How Does Change Happen?

By Neil Hart

More than ever in South Africa we need active citizenry. When individuals and groups come together with the purpose of creating beneficial, lasting, Kingdom transformation in the lives of communities, it allows for the peace and prosperity of the majority.

At Mergon Foundation have the great joy of working with over 100 ministry partners across Africa and the Middle East whose deep desire it is to bring this kind of change. But how does lasting change happen and why does it take so long?

Commodification

The reality is that we live in an era of the commodification of civic participation. We sign up for an online petition, we buy from certain stores that we believe do good, we give to charities, we stand at a comfortable distance. What should be the beginning of our involvement is often the end. We need more deep involvement.

Worldview shapes how we think about change. This year, I’ve been in the US, China, Africa and the Middle East, four distinctively different worldviews. Theorists have created many assumptions on how worldview influences social change. Some of them are:

  1. Progress – shaped by the futurists, the forward thinkers, humans who want to improve their future. Optimists, individuals who have control over their destinies.
  2. Cycles – as seen through the eyes of historians. Predicable patterns have emerged through time and we will repeat these cycles in a way that shapes our future.
  3. Ideas – clear and compelling thoughts as disseminated by visionaries and articulated through the media. Ideas like ‘abolish slavery’ or ‘Marxism’, which are seeds planted in minds of the masses and frequently watered until change begins to happen.
  4. Conflict and power – two ends of the same continuum. Conflict stemming from uprisings, activists, struggle and justice advocates. Or power from the elite few with money and position who dictate progress or change.

On the African continent, we live in a power/fear worldview, which means we often swing to different sides of the pendulum. Many will believe that they are simply powerless to effect change, yet we also see power-fear manifest as religious control, leading the congregation masses astray. We see the unassailable ‘man of God’ syndrome. In politics we see fear-power as social authority – hierarchical and patriarchal. We suffer the consequences of unaccountable leaders.

Kingdom transformation

At Mergon, we are compelled by the idea of Kingdom transformation. We believe that Jesus came to bring the Kingdom of God to earth and that His Kingdom is advancing through all the difficulties of human living on planet earth.

Systemic change, the kind of deep transformation that Jesus started, happens slowly. Sometimes I think the church suffers from short-term thinking. We are looking to the next conference for change, or the launch of the next worship CD or to our slick media channels. While we can celebrate all these things temporarily, they fall hopelessly short of what the Bible calls us to: “Seek first the Kingdom of God…and all these things will be added”, Matthew 6 refers to a group of people who are un-anxious, have all their basic needs taken care of and who live with the right heart perspective towards money (and by association, power). Contrast this with our present South Africa with the highest Gini coefficient in the world (the measure of income inequality in a nation), people lacking basic needs and such high levels of anxiety that women and children cannot walk the streets in safety. Something must change.

How does Kingdom transformation happen?

1. We know from the New Testament that Kingdom transformation starts bottom up and not top down. Jesus said the least will be the greatest, that the foot-washer would be the most influential. Therefore it starts with the common individual and not the president.

There are various entry points that I see in Kingdom transformation:

  • The Heart – God touches my heart and moves me deeply. I respond to His love by opening my soul to His influence.
  • The Head – God overwhelms and eventually wins my intellectual arguments and I decide to trust His cosmic sovereignty, placing my future in His hands.
  • Power – I see His power at work, either through a healing, a deliverance or the enormity of creation. It confounds my reasoning and I decide to bow my life to His almighty hand.
  • Follow – I start to follow in obedience. The simplest of beginnings. I watch a friend or a friendship group and I grow in my relationship with God. Jesus’ first instruction to His disciples was to follow. Dramatic change happens through simple obedience.

2. Kingdom transformation happens when changed individuals bring cultural change. When a tipping point of families transforms the atmosphere of a village, or when a number of skaters or lawyers influence the heart and mind of their urban ‘tribe’.

This seldom happens fast and it seldom happens in the church. It mostly happens slowly and happens in life. This is the long game and it requires us to take a long-term view.

A recent National Geographic article tells of how Christianity overthrew the Roman Empire. This secular source does not refer to any individual leader or political party with means. Rather it alludes to a groundswell of change. The most powerful human empire that the world has ever known was toppled by transformed individuals bringing cultural change!

I can tell many stories of this kind of change. Of ex-prostitutes bringing transformation within their ‘tribe’ in China or Uganda. Of an adult orphan who is raising funds to build orphanages so that those without parents will feel the love and care that He did not know but found later in a loving Father. I can tell of entrepreneurs who work with other entrepreneurs across many African cities to disciple them to have maximum impact through their business resources, bringing generosity and change. There are so many stories of hope in the nations.

3. Lastly, Kingdom transformation accelerates through unity. We have seen the biggest, most catalytic change happen when people and organisations intentionally unite themselves across boundaries to be of one mind and heart to bring change. This is seldom easy. It requires trust that is given and not waiting for trust earned. Ephesians 4 urges the unity of the saints for the purpose of the maturity of the church. When a united, mature church hits the streets, nothing will hold it back. It will bring the light of deep kingdom transformation into society.

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