons in my kit bag. It was a regular theme in my own communication and in most of the talks that I heard other youth speakers give. I even got pretty good at it!

The basic gist was that God wants to do extraordinary things in this world thru you. And if you were in touch with him then you would be able to be a ‘history maker’ or a ‘world changer’ or a ‘person of prominence’ or…some other equally wanky term.

You know the deal?

I remember when I was giving those talks I really believed what I was saying to be true. However today I am less inclined to believe that I or you will actually tilt the earth on its axis one way or another. In fact chances are that God doesn’t

want you to be a Martin Luther King or a Nelson Mandela. Chances are you will live a life of indescribable ordinariness and apparent insignificance….

And I’d like to say ‘that’s ok’. Most of us are ordinary people, living ordinary lives in ordinary communities and it is extremely unlikely we will ever be world leaders or superheroes.

The problem with the rhetoric of ‘you can change the world’ is that if you don’t, then you can feel like a failure – like your measly suburban life really doesn’t count for much at all and you are a nobody in the scheme of things, or maybe you have missed ‘God’s best’ for you. (just to keep the jargon rolling 🙂 )

“My pastor told me I was made for greatness… that I could change the world… and all I do is change people’s sprinklers…”

When we speak about people like David or Gideon or Paul, or other biblical heroes and suggest that it is our responsibility to live lives of similar consequence then – while I would agree that it is a possibility some of us will be world changers – I would also suggest we disempower people from fully living the life they have been given.

When we suggest that God has a destiny for us that is much greater than humble suburban living we inevitably finish up with people who live perpetually dissatisfied with life as it is right now and who are constantly waiting for their ‘moment’, when the planets align, when they are ‘called up’ by God and when they get to shine.

In the mean time life – real life – goes on and passes us by… and if that day never comes we wonder what all the fuss was about… all those prophetic words we were given…

My message these days is that God does

want to use your life in all of it beautiful ordinariness and simplicity and while you may never be written up as a hero of faith, you will get to live a life of great meaning and significance if you can view your weekly endeavours thru a different lens.

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18 thoughts on “You’re Probably Not Going to Change the World… Get Over It

  1. I remember singing the song “History Maker” and realizing that the song is a self-centred attempt to put me in the centre of the universe as an agent of change. It has very little to do with Jesus.

    In the end our lives are to revolve around the God/bloke who changes people for his glory through the shameful and despicable means of the Roman cross and will one day make a very striking entrance in the world to judge all people and finalize their destiny.

    In God’s mercy (2 Cor 4:1ff)our mission in between his death/resurrection and return is to proclaim and live the gospel through our lives whether it be as a toilet cleaner, petro-chemical engineer or a stay at home dad/mum.

  2. I don’t have a problem with people being encouraged to be extraordinary within the ordinary – in fact i would suggest that is what we are called to.

    The problem and disillusionment comes when we have equated being extraordinary with becoming prominent and so end up only celebrating famous history makers; something they (the Mandela’s, Mother T’s etc) themselves would object to. I am certain their goal was never prominence and fame, as if their lives were only valuable because they became recognised.

    To be extraordinary is to go beyond that which is usual, regular, or customary – in a world that sees the majority loudly leading with greed, selfishness, injustice, and revenge the extraordinary ones will serve, love, give, and protect and in the most case this will be done with quiet resistant strength.

    Hamo, you push back against the “wanky” terms of “History Maker”, “World Changer” and “People of Prominence”, i guess for me it is the last one of the three where the problem lies.

  3. One of my most favourite quotes, and something I remind myself of daily… it helps me to keep on acting to change the world (in very ordinary ways) without feeling disempowered.

    “I can’t change the whole world.

    But I can change my 1/6,000,000,000th of it”

  4. Good post. This is something I’ve struggled with for a long time. I think all followers of Jesus are capable of “changing the world” but not in the way most of us have been encouraged to think of it.

    It is, in seemingly inconsequential ways – by involving oursleves in the lives of others and making our little slices of the world better places to live – that ultimately we will impact the world for the better.

    This is one of the simple-yet-revolutionary aspects of the gospel.

    It’s like the parable of the yeast (Matt 13:33) – all the little, seemingly innocuous actions of Christ’s followers, when combined will be of global, even universal significance.

    While I agree, we shouldn’t be encouraging people to seek profile or accolades (no more superstar Christians PLEASE!), we can encourage disciples to see the significance in the small things, the ordinariness of daily living and the way the small things add up and are used by God in significant ways.

  5. Great post Hamo. Have you read Alain De Botton’s book Status Anxiety (also a TV series)? He looks at how this enlightenment idea that we could be anyone and do anything leaves us deeply unsatisfied with the everyday – just like you’re saying. Despite not being a Christian, he sees the church as a potential antidote – but the humble, bumbling parish church rather than the ‘success’ orientated American style church.

  6. When I saw the title and the pic, I thought it was an Obama-Mandela composite, implying that the former cannot change the world as much as people hope.

    I often say “Don’t aim to be someone great; aim to do great things”.

    What the Church needs now is people who know that money I earn is not just for me and my little family; I’m part of a big worldwide family (most of whom have less money than I). I maintain that ordinary Christians reordering financial priorities will make history, although God’s little heroes will never get their names in the history books.

  7. Trav – I have no problem with people being the best they can be, but the implication that you will be the next Mandela, MLK etc is what concerns me.

    In my mind there is an image that goes alongside that rhetoric and I find it unhelpful.

    By all means step up, do your best etc, but I get the feeling that we have communicated that greatness = celebrity or fame or that a book wll be writtena bout you.

  8. I love that Peter speaks first to the slaves then to the free women and men. This says two things, that the lives of slaves matter and that the powerful should follow them. You’re right the Church is often focused on telling people they can be powerful.

    – Peace

  9. But are there not plenty of Mandelas out there, who do awesome things, but never get the recognition?

    To be frank, I find your post a little depressing actually….I believe in a God who can do the impossible through clay vessels.

    I agree with the sentiment that youth leaders should not be ‘hyping’ up the place with unrealistic expectations, but in my view, you might be throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

    I believe in hope, faith and love…. 🙂

    As I think Travis may be alluding to, we can be world changers with the power of the Holy Spirit, but that does not mean we will be prominent, nor should we seek that…and maybe some messages have tickled at that fancy.

  10. “But are there not plenty of Mandelas out there, who do awesome things, but never get the recognition?”

    No – there aren’t!

    There are plenty of people living full ordinary lives, but the people who have shaped the course of history are unique and rare.

    I am tired of the hype and nonsense that says you can be something you aren’t.

    I agree with you Mark that God uses clay jars – absolutely – but it doesn’t mean the clay jar becomes the crown jewels.

    On odd occasions it will mean that, but those people are rare.

  11. Perhaps a quote from Hudson Taylor is useful here, “God takes ordinary people and does extraordinary things through them if they are willing”

    or William Carey, “I was only a plodder”

    or a friend of mine, “Potential is nothing done yet”


  12. Significance — we all yearn for it. But with our fallen nature, what it means is that we ignore Jesus’ teaching that “the greatest among you must be the servant of all”.

    In this world, adulation may or may not come (and when it does, it’s a real pain: ask any celebrity). But as a couple of posts have already noted, that’s quite a different thing to significance.

    What gives the Christian significance/ greatness? This: that Jesus Christ died and rose for me. Nothing this world offers comes within a coo-ee.

    So that when I want to know if I’m significant to God, I don’t have to try and find the latest little ‘miracle’ in my life that proves I still matter to him. I just need to remind myself of the cross, that there our great God gave his Son so that I might be freed from my sins.

    For the Christian, then, the matter of significance is settled at the cross, in two ways:

    (i) Jesus died and rose for me: so God thinks I’m significant. We are loved with an everlasting love.

    (ii) To become great, I follow Jesus in giving my life as a servant, even as he did on the cross.

    I know we all know this (well, I hope we do!); it’s kind-of basic, and I don’t mean to patronise anyone. I guess I’m writing to keep hammering it into my own thick skull more than anything else.

    [As far as changing the world goes, who of us can really tell what is “world changing”? Only God is the judge on that front. I’ve always liked the idea that a butterfly beating its wings in the Amazon somewhere, can cause an earthquake on the other side of the globe. Another encouraging thought for those of us who feel jammed into ‘insignificance’!]

  13. Butterflies causing earthquakes?

    Oh great – now I gotta go round stomping on butterflies!!

    I think you make some excellent points, Mike – but I’m not sure that all ‘get it’ like you do. Some people just seem really content to know that God is God and therefore, it’s all cool, regardless of how clever (or not) we are. Others seem to have a personality that drives them to prove it… to themselves, to others… to God perhaps?

    I’m never quite sure of what to do with these people. I like to encourage, but sometimes I get the urge to ‘do to them as the butterfly’… very frustrating, but you’re right – it’s just another manifestation of the human condition.

    How about frogs, Mike? Do Frogs cause earthquakes?


  14. G’day Toddy,

    Why do you ask about frogs only?! How about gnus? yaks? why are you so obsessed with frogs?! 🙂

    But seriously, I’m not sure I get it when you say that you’re “not sure that all ‘get it’ like [I] do”.

    So in the interests of clarity, can you explain how the death of Jesus for us doesn’t necessarily impart significance to our lives?

    I’m not trying to be clever or combative, Toddy… it’s just that for the life of me I can’t see where you’re coming from!

    The cross is the objective reality that puts the question of our worth out of the subjective realm of feelings or guesswork on our part. For at the cross, we have the mercy of God lavished upon on us, don’t we? What’s not to ‘get’? Help me here!



  15. Sorry Mike – tried to be funny & serious in the same post… I must refrain from mixing my genres!

    I was trying to suggest that your comment “What gives the Christian significance/ greatness? This: that Jesus Christ died and rose for me. Nothing this world offers comes within a coo-ee.” was as close to descriptive perfection as I could imagine.

    It’s what my faith is based on, not on stuff I see, miracles I hear about or workshops that show me how to slow my heart rate down without even trying.

    HOWEVER – there seem to be a bunch of people who need the seeing, the miraculous and the workshops to lift their faith above their ankles.

    I get frustrated with these people, because they don’t seem to get the ‘basics’ that you aluded to.

    It is these basics that sustained Daniel in between prophetic visions… sustained Paul when he just had to walk for miles with nothing interesting to write about, and sustained David when he wasn’t allowed to build the temple – just a down to earth relationship with God, and a solid understanding that God isn’t God because He does flash miracles; He is God because He can save us from eternal separation from Himself.

    It IS basic. I just wish more Christians that I know got that.

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