The Timing of Transformation

By Scott McClellan

One of the worst things a writer can do is use a cliché, especially in the first paragraph. It’s a clear signal to the audience that the writer is a bit of a hack. And yet here I am hitting you with a cliché: 

Rome wasn’t built in a day. 

This, as declarative statements go, is fairly obvious and non-controversial. No one has ever claimed Rome was built in a day. No one has ever even wondered if Rome was built in a day. No one has attempted to build a proper coliseum, let alone an entire city, in a day. We all know Rome wasn’t built in a day. (Disclaimer: I’ve never been to Rome, but once had an unpleasant experience in Italy, Texas. Just thought you should know.) Rome was built over the course of thousands and thousands of days invested in the same direction. But what we know about Rome, we often forget about ourselves.  

One of our favorite myths in American culture is the myth of the overnight success: a person, team, or organization bursts onto the scene and ascends from obscurity to awesomeness faster than you can say “Jamaican bobsled team.” But whether the overnight success you most admire is an athlete, an artist, or a tech startup, the old Rome cliché still applies. Every overnight success is (at least) a decade in the making. 

Yes, popularity and prominence can come fast and furious. But success? Growth? Transformation? Those things don’t happen overnight. They come slowly, brick by brick, day by day. 

On Sunday we unveiled our vision for the next five years of IBC. What future do we hope to see in the year 2021? For us, it’s a simple phrase: A Transformed People, A Transformed City

We believe this is where God is leading us, and so we’re following. And as we follow—both as individuals and as a church—may God in his mercy disabuse us of the fantasy that he’ll merely wave his hands, say “Abracadabra,” and lift the curtain to reveal an overnight success. Poof—transformed people! Ta-da—a transformed city! 

A transformed people and a transformed city can’t be built in a day, but God can do that work in and through us over the course of hundreds and thousands of days invested in the same direction. Brick by brick, day by day. Not only can God do that work in and through us, he wants to. Consider these four brief passages:

“And [Jesus] said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.’” — Matthew 4:19

“In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” — Philippians 1:4-6

“And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” — 2 Corinthians 3:18

“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” — Ephesians 2:10

In each passage, and throughout the story of Scripture, we find a God who is at work rescuing and renewing, saving and transforming a people for himself. But there aren’t any Abracadabras involved—just a community that follows him, brick by brick, day by day. 

Leadership and marketing author Seth Godin recently wrote this short post about how people both change and make change in the world:

The Grand Canyon wasn't created by an earthquake.

While it's tempting to imagine that the world changes via sudden shocks, that our culture is shifted by dramatic changes in leadership, that grand gestures make all the difference...

It turns out that our daily practice, the piling up of regular actions, the cultural practices and biases that we each choose—that's what makes change happen.

False promises and urgent reactions are a trap and a sideshow.

And so while meeting Jesus for the first time and crossing over from death to life can very much feel like an earthquake, being his disciple in the days, months, and years that follow looks more like the slow erosion that turned a riverbed into the Grand Canyon. That’s the slow transforming power of the rhythms that shape a disciple’s life. We regularly encounter his presence and grace in prayer, Scripture, worship, the fellowship of the church, and blessing others—and these encounters transform us. 

In these rhythms, in these lives, in these communities, the kingdom comes. And believe me, it puts Rome to shame. Because our king Jesus has the audacity to look at a modest mound of dirt and dare to see the holy city to come. He has the vision to see in us a bright beacon that radiates beauty and joy into the dust and decay of rebellion and striving. The king we follow is a risen king, and we’ve been raised him (Colossians 3:1). Together, we’re going to pursue A Transformed People, A Transformed City. 

I fully expect (and I hope you do too) to be captivated and compelled by his glory and grace on this journey—not overnight, but every day.

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