I am a regular rule-keeper and a regular rule-breaker. I want society to run smoothly, and a good set of rules enables that. In my Christian college, I earned very few demerits (Do they still use demerits?), but was considered rebellious. I have no problem bending policy, and believe in the gray shades of compliance. Yet, I have an eye for detail, and can submit to the little letters of the law with ease. It seems where I get into trouble with rules, policies, procedures, standards and guidelines is in the exceptions. And, don’t we all?
One of the most memorable occasions where I learned the value of giving allowance was when I was the one refusing to make the exception. In that case, I should have shown grace and bent to the individual, instead of sticking to the policy for the good of the organization …because the organization would have been just fine. Whereas the individual was broken and needed the privilege of reprieve.
When I am in a position of power, it is so easy to miss the need to bend the rules for some. If I had a nickel for every time I said, “If I make an exception for you, I’ll have to make an exception for everyone,” -well, you know. That saying is fiction in the Christian world. God is in the business of making exceptions. In a post I wrote on Rule-breaking Misfits years ago, I asked,
“Can we allow those who break our policies and rules to be blessed of God and in turn bring blessing to His people? Does it rub you the wrong way to “reward” rule breakers? Is God’s Spirit the ultimate rebel?” –article on Numbers 11
I guess I’m still working through this issue, because here I am again struggling with the same feelings that sent me to type that article out four years ago. Only this time, I am the misfit, not the one in charge.
I have described myself as nearly impossible to offend, but there are a few hot buttons that trigger me. When I get worked up and hurt, my first instinct is to run my mouth. That is a hard response to control. This week, I’ve sat on an issue in silence for a few days, and let my thoughts stew. Why did I feel hurt and angry? Was it right to feel that way? What am I going to do about it?
Ultimately, my hurt and anger resulted because I thought I deserved an exception to a rule. And, I still think I do. But, I will not insist. I must work to not harbor ill will. In this particular case, I can get past it with grace. However, the underlying issue that drove me to my keyboard is a big problem in churches. The rigidity of organizational policy overlooks the individual and causes harm to the whole organism, which is the living church.
The rigidity of organizational policy overlooks the individual and causes harm to the whole organism, which is the living church.
Cogs in the Machine
Have you ever heard of the “cog in the works” metaphor? The is a favorite illustration of Paul Metzger, a professor of mine. Metzger warns against reducing Christianity to a system that only values measurable effects and overlooking the “the unquantifiable mystery of love that is the ground of deep relationships. (Paul Louis Metzger, Interstellar: Beyond Scientific and Everyday Positivism.)” God does not view his people as replaceable parts in His big machine, but as vital parts of His Body deserving of honor because they are a member (1 Cor. 12:21-26). We are each unique and irreplaceable to God. When we view people as ‘cogs,’ we see them as generic bodies that make the machine run smoothly, or the body function properly. If the cog breaks down, or jams the works or consistently needs grease to function, we wonder if that cog is a good use of our time and effort? After all, its replaceable. And oh boy, have I been guilty of that myself!
When we focus on policies with no room for exceptions, we make people feel like cogs: replaceable, generic, and undervalued.
When we focus on policies with no room for exceptions, we make people feel like cogs: replaceable, generic, and undervalued. Learning to value people not as workers or givers or attendance numbers is complex. Leading with sensitivity to this complex dynamic demands we evaluate policies and learn that “making exceptions” can be the new rule.
Feeling like a cog sucks. Sometimes my broken self just wants the machine to bend over backwards to help me out.