I enjoyed most of the 16 days experience of building a classical guitar, but I confess that I was tense to the point of near-fear during parts of it. However neither enjoyment nor stress prevented me from drawing some important life-lessons from the experience.
My first observation is one to which I have already alluded in a previous post – all parts work together. In the case of a guitar, its form, sound, and playability depend on the harmonious interaction of many parts and forces. If the sound-board is too thick then the tone will be seriously affected; if the neck is inclined at the wrong angle then playing the instrument will be difficult, and so on. Yet, each element in itself also needs the cooperation of other components in order to function properly. It’s not just the inclination of the neck that affects playability; the fret positions, the scale length, the string tension, the bridge and the nut heights, all work together to produce a playable guitar. Just so with the church. In First Corinthians chapter 12 Paul has much to write about this, especially in the section that starts with the words, ‘The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ.’ (Verses 12 & 13), and ends with, ‘Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it’ (Verse 27). The church was designed to be more organic than organisational and organisms are interdependent in all their parts. When we lose sight of this then we miss an essential essence of church life. My Guitar Venture experience reminded me of this important truth.
I would summarise my second observation as; ‘Get it right and fix it now rather than attempting to compensate for it later’. If the early measurements are off by even a fraction of a millimetre in the early stages of construction then many things go pear-shaped later on. For instance, the centre line that runs down the guitar from headstock to bottom of the bout, is hugely important. If this line is off then the form will look wrong and the sound and playability could be seriously impaired. It is far easier and less costly, at every level, to fix a deviant centre line by redrawing it correctly right at the outset. In church life a similar principle applies. In over three decades of church leadership experience I have learned the painful lesson that problems need to addressed decisively when they occur and not later. I remember, for instance, a pianist we once had who played like she was in a carnival and treated the congregation as naughty children who were not getting into the spirit of the performance as they should. I tried to encourage her to tone down, explaining that perhaps the people were not yet where she was musically. This only made her try even harder and we moved from carnival to a beerhall ambience! Eventually I just had to tell her to stop performing and bullying the congregation. Her response was “Why didn’t you just say how you felt months ago. You have made me look like a fool!”… and she left the church.
By far the most significant lesson for me from the guitar building experience was … well let me first ask a question: How can a 67 year old man, with no wood-working knowledge or skill, and with two arthritic hands build a beautiful looking, sounding, and playing classical guitar in 16 days? I asked Luigi a similar question before enrolling on the course and his answer went along the lines of; “If you really want to do it and are prepared to work hard at it then I will ensure that you succeed.” Will + effort + a master craftsman. And he was right! Now in the Christian life we work with the master craftsman of all master craftsmen – the Lord Jesus Christ. He has all the knowledge and skills needed to create anything He wants. Using the guitar analogy one last time, He has the construction diagram, He knows what the instrument needs to look like, He has insight into all the difficult parts of the process and each critical step that needs to be taken. If we are truly ‘working’ with Him in whatever we do in life then can He not successfully guide and aid us through what needs to be achieved? The answer has to be… yes! But there are two provisions – we need to really want to achieve and we must be prepared to give it 110% persevering effort.
One final lesson that impacted me greatly. During the first week of the Guitar Venture I was so focused on the task that I didn’t adequately recognise the people I was with. Each day of that first week took so much concentration and energy focus that I got a little ‘lost’ in the process. I realised this on the evening of day seven and I was saddened by the realisation. That that night I prayed; “Please forgive me Lord for not caring enough for the people you have put me with that I haven’t even prayed to you about them. I will do that every day from now on Lord… and please give me opportunities to speak to them about you.” From the very next day on I did indeed have opportunities to speak about faith in Jesus Christ, and I still pray for the people I met down in George. I have observed this work fixation syndrome playing out so many times in my life and in what I observe in others. The job becomes more important than the people involved. The ‘ministry’ takes prominence over those who are supposed to be the recipients of the ministry. And the results of this wrong focus are sometimes devastating. Pastors burn out and leave church ministry, wives divorce work-obsessed husbands, and human relationships crack and fall apart like a badly made guitar subjected to excessive heat.
I hope you have benefited from these insights gleaned from the experience of building a guitar, for I certainly have. But there is one final post still to come… so please keep reading and commenting.