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Of Machines and Men

Of Machines and Men

Wayne Muller in his book Sabbath tells a story about Harvard President Neil Rudenstine oversleeping one morning in November of 1994.  For this zealous perfectionist, in the midst of a million-dollar-a-day fund raising campaign, it was cause for alarm.  After years of intensive, nonstop toil and struggle in an atmosphere that rewarded frantic busyness and overwork, and having been assaulted by a hail of never-finished tasks, President Rudenstine collapsed.  “My sense was that I was exhausted,”

Rudenstine told reporters.  His doctor agreed.  Only after a three month sabbatical, during which he read Lewis Thomas, listened to Ravel, and walked with his wife on a Caribbean beach, was Rudenstine able to return to his post.  That week, his picture was on the cover of Newsweek magazine beside the one word banner headline: “Exhausted!”

Can man really operate like a machine?

I remember my grandfather telling a story about his employer Milton S. Hershey.  Hershey was the founder and leader of the Hershey Chocolate Factory around the turn of the century.  During that time Hershey also built a school for orphaned children, a park, rose gardens, ballroom, community center and a golf course for any employee from his chocolate factory to use free of charge.

The idea was to have a balanced life. 

Work hard, enjoy your family and rest well.  For Hershey, stability didn’t come through sucking more profit out of his people but rather providing balance.  During the 1930’s at the height of the great depression, Hershey decided to build the world renowned Hershey Hotel.  His purpose was solely to provide jobs, not make more money.  My grandfather was pulled from the chocolate factory due to work being slow to help build the Hotel.

steamengineOne day while constructing the new hotel, the sight manager had a new machine brought to the job site.  It was a steam shovel.  While the steam shovel began to dig the manager proclaimed that this new machine could do the work of 100 men.

About midday, Milton S. Hershey arrived at the construction site to oversee the progress which had been made.  Not long after arriving the site manager showed Milton the steam shovel and proclaimed it could do the work of 100 men.  Milton stopped the manager in his tracks and said, “Then get rid of the steam shovel and hire 100 more men.”

What is the value of a human being?

This past week while reading the book Consuming Religion by Vincent J. Miller, I was struck by the concept of how hyper-consumerism societies cause an unstoppable commodification of culture. Subtly, we begin to look at nearly everything as a commodity.  In its extreme, this attitude diminishes the value and worth of fellow humans, and we begin to treat people as commodities or machines – empty, soulless, hollow commodities for our own purposes.


Of course, we all know that humans are not machines.  We know we’re limited, not infinite. We know there’s more value to an individual than what they can do for us, but the subtle cultural pressure can influence to live as if these things were true.

Milton Hershey understood the value and worth of a person. Hire more, work them less, give them rest, provide a living and care for their entire being.  They are not expendable.

For me this begs a huge questions for all of us as ministers…

What Commodification Exists in our Student Ministries?

Our Language.

commodityprofileWhat type of language do we use in your student ministry?  Invest and Invite!  Multiply! Exponential! Too often our language models a commodification understanding of church and humanity.  We talk about people as dehumanized objects in which play roles in our great game.  Financial, capitalistic and self-gain language is often used at the expense of the very person you were called to help form their soul.  In commodification language the forming of one’s soul is foreign and even seems ridiculous, due to the lack of capitalistic gain.

Our Leaders.

Do we see leaders as commodities or souls which have been entrusted to you by God to care for.  Why do we spend time with our leaders?  Simply to gain a return or because we love them the way God loves them?  Leaders are gifts entrusted to you by God, not another tool to treat like a machine in accomplishing your great vision.  Do you know your leaders?  Do you sit and simply be present with them?  Do you hurt with them, or have you devalued them as commodities?  Remember, a commodity is simply used, when finished we get another.

Our Discipleship.

Critically evaluating discipleship evaluates health based off the question, “Is a disciple displaying the character and priorities of Jesus?”  How is it that we have commodified discipleship to a point where we evaluate health based on production?  A disciple must be active!  In a loss of rhythms and pace of life, we have forgotten about the first portion of Mark 12, simply being present with God.  Do we provide room in our student ministry programing for people to be present?  Do we care for their souls in the mess?  Do we trust God enough with our finances to not force a production model to grow our student ministry numerically?

  • Are we treating our people like human beings or machines?
  • Have we commodified them?
  • Are they exhausted?
  • Are you a man or a machine?

Human beings enjoy the simplicity of life.  Work as well as rest.  We were not made to operate like machines.

Which will you be?  How will you lead?

Rick Rhoads
Professor of Student Min at Lancaster Bible College
Rick is the Director of the Student Ministry Majors at Lancaster Bible College. He has served as an Assistant Professor in Student Ministry at LBC for the past 7 years. Over the past 18 years, he has served in various Student Ministry roles at Lebanon Valley YFC, LCBC, Calvary Bible Church, and Riverbend Community Church. Rick, his wife Naomi, and their two children Grace and Eli live East Petersburg, PA.
  1. Joeybagodonuts05-14-13

    Thanks for the reality check. Good words to think on for a life time

    • Richard_Rhoads05-14-13


      Always good to hear your voice. This area of study is something I have been wrestling through for myself.

      Know I’m praying for you as you gear up for the summer.

      Love ya, Rick

  2. jeremy blount05-14-13

    Good stuff Mr. Rhoads. I have been learning to share not only my faith, but my very life with those God has entrusted me with and I must admit that I have treated people and the ministry like a machine. Learning a different way is not easy and I would say it takes a whole lot more faith. We must believe that God is working in peoples lives and that it is not up to us. We must also trust that God will show us that He is the one who provides financially for us. As we show people that they matter, they will feel refreshed and encouraged, which will result in a greater impact for the kingdom.

    Thanks for leading and teaching as one who is still learning.

    • Richard_Rhoads05-14-13


      thank you for your words. I think your right, it takes alot more faith. I know that is why I struggle with it as much as I do. We all want some amount of control. Good connection on the support rasing piece.

      Thankful for you my friend, Rick

  3. Mat Dawson01-14-14

    Great read … Great reminder. Thanks

    • Richard_Rhoads01-29-14

      Mat, thankful for you and what God is doing through you. Thanks for the great questions the other day, keep pursuing those passions. Grace to you, Rick