For those that missed it live, here is the lecture I did for Ambrose University minus the live Question and Answer time.
You are invited to a virtual public lecture presented by Ambrose University.
Description: Many of our discipleship metaphors and understandings come from a mechanical view of the world shaped by technological advancements largely foreign to the agrarian world of the Bible and the metaphors Jesus used. If metaphors shape our world and help us understand the abstract, then how might the machine-ladened metaphors we’ve used warp our view of discipleship, and what can we do about it?
Speaker Bio: Rev. Dr. Bryce Ashlin-Mayo (DMin, George Fox University) served for twenty-five years as a pastor in the Christian and Missionary Alliance in Canada, most recently as Lead Pastor of Westlife Church. Bryce is currently Dean of Theology and Associate Professor of Pastoral Theology at Ambrose University in Calgary, Alberta. Bryce has written several books on social media and digital ministry including, “Digital Mission: A Practical Guide for Ministry Online.”
As we enter the New Year, there is a good chance you have braved and, hopefully, survived the Boxing Day shopping madness.
Boxing Day – the day we buy things we don’t need to replace stuff that still works.
We live in an upgrade infused culture where we upgrade everything. If you have a traditional tube TV, you need to upgrade to a flat screen TV and, with new technology coming out this year, you will soon feel the obsessive need to upgrade to the new thin curved TVs.
Whether one is talking about appliances, phones, computers, electronics, etc., there is no doubt that our fascination with upgrading is perpetrating a lie in our collective consciousness.
Consider how an upgrade infused culture begins to effect how we look at people and relationships. In an upgrade infused culture, we begin to believe the lie that people are disposable, consumable, and upgradable. If you don’t like the person you are married to, perhaps outgrowing them, then it is time to find someone else even better. If your friends are not serving your needs and causing you enjoyment, then it is time to get new friends.
If this sounds good and preferable, you may have been drinking the Upgrade Kool-Aid.
Consider this phenomenon from a different perspective. What if all of your friends left you because you were not meeting their needs and they outgrew you? What if your spouse, after years of life together, left you for an updated relationship? What if you were on the other side of the upgrade transaction, left alone and abandoned at the relationship recycle center.
The Bible calls us to live in relationship with others in a way that intentionally lives outside the culturally embraced upgrade mentality. We are called to commit to our marriage partner for life and to our friends when things get difficult. We are called to love others even when it is painful. We are even called to love our enemies.
In all relationships, we are called to live the Golden Rule: to love and treat others, as we would want to be loved and treated. In other words, we are called to reject the notion of relational upgrading.
This New Year, reject upgrading in relationships and see what God might teach you as you love others and stay committed to them, even when it may, in our consumerist mentality, seem easier to upgrade. What might God want to teach you about Himself, about yourself, and about the other people in your life?
In Willy Nelson’s brilliant rendition of Coldplay’s “Back To The Start” (graphically narrated by Johnny Kelly and brilliantly employed by Chipotle) we are introduced to the concept that has become part of society’s collective consciousness as we move away from the apex of industrial society, increasingly wary of its negative effects.
“The film, by film-maker Johnny Kelly, depicts the life of a farmer as he slowly turns his family farm into an industrial animal factory before seeing the errors of his ways and opting for a more sustainable future. Both the film and the soundtrack were commissioned by Chipotle to emphasize the importance of developing a sustainable food system.” (From the YouTube description)
Specifically related to food production, North Americans are increasingly aware and alarmed by how industrialization has coopted agriculture to the point where food is genetically engineered, chemically induced and artificially flavored.
This pervasive phenomenon has extended itself to the church and has extensively infected our thinking. Specifically, it has created an industrial view of discipleship. In fact, I have come to believe that this is one of the biggest problems facing the church and why our (industrialized) discipleship models are failing. Even when we seek to solve our discipleship problems, we end up using re-engineered models based on previously held and universally accepted industrial paradigms because they have so infected our consciousness. We can simplify things, we can created better programs at different times with creative graphics and materials, but if these are all created under the same industrial metaphors and paradigms of an industrial model of thinking, they will continue to lead us in unhealthy directions. As Albert Einstein famously said:
“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”
Before the church begins to rethink its discipleship models, it must recognize the fundamental and effectual nature of our pervasive industrial metaphors, language and methodologies that frame many of our concepts. In a beginning attempt to critically reflect on our industrial paradigms, I want to suggest four (garden) stakes of Post-Industrial Discipleship (Note: These stakes are not intended to be comprehensive and others are welcome).
Four Stakes of Post-Industrialized Discipleship
Efficiency does NOT Equal Effectiveness
A core tenant of industrialism is the elevation of efficiency. In industrialization, the goal is to create something in less time with less effort (efficiency). This thinking has seeped into the DNA of the Church through our discipleship models and methodologies. The goal of our industrialized discipleship ‘processes’ is to make disciples with the least amount of effort, cost and time (evaluated with similar metrics as a factory).
But what if discipleship was viewed through the lens of a pre-industrial agricultural paradigm, the dominant metaphors and paradigm Jesus used, void of industrial baggage? What if we viewed discipleship as something that is often completely inefficient and in that inefficiency, it finds its effectiveness?
An example of this is found in “spiritual disciplines.” Spiritual disciplines were understood for centuries as key practices for Christians and a means to grow in devotion and maturity in Christ. A tenant of spiritual disciplines is found in the world “discipline,” implying continual practice and focus even when it is not efficient. It is not a coincidence that spiritual disciplines have become less understood and practiced in our industrialized discipleship models.
The same principles that govern success in a factory should NOT govern success in a church or in a believer’s life. We are not machines! The church is not a factory for making machines! Jesus used pre-industrial agricultural images such as vine, branches, soul, seeds, etc. because they communicated something about discipleship. As a result, we must begin to increasingly recognize the inefficiency that is inherent in disciple making and reject the paradigms that trumpet efficiency as effectiveness.
Pastors are NOT Factory Managers and the Church is NOT a Discipleship Factory
The role of the pastor has been an increasing topic of conversation and debate in church circles. Questions of what the pastor is called to do and whether this lines up with the North American church’s practice are commonplace.
I would like to suggest that the role of pastor has also been coopted by our industrialized metaphors. The pastor’s role has radically changed in the last fifty years. As churches have grown in size, scale and functionality so too has the pastor’s job description. There was a time where a pastor’s role would have been analogous to a farm hand. Using the metaphor of a farm, the pastor would have worked the fields, planted, harvested, and would have served the Good Gardener (Jesus who is the head of the Church). Or using shepherd language, the pastor is a shepherd of a flock following together the Good Shepherd (Jesus who is the head of the Church).
As culture has moved further into industrialization, the role of pastor has also evolved. The common contemporary pastor’s job description would be analogous now to that of a factory manager, making sure the machine is running and that profits are being made. I am in no way trying to be draconian here, just making an observation based on cultural changes and the impact of industrial metaphors and influences.
100% Organic and Natural Discipleship
As we move past the apex of industrialization in our agricultural environments, we have begun to see an increased desire and push towards things being 100% Organic and Natural in our grocery store’s produce aisles. Just as the Chipotle video demonstrates, people want to go back to the start and eat foods that are pesticide free, unaltered genetically and grown sustainably. Notwithstanding the benefits of industrialization on agriculture (which also exist), the impact of the industrialization on our consciousness is demonstrated in and through our discipleship vernacular.
Recently, I’ve seen several discipleship seminars/books/articles using the word “greenhouse,” describing how our churches need to be “greenhouses for disciples.” On the surface, this sounds good but consider the industrialization language/paradigm it employs and the resulting effects. A greenhouse’s very purpose is to shelter plants, specifically seedlings, from nature’s elements (storms, pests, diseases, etc.) protecting them until they are mature enough to be planted in the “natural” environment. Although this may sounds noble, could this philosophy be part of the problem with our current discipleship models and paradigms? Should we be sheltering people from culture, friends, information, etc. as they grow in their faith? Should we be protecting them from potentially negative influences or is nature’s environment part of the maturing process? Is our sheltering of them during their maturity process doing more harm than good? Are our churches filled with people suffering from “Greenhouse Disease” (The phenomena of “Greenhouse Disease” exists in agriculture, stemming from a large population of one plan in a confined location)?
I think we see this manifested in how we have, over the last couple decades, separated evangelism from discipleship. We have come to believe in the compartmentalized idea that if we disciple people (note that most people wrongly assume this solely means educate) then they will, as a result, go and evangelize (share their faith) with others. In other words, if we keep believers in the greenhouse, they will eventually decided to go out into the elements thriving and reproducing as a natural progression in their maturity. This, I believe, is false! Instead, what if this mentality is the problem? What if the world, with its spiritual storms, pest and diseases, etc.), is part of the maturing process? What if evangelism, sharing one’s faith, wasn’t the result of growing in your relationship with Christ but a key and foundational part of this process? What if, by keeping new Christians confined in an artificial environment, we infect them with “Christian Greenhouse Disease?”
The church must begin to critically reflect on its discipleship language and metaphors and begin to shift towards discipleship that is 100% Organic and Natural, void of artificiality. Although this process may be messy and exist outside the greenhouse, this might actually be the fertile ground disciples are grown and matured.
Uniformity and Yield are NOT Goals to be Sought
With the apex of industrialization, particularly in the area of agriculture, two goals emerged: uniformity and yield. To be efficient and increasingly profitable, the crop produced must have a high yield and must be as uniform as possible to increase the efficiency of the machines involved in harvest and the process of shipping. This is evidenced in a recent LA Times article that reports genetically tomatoes are lacking in flavor because of the increased value of uniformity. (My favorite quote in the article: “’If I see this tomato is not uniformly ripe, that means that it’s not the cardboard junk that they’ve been producing for the past 30 years,’ Klee said. ‘It’s almost like a badge of honor.’” There are so many connections to our uniform discipleship models in this statement.)
This mentality has influenced the church when it comes to discipleship. The bigger a church gets, the more complex the discipleship process and the more it has to be based upon the two values/goals of industrialization: yield and uniformity. As a result, people have become caught in the cogs of our programs that have served to create a one-size-fits-all discipleship process. We have created processes and models under the influence of industrialization to the place where people are forced into uniformity, even if it means they lose their taste and uniqueness (or as Jesus said in Matthew 5: salt and light). Additionally, we evaluate the success of our programs and methodologies based on industrialized goals of increased yield. In other words, the more people attending a program, activity, or event the more successful it must have been.
Moving forward, we need to recognize our tendency toward the values of uniformity and yield in our industrial paradigms, seeking to allow for diversity and uniqueness in the lives of people and their relationships with Christ. People will learn differently, connect with God in different ways, and live out their faith with uniqueness. All of which is not a sign of disorganization or failure, but a sign of God’s creative genius.
When it comes to discipleship, we need to “get back to the start!” We need to recognize the impact our industrialized metaphors have had on our discipleship concepts and reawaken the pre-industrial organic metaphor of ‘growth’ within our mechanistically mastered methodologies of ‘make.’ We are not machines, created by a factory in order to create more machines. We are relational beings, created by a relational God, created for relationship with God and others. Our discipleship concepts and understandings must reflect this reality.