Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Instron Machines

Last week, I talked about the modulus of elasticity and the importance of creating discipleship environments that stretch people to the point that they experience permanent change in their lives. The need to exceed their spiritual yield strength, in a sense. And whenever I think about the modulus of elasticity, I think of late afternoons in the LSU engineering labs playing with the Instron machines.

In my civil engineering strengths of materials class, we used an Instron machine to determine the physical properties of wood, steel, and structural materials. We would stretch materials to determine their tensile strength and percent elongation, crush them to determine compressive strength, and twist them to discover shear strength.

Later, I spent hot spring afternoons in the biological engineering department doing the exact same tests. Only this time, we were conducting the tests on biological engineering materials- like foods, plants, and bone. We needed a much smaller machine for these items, and we also discovered that there was greater variability with these materials. Two 2-inch steel bars will have variations of strength properties based on manufacturing processes, but they still exhibit very similar strength properties. On the other hand, two 2-inch bones will vary significantly based on the age, health, and size of the person from whom they were taken.

Too often, we attempt to mechanize the discipleship process. It seems to me that the very early stages of spiritual growth are very similar across different types of people. But at a later point, the discipleship process tends to become very unique from person to person. Yet we try to put everyone through the exact same process. We treat every person like they are a 2-inch steel bar with very similar strength properties, and we design environments that are expected to yield similar results with every individual. But it seems to me that individuals tend to react much more like biological materials than structural materials when placed in the spiritual Instron machine. They are much more fragile and much more unpredictable. Maybe we should stop putting people through automated assembly line discipleship processes with the assumption that what works for one will work for all. Maybe we should stop thinking like civil engineers and more like environmental engineers- recognizing the great diversity and variability of the organisms we work with, and acknowledging their individualistic and sometimes unpredictable responses to the different spiritual stimuli that we expose them to.


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