I have some very good news—and some really bad news.
First the Good News
God seems to be at work not only through people of faith, but also people of compassion, who are bringing welcome change to our world in what some are calling an “innovation revolution.” In the last ten years there has been a veritable explosion of new forms of social enterprise and urban empowerment all over the planet.
The good news gets even better. Much of this new “changemaking” celebration is being led by young innovators from Gen Y (those born between 1981 and 2014). Since they are the first digital generation, they are much more aware of the daunting economic, racial and environmental challenges facing people all over our world. Most importantly, a surprising number of them are determined to do something about it.
A Greater Profit
For example, Katie Metszger, who is a recent graduate of Northwest University and part of our staff, has joined two of her fellow grads to become a part of this new changemaking celebration. Two years ago, they started a new social enterprise in Northern Thailand called Same Thread. These three millennials became increasingly concerned about the growing number of women from an impoverished region of Thailand who are forced into sex trafficking. They decided to do something about it.
They started a business creating fabrics using natural fibers and sustainable dyes for creating a range of attractive Thai garments. The greatest “profit” from this social business is that women who were subjected to a dreadful way of life are now able to turn away from being forced to take work in the sex trade because they are able to support their families through this new economic opportunity. My wife and I are gratified to join with others in enabling these three young innovators to launch this important changemaking venture.
Now the Bad News
One of the reasons this kind of social innovation is so important is that government funding to help those in urgent need locally and globally seems to be declining. Funding for charity is also in serious decline, largely due to the growing number of shrinking church congregations. This means that it has never been more urgent that churches learn from and join this generation in putting compassionate changemaking at the very center of our lives, families and congregations.
I believe the Spirit of God may well be using not only the Christian young, but also the lives of many young social innovators who are largely outside the church to challenge followers of Jesus to invest more of our lives and resources in creative approaches to serious changemaking instead of being satisfied with simple church attendance or simply offering handouts.
Wouldn’t you like to join these young changemakers who are discovering the satisfaction of the creator God more fully by using their lives to make a lasting difference? Why would any follower of the servant Jesus want to settle for less and miss God’s best?
The purpose of our journey together is not simply to learn more about this changemaking celebration. I want to encourage you to join it. Consider this an invitation to discover how God might use your mustard seed to make a difference in ways you might find surprising. Remember,
Jesus let us in on an astonishing secret: God has chosen to change the world through the lowly, the unassuming, and the imperceptible. “Jesus said, ‘With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it? It is like a grain of mustard seed, which when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth branches, so the birds of the air can make nests in its shade” (Mark 4:30–32). (The Mustard Seed Conspiracy)
For whatever reason, God has chosen to use the insignificant and ordinary to change the world, which should give us all a little hope! I want to invite you to invite the Creator God to ignite your imagination to join others in creating our best communities, our best world, and, in the process, our best lives—in ways that both advance something of God’s purposes and respond to some of tomorrow’s urgent challenges.
More Good News
Recently, I flew to Minnesota to visit, applaud and learn from one of the most innovative congregational social incubator ventures I have found in North America: Innové. In 2013, Colonial Church sold some property. Pastor Daniel Harrell asked the church to donate a generous share of the profits from sale of the property to create a concrete way to help fund this changemaking celebration in their community.
Essentially, this congregation decided to do something innovative: They use this money through Innové to offer people in their neighborhood under 35 a new social enterprise competition. All you need to participate is to be under 35 and have a good idea. Leah Driscoll and her team won first place proposing Twin Cities Mobile Market. The issue that stimulated their deep concern was the discovery that almost 300,000 people in the Twin Cities live in a “food desert.” This simply means these people don’t have access to affordable grocery stores or fresh produce. This innovative solution was the Mobile Market.
With the support of Innové, Leah and her team bought a used METRO bus and remodeled it into a traveling grocery store. It goes to a different neighborhood ever day of the week and offers reasonably priced groceries and produce—and it pays for itself! Reportedly, Leah and her team are preparing to purchase another old, municipal bus with strong support from the church and members who’ve invested their time and professional gifts.
The Innové incubator has already launched over ten new social innovations that are making an impressive difference in the lives of a number of their neighborhoods. It is also enabling a church to invest more of its time and money making a serious difference in the lives of her neighbors instead of focusing an unbalanced amount of its resources on meeting the needs of people inside the building.
What would happen if you and your church seriously invited the changemaking ideas of the young in your congregation as well as those in your neighborhood and then helped them launch their best ideas?
What would happen to your relationship with those under 35 if you not only invited their changemaking ideas, but you also started sharing a much greater percentage of your time and money in making a significant difference in the lives of your most vulnerable neighbors?
Is it possible you might not only keep more of your own young people, but also attract those outside the church who want to live like they really give a damn?
What God might do with our mustard seeds if we started pursuing the compassionate purposes of Jesus!
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