In many cases there’s a remarkable difference between terms and concepts. Take, for example, the term and the conceptual understanding of “Transformation”. The term means “a complete or dramatic change in form, appearance or function”. Pretty straight forward. The concept becomes a little more complicated. We know that transformation means that something changes into something else. It becomes completely new. Conceptually though, what does this look like in the context of the city?
Working for a city transformation organization, the hope and desire for the outcome of your work is always more than mere band-aids. Making people feel better about their plight isn’t nearly as, well, transformative as seeing them rise out of it. It’s not quite enough until “the old is gone, and behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Even though it may be a bit more abstract in our particular context, which deals with the physical and the spiritual, the organization and the individual, the macro and micro; scripture does give us a fascinating picture of what our work could be about. Take a look:
“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” Ephesians 4:28.
I’m sure you saw what happened. Without that last part of the sentence, we would have been left with a nice change, but no transformation. It’s not that the thief merely stopped stealing. But he actually became a contributor. This is transformation.
It’s a two part process. When someone stops stealing, that’s a single step. It’s good, and a step in the right direction, but it’s not transformation. However, when that person not only stops stealing, but then starts giving, that’s a two step process, and it’s the picture of transformation that we’re looking for. It’s a full circle change that only God could accomplish.
Taking a community from having certain needs to having fewer of those needs is not quite the assignment given to the church. It’s more than that. It goes the full two steps. It goes from identifying needs to identifying solutions. The community doesn’t necessarily become void of needs. It becomes a community that provides for needs, rather than a community that merely contains needs. I’ve seen most churches be pretty good at this, within their own walls. In that smaller, micro-community, they give and share “as any had need” (Acts 2:45). But what about the community outside? How do you address the macro-community that God places churches within, so that the kingdom can come now (Matthew 6:10)?
In physics, transformation is induced by a nuclear process. According to Wikipedia a nuclear process is, “considered to be the process in which two nuclei, or else a nucleus of an atom and a subatomic particle (such as a proton, neutron, or high energy electron) from outside the atom, collide to produce one or more nuclides that are different from the nuclide(s) that began the process” (my emphasis added). Did you catch that? Two elements collide, causing a multiplying effect which result in more elements.
You see, in order for the church to grasp city transformation, they must get to the point where they see the process of transformation as one that involves multiple players. It’s not just about any one church. This is obvious. What might be less obvious is when we adjust this statement to read, it’s not just about any one organization. Transformation happens, when multiple churches collide (in a good way) with multiple other organizations within their community to multiply their efforts and involve more players.
In other words, it happens when the church can facilitate a meal where everyone has a welcomed seat at the table. The more the merrier, and the more diverse the better. Especially when diversity deals with thought, belief and worldview. When we can align ourselves with and work alongside those that we don’t agree with, we begin to see the necessary ingredients to achieve city transformation.
But I’m not just taking about unity here. Jesus prayed for unity, but not for unity’s sake. He prayed that we (the church) would be one, so that the world may know Him (John 17:26). Coming together as a community doesn’t equal transformation. It simply sets the stage. From there, we simply do what the church does. We love, we commune and we listen. But we do so with patience and wisdom, not like bulls in a China shop. We who were once thieves now become contributors to the city, so that other thieves can do the same.
It’s time for the church to humbly lead from the second chair. It’s time we see that the world doesn’t revolve around us, and really, it was never meant to. It’s time to look forward to the world revolving around Jesus, and to work vigilantly until that day comes.