taking the words of Jesus seriously

In 2010, two researchers rounded up teachers and college students for two studies. The first asked college students to rate their peers. The names of the most creative — those most likely to change the world — rose to the top.

Then they tracked down the high school teachers responsible for rearing these same students and asked for ratings. What they found disturbed both them and me: The students most likely to become world changers were least likely to become the teacher’s pet. 

Now this disturbed the researchers because in the second study teachers said they enjoy working with creative children who wanted to change the world. The problem is that their concept of creativity diverges sharply from years and years of research that has come to define generative, creative, artistic, and world-changing personalities. When the researchers compared the misconceptions of these teachers against the data from the first study, it improved the numbers.

A tiny bit.

Not much, but at least some of the teachers’ pets finally fit into the teachers’ bad definition of “creativity” and “world changer.” 

You see the problem?

We say we want to change the world. Then we build up this false idol of what “changing the world” actually means. We typically mean we want to raise up students and disciples who get in line, gain influence (meaning power) and resources (meaning money) from inside our status quo, and then who leverage their money and power to continue preserving our status quo.

In short, we really don’t want to change the world. We actually want to change those who want to change the world so that they fall in line and our cute little world stays put. Deep down, we want to raise up human cement trucks that further entrench the very worst of our habits and systemic injustices. Chesterton said, “The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of the Conservatives is to prevent the mistakes from being corrected.”  

What mistakes are you keeping from being corrected? 

What mistakes do you go on making?

As a youth minister, you say you want to change the world. Well and good. But how do you define that? Because the nonconformists in your youth group most likely to change the world are also the outsiders in your youth group precisely because they refuse to conform. It’s the skater you’ve punished for grinding on the sidewalk. It’s the musician you’ve told to get a real job, that his music isn’t a viable career option. It’s the painter that you’ve exploited simply so that the church can have a slick new logo. The least of these. The outsiders. 

We never pick them for our starting line ups. We pick the best behaved, the ones with the best families, the best training, the most money, the most palatable gifts, the least edgy ideas. 

The church chooses the first round draft picks just like the rest of the world. 

Unfortunately for the church, the first will be last.

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect,” says Paul.

You know that annoying and socially awkward stage designer or programmer you can’t keep up with? You know that flighty actor? That starving musician that always bums a ride? That author of fiction stories that feature Danish dragons or Planck time? That workaholic filmmaker who never comes to your Super Bowl parties? That renegade engineer who keeps stacks of napkin drawings of inventions no one takes seriously? That entrepreneur whose vision always exceeds her grasp? That lonely, quiet, shy potter who keeps stacks and stacks of mugs and steins sitting in her great-grandma’s hutch? That acne-pocked gentle giant who, come to find out, has a voice like Pavarotti?

THEY are the key to changing the world.

THEY are the ones the church championed in the middle ages.

And, statistically, THEY are the ones we support the least. They don’t fit our definition of creativity and world change — which means we need to first change our definition.

Creativity and world change begins in the heart of the nonconformist who knows who God made them to become. As the subtitle of Adam Grant’s book Originals says, “Nonconformists move the world.” How do we empower them to do that? Grant’s New York Times article summarizes his method — “How to Raise a Creative Child. Step One: Back Off.”

In February, we’re hosting a digital summit called Make Jesus Culture so that we can empower church members and ministers to create Jesus culture in the world. Keith Getty, Charlie Hall, Aaron Niequist, the president of Wheaton, and a slew of world-class creatives are going to teach us how. Sign up for the online event and start asking yourself the hard question: Do I really want to change the world?

And if you really, really do, then ask yourself: Which creative outsiders and nonconformists has God called me to empower?

About The Author

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Lance lives in New York and has written for The New Haven Review, McSweeney’s, The Poet’s Market, Writer’s Digest (magazine and books), The World Series Edition of Poker Pro, Encounter, The Misty Review, Carnival, and Brink. He reinvented the photonovel through Cold Brewed and was commissioned by the Missouri Tourism Board to create a second photonovel — The Joplin Undercurrent — that both fictionalizes and enchants the history and culture of Joplin, Missouri.

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