The Assembly Line that Makes Me Feel Great

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.

The Assembly Line that Makes Me Feel Great

One thought on “The Assembly Line that Makes Me Feel Great

  1. Wow. I love how God uses you to be such an encouragement to me. At the exact same time you were writing this, he had me writing the following update to a good friend of mine. (Sorry that it’s another blog post all on its own, but I think the parallels are amazing.)
    – – – – – – –
    In the almost four years since we left the traditional Baptist church we were in, the main thing God has been teaching us is how skewed our view of Jesus was (and consequently our view of church). We must either be slow, very steeped in our old ways, or just plain stubborn, because I can’t believe it’s taken him four years to do it. I just read The Jesus of Suburbia, and it’s like the author wrote down everything as God was teaching it to us. It’s an absolutely amazing book.

    As for doing organic church, it’s definitely swimming against the current—only instead of just swimming against one current, you’re swimming against the current of the traditional view of church and the current of the world. And here I’ve always thought swimming against just one was tough 🙂

    Our little church is going well. I still struggle with wanting it to be more than just our two families, but only in passing now. I have realized that this period is still so much more about continuing to shape us into what he wants us to be. It’s one thing to get your mind around being the church 24/7, but it’s a whole different thing entirely for the rest of your body to actually start living that out. I’ll think I’ve finally gotten it, only to realize that I’m just not there quite yet. Unlike a few months ago, though, I know I’m close now.

    The biggest revelation for me has been the answer to something I’ve been struggling mightily with. For years now, I’ve been torn between two passions. I absolutely love what I do to generate income for my family. It’s like I get to play all day long, and it’s every bit what I choose to do in my free time. It’s like a real-life game. I love it. The only thing I‘m more passionate about is expanding the Kingdom. I could do either one and feel absolutely content.

    Rather than feel blessed because I got to do both, though, I struggled because I felt like I wasn’t able to do either one to the best of my ability. I begged to be able to do one or the other and be able to do it wholeheartedly. For years the pull between two worlds continued.

    It’s only been within the last couple of weeks that the tension was resolved. He has planted me in the (literal and figurative) field I’m in to grow here and spread seed that will produce more plants that will produce more seeds and thus start a cycle of Kingdom growth in an area where it’s largely absent right now. Rather than send me back into the church, into the thick of plants and seed as I thought he eventually would, he has planted me in a largely barren area to begin to populate it. I understand what I’m to do now, and I realize why I had to learn all that other stuff first before I could understand this. I needed to be able to be in the world 24/7 and not only stay strong, but to continue to grow and to thrive—to not have to run back to “the church” to be fed and reinvigorated. (Not that there’s anything at all wrong with that, just that in this role I needed to be able to survive (and thrive) without that.)

    That role meant that I needed to be okay with deeply affecting only one or two people instead of having some sort of impact on hundreds. I realized this past Sunday in our discussion time that one of the reasons Jesus didn’t want word about him to spread was because he knew his impact would come from the 12, not from the thousands of others that had a more shallow interaction with him. He healed people and ministered to people, but rarely invited those people to follow him. His focus was on the 12.

    That is so hard for me to do, though. The importance of numbers has been drilled into me so hard for so long, that it’s taking a long time to unwind that teaching. I’m constantly having to make myself relax and trust that I’m just a small piece in the larger plan and that he knows what he’s doing. There’s still a very prideful part of me that feels like I know where I could be best used and that using me to only affect a small number of people is a waste when we’re already so far behind. (Yeah, I know, right?)

    So I’m at perfect peace for the first time in I don’t know when. Not that I’m at all happy with all that needs to be done and people who need to be changed, but I’ve finally moved out of the driver’s seat and am happy being a passenger—doing only what the driver needs me to do. I trust that he knows what he’s doing, so I’ll quit trying to get ahead of him.

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