I didn’t receive the best high school education. It’s hard to imagine that I would’ve been well prepared for college in today’s competitive environment. It’s not that I didn’t have capable teachers — my memory isn’t impartial enough to consider that question — but the expectations they had for their students, in rural Wisconsin, were pretty low. After all, how much academic prowess does someone need to work in a factory or help out with their family’s dairy farm.
I first became aware of this educational deficiency during my first semester of college. I had an English professor who required his students to write a 2 to 3 page reflection on their reading assignments for each class session – three times a week. This was a struggle for me as that short length matched the longest paper I had ever written.
To make matters worse, I still remember the one High School assignment that would have exceeded it. In English class, we were assigned to write a five page paper on a topic we were to research. I fretted over it, I procrastinated, and just before the deadline I submitted a clever comic strip in place of the assigned paper. And as crazy as it is for me to believe today, this alternative work was accepted and I received a ‘B.’
So my college professor had me over a barrel. This man who had a reputation for taking televisions out into the woods and shooting them was going to make my life a living hell.
Except for the fact that he didn’t.
I struggled for a while. I tried to figure out ways to juke the system with font sizes and margin increases. But after a while, I started to find my voice and the amount of red ink on each submission started to decrease. I didn’t need tricks anymore and I even started looking forward to writing assignments.
Discipleship is too often like my remembered high school education. Sure, there are some norms and basic items that we expect of everybody but none of those things are really that challenging. Perhaps we worry that will scare people off. But is it not equally likely that we suffer from having expectations that are far too low?
Now there is absolutely nothing wrong with working in a factory or taking over the family farm. Without the productivity they provide our world would be in a terrible place. But in either scenario, a person with a good education is an asset more capable of creative adaptation and an employee less likely to be so easily replaced by the latest automation.
The same is true for the church. When we set our discipleship bar too low we fail people. We fail them because they’re never challenged (by us) to fully unlock their God-given potential to transform the world. Instead, we too often reinforce the norm where being nice, and giving when we can, is all that God ever asks of us.
And this doesn’t really satisfy because we can all see that the world is in great need.
Discipleship is reaching for the stars. It is the regular act of stretching beyond what we can dream toward what God dreams for us and for the world. Church, in its purest form, is any group that does this together in mutual support and active encouragement. Conversely it’s worth questioning, in my humble opinion, whether any church that doesn’t accomplish this is worth the moniker.
May we all encounter one crazy person who drives televisions off into the woods for target practice. And may we each find the community that helps us to step into our world changing potential.
Photo Credit: Image used under Creative Commons from Kevin O’Mara. Cropped from original.