Everything Must Change: Chapter 4

We’re considering Brian McLaren’s 2007 book Everything Must Change: When the World’s Biggest Problems and Jesus’ Good News Collide.

The young man [a health care worker] continued, “You pastors are …” He hesitated as he raised one outstretched hand toward heaven. “You are causing such destruction in Khayelitsha [a desperately poor area in South Africa]. It reaches to the skies. I know you mean well, but you don’t realize that you cause devastation in the lives of the people among whom I work.”

Eyes widened, pastors shifted in their seats, and the young man continued, “You come to Khayelitsha every Sunday and set up your tents, which is good, but I have listened to your preaching, and you are preoccupied with three things, and three things only. First, you constantly talk about healing. You tell people they can be healed of HIV, and some of them believe you, so they stop taking their medication. When they stop, they develop new resistant strains of the disease that don’t respond as well to the medications, and they spread these tougher infections to other people, leaving them much sicker than they were before. Then you’re always telling the people they need to be born again, but after they’re born again on Sunday, they’re still unemployed on Monday. They may be born again, but what good is that if their problems are the same as before? You know as well as I do that if they’re unemployed, they’re going to be caught in the poverty web of substance abuse, crime and gangs, domestic violence, and HIV. What good is that? All this born-again talk is nothing but nonsense.”

At this, I could see some of the pastors bristling. I wondered if a shouting match would erupt, but the healthcare worker leaned a little farther forward, and the pastors constrained themselves a little longer.

“Then what do you do? After telling these desperately poor people to get born again and healed, then you tell them to tithe. You tell them to `sow financial seed’ into your ministries and they will receive a hundredfold return. But you’re the only ones getting a return on their investment. You could be helping so much. You could motivate people to learn employable skills, you could teach them and help them in so many ways, but it’s always the same thing: healing, getting born again, and tithing.” (pp. 26-27).

Oh, wow. We in the Churches of Christ may be exempt from the faith-healing accusation, but how well do we do with teaching employable skills, with making lives better for our having been there?

Yes, we teach the gospel and save souls, but what kind of gospel doesn’t love its neighbor? And if we love our neighbors, shouldn’t we also work to improve lives on earth as well as lives in heaven?

Now, some readers will doubtlessly correctly point out that there are mission works among the Churches of Christ where the poor are schooled and taught how to overcome their poverty. But these are, in my experience, exceptional missions. Our usual work is to preach the gospel (sometimes a false, divisive gospel), give handouts, paint houses, and go home. We might train preachers, but do we teach the villagers how to live better lives?

(Eph 4:28 ESV)  28 Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.

(I bet you didn’t expect that verse, did you?) You see, if reformed thieves are expected to work to make enough money to share with others, surely the same is true of the poor (if able) — not because they’re like thieves, but because they’re Christians. Working in order to share is a Christian virtue. A true mission success would be to enter a world of poverty, teach the gospel — the entire gospel — and show our love for that community by teaching them how to recover from poverty so much so that they can work to relieve the poverty of others.

You see, poverty is often the result of a culture of poverty, of dependence, of helplessness. Those cultures that value education rarely stay in poverty more than a generation — because they see education as the way out and seek out the training needed to escape. But cultures that have been defeated, that feel helpless, that offer no hope of education, they need to be transformed. Not by injecting American culture but a Christian culture of hope and cooperation, the kind of culture that the Kingdom brings.

You see, Christianity changes our value system, our sense of self-worth, and out ability to cooperate. One person in poverty can’t build a school. A community that loves each other — working within a church that loves them — can. An individual can’t teach herself to sew with a machine and take the clothes she makes to market. A loving community can do just that. Hope for an abundant life today does not contradict hope for an abundant life when Jesus returns.

We Westerners forget how much of our prosperity comes from biblical principles —

(Pro 12:27 ESV)  27 Whoever is slothful will not roast his game, but the diligent man will get precious wealth.

(Pro 13:11 ESV)  11 Wealth gained hastily will dwindle, but whoever gathers little by little will increase it.

(Pro 14:23 ESV)  23 In all toil there is profit, but mere talk tends only to poverty.

(Ecc 9:10 ESV) 10 Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.

(1Th 4:11-12 ESV)  11 and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you,  12 so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.

(2Th 3:8-9 ESV)  8 nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you.  9 It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate.

(2Th 3:11-12 ESV) 11 For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies.  12 Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.

Some cultures of poverty (not all, by any means) fail to value hard work and deferred gratification, but these are the keys to self-sufficiency and, more importantly, being able to help others in need.

Dependency is not noble. And it’s not a biblical virtue. Quite the opposite. It’s sometimes necessary, but dependency kills the soul. Therefore, we must give to others in a way that does not create or encourage dependency. That’s harder than giving a hand out. But it’s truer to the gospel because it heals.

We aim too low. It’s not enough to get people into the baptistry. And we shouldn’t Americanize people. But we can teach the gospel in its fullness — and that includes —

* Self worth

* Cooperation in community

* A desire to earn enough not only to help oneself but to help others

* A willingness to learn from others.

* A willingness to teach others.

* An unwillingness to be unnecessarily dependent on others, combined with generosity for those who truly are in need.

* Love for the poor — which by definition means a desire to help the poor no longer be poor. Teach a man to fish …

A right understanding of God and faith can train people to hold their heads high, to doubt the lies of a dysfunctional society and to work for its transformation. But a misguided understanding can be an opiate that keeps their heads down in submission or desperation so they continue to serve the societal system that is destroying them, believing its lies, performing according to its self-destructive script. (p. 29)

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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11 Responses to Everything Must Change: Chapter 4

  1. Enterprise says:

    “Some cultures of poverty (not all, by any means) fail to value hard work and deferred gratification,”

    If, by some, you include parts of our own, I am in agreement. Work, discipline,self control are not fun to learn and the child, or adult who learns them does not rejoice in the process. However, the result is a blessing to themselves and others.

    Very thought provoking..

    You referenced Eph 4 and yes, that was unexpected. We should be able to apply that not just to outright thievery but perhaps to those who do not work and labor with their hands at all. Stealing, in effect, from those who do work.

    Let each man carry his own load Gal 6 says. It also says we should help with Burdens. Henry Cloud in the book Boundaries explains that we should all carry our own knapsack but we should be ready to help someone who needs to move a boulder.

    Good thoughts

  2. Tom says:

    All of the citations from McLaren’s book, your comments about the book, and the scriptures you cite to support the thesis seem to be true and relevant to our ministry and mission to the poor. The work ethic with regard to our physical and fiscal responsibilities must be proclaimed, but it must also be related and connected appropriately to the gospel message. By that I mean that we need to be careful not to communicate a “works based” theology that proclaims this work ethic as the means by which we receive God’s saving grace. Like almost every aspect of evangelism, clearly communicating this distinction is easier said than done. The fact that Paul had to address this matter in his letters to the Thessalonians after his personal ministry in Thessalonica demonstrates how difficult it is to get people to understand it.

  3. Charles McLean says:

    Good points here. In an era of respecting culture, we must realize that not all cultures are worthy of preservation. The people within those cultures deserve to be delivered from destructive elements in that culture.

    I would disagree with the general statement that “dependence” is a negative thing. Independence is at least equally destructive. We must drill down into the specifics if we are to be effective: dependent on WHOM? Independent from WHAT? Dependent upon God and independent from the rule of self sounds like a positive development, in my view. We must be willing to get our fingernails dirty in both identifying and addressing the real issues on the ground.

    This is a place where I might encourage my wealthier brethren. Instead of giving your local club $100k towards a new clubhouse, perhaps you could hire some “unprofitable servants”, and develop them into profitable ones. As a former businessman, I know that such a hire is seldom profitable, and so it is not justifiable from a business perspective. But you could see that $100k loss in productivity as a gift to God. This is not a simple task. It requires developing systems that you don’t need when you “hire the best”. But it could be a worthy sacrifice.

  4. James C. Guy says:

    This is a valid arguement. I remember in times past when it seemed the churches of Christ would go into such areas and convert a few, build a building, select a preacher from the number, bring them to the U.S. (often) to train them, then send him back and provide him with an above average salary and support compared to the culture. Then, the work would remain about the same for many years until it would often end up fizzling out to the point that congregations would pull their support and that was that.
    We were intent on feeding souls without feeding bellies. Now, however, it seems the tables have turned. Many mission efforts I know are mostly focused on building houses, feeding the hungry, providing medical care at least for a week, and supporting orphanages. All these things are important and demonstrate the love of Jesus. But, the comment I often hear is, “If we show them the love of Jesus, they will accept Him.” The problem is, they never hear much about Jesus, only the physical blessings his people bring.
    The solution, I believe, is to give them both. Ultimately, what good does it do people if we “give them the world” but they “loose their soul”? We should feed their bellies, but never forget to feed their souls. The latter is much more important than the former. Agree?

  5. Charles McLean says:

    An old adage is that it is hard to fill a man’s heart when his belly is empty. While the heart is more important, the belly is more urgent. We should not submit to an either/or dilemma when it comes to meeting physical needs and sharing the gospel. There will always be imbalances.

    But I have a suggestion. To those who see the message preached where the poor are left wanting, don’t take on the preachers– start cooking, instead. To those who are concerned about charitable efforts that are mainly addressing the physical, encourage that work while you come alongside and spend your time testifying to the love of Jesus to those whom others are helping.

    The best way to bring needed balance is to ADD what we see is wanting. That makes the whole work grow.

  6. Richard Kruse says:

    I appreciate the comments and offer an example of practical application.

    A refugee couple from Zimbabwe came to our congregation. The wife was a seamstress so we gave her a used sewing machine. She needed a serger to continue making clothing for orphans in Zimbabwe. Therefore, some members arranged a fund-raising dinner. More than enough money was raised and another refugee declared that she had heard about Jesus, “But tonight I’ve seen Jesus!”

    If you know of other similiar stories, I’d appreciate hearing from you. My email address is: [email protected]


  7. Jay Guin says:


    I have a friend who’s active in the Christian Chamber of Commerce — an international group of Christian businessmen who teach classes on entrepeneurship and teach business principles to help fellow Christians become not only self-supporting but able to give to others.

  8. Jay Guin says:

    James wrote,

    The solution, I believe, is to give them both.

    Exactly. Food without Jesus merely delays damnation — often by providing a life that’s not much better than hell on earth. The goal isn’t the preservation of life for the sake of life, as though we worship life. We worship Jesus — and Jesus must be preached — by both deeds and words.

  9. Jay Guin says:

    Charles wrote,

    The best way to bring needed balance is to ADD what we see is wanting. That makes the whole work grow.

    Amen and amen.

  10. Charles McLean says:

    Jay, I very much appreciate the volunteer training offered by your friend and other business people. It is in the tradition of bringing part of your own crop to the altar.

    My suggestion of the “unprofitable servant” is also traditional. It has been employed by every carpenter who ever took his son to the job and watched him bend nails, dent finished wood, spill paint and waste materials on the way to learning the trade. My dad was one of these men. He employed a millennia-old system for making people into long-term productive citizens. It was called a job. No better method has ever been developed. And just as it happened with my dad, that employee provides a poor return on investment in the near term. If a godly employer would employ this process as a gift to God and to his community, instead of seeing it as an inefficient business practice, perhaps we would see more of it.

  11. Jay Guin says:

    Charles wrote,

    And just as it happened with my dad, that employee provides a poor return on investment in the near term.

    This is how we train lawyers. After three-years of law school and tons of school debt, most students come out of school pretty much useless — highly educated and bright but completely unaware of how to practice law in the real world. It takes years to make a lawyer out of most law school graduates — and many hours of written-off time.

    We lawyers may not be typical, but we train associates just as your dad trained a young carpenter — lots of bent nails and not-a-few mashed thumbs.

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