Visits: 20

Recently I read an article written by Joel Rainey.  I agreed with much he had to write.  So, I am adapting it with my personal thoughts in this commentary.

Several years ago, a group of students at Kent State University gathered to observe what would, in just a few years, become known across our country as “Black History Month.” 

Their vision for recognizing the contributions of African Americans to advance civilization is the reason I learned about such towering figures as Booker T. Washington, Mary McLeod Bethune, Harriet Tubman, and Maya Angelou.  

But of all the figures I learned about, the one most polarizing to my community was a Baptist preacher whose life ended with his murder on a Memphis balcony on April 4, 1968.

Listening to the various and sometimes vicious statements about him resulted in the first lesson about leadership my nearly 18-year-old self would learn from Martin Luther King Jr.

Today, most everyone loves King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, but few are aware of what transpired in the aftermath of that speech, or the cost involved in bringing about the change necessary for King’s dream to be realized.  

If you want to change the world, it’s going to cost you. Similarly, if you’re going to lead a ministry or church to change the world, then planting or revitalizing it toward these ends carries a hefty price.

If you want to lead well, you can learn these six lessons from a man who launched a national dream toward which we still aspire today.

1. You will find your ideas among the unpopular minority.

    So many of the ideas King forwarded are merely assumed today. Nearly every citizen in our nation is aghast at the thought of segregated lunch counters, burning crosses, and “separate but equal” schools. Not to mention segregated drinking fountains and public restrooms.

    Yet just a moment ago in time, these things were all real and accepted as the norm. To that world, King’s “dream” sounded more like a nightmare. 

    The threats on his life, police brutality throughout the American South, and the confrontation between federal and state governments show his ideas weren’t readily accepted.

    Standing on this side of that history, we tend to look at the romanticized version of King embodied in his famous 1963 speech in front of Lincoln’s memorial. 

    It’s nearly impossible to stand firmly within the 21st century and believe his lofty picture of “the sons of slaves and the sons of slave owners” sitting down together was so opposed. 

    Great ideas aren’t often initially received as great ideas.

    2. You must care about something bigger than yourself.

    His life was threatened. His family was threatened. He received multiple bomb-threats, and most of his letters were written from jail cells. 

    To endure such hardship, you must look beyond your comforts toward something bigger. And you must believe that the bigger picture is possible.  

    Do you care enough about ministry and the church and its potential impact on the world to endure inevitable hardship? 

    3. You will be misunderstood – often!

    Growing up in the South, I heard many adults speak of King as a “troublemaker.” I remember asking–quite innocently–why it was so wrong to seek equality between whites and blacks. 

    The multiple answers I received sounded something like this:

    • He stirred up things he didn’t need to stir up.
    • He caused so much unrest. Surely there was a better way to do it.
    • He could’ve left well-enough alone. Things weren’t that bad.

    To be a change-agent you must be prepared to be seen as a troublemaker. 

    4. You may never live to see the change you created.

    Even after King’s death, the social environment found mixed-race marriages were still heavily frowned upon. Interracial marriage in the United States has been fully legal in all U.S. states since the 1967 Supreme Court decision that deemed anti-miscegenation state laws unconstitutional. [Wikipedia]

    King’s dream continues to unfold today, and he never lived to see most of it. 

    Initiators of lasting change may never be able to personally experience the benefits of such change.

    5. It may cost you your life.

    King’s life was horrifically, unjustly, and suddenly cut short on a motel balcony in 1968 because people hated him and his message. 

    Throughout his professional life, King seemed acutely aware of this possibility and embraced it as part of the potential cost. 

    People who change the world are willing to give their life for the change they believe necessary.

    6. While mighty things can be done for social justice by pure passion, can you imagine what really could be done for God’s eternal glory as a true believer in Jesus Christ.

    King made references to Scripture and to Christ to further his cause for social justice.  Yet, he denied three core values of Christianity.  In a doctoral thesis, written by Martin Luther King in 1949, Dr. King denied that Jesus was the son of God, that He was born of a virgin, and denied that He was resurrected.  This thesis is referenced here.

    His application to evangelism was stated as being this.  Drawing on D. T. Niles’s homily “Evangelism,” King notes that while many look to the church during their time of need, “hundreds and [ thousands] of men and women in quest for the bread of social justice” [unfortunately not salvation by faith alone in Jesus Christ – Ponz] leave disappointed. King later prepared a full version of this sermon for publication in Strength to Love.

    My lesson is this, there is no question that Dr. King was a great man and served the efforts of civil rights admirably. It is also difficult to judge one’s salvation since only God knows the truth. It is, however, easy to conclude that anyone who denies Christ as God, denies His virgin birth and bodily resurrection, would be judged under the words of the Bible in 1 John 2:23 “No one who denies the Son has the Father…”

    Every cause I champion, including social justice, must be for God’s glory alone and the eternal salvation of others through faith alone in Jesus Christ…no matter the color of their skin.


    So, who’ll be the next world-changer? The next change-agent whose ideas make this a better society. I’m not sure. But without these traits, there can be no substantive, transformative, legacy-creating leadership. 

    God, give us more ministry and church leaders willing to count the cost—and pay it for the sake of something bigger than themselves.

    Written by Stan Ponz
    Dr. Stan Ponz is founder and president of Make It Clear Ministries (a national ministry that began in 1973 to help people take the Gospel and the Word of God into every person's world!). Stan also serves as President of Clarity Christian College. and is married to his high school sweetheart Carol, who led him to the Lord in 1966.