Coffee Bean Christians5 min read

Our age has a burning ambition to “change the world.” In his book Culture Making, Andy Crouch (writing in 2009) noted that 216 books in the Library of Congress had that specific phrase in their title. (Scintillating reads like Mauve: The Color that Changed the World.) What’s even more interesting, though, is that a full third of those books had been published since 2000.

The Google Ngram viewer, which tracks the frequency with which words and phrases have been used in books (going back to 1800), helps to visualize the spike:

Christians, too, can get caught up in the world-changing game. After all, isn’t God in the business of transforming creation? All too often, though, churches will baptize this ambition under the banner of bigness. Chad Bird writes, “Nothing says success in modern Christianity more than being the biggest church in town… We have assumed, almost without question, that bigger is better. It’s as if retail giants have become patron saints of the church, as if the superstore model is the super-church model.”

But why can’t we change the world? And if that’s not our calling as Christians, what is?

Why we Can’t Change the World

There are multitudinous reasons why Christians can’t change the world, but let me name just three.

First of all, we can’t change the world because we’re part of the problem. St. Paul acknowledges this in that classic passage from Romans: “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Romans 7:15). Along these lines, the great Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy once wrote, “There can be only one permanent revolution—a moral one; the regeneration of the inner man. How is this revolution to take place? Nobody knows how it will take place in humanity, but every man feels it clearly in himself. And yet in our world everybody thinks of changing humanity, and nobody thinks of changing himself.”

Secondly, we can’t change the world because we don’t know what’s coming. Oh, in the biggest-scale sense we do: the defeat of death and the devil, the return of Jesus, the ushering of His kingdom. But meanwhile, there’s so much we don’t know. James writes, “What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.’ As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil” (James 4:14–16). Or even more succinctly, in the immortal words of Yogi Berra, “It is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future.”

Thirdly, we can’t change the world because it’s not our business. The early father of the Church, Hilary of Tours, once warned against irreligiosa sollicitudo pro Deo: “A blasphemous anxiety to do God’s work for Him.” And Crouch writes, “Is there a way to change the world without falling into one of the many traps laid for would-be world changers? If so, it will require us to learn the one thing the language of ‘changing the world’ usually lacks: humility, defined not so much as bashfulness about our own abilities as awed and quiet confidence in God’s ability.”

But if we’re not meant to be “world-changers,” what’s the alternative?

Be the Bean

In his brief parable The Coffee Bean, author Jon Gordon tells the tale of Abe, a young man who is stressed and filled with fear as he faces challenges in school and at home. One day after class, his teacher gives him a curious charge: go home and boil a carrot. Strange, he thinks, but he does so and reports back: the carrot got soft. Next day, the teacher says to try the same trick with an egg: it got hard.

The third day, Abe’s teacher tells him to boil some coffee beans. And what he discovers is how the bean is neither softened by its environment, nor hardened by it, but instead transforms it—from the inside out. Gordon, a Christian, concludes: “If you know you are a coffee bean, you will not allow the outside world to impact you. You will know that the power inside you is greater than the forces outside you, and with this insight, you will transform your environment from the inside out.”

Do you see the difference? You can’t “change the world.” By God’s grace and the power of His Spirit inside you, though, you might be able to transform your environment—the home, neighborhood, and communities in which he has placed you.

And didn’t Jesus promise the same thing? “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field,” He taught us. “It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches” (Matthew 13:31–33).

No, we’re not bulldozers that can move the earth and change the world. We’re coffee bean Christians and mustard seed missionaries. We seek to be faithful in the places and vocations where God has called us. The rest is up to Him.

Photo © Craig McKay/Unsplash

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About the Author

Rev. Ryan Tinetti serves as pastor at Trinity, Arcadia

More by This Author

Pastor Mark Matheny - May 23, 2024

Fabulous, Pastor! Thank you!

Robert kasper - May 26, 2024

Good stuff!
The snag is that most Christians don’t want to get in any “hot water “!

mary gruber - May 29, 2024

As a fan of good coffee, I was intrigued by the title of your “delicious” article, Pastor. Thank you for highlighting the stimulating effects God’s grace and the power of His Holy Spirit have in our lives!