How to make a lasting impact.
If you are in the business of changing lives you understand the frustration of working with people. There are some people who simply refuse change, and those we must learn to let go. However, many desire change, but make little progress. For those who want to change, but don’t, it often is not their fault, but yours.
Experiments on human memory have shown that people are better at remembering concrete, easily visualized nouns (for example "bicycle," or "mango"), opposed to abstract concepts such as "personality," and "justice." It is easy to make the connection on why this happens. When I tell you to think of a mango, your memory bank conjures up the physical substance of a mango. Even more remarkable, you might even begin tasting the mango because you have a concrete definition of what a mango is.
However, more abstract words such as, "justice," "love," and "freedom," can take on a slew of meanings. These are abstract concepts that lack a concrete definition. This is critical for us to understand because this is one of the core reasons these concepts, and even virtues, are not commonly practiced. People simply do not know how.
Here is what I mean by that, and I will shift to a Christian example to develop my point.
There is a popular Bible verse that states, "And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love," 1 Corinthians 3:13. Most Christians would agree that these three elements are crucial to be a follower of Jesus. This is the epitome of our faith, and it is through these actions that we will continue to develop ourselves and make disciples.
Did you catch it? Just in that simple paragraph there is a blanket of abstractness that often paralyzes even the most devout Christians.
What is "faith?" How is "love" manifested? Where is our "hope" being placed? How does one become labeled as a "follower of Jesus," and what is the first step? "Make disciples?" Is there a manual on how to do that? And how do you classify someone as a "made" disciple?
I think you get my point.
Even in our Christian faith we shroud our message by encrypting our language. We forget what it means to be a newcomer and speak using only insider, knowledgable phrases and concepts. Too often we use broad strokes but expect fine detail.
"You need to love your neighbor!" we say. While the people agree and are nodding their heads right along with you, they leave your church shrugging their shoulders asking, "Wait, but how?"
How can we make the idea of worshipping a seemingly distant God more relevant and easily accessible to people? How can we make 'loving our neighbor," something that people actually know how to do? How can we define the discipling process in such a way that people can clearly mark where they are and what their next step is?
While I do not an absolute answer to these questions, I believe it begins with our language. Remember, people have an easier time conceptualizing concepts that are concrete, not abstract.
"You need to worship God," could be transformed into, "You need to attend worship."
"You need to love your neighbor," could be transformed into, "You need to rake your neighbor's yard."
"You need to make disciples," could be transformed into, "You need to ask your friend if you can pray for her."
People need to hear what they can actually do. We need to stop pointing people to where they need to be and being pointing them to the next step. We want our children to be smart, thoughtful, and compassionate adults when they grow up, but we first have to teach them not to pick their nose and eat their boogers and show them how to share their toys with their siblings.
Pointing people to their next step is critical for creating a lasting impact on their life. The curse of knowledge is that we too easily forget what it is like to not know something. We assume people understand what we mean by “loving our neighbors,” when in reality they are struggling to just love themselves. If we can move away from abstract concepts and begin pointing people to concrete steps, we will evoke change in their life.
If you are in the business of changing lives, congrats, you are like everyone else. We are all changing lives, everyday, through every interaction we have with people. Sure, there are many who have a larger influence on others, and are often paid for that influence. But do not disregard the power you have to impact others.
If you want to have a greater impact, find ways to point people to their next step. Invite someone over for dinner with your family, or share your story of struggle with someone else who is struggling. Make a lasting impact.