Christians are notorious “pendulum” people. We don’t like living in the tension between two seemingly competing ideas. But obedience to Christ demands that we live in the tension.
One of these is the seeming war between a life of long and quiet obedience (1 Thessalonians 4:11) and a life of impact as a Christian living on mission (John 17, Matthew 28:18-20; James 1:22, Matthew 16:24). It doesn’t seem like you can do both, especially among our generation, my generation, of world-changing evangelicals. Hence the continuing radical versus non-radical, city versus suburb conversation we’re having in the Church.
But I think Christians can say a hearty “yes” to the radical life of service and to the quiet life of long obedience. This was the purpose for my new book, coauthored with Dillon Burroughs and Dan King.
We realize that God will call many to pack up everything and move to a foreign country to live among an impoverished people group, bringing the gospel and relief. But we also realize not everyone can or should do this. Many are called to live seemingly nondescript, ordinary jobs in their local communities. And yet, they can be a sort of radical right where they live. Not only can they contribute to human flourishing by producing Christ-honoring work in their chosen vocation, but they can also roll up their sleeves and get involved in pressing issues, helping people one life at a time.
Take, for instance, the issue of abortion. Most evangelical Christians would love to see it outlawed right now. And while we should work for that through the means of politics, there are limits. So after the elections are over, what can we do next? Well, we can support a local crisis pregnancy center, both financially and with our time. We can help young mothers raise their children, right now, in the context of our daily lives.
And abortion is just one of twelve issues we tackle. And there are many more. In fact, most of the best work done on behalf of the “least of these” is done by faithful, ordinary, unknown followers of Jesus who are motivated not by fame, but by the healing power of grace they’ve experienced in their own lives.
This is why the Church is the most effective institution in the world. For all of our problems and for all of the things we have gotten wrong, we are still the body of Christ, empowered by His Spirit. This life-changing message of the gospel calls some to abandon their ordinary life and do something many call radical. And it calls many others to stay where they are, bloom where they are planted, and make an eternal difference in the communities God has sovereignly called them to love.
It works both ways. You can be radical and local, a world-changer that nobody knows, quiet and effective, humble and yet robustly confident in the Spirit’s work.
After all, it was that curiously subversive Apostle who wrote a church striving for recognition and renown, “Not many wise, mighty, or noble” are called (1 Corinthians 1:26).