In the early to mid 1800s a significant cultural change took place that had direct ramifications upon the church. Today we know this change as The Industrial Revolution. This change continues even today as people move from rural areas into cities to work white-collar jobs as opposed to the blue-collar jobs many had previously worked outside of the city.
Not only did this shift allow for the megachurch to be born, but it also changed the way Christians viewed discipleship. We took Jesus’ words in Matthew 28 to the bank: We are to “make disciples.” This language connects with our post-Industrial Revolution minds. I’m obviously not saying Jesus was wrong. What Jesus meant by “make” and what our modern minds think of are two completely different ideas. In actuality Jesus used plenty more gardening language than he did industrial language (parable of the soils, vine and the branches).
We make a lot of things. 99.9% of our lives we spend time working with objects that have been made to make our lives either easier or more enjoyable. Computers, cell phones, motor vehicles, garage door openers, television—all of these are examples of inventions and products that have been introduced into our world within the past 100 years.
A world so focused around objects that are made has slowly crept into the church. Think of all the competing values we have at play here:
Grow vs make.
No longer do we grow in our relationships with God and others, we make those relationships. We establish programs with a clearly defined process and clearly defined outcome.
The past few summers Rose and I have grown a small herb garden. The ongoing care it takes for the herbs to sprout and then continue growing all summer long is a constantly changing target. Some days I need to water more than once and the herbs need to be moved to the shade. Other days I bring them indoors to keep them away from the heavy rain.
When we make something we often follow the exact same steps, the exact same way, every time.
Our churches are charged with growing people in Christ, not pushing them through a machine to make them into something.
Farm vs industry.
In each of these we are focused on creating a product, but a stark difference exists between the assembly line of industry and the daily tilling of soil for crops to take take root, bloom, and then thrive.
A farmer must know each part of his farm intricately well. One section drains water faster and must be watered more often. Another section is close to a forest and needs extra pesticide to deal with the bugs.
A farmer has to know and care intimately about his land otherwise it will not prosper. An assembly line worker spends mere seconds plowing through part after part.
We need churches to be like farmers, caring for each individual in their own unique circumstances, not pushing them through an assembly line of discipleship programming.
Discipleship vs citizenship.
The church is not the social club of individuals we often make it out to be. The church is a communal being centered around a communal God.
We do not belong to a church. We grow as the church.
It’s time for us to move beyond the industrial revolution in our churches. What we need is soil that is continually cultivated through life on life interaction where we are continually building up the body of Christ together.