Saturday, May 26, 2007

Changing World Changers

While doing some manual labor all week I’ve been thinking about words and how they are often containers into which we can pour new meaning.

Take “world changers” for instance. Ten years ago or so when Indiana Wesleyan University launched the new World Changer emphasis the meaning of the term was clear. Every faculty and student was expected to read Briner’s book—Roaring Lambs which has terrible ecclesiology but interesting ideas on the role Christians in the world. Briner represented the best of the boomer thinking—Christians didn’t have to be second class at anything but we can be just as successful in business, just as good a coach, just as rich and just as famous as anyone else in the world.

So IWU brought in examples of world-changers to speak in chapel: famous actors who had made it in Hollywood, writers who had made the New York Times bestselling list, rich businessmen, renowned surgeons or prominent politicians. These were “world changer models.” Missionaries, social workers, elementary teachers and nurses were not invited. We even started a hall of fame inducting famous world-changers and placed their bronze head in the library to remind students of what they were to try to become. The message so popular with boomer parents was: Be successful like these people.

We started the UNV 180-world changers course where we tried to convince freshmen students to go for the gold and change the world. While we never said so directly but the implication was clear: make it big time in the world. We were saying you should grab the gold ring of worldly success so some day you too might have a triumphal return to IWU as a true world-changer. For more than ten years this is what “World-changer” has meant.

But words do not have fixed meanings. The people of God have an uncanny way of pouring new meaning into old words. When you alums return to IWU in the future be prepared for this shift in what “world-changer” means. It may not mean what it meant when you were here. We now have a new generation of students and parents (and evangelicals) and this is changing world changers.

So, how is “world-changer” changing? It is coming to mean “making a difference where you live—one by one.” A world changer is coming to mean a person who works as a nurse serving others out of love even if you never get famous for it or write a best-selling book. A world changer is coming to mean a teacher who purposely chooses to go to a third-rate inner city school to make a difference in the lives of poverty stricken students. It is increasingly coming to mean doing something to address AIDS in Africa, stop sexual slavery, starting feeding programs for the poor, and developing the personal discipline of recycling and reducing one’s energy footprint. It has less to do with becoming rich or famous and more to do with serving and loving. You can be a world-changer now by serving as a youth pastor in South Dakota or by running a homeless shelter in Atlanta. The success content of the term is being gradually displaced with a new moral content.

Nowhere is this so clear as in the new book the UNV180 students now read calling for Christian action on behalf of the poor and needy (more on that book in September). I expect sooner or later we will induct someone into the WC hall of fame like this—some non-famous servant who loves and serves quietly.

Of course REL alums all recognize this is all about theology. Not just Briner’s poor ecclesiology, but good solid pneumatology. The church is guided by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is constantly prompting change and correction among the people of God. And, sometimes He does this by prompting us to pour new and better meaning into old words. That’s what seems to be happening right now with the term “World-changer.” My hunch is most of my former students thought this is what it should have meant all along.


kerry said...

In spite of the famous ones that were honored, I always thought it included the broader definition. Barnes did, too. On return from one of his trips to China, he told the story of meeting an IWU alumna who was teaching English classes and Bible studies for Chinese doctors. He thought this was the epitome of being a World-Changer.

pk said...

I like the change. But then again I'm a youth pastor in South Dakota and not a multi-millionaire media mogul or equivalent.

I just don't think this was Jesus' approach to world changing:
Get famous or rich or both :: make a difference

Seemed to be more along the lines of:
Make a difference :: if by some fluke you become famous or rich or both, keep making a difference

Keith Drury said...

Kerry, yep this is always what I thought it included too... what was missing is using the term publicly associated with missionaries or pastors or other quiet servants. That is a change now in the works... presenting public models (maybe even indicting them into the WC hall of fame) that reinforce these private definitions that some have had all along. At least we got the criteria changed so pastors are not excluded from being be inducted into the hall of fame--that's was a good change that occurred a while ago. Now the changes are dominating the grass roots level --right in the actual UNV180 course and in the reading material. It at least balances Briner's low view of the church and low view of lambs that do not roar but merely serve.

PK, Yeah I was actually thinking of you...and Mark, & Jess, and Jules, and so many others who are changing the world powerfully but not famously. And, I admit, I was thinking of me too--for the ultimate implication of Roaring Lambs for Christian Higher Education (as so many insightful faculty have pointed out) is that Christian professors ought to leave their little Christian Ghettos and go teach and coach at the world's ["significant"] Universities where they can really be taken seriously and really change the world. The church is God's chosen instrument to change the world and the gospel of Christ is the most powerful method of world-changing, not fame or money or winning seasons coaching. As Steve Lennox put it in his now-famous chapel talk on world-changing "You've been told a lie." ;-)

Perhaps the shift is not at the core of the effort but a sift in the image of who a "successful World-changer" is. We have always required some hours doing of WCing "community service" in UNV180- even from the beginning... but the idea that quiet service is successful WCing is the newer message that is getting through better to students now, especially with this new book. Briner's book is not as bad as Barna's Revolution but it is in the same corner when it comes to the church and gospel. I welcome this correction in image and I think most past students who complained about the rich-and-famous emphasis will welcome it too... you guys spoke for the Lord and it has been taken as a prompting of the Holy Spirit. Moistof the students I teach don't need any more deconstructing of church--they are doing quite well at that themselves ;-)

(I should have given credit here to the new leader of the UNV180 course--Brad Garner--I suspect lots of this can be traced to him.)

::athada:: said...

I wasn't too impressed with the book writing-wise... though I don't expect an urban minister to be a great writer, though I thought he'd have better editors... ? It was fairly disjointed and not well-supported BUT probably sufficiently disruptive to freshmen students :) so it will accomplish its purpose.

Would rather like to see Shane Claiborne's "Irresistable Revolution" but that's too radical and will probably only inspire a Claiborne cult :) And parents will complain when their $90,000 kids graduate to the ghettos and start growing dredlocks and all...

Keith Drury said...

ADAM.... yep, books get into print that are poorly written... editors today do less with a manuscript than they used to do... perhaps it is due to the "Internet age" when rough drafts can survive online and on paper.

His rough style rhetoric though will hit freshmen though as you say... and I like it that he is an inner city minister who is on the ground in this work... It will fill the gap until your book comes out ;-)

Kevin K. Wright said...

I'll let you in on a little secret. The Hall of World Changers was seen by many IWU students in my days as a legitimate joke. I think much of it has to do with the postmoderns shunning any sort of recognition. Bear your cross quietly, in other words. Perhaps most disturbing is the fact that IWU has now married herself to causes and political parties through these men she has endorsed.