This piece has been republished from an original article on Eric Conn’s website.
As a recent study from Business Insider points out, millennials (those born between 1981 and 1996) believe the ten most serious issues facing the world are all global issues, with climate change topping the list. Other pressing issues, according to millennials, include worldwide poverty, education, and government corruption.
What’s most intriguing is that not a single issue relates to personal responsibility or morality among those polled. Instead of focusing on areas within the purview of an individual’s actual control—things like personal finances, sexuality, family relations, bodily disciplines, and cultivation of virtue—the current generation believes that the biggest problems are fundamentally Out There.
The problem out there
Why is this the case?
First and foremost, as Jordan Peterson has pointed out, it’s much easier to project an image of moral superiority to our peers by championing wide-scale causes than it is to exercise discipline and self-control over our own lives. It’s much easier to appear self-righteous through public stances on social media than it is to order our individual conduct according to moral virtue.
As a result, many folks live morally ruinous, destructive lives while loudly demanding that others take responsibility for climate change, government transparency, better education, and a laundry list of rights attributed to minority groups (anyone who’s not a white Christian male). Change is always sought through political action, institutional mandate, and massive organizational movements.
The same folks that can’t figure out which bathroom to use and engage in self-destructive sexual practices that lead to their own suicidal thoughts, copious amounts of alcohol and drug use (prescription and otherwise), and community decay spend their most fervent energy in exactly the wrong place, demanding that the government and institutions do something.
The problem is us
One of G.K. Chesterton’s most famous quips gets us back on the right track. When The Times sent out an inquiry asking, “What’s wrong with the world today?” Chesterton wrote:
Yours, G.K. Chesterton
Or as the American naval commander Oliver Hazard Perry once said after a battle, “We have met the enemy and they are us.”
There is a fundamental principle of life that wise men everywhere must come to terms with: Change starts at home with the individual.
If you want to change the world, start small. Start with yourself. Re-order your own habits, household, personal decisions, and lifestyle. Get stronger physically, lose weight, pay off your debts, kick a destructive habit, work on your explosive anger, rebuild the ruins of your marriage, start a family and train your own children.
If you can do those things well, you then have a firm foundation to start addressing issues one step at a time outside your back yard. If you can’t order your own life well, then you have no right to assume moral responsibility for greater areas of influence in the communities around you.
The alternative is what we have, which is sanctimonious and widespread hypocrisy. Our culture is oversaturated with the metaphorical equivalent of obese people trying to lecture society about health, nutrition, and fitness. Our own houses on fire, we run around the globe piously lecturing others on the need for legislative action to mandate the placement of fire extinguishers and smoke detectors in every six square feet of inhabitable space.
And none of this strikes us for the glaring absurdity that it is.
Get your own household in order
In his book, 12 Rules for Life, Jordan Peterson argues rightly that we have no legitimate right to criticize the world before first setting our own household in perfect order. When you recognize that something’s amiss in the world (and there’s a lot wrong), either by oppression, suffering, or corrupt mismanagement, start at home. Start with yourself.
Don’t blame capitalism, the radical left, or the iniquity of your enemies. Don’t reorganize the state until you have ordered your own experience. Have some humility. If you cannot bring peace to your household, how dare you try to rule a city? … Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world.
Of course, this is exactly the point Scripture makes over, and over, and over again. Jesus himself said,
Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:3–5)
And Paul says that the only man who is qualified for a greater position of leadership in the church is the man who has first ordered his own household well (1 Timothy 4:3–5). Thus Proverbs 16:32: “He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city.”
Why do we think we’d make great world political leaders when our own houses are in dilapidated disrepair?
Like Jesus, the biblical authors recognized a propensity in every human heart to think that the main problem—and therefore the starting point for change—is outside of us. The way we combat this misguided notion is by getting our own lives in order first.
Don’t think big. Think small. Because that’s where change is actually possible and within our control.
Judgment begins with the household of God
Likewise, Christians would do well to stop blaming the world for all of our problems and look in the mirror. If judgment really does begin with the household of God, we do well to start working for change there in the midst of our own households (1 Peter 4:17).
For starters, we have soft, effeminate men in our pulpits, many of whom have failed their own wives and children but presume to lecture on the myriad ways in which the world has been corrupted. Many are in crippling debt and dependent on the state for healthcare, their children are indoctrinated by the public school system, their wives are gossips and loud-mouthed feminists, and they refuse to preach specifically about the hot-button issues of biblical sexual ethics that will get their limp little wrists slapped by the politically correct gestapo.
If our culture has gone to hell in one oversized hand basket, it’s in no small measure because our pulpits gave them directions.
More to the point, where do we begin?
Wendell Berry, in his essay Think Little, nails each of us right square between the eyes:
A man who is willing to undertake the discipline and the difficulty of mending his own ways is worth more…than a hundred who are insisting merely that the government and the industries mend their ways…
A couple who make a good marriage, and raise healthy, morally competent children, are serving the world’s future more directly and surely than any political leader, though they never utter a public word.
In other words, mend your own ways first. Right the things you know are wrong about yourself. Build a strong family and household. Invest in your children. Instead of crying for more government intervention, start cultivating habits marked by discipline. Do hard things. Push yourself.
How-to: start at home
We should, therefore, start with mending our own ways and building strong households—but the question remains as to how we ought to do that work. Here are a few practical solutions that aim at only a few of the key problems within the church today.
1. Order every area of your life and household according to Scripture
Jesus said that we ought to build our houses on the rock of God’s Word (Matt. 7:24), which means ordering our family life in the fear of the Lord. That means the principles for how we pursue education, where our wife is employed, how we use our time, how we conduct family worship, how many children we have, how we invest our money, all of it ought to come from the Bible. Our views for structuring the good life don’t come from Good Housekeeping, Cosmo, or People magazine.
Among other things, your household should be financially stable, debt-free, frugal, and anti-fragile. As best you can, you should be working toward owning your own productive property. (For a good practical guide to household building, check out C.R. Wiley’s books, linked at the end.)
2. Create margin in your life and avoid overload
One of the crucial reasons that the family and household are being divided is that many of us have accepted life on the crazy train of busyness and overload. Like our credit cards, we lived maxed out lives. We have too much going on and too little time to do it. We’re overcommitted at church, work, and through competitive sports, each of which pulls us away from the home.
What we need is to spend time thinking about what’s essential, prioritize those things, and get rid of anything else that we can’t fit in. If strong households are our priority (they are God’s), then our investments of money and time should reflect that.
3. Get your financial household in order so that your wife’s main work can be in the home
That women are made to operate primarily inside the economy of the household is as plain as day if we are willing to hear the Bible speak on its own terms. It isn’t cultural cool, but it is creationally designed (1 Timothy 2:15; Genesis 1–2; Proverbs 31).
But—and here’s the rub—it requires wise financial management from husbands to make this a plausible reality. A man must provide in such a way that his wife is freed to care for her young children in the home. And that means making decisions that cut against the grain of a consumer-driven culture. It takes frugality, sacrifice, and intentionality.
Too often, men and women make stupid financial decisions (myself included) like buying brand new vehicles, over-spending on a home, and adopting a standard of living that require the wife to work. And then they say she can’t stay at home as though it wasn’t in their control. This leads to my next point.
4. Get your kids out of public school, starting yesterday
It’s time to stop crying about the indoctrination of our children in the public school system (a very clear and present danger) and do something about it. This one is very, very, very simple but also very hard to implement. Of all the reasons our children are being lost to the world, this is perhaps the chief among them.
Similarly, pastors need to get off government assistance and lead by example. I’ve been a part of Reformed churches in which pastors and their families were on state-sponsored healthcare and education, food stamps, and other various forms of state assistance. Pastor or congregant, the last thing in the world we need right now is for our people to be slaves of the state with a serious amount of government leverage hanging over their heads.
Get your possessions together and flee from Egypt. God’s intention is for His people to live free and be sons of their all-providing Father, not wards of the centralized Papa-State that is the U.S. Federal Government. The grand experiment has failed, something even secularists admit, and it’s time to move on.
5. Find a church that preaches the specifics, not just vague gospel-centered generalities
For all their self-righteous religiosity, Jesus condemned the Pharisees for being, at core, antinomian (anti-law). That is, they rejected the whole counsel of God, particularly the law and its positive use for ordering life. Wherever the law is not taught in all its glorious detail, a people will invent their own law and will become a law unto themselves (Matt. 5:17–20).
This is what happens in many well-meaning TGC-inspired, gospel-centered churches. The gospel’s only work, it is assumed, is proclaiming redemptive hope to wrath-receiving sinners. End of story. Full stop.
And while that’s absolutely true and necessary, it’s also absolutely true and necessary that the effect of the gospel is to write the law of God on the hearts of His people by the Spirit (Jeremiah 31:33).
We need moral instruction on sexuality from Genesis 1–2, including what is the aim of masculinity, femininity, marriage, household, and children. We need preaching that addresses the evils of androgyny—effeminacy, homosexuality, transgenderism, feminism—and dependency on the state rather than God.
Apart from this kind of teaching, our lives remain in moral ruin, except now with the illusion of having clean consciences. We’re forgiven for starting a dumpster fire in our own life, but no one ever tells us how to put it out or how to build something better and less combustible. We need a positive vision, a clear direction for building and managing our houses, so that we may be competent to build and manage God’s.
Men are designed to grow together. Fraternity breeds excellence. If you would like to join other men who are explicitly pursuing this mission, building their houses together in order to build God’s, consider our Marco Polo video discussion group. All Patreon subscribers who give $5/month or more get access. Join the group today via Patreon
6. Find other men pursuing the same mission
Men are designed to grow together. Fraternity breeds excellence. If you would like to join other men who are explicitly pursuing this mission, building their houses together in order to build God’s, consider our Marco Polo video discussion group. All Patreon subscribers who give $5/month or more get access.
Join the group today via Patreon
For further reading:
- C.R. Wiley, The Household and the War for the Cosmos.
- C.R. Wiley, Man of the House: A Handbook for Building a Shelter That Will Last in a World That Is Falling Apart.
- Richard A. Swenson, Margin:Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives.