Want to be a culture-changer? Make sure you have parallel callings.
I founded Clapham Institute in 2002. It’s named after a network of English activists who lived in and around Clapham, England, between 1787 and 1833. Over several decades, they helped to achieve many systemic cultural reforms, including the abolition of the English Slave Trade.
William Wilberforce was one of Clapham’s leaders. He came to faith in 1786. A year later, on October 28, 1787, he wrote in his diary: “God has set before me two great objects, the suppression of the slave trade and the reformation of manners” (i.e. cultures). Wilberforce felt two parallel callings. End the English Slave Trade. Reform cultures.
The order of these callings is critical. The first was total. End the entire slave trade. Not just “engage” it. When a calling is this specific and measurable, you invariably discover the problem you’re trying to solve is systemic, the natural result of systems. Systemic problems require systemic solutions. This was Wilberforce’s second calling, “the reformation of manners” (cultures). It flowed from the first. Systemic solutions require cultures that have been reformed.
This is why Wilberforce led or was a member of at least 69 benevolent societies, including helping found the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, as well as Britain’s National Gallery of Art. He was a culture-changer. Culture-changers recognize cultures are systems. Systems cause systemic problems. Systemic problems require systemic solutions.
This is why culture-changers have parallel callings. I recently met a man who, several years ago, launched a reading program for inner-city second graders. It’s making a difference, helping about five percent of the population in need. This man wants total change. That requires systemic cultural reforms—healthy families, food, safe streets, schools, and so on. We seek to help him scale up his organization to change the systems causing the problem he’s trying to solve.
Another culture-changer I recently met has parallel callings. His project’s aim is “to break the cycle of poverty through STEM education and workforce development.” His aim is to end poverty. Not just “engage” it. After 10 years, his program is making a difference. But he recognizes ending poverty requires systemic solutions—reforming Baltimore’s civic, educational, governmental, employment, and law enforcement systems. He’s asked us to help him.
These leaders are rare. On average, only ten percent of the population is culture-changers. These leaders use strong verbs. End poverty. Abolish slavery. Most folks use weak verbs. Befriend the poor. Come alongside the underserved. Their solutions to social problems are phrased almost solely in terms of individual voluntary activities. “Worthy as these projects may be,” writes Notre Dame professor Christian Smith, “none of them attempt to transform social or cultural systems, but merely to alleviate some of the harm caused by the existing system.”
The original Clapham network transformed systems. Members had parallel callings. They didn’t have to be people of faith. They worked with people of no faith. Differing faiths. This is how Clapham Institute operates today (we’re admittedly a pale imitation of our namesake!). We exist to assist those who feel parallel callings, regardless of their faith orientation. These culture-changers might be in church or the wider NFP world. They might be in business.
Take business. Over the last few decades, the faith and work movement has made enormous strides. But the culture of business remains governed by positivism, an anti-religion system where facts govern Monday-Friday, faith is for the weekend. Until we change this system, the faith and work movement will remain relegated to a God Ghetto. We don’t want that. So we’re reframing the gospel in images and language accessible to business leaders. We’re developing these for culture-changers, regardless of their faith orientation. We look for parallel callings.
If you’re thinking Jesus didn’t do this, think again. He created a network of disciples who, over time, became cultural-changers. Originating on the periphery of the social world of that age, they moved to the provincial center of Jerusalem, and then, within a generation, to the center of the ancient world (Rome). They created new institutions that not only described but embodied a better way. They reformed systems, changing the world. They had parallel callings.
This is our New Years’ Resolution—assisting these culture-changers. Happy New Year.
Check out the latest Clapham podcast here: https://claphaminstitute.podbean.com/
 Christian Smith, American Evangelicalism: Embattled and Thriving (University of Chicago, 1998), 198.