Making a Difference: The Macro and the Micro

When I was in undergrad, our school had a pet program they affectionately called World Changers. The idea was a great one. After all, if we can train people to change the world, why wouldn’t we?

But there were some fundamental questions that we always failed to address adequately. First, what does it mean to “change the world”? How much of our world do we need to change in order to make a difference? Does changing one’s community make a world changer? Or do you have to be the next Martin Luther King?

Over the years since I’ve graduated, I’ve been kicking around these questions trying to find an answer. Should we feel responsible for changing the whole world? In a world full of 7 billion people, that is ambitious at best and downright arrogant at worst.

Although I don’t know that I have the full answer to these questions, during the past few months, I’ve at least been able to clarify my thinking on these questions. Perhaps my discoveries might help you as you seek to change the world.

Clarify “World Changer”

To start, I think it’s helpful to divide our thinking about world changing into two distinct categories. There are macro actions (starting organizations, raising capital, building orphanages) and micro actions (buying a homeless person a sandwich, listening to a friend who needs to talk, mentoring someone younger) that we can take.

When we think of “world changers” we tend to think of the macro solutions. We look at those leading organizations fighting human trafficking or other injustices and look to them as the real world changers. To be fair they are changing the world, and they are incredibly important.

But what about those of us who are pretty sure that we don’t want to start a non-profit? What about the doctors, lawyers, school teachers, nurses, fast food workers, and day laborers who are certain that they are not supposed to start a non-profit. What about those of us who are just trying to make ends meet and don’t have organizational skills that fall into the traditional world changing model?

Are We Responsible?

For many Christians, the weight of going to work in the mission field or starting a non-profit can be crushing. They have big dreams of what they want to change on the macro level, but if they aren’t on a path to make those changes, they feel like they are failing. I also know older Christians who have given up on changing the world and work their job “just to make ends meet” but they are racked with guilt over failed dreams on the macro level. They never started a non-profit or marched to end human trafficking.

Yet nowhere in Scripture do we ever see God command us to go and start organizations. Nor are we commanded to get advanced degrees in philanthropy or counseling. Often this sense of failure that so many people feel isn’t from God, but rather from our own conceptions of what it means to make an impact. In a connected world, we have been taught to feel responsible for any injustices we know are happening, and it can be overwhelming. The task seems so great that many people get scared to even try.

Logically, there are only so many macro solutions we can provide in the first place. Every generation only has one or two leaders like MLK, and how many 501(c)3 non-profits can you really start? If everyone had their own personal non-profit, we wouldn’t have any real organizations! We’d just have a whole bunch of legal entities tying up our time and resources.

So by definition, not everyone can create a macro solution. Did those who didn’t create a macro solution fail? Is it impossible for them to make a difference without an organization?

Macro vs. Micro

I believe the answer is absolutely not. Not launching an organization doesn’t meant we failed at anything.

Somehow, I don’t think we’ll be judged on the number of organizations or the annual budget of our organizations. We’ll not be judged on how many marches we led. I don’t think God cares about those things by-and-large. “Thou didn’t start a non-profit now thouest are not within my will” is something God will not say to most of us.

On the other hand, we are going to be held responsible for the way we handle the micro opportunities we have to make a differences. The opportunities we have in our day-to-day lives to encourage, challenge, and edify those around us are some of the best opportunities we will have to minister. Giving a sandwich to a homeless person may be worth more to God than starting a $500 million organization if it’s the thing what we’re called to do. After all, our entire lives are made up of tiny micro decisions and actions that collectively make up who we are. It is these micro actions for which we’ll be held responsible.

Freedom

For us this realization should be both incriminating and absolutely freeing. We should be free from the pressure of making huge decisions and the worry of creating and launching great movements. On the other hand, we should now feel incredibly responsible for showing love in the smallest ways to the people we bump into in our everyday lives. Whether it’s the kids in the school classroom, the coworker in the next cubicle, or the guy who works on the job site with us, we are responsible for the way we treat and interact with them.

I’ve worked with non-profit leaders who didn’t seem to understand this. Since they were leading large, successful organizations, they believed that somehow the rudeness and selfishness displayed in their personal life was of no consequence. However, leading a non-profit is just a job. The way we act and treat people on the micro level is what the New Testament is about.

God already started the greatest organization in human history. It’s called the church. And it is the responsibility of the church to take real steps to engage on a micro level. No matter your job title or vocation, you are responsible for loving people on a micro level that God puts into your path. If you happen to be involved in macro changes, that’s great too.

So the next time you feel a little guilty for working a regular job, ask yourself if you’re really loving the people you have direct contact with every single day. If the answer is no, there’s a good chance that your biggest wins will start there.

It’s All Micro

Finally, it’s important to understand that ultimately, all changes are micro changes. In the broadest sense, there is no such thing as a macro change. Sure, we can build organizations and change laws, but ultimately it’s the behavior of individual people that make up the changes. Your favorite non-profits are really tools that systematize fundraising and management to help people make their own tiny micro changes. When you build an orphanage, you need people to run it. These people who show up to work everyday to love kids who no one loves are making a multitude of micro investments everyday. The organization just gives them the resources to make that happen.

This is also why governments are (by-and-large) notoriously bad at making sweeping, large scale changes. Governments can’t function on the micro level very well. The private sector (including the church) is best situated to put people in places to make the best micro investments everyday.

Even major events in our nation’s history were kicked off by the smallest actions. Rosa Parks made a micro choice not to give up her seat on a bus.  Thousands of individuals made the micro choice to follow MLK on his marches. For years, non-profits have served hundreds and thousands of meals to individual people. Each of those meals is a micro investment that together provide a macro solution.

Conclusion:

So next time you feel like you need to change the world, start with the people you look in the eye everyday. Start with the people in your city, town, or even across your street. Ultimately, I believe those are the decisions you’ll be responsible for. If you feel like you still need to create a macro solution, then by all means go for it! But whether or not you ever try to solve a problem with a macro solution, know that you’re never off the hook for those micro investments. Whether you run a billion dollar organization or flip burgers at McDonalds, you’re always responsible for the micro differences you can make.