Jackson and Julianna’s school is fighting to develop new ways to educate urban kids. I have learned so much from them in the past two years about myself, about organizations, about education, about leadership…and about church.
Which is funny because it is not a Christian school. It is a public school lead by brilliant people who are seeking justice for inner city children.
The leadership at the school consistently struggles to explain their vision of education to parents like me. One illustration they use that has touched my soul is of an assembly line. (I’m probably going to mess this up some…bear with me.) They explain that our contemporary form of education was developed during the industrial revolution, the same time as assembly lines and factories. The system, because of the context in which it was developed, is focused on producing factory type workers in assembly line style. We bring the kids in. We sit them down in rows. We tell them what they need to know. Then we test by asking them to regurgitate it back to us. Critical thinking, creativity, and individualization are spoken of but not valued by the system.
Instead, these wonderful educators say, we need to recognize that kids speak a thousand languages. Yes learning the information is important; but even more important is developing the skill to process it and create with it. Yes having a foundational instruction is necessary, but not all kids learn in the same way. Some are visual learners. Others are auditory. Others need to experience it. Others need to feel it. The truth is every kid learns in many different ways. Education then, these leaders have taught me, must to personal. It must be individualized to the child. No more assembly lines. Let’s replace them with communities that learn together, embrace each other, and encourage one another to learn. Teachers move from being experts to living as students of the children they seek to empower.
What breaks my heart is that I see this same problem in our churches. We bring the people in. We ramp them up with music. We then lecture them about life change. Even when we break them into smaller groups, there is no room for customization. There is no room for individualization. We want every group to look the same. Do the same stuff. Learn in the same way. Connect to one another as we, the experts, have deemed is the most effective way to connect.
And from this assembly line mentality our activities centric definition of church has arisen. Now making the assembly line more effective is the point.
And here is the real problem for me. I like the assembly line. I like standing in front of large groups of people and speaking. I like looking at systems on a white board and strategically planning how to move people from one environment to another. I like writing curriculum for masses. I like looking at statistics and debating numbers.
I like it because it makes me feel like I’m accomplishing something. The problems of the city are so large. When I am working on a mass of people it feels like I’m getting something done.
And there is the rub. The church assembly line isn’t really about individuals. It is about me. It helps me feel like I’m making a difference.
Individualization is hard. Sitting over coffee with one person, helping them work through their issues can be discouraging. Trying to come up with a new strategy for each person you are discipling is tiring. Not teaching crowds on cool subjects like “A Righteous Marriage”, not writing a series on the latest T.V. show or fad; but rather trying to figure out the core stuff everybody needs and keeping it simple with intense discipline so others can be creative with their own expression of it is tedious.
But it is wonderful because when I focus on individuals I see Jesus in them and am called to worship God as I have never been called before.
The leaders of my kids’ school are killing themselves to change the paradigm because they love kids and want to see them become the absolute most successful adults they can become.
If we, church leaders, also love our people and want them to become more like Jesus everyday, to experience the abundant life more today than yesterday shouldn’t we also be killing ourselves to change the paradigm?
I would be lying to you if I were to say moving to a lifestyle centric understanding of church was easy. Its not. It hurts. It is a journey full of self-doubt. I consistently have to kill my ego – that voice within me that starts thinking movements, or masses, or anything beyond the individuals right under my nose. Every time I put it to death its painful. Repentance is demanded. Confessions have to be made. Surrender has to come.
Yet while the journey may be difficult, it is beautiful; and I am thankful that I live in such a time as this when I have the privilege of embarking on it.