This past weekend I was out working on a work site with one of our high school students. I have been working with this student on their pacing on the job and helping them think through how to make the economics of what we are doing work well enough so that we can be profitable. Our two main goals are to do excellent job and turn a profit. In landscaping terms this means that you not only have to work at a fast clip, but you also need to do things efficiently. You need to think several steps ahead in every action so that you are not spending a minute more on the work site than you absolutely have to. But, you can't be so efficient that the customer feels like you haven't really done a thorough job. You balance providing excellent service that is pleasing to your customer with the need to work profitably and efficiently. It's a hard tight rope to walk. And it's one we have to walk in our faith lives as well.
So, when we got in the car at the end of a soaking leaf clean up and headed back, I complemented this student on how hard they worked and how I noticed that they eliminated several time consuming steps along the way. I let them know that in the work place, one has to be both quick and efficient. But, what I also discussed with my student is that while our work lives demand efficiency in a capital based society, we also see in our faith that Jesus seems to challenge that kind efficiency model at every turn. Jesus recognizes that efficiency has a way of chewing up human beings 10 at a time. While efficiency and speed may drive and economy it is also what causes us to apply one size fits all sorts of models in every corner of our world. You know, the square peg round hole problem we have all been victimized by from time to time. We might juxtapose that kind of efficiency based thinking with Jesus' Kingdom mathematics. He advocates that we leave the 99 in search of the 1. Kingdom mathematics causes him to take a world changing tale of good news no further than 50 miles from it's original epicenter and gather a bunch of ragamuffins and cast-offs to comprise his squad. It doesn't take a beautiful mind to figure out that Kingdom math simply does not work out even in the short term in a dog eat dog world. My student offered in the midst of our conversation that if one company were to eliminate its workers with artificial intelligence, then the next company in the same industry would have to do so if it wanted to maintain competitiveness. He was basically right. But, the Kingdom of God would always ask us to calculate the human cost. Not on a macro scale, but on an individual scale. Say the size of Zacchaeus, or Bartimaeus, or the woman at the well.
So, what I tried to explain to the student is that Jesus' teachings are designed precisely to push back on the cold efficiency of our world. They point to a Kingdom, or reality, of a different sort where there is always time for the person at the side of the road. Where the last worker hired is blessed even more than the first. I wanted this student to understand that all of us who seek to follow the Jesus Way have to live in this tension between what is in this world (i.e.- I have to work hard, fast, and efficient to get by) and what is/what will be in this world (i.e.- A Kingdom world where time and grace are always abounding in ever more abundance). This tension of two realities greets each follower of Christ every single day. "Is there really more room for one more friend in my circle? Can I really risk that dollar to help someone out? What will this gracious but inefficient choice cost me? Or harder yet, what will it cost my children?"
But what was remarkable in this conversation was that because of doing work today with a student, I was able to talk about a spiritual concept that would have taken me all sorts of convoluted activities and mediocre object lessons to get at in other settings. Further, I was getting covered in rain and muck just like he was. So unlike typical church settings when I am dispensing advice for folks to live out in their own corners of life, we were discussing a problem that I was clearly neck deep in. What really drove the lesson home was that right before we left, a woman across the street was cleaning her lawn out of weeds and leaves. She had a tiny trash can, no push broom or blower, and was utterly soaked. So, even while I had been driving home the lesson of efficiency, the student and I went over and cleaned up her piles.
The medium of work consistently provides amazing soil in which to engage just these sorts of topics. It really is amazing stuff! I can't think of another setting in ministry where I have been able to access the core of the gospel so easily in conversation. My hope is that the teens I work with can learn to live in such a way that they can provide for themselves in this world while also allowing themselves to be graciously interrupted by opportunities to be inefficient from time to time. It's in those interruptions that we discover the joy of the Godward life and the in-breaking of the Kingdom.