The world is not changed by people who think. The world is changed by people who act. The world is changed well by people who think and act.
Have you ever met the top leaders of large, successful organizations and been struck by their lack of thoughtfulness? Not that they were stupid, but many times the very top leaders are not the very best thinkers in their organizations. The key thinker might be a vice-president or associate pastor, often not the top leader. What often specifically characterizes the top leader is that he or she acts.
On the other hand, have you ever met people who were extremely intelligent, and yet they had not achieved much with their knowledge, or for that matter, with their lives? They were brilliant in their insight and yet they didn’t actually do much with it. As Coolidge said, “Nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent … unrewarded genius is almost a proverb … the world is full of educated derelicts.” Some of them were with Paul in Athens:
All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas. (Acts 17:21)
This love of knowledge for its own sake – whether or not it ever results in any practical benefit – characterized the Greek culture of Paul’s day and characterizes the Western culture of our day.
The Greeks, more than any other people, displayed an irrepressible and unbounded passion for the exercise of reason and an incredible curiosity to investigate and know everything … (Charles Malik)
Inheriting this passion for knowledge for its own sake from the Greeks, Western civilization – more than by anything else – is defined by total fearlessness of and openness to new knowledge; an insatiable thirst to know everything that can be known, a belief that everything that can be known should be known. This is knowledge for its own sake – whether or not it is ever of any practical significance. This explains why Western societies are content to spend billions of dollars in scientific research on outer space, when multitudes of people still live in poverty on our own planet. This is why some Christian theologians spend their lives studying nuances of obscure doctrines when hundreds of entire people groups still do not have a single church. They love to learn, to explore new vistas of knowledge; but they don’t actually do anything with it.
The world is not changed by people who think. The world is changed by people who act. Thinking may have the appearance of depth, wisdom, and scholarship. But actions bring change.
This is often a tragic reality. The history books are filled with the names of leaders who accomplished a great deal, yet their accomplishments, in many cases, were not good. They were “effective” leaders. They acted, and they changed their worlds; sometimes they destroyed their worlds. They acted but their actions were unwise or ungodly. Their actions brought change, but it was not the right change. Too often, such leaders were surrounded by people who did think but who did not have the courage to act. Thoughtless actions were not overcome by the action-less thoughts.
Pause and Reflect
- List one good idea you thought about but failed to act on and implement.
- Note two projects in which you acted without much thinking.
- How could each of these three endeavors be improved by thinking and acting?
It’s not enough to know what should be done; you must then actually do it. It’s not enough to study; you must then act on what you learn.
The world is not changed by people who think; the world is changed by people who act. The world is changed well by people who think and act. Be one of them!