Friday, March 28, 2008

Modulus of Elasticity

I was thinking about the modulus of elasticity yesterday. Yes, I tend to think about such things. Blame it on the 6 years I spent in the engineering labs. The modulus of elasticity is the mathematical description of an object or substance's tendency to be deformed elastically (i.e., non-permanently) when a force is applied to it. Once a material reaches the yield point, permanent transformation has occurred. Or more simply, it is the point at which an object can be stretched and return to its original size. The more rigid the substance, the higher the modulus of elasticity. For example, a rubber band has a very low modulus of elasticity. You can stretch it to double, triple, and quadruple it's size and it will return right back to it original size. Steel, on the other hand, has a higher modulus of elasticity. If you stretch it, twist it, compress it, or deform it too much, its shape will be permanently changed.

There's a parallel to spiritual growth here. So often, we implement disciplines and participate in experiences that stretch us, but they don't actually stretch us to our spiritual yield point. When we leave that mountain-top experience retreat, we swear we will never be the same again. And yet by Thursday, our lives and our spiritual fervor have shrunk right back to the pre-retreat size and shape.

In the engineering world, you typically want to design so that the stresses on a material do not exceed that yield point. But in the world of discipleship engineering, we've got to go beyond our current ways of stretching and growing people. We've got to recognize that one sermon, one class, and one retreat will not produce permanent results. Implementing a new spiritual discipline for just a few days will not produce permanent change. We've also got to realize that discipleship can't be one-size-fits-all. Just as wood, steel, and iron all differ in their modulus of elasticity and require a design that recognizes that, so each person in our congregation has their own unique spiritual modulus of elasticity and we must design discipleship environments that offer flexibility and personalization.


At 11:32 PM, Blogger Mike Mathews said... it needs to end up in print!
That really grabbed my attention and I hung on every word to the end.
You have a great knack for doing that. Keep it up.

At 8:34 AM, Blogger Frank Chiapperino said...

Very cool analogy! I recently found your blog, and I look forward to jumping in on the discussion here.

I think mentorships play a big roll in spiritual development. I really believe it is a key relationship that can help guide someone through their spiritual development.

At 9:56 AM, Anonymous Danny Buzzard said...

I agree Frank. Encouragement and accountability from community and/or one on one mentorship help to nudge one over that yield point for real life change.

At 4:26 PM, Blogger Mike Sharrow said...

What you hit upon is, I think, what everyone deeply knows but fears to acknowledge - the variability within each life and stage of transformation. So how does a church "program" for such varying degrees of elasticity? How is structure built with flexible intention, leaders raised up with pliable commissions and mass discipleship pursued in light of this? What does it change, what does it not?

At 2:00 PM, Blogger Heather Z said...

Thanks, Mike. I learned from the best (that includes you!)

Frank and Danny- totally agree! Discipleship can't happen without relationship. Our friends determine the quality and direction of our lives, and they can definitely stretch us over that yield point.

Mike-- wish I could answer your questions! There is so much variability, chaos, and complexity in spiritual growth. But there is also a predictability in all of it. Kinda like chaos theory. Hmm...maybe that's another post. Chaos theory and community. :) Anyway...if anyone has any thoughts on Mike's questions, I'm all ears, as well!


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