i wrote an article on balance for the journal of student ministries a number of months ago, and have been waiting an appropriate time before i can post it here also. seems it’s been long enough. so, here’s part one:
the seduction of balance
When the editors of The Journal of Student Ministries asked me to write on the subject of balance, my first thought was that I could summarize everything I know about balance in a short, six-word sentence: I don’t have a freakin’ clue. Of course, not being sure if they’d allow me to use the word “freakin’,” I realized I would be taking the risk of having my little sentence shortened to five words.
But then, I put things in perspective. In order to write about balance, I should have some significant experience with the polar opposite: unbalance. Based on that qualification, there are very few who are more qualified to write on this subject.
I have had a challenging relationship with balance for most of my life. Though I long for balance, she eludes me (not unlike most of the girls in high school). And as the responsibilities, pressures, and stresses of my life have increased, balance has increased her elusiveness, almost to the point of scorn. I don’t like her; she’s fickle, condemning, distant, and judgmental. And she’s a tease—man, she is such a tease.
So for a number of years, I simply discarded the quest for her altogether.
There was a time when I longed for balance. I was even sure it was a spiritual, holy thing. Like many of us, I first picked up the “spiritualization” of balance in Sunday school. Lessons like “everything in moderation” made their way into my juvenile theological framework. I saw that unique people were treated with suspicion (at best) or contempt (at worst), and that the social gravity in church always moved toward the center or “normal.”
Of course, like everything else in church, this gravitational push toward center (not just in social structures, but in everything: theology, musical style, youth ministry programming, and strength of coffee) got spiritualized. “God likes normal” was the implied message. God likes the center of the normal distribution (the bell curve), except when it came to inventing those wacky platypuses (Just look at God’s playfulness!).
That church-lady fear of uniqueness became a deep fondness for “normal,” and subsequently got spiritualized into a godly value; then eventually—as much tends to do—it became a system. Case in point (and this is just one of many cases in point that could be made, and not a particular slam on this wonderful organization): the Navigator Wheel of Discipleship.
I was taught the Navigator’s balance wheel model is a teenager, and I subsequently used it to train my own student leadership team. It’s a pretty tool. And like many clean and easy to grasp tools, it’s seductive: It’s apparent logic makes it sound so right.
The Navigator Wheel of Discipleship has a hub of Christ, with four spokes: Scripture, Fellowship, Prayer, and Witnessing. The tire—or, outside edge— is the Obedient Christian life. It was easy for me to explain to my student leaders why all four spokes were necessary. They’d all ridden a bike—and they knew what would occur if a wheel was missing a spoke. They could quickly deduce the “it doesn’t work right” ride of a wheel with one spoke shorter than the others. Balance, in this slick little model, makes perfect and complete sense.
The problem is that the model is built on a Western church set of values, not a scriptural set of values (of course, the other problem was that I was also teaching a value set I didn’t live—but that’s another story). I dare anyone to look at the life of Christ and say that balance was a key value.
Sure, Jesus had fellowship. Sure, Jesus pulled away for prayer (great lessons in those actions, to be sure). But Jesus portrays a life full of grace that isn’t balanced at all, but rather full of extravagance. Jesus displayed passion for the lost, poor, and oppressed in abundance. And there’s nothing balanced about a shepherd who leaves the flock for one sheep (a sheep who is far outside the bell curve). The Kingdom of God is one of excess: In grace, in love, in forgiveness. The value system of God is not about fairness and balance, which is very good news for us—if it were, you and I would be screwed!
A number of years ago, my friend, Dr. Kara Powell asked me how I found balance in my life. I responded that, as a visual person, I tend to think of balance as a teeter-totter. And, like any good fulcrum, the only time I really experience balance is when I’m passing it on the journey from one unbalance to another.
Whether or not you agree, you have to admit that there’s some truth in it. None of us is truly balanced. We all bring our passions, biases, perspectives, experiences, priorities, choices, responsibilities, and even sin to our little façades of balance. We all have lopsided wheels.
in part 2 (tomorrow), “discipleship as edge-craft”, “values vs. balance”, and the conclusion, “cautiously re-embracing balance”…