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Church Leaders Love Status Quo

Yesterday, a friend of mine sent me a link to a blog post by John Ortberg, a very successful author and pastor in the Bay Area of California.

The blog post is titled, “Stop Trying to Change the World” and is aimed at people like me and you.

Ultimately, we’re not the ones in the world-changing business. Our claims otherwise imply that history and humanity can be controlled and managed through human efforts. And–partly because of the law of unintended consequences–those attempts always end up doing more harm than good.

Only God can change the world.
Christianity is not first and foremost about creating values or establishing justice or championing righteous.
It is about the greatest good:
God Himself.

Now, I understand that the blog title was written as a bait & switch to draw people like me into a discussion as his rhetoric quickly comes down from the bold title. And I understand that there’s a good chance Dr. Ortberg didn’t even really write the blog post since he likely has people to do that for him.

But my thought for John Ortberg is pretty simple. I can see why you’d be against people in the church changing anything that might rock the boat. You’ve got it pretty good.

Isn’t he breaking the rich-white-guy rule? Aren’t rich white men, based on his zip code he’s probably in the top 5% of earners in the United States, who live in comfortable suburbs full of gated communities supposed to either be all about social justice or just not talk about it at all?

Speaking out against change… seems kind of out-of-place for a guy who writes books called “If You Want to Walk on Water You Have to Get Out of the Boat.

I don’t know which passage of Scripture leads Mr. Ortberg to say, “He says that because of the way power is widely viewed in our day, talk about ‘redeeming the culture’ or ‘transforming the world’ is largely understood as implying conquest, take-over, or domination. It means ‘our side will defeat your side by coercing everyone to do what we want.” The way I see church history, it’s precisely this tactic of seeking justice and serving the local community that lead to the rapid spread of Christianity! As the church cared for widows, orphans, lepers, and stood up for the oppressed, the church became an unstoppable force in culture because armies could destroy a community or people but the love that lived within and gave freedom both physically and in people’s hearts was unstoppable! Within 400 years of Christ, the emperor of Rome gave his heart to Jesus!

Ortberg paraphrases the Jews in Babylonian exile as an example of God’s people being blessed for not changing the world. He neglects to mention why the Jews were in exile in the first place!

The LORD, the God of their fathers, sent word to them through his messengers again and again, because he had pity on his people and on his dwelling place. But they mocked God’s messengers, despised his words and scoffed at his prophets until the wrath of the LORD was aroused against his people and there was no remedy. He brought up against them the king of the Babylonians, who killed their young men with the sword in the sanctuary, and spared neither young man nor young woman, old man or aged. God handed all of them over to Nebuchadnezzar. He carried to Babylon all the articles from the temple of God, both large and small, and the treasures of the LORD’s temple and the treasures of the king and his officials. They set fire to God’s temple and broke down the wall of Jerusalem; they burned all the palaces and destroyed everything of value there. 2 Chronicles 36:15-19

And why did God hand them over the Nebuchadnezzar? Let’s see what those prophets, aka the Book of Jeremiah, whom God’s people mocked, had to say:

  • I brought you into a fertile land to eat its fruit and rich produce. But you came and defiled my land and made my inheritance detestable.” Jeremiah 2:7
  • I had planted you like a choice vine of sound and reliable stock. How then did you turn against me into a corrupt, wild vine?” Jeremiah 2:21
  • “Your own conduct and actions have brought this upon you. This is your punishment. How bitter it is! How it pierces to the heart!” Jeremiah 4:18
  • This is what the LORD says: “Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the LORD.” Jeremiah 9:23-24
  • “You are always righteous, O LORD, when I bring a case before you. Yet I would speak with you about your justice: Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all the faithless live at ease?” Jeremiah 12:1

I could go on. But anyone can read Jeremiah and see that the Jews weren’t exiled to Babylon to be some kind of faithful presence among the Babylonians. The Jews were taken into exile because they sinned against God, making a mockery of the law, and suffered a 400+ year timeout!

I’m positive I am reading Mr. Orberg’s words incorrectly. Certainly, no pastor and Christian leader really thinks that the church is not supposed to be an agent of change within its own community?

Certainly, we are not called to maintain a status quo when thousands of people in our country are sold as sexual slaves, millions oppressed by banks in debt they can never get out of, our economy completely dependent on illegal immigrants for our way of life while not granting those individuals basic civil rights the majority enjoys, and churches who gleefully oppress and belittle the people they are called to reach.

Certainly the church is called to help our country, a nation full of no-fault divorce, more than half the kids living in single-parent homes, crumbling schools systems, a prison system over-flowing, drug-addiction, porn-addiction, on and on… right?

Are we?

Or maybe I’m just immature and idealistic.

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31 Responses to Church Leaders Love Status Quo

  1. Jeffrey Dick May 6, 2010 at 7:13 am #

    Wow, guess we shouldn’t go to Haiti. No need to worry about people destroying the environment. No need to work to change the culture that sees growing numbers of children in foster care and needing families to adopt them. Give people food, but why bother teaching them how to break the chains that hold them down.

    I could go on, especially when it comes to a legal system that favors those with wealth and power and does nothing to help those with resources. Change? Our society needs change. I don’t know where Mr. Ortberg is getting his message, but I hear a much different call.

    For me, Micah 6:8 speaks clearly: “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

    Thanks for the post.

  2. Andrew Marin May 6, 2010 at 7:16 am #

    Every single word you just wrote couldn’t be more true. Makes you wonder if some of those famous authors who write those safe-Christian-books-with-really-clever-names really mean any of it at the end of the day. Is it a brand? A paycheck? Or is it a reality? Curious. Unfortunetly we’ll probably never know the answer.Thanks for writing this.

  3. Sarah@EmergingMummy May 6, 2010 at 7:26 am #

    So very true. Those whose livelihood depends on the status quo are usually its staunchest defenders.

  4. Danny Bixby May 6, 2010 at 7:36 am #

    I don’t want to attack Ortberg…so I’ll attack what he wrote instead, that post of his was garbage.

    Excellent rebuttal :D

  5. adam mclane May 6, 2010 at 8:15 am #

    @danny- I don’t want to attack Ortberg either. I think he’s an excellent leader, speaker, and author. I guess I just hope I’m misunderstanding the blog post. I’ve read it three times… what am I missing?

  6. Adam May 6, 2010 at 8:23 am #

    Adam, I don’t know, and I agree with you and your post.

    I think the intent of what he was trying to say is that ultimately, we don’t change lives, God does. It’s not our job to change things, it’s God’s. He changes hearts, we can’t. And really, at the core, heart change is needed.

    I think you agree with those things.

    What the post seems to imply though, is that we shouldn’t work to be used by God to help that to happen. We don’t need to worry about all these causes that need to be attended to, because God is in control and can fix it. That’s what I think we have issue with, because God certainly uses us as change agents…it’s all over scripture. It doesn’t negate our responsibility…our responsibility is faithfulness and partnering with God to do these things. We just can’t control the results.

    So, I think that’s what he’s kind of trying to say, but the poor wording and structure makes it come across differently. I could be wrong though. He may have just said something stupid. (Then again, I do that a lot too).

  7. Danny Bixby May 6, 2010 at 8:50 am #

    @Adam, I’m sure you don’t want to attack him. And I agree entirely on the reasons why.

    I’m in the same boat, I’ve read hist post over and over and just can’t come to a different conclusion than the one you’ve drawn.

    Maybe it was just communicated poorly on his (or his team’s) part. But as it was published….it’s just wrong. It’s garbage.

    Though it does reinforce a strange trend of the more things I read of his, the more I disagree.

  8. Ryan Klein May 6, 2010 at 8:51 am #

    Maybe he is just saying with a lot of unnecessary words that we are trying to change the world without God.?.? maybe? Maybe he is just saying we need to not stop changing the world but stop trying to do it on our own? I’m trying to find something in this that makes sense. Ok…honestly I have no clue what he is saying.

  9. Russ Cantu May 6, 2010 at 9:10 am #

    Man, I must be off my rocker, but I don’t really disagree with John on this.

    From his site, “How do we offer faithful presence?
    It may be that for a time listening will be far more important than speaking.
    It may be that acts of shalom and service will do more good than legislation.
    It may be that excellence in whatever spheres of work we’re granted will become vehicles of grace.
    It may be that humility will speak louder than argumentation.”

    Really, how can you argue with that. Perhaps it wasn’t communicated in our language or with speaking how we are working to actively DRAW ALONG SIDE GOD and change the world for Christ. It is biblical to say nothing can change the world but God. Nothing can transform but the Spirit. This makes sense to Christians.

    In a world where the term activist is a buzz word rather than part of our Christian identity, this makes sense. Perhaps he said it all wrong, but if you look beneath the surface, maybe you see a different light.

    Because I know we all speak different contexts, I know this may come out different to everyone. But I think John is trying to say these things:

    1. Be out in the world WITH God
    2. Allow God to transform the world THROUGH you
    3. Ultimately, it is the power of God that will bring about change; we’re only the agents

    As a speaker at YS once said, “Guys, we’re only the ass bringing Jesus to the people.”

  10. Jonas Knudsen May 6, 2010 at 9:50 am #

    It seems like he is trying to advocate social justice, but refute it at the same time? The post really doesn’t make sense. Do something, but don’t do to much? I don’t know…
    I agree with you Adam.

  11. adam mclane May 6, 2010 at 9:55 am #

    I agree with you Russ. But you can’t argue that his post is especially clear.

    At the very least, his post is merely demonstrating a gap in the way generations talk. Nothing about his post is a call to action IMO. If anything, it’s a call to sit on your hands and let God do the work. (And then when God does it all, people get mad too!)

  12. Russ Cantu May 6, 2010 at 10:00 am #

    No Adam, it’s not especially clear… especially to us who don’t communicate on his wavelength, using his language and have his context.

    I can’t imagine he’s arguing sitting on our hands. I know his church well from growing up close to it. That’s not Menlo Park Pres. They are a vibrantly active congregation.

    I can only guess that this was one of those blog spots that wasn’t fully flushed through in his mind and/or on paper. Good starting thought; just not complete.

  13. Chris May 6, 2010 at 10:50 am #

    I notice that there’s no comments on his blog post. It might be best to ask him a few questions before everyone jumps on him for being unclear or wrong. As you stated, you’re probably just reading him wrong.

  14. Scott May 6, 2010 at 11:55 am #

    Adam – come on, dude.
    Seems like you’re taking some potshots.
    “Against changing anything in the church that might rock the boat”?
    “Rich-white-guy-rule”?
    “Likely has people who write his blog for him”?

    I get how you might get ruffled by what he’s saying. After a quick read of the article, I wouldn’t be able to sufficiently answer the question you have. But I agree with previous post from “Chris” who suggests that you ask him a few questions. I know John pretty well, and admire almost everything about his life, not just his writings. He’s not the enemy. If you really want to know what he’s saying, I wonder if you’ve asked him.

  15. Scott May 6, 2010 at 12:07 pm #

    PS – what Andrew Marin wrote bummed me out even more than the blog post.

  16. Gman May 6, 2010 at 12:11 pm #

    Seem like if your in ministry and aren’t in it to see changed lives – then you’re in the wrong business. Interesting enough – the short term missions trip I’m on is about helping build that foundation of changed lived. Jesus wants us to be transformed. I guess John O. missed Romans 12 too.

  17. Andrew Marin May 6, 2010 at 2:58 pm #

    Scott – I don’t have a problem with you disagreeing with Adam, or even myself. That’s all good! Because you know John pretty well, it indeed gives a lot of credibility to your opinion of him, his life and his writing; and that does hold a lot of water with me to believing your outlook. I know John personally as well, probably not as good as you do, though. And it is also ok that our experiences with him might have been different. But the problem I have is not in what you wrote, it’s that you didn’t link your name to anything.

    What really bothers me is that I could have written my comment and just put “Andrew” or “Andy” or “AM” or whatever, with no link, and you, nor anyone else would know who I am – and therefore I would not be held accountable to my comments with the potential of disappointing people like yourself. I hate disappointing people! But I decided to be transparent in a very controversial analysis of a genuine Christian leader of our generation. Maybe next time you could do the same because it seems like a cop-out to me that you don’t have a link. People don’t link their names for a variety of reasons, I understand that. I don’t know who you are or if we do know each other, but either way, I feel the same. I know I have to be careful of what I publicly write (and maybe you do too?); and I thought very hard and questioned whether I should post what I was feeling after reading John’s post. And yet I still chose to reveal myself because if I believe it, then I better stand by it. I guess the question is: are you willing to reveal yourself in public and stand by what you said in defense of John, a man you know pretty well, and in disagreement with Adam and myself, and some others here as well. I’m not trying to pick on you or call you out in a negative way, I just think that these type of frank discussions need to be held in an upfront manner because it’s too easy to anonymously point a finger and criticize. Thanks.

  18. adam mclane May 6, 2010 at 3:09 pm #

    OK, ok, ok.

    I’m going to change the world by buying everyone an ice cream cone next time we meet. Deal? (One scoop only, I’m just a lowly youth worker) If John Ortberg wants one too… I’ll buy him one.

  19. Todd Porter May 6, 2010 at 3:49 pm #

    @Adam I am going to hold you to your word on that.

  20. Kurt Johnston May 6, 2010 at 6:01 pm #

    Ummm….I don’t really have a comment or an opinion.

    Kurt Johnston
    Junior High Pastor; Saddleback Church
    (949) 609-8000
    D.O.B. 1/21/66
    Other interesting facts:
    I am white
    I am rich (aren’t we all?)
    I am an author
    Some of my books have catchy names
    I would like to change the world somehow and tend to believe Ortberg would applaud my efforts although I don’t know for sure because I have never met him.

  21. adam mclane May 6, 2010 at 6:03 pm #

    Kurt- you totally crack me up. Your ice cream cone may be dipped in chocolate if you like.

  22. Andrew Marin May 6, 2010 at 7:06 pm #

    Thanks for being so upfront Kurt! :) See, it’s not that hard to be real. My number is 773-572-5983 and I was born on Dec 16, 1980 at 8:52am. Let’s talk…I’ll be out your way two more times this month (May 13-16 and 22-24). I would love to talk about all of this. We could even meet for waffels and fried chicken again, like last time. And I’m sure Ortberg would applaud you, and every other person for working for Christ’s Kingdom to come here on earth. I have no doubt about it, and I don’t feel anyone is questioning Ortberg’s intent. But let’s face it, literal words said in the wrong way from a person of that profile means a lot, to a lot of people. Anything that stifles empowering Christ-one’s to dare to be remarkable, is no good, in any context. I believe what he was attempting to say was to live in our Kingdom Job Description: It’s the Holy Spirit’s job to convict, God’s job to judge and our job to love. But I’m being honest, I hope every life I come in contact with sees Christ in me and then feels empowered to change this world one story at a time. Period. Cheesy? I don’t care. It’s what drives me everyday.

  23. Johnny Carson May 6, 2010 at 8:32 pm #

    Thanks for clarifying things Adam. I always knew deep down inside that the Great Commission was really about bank reform legislation, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. You da man!

  24. Paul Reams May 6, 2010 at 9:02 pm #

    My favorite thing about this (apart from Adam’s commentary, of course) is that the post after Andrew Marin’s comments about transparency is from Johnny Carson. That’s just funny.
    Also-Adam did you just volunteer to bring ice cream to the community group?

  25. Chris Salzman May 7, 2010 at 4:50 am #

    Hi, I’m the Chris from above. My last name is up there, as well as one of the sites I write at. You all seem like cool dudes (and I think all of you are dudes), so I wanted to reiterate my comment from above since it got lost in the shuffle of talk of free ice cream. :)

    Anyway, my previous comment was about the fact that when I head over to Mr. Ortberg’s post I see no comments. Not a single one. Yet, when I look at this page, there’s multiple comments tearing his “position” to shreds.

    Adam stated in his post, “I’m positive I am reading Mr. Orberg’s words incorrectly. Certainly, no pastor and Christian leader really thinks that the church is not supposed to be an agent of change within its own community?” And many of the comments echo that sentiment.

    So why did no one try to ask Ortberg what he was getting at?

    I guess I just find it odd that we’re willing to vilify someone’s position on something without actually asking them to clarify. Instead, we clarify for them and massage their position into something that we can actively disagree with.

    Let me be quick to say that I’m just as guilty of this as anyone. And normally, it doesn’t bother me one bit, but yesterday and today it’s just really striking me as unhealthy for some reason. It’s something I want to start getting better at myself.

    Am I being obtuse about this?

  26. adam mclane May 7, 2010 at 6:06 am #

    @paul- I will provide ice cream to community group provided you show up. :)

    @chris- There’s nothing in hiding here. It’d be different if this weren’t all public. A person posted something for the public to read, another person posted a public response. Anyone can comment on my blog. Anyone can comment on the one I’ve linked to. Apparently, I’ve written a post worth leaving a comment on and he hasn’t.

    This is the nature of social media. If it’s posted in the public its available for discussion. Certainly, I’ve never been asked if it’s OK to excerpt and create discussion on something I’ve written. My stuff pops up all over. Good, bad, or ugly.

  27. A Drive-by Toga May 7, 2010 at 6:26 am #

    A thought from the other side…

    I actually understood what Rev. Ortberg was saying. Don’t necessarily trust it–but understood it.

    See, Christians can be scary. Yes, many help afflicted, poor and unfortunate. Some travel to other countries to provide training, food, shelter and medicine. Yet there is this perception (often warranted; often later confirmed) of an ulterior motive; the help comes with a catch. A small sermon, a pamphlet, a quick dash of guilt to go along with the help.

    I grasp this is not intentional; it is imbedded with a genuine concern for the person’s spiritual well-being. The Christian is equally anxious about the person’s soul as well as their body. But to the person receiving it, the extra jab—the subtle implication of unworthiness—is too high a price to pay for the help needed.

    Don’t believe me? How many people actively seek out a church for help as compared to a church having to go out in the community to look for people to help? People will go a long way to seek help they need; passing many churches on the way.

    I would tend to agree with James Hunter that “transforming the world” IS perceived as conquest, take-over or domination.

    I also comprehend the sentiment behind the statement, “It may be that acts of shalom and service will do more good than legislation.” It is mildly amusing and considerably grating that Christians hold to a God that created time, space, energy, 100 billion galaxies consisting of 100 billion stars each…yet requires a quorum of humans to stop gay marriage in California.

    To quote the Genie from Aladdin, “PHENOMENAL COSMIC POWER!…itty bitty living space.”

  28. Chris Salzman May 7, 2010 at 6:30 am #

    @Adam “Apparently, I’ve written a post worth leaving a comment on and he hasn’t.” He did. You commented on it, just not to him directly.

    In general I totally agree with you. The beauty of social media is that you’re free to carry on the discourse however you want. However, in this specific circumstance–where you’ve said that you’re probably reading him wrong–I think it would make more sense to approach him directly.

    A few reasons:

    1. If/when someone disagrees with me, I’d much rather they approach me directly on my turf to talk about it. In my experience it hurts to read the “bad” and “ugly” posts.
    2. Commenting on his blog gives Ortberg the best chance to respond and refine his views. Let’s face it, he’s probably entirely unaware of this blog post and comment thread (although I’m sure he’d be all about the ice cream).

    Again, maybe I’m blowing this out of proportion, so let me know if I’m being silly.

  29. Shannon May 7, 2010 at 2:55 pm #

    Adam,
    Perhaps, the idea is to get people to think. “It’s not about me or what I want or how I want to change the world….It’s about God. His son, His love, His change.” Christians tend to have great ideals and like to allow our humanness to overcome us and basically take over and not even include God in the discussion on what should happen. We press on, totally trying to do good but not even giving a polite “so what do you think, God?” When He might have a better idea.
    And lets face it, if you aren’t being led by the Spirit, God probablly does have a better idea.

    At least I hope that’s the point or idea Ortberg was trying to get accross. It’s not about me or how I view things. It’s about God and how HE views things. He’s got a different vantage point anyway.

  30. Mallory May 10, 2010 at 10:35 am #

    I think my favorite part was envisioning thousands of at-risk youths desperately trying to get their hands on Madeira fortified wine for their “port addiction.”

  31. adam mclane May 10, 2010 at 10:38 am #

    @mallory- that’s hilarious. You get an ice-cream cone, too. This post was read and shared “a lot” and you’re the first one to mention that type-o.

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