Monday, July 09, 2018

Einstein, Creativity, and the Battle with Conformity

Without hesitation, we who follow Christ affirm the unchangeable nature of His message.

However, the methods by which we deliver this fixed message should constantly be evaluated and often changed for advancing Christ's Kingdom in an ever-changing culture.

Fluid methodologies with a fixed message are the ticket for creative, thriving institutions.

Unfortunately, many institutional leaders reverse the pattern and find their institutions becoming increasingly irrelevant.

When methodologies are fixed and the message is fluid - whether it's a business, a team sport, or a church - the institution slides into a slow, irreversible death.

Within 10 seconds of walking into a building, one can tell the direction the institution is headed. If the building looks and feels straight out of the 60's, 70's, or 80's, and even 90's,  then it is dying. Methodologies for reaching people must change.

Leaders insecure about who they often find their identity in the things they do. That's why organizational change can become very personal.

Authoritative people demand conformity to established methodologies for their self-preservation. An organization must rid itself of authoritative, controlling, insecure leaders prior to realizing institutional advancement.

Take science and mathematics for examples.

One learns science or math through learning established, constant truths that never change. But it is often as difficult for creative geniuses to rise out of the institutional centers of science as it is for Christian leaders to rise out of the institutional and denominational conformities of religion because the methodologies of the institutions rarely change.

Albert Einstein was seventeen years old when he entered the German science and mathematics schools of Munich. Most German schools, including Albert's school, were run with a Prussian sense of military style and efficiency. The students were like privates while the teachers acted as authoritarian officers. Learning was regimented and mechanical with an emphasis on rote memorization and repetitive lessons.

Just like religious institutions.

Rewards were based on conformity and creative learning methodologies were stifled.

Einstein struggled.

Albert found the style of teaching - rote drills, impatience with questioning, and corporate conformity - to be repugnant. His beloved sister, Maja, made this observation of Einstein's feelings:
"The military tone of the school, the systematic training in the worship of authority that was supposed to accustom pupils at an early age to military discipline, was particularly unpleasant to Albert."
According to biographer Walter Isaacson, in his book Einstein, Albert developed a deep contempt for the authoritarian style and militarist atmosphere of German schools. One day when troops in a parade marched down the street where Einstein lived, and all the children came pouring out of their apartments to watch, Einstein refused to join in. He told his parents . . .
When I grow up, I don't want to be one of those poor people. When a person can take pleasure marching in step to a piece of music it is enough to make me despise him. He has been given his big brain only by mistake.
The Reason Einstein Began to Flourish Academically

In 1895, when Einstein was seventeen, his family moved to Switzerland for reasons associated with his father's business. Einstein enrolled at the cantonal school in the village of Aarau before his entrance into the Zurich Polytechnic School.

Aaru was a perfect school for Einstein. According to Isaacson,
The teaching was based on the philosophy of a Swiss educational reformer of the early nineteenth century, Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi, who believed in encouraging students to visualize images. He also thought it important to nurture the 'inner dignity' and individuality of each child. Students should be allowed to reach their own conclusions, Pestalozzi preached, by using a series of steps that began with hands-on observations and then proceeded to intuitions, conceptual thinking, and visual imagery. It was even possible to learn - and truly understand - the laws of math and physics that way. Rote drills, memorization, and force-fed facts were avoided.
Einstein loved Aarau. Maja, Einstein's sister, said of the school,
Pupils were treated individually. More emphasis was placed on independent thought than on punditry, and young people saw the teacher not as a figure of authority, but, alongside the student, a man of distinct personality.
It was the exact opposite of the German instruction Einstein hated. His love for Swiss education and the freedom of individuality eventually led Einstein to renounce his German citizenship. Of course, the German system of worshipping human authority eventually led to the rise of one of the world's worst dictators just a four decades later.

Einstein later said of his year at Aarau,
When compared to six years' schooling at a German authoritarian gymnasium, Aarau made me clearly realize how much superior an education based on free action and personal responsibility is to one relying on outward authority.
Application for Evangelicals

(1). Young evangelical pastors and leaders need an institutional atmosphere where they are free to think and flourish in their own, individual, and creative ways according to how God has gifted each of them.

(2). Demands to submit to authoritarian control by blindly giving allegiance to established methodologies of ministry will thwart any Kingdom creativity and restrict new and more effective methods of reaching an ever-changing world.

(3). Effective missions and ministries come from the hands-on experience of doing new and creative things rather than hearing others declare how it ought to be done. Mistakes will be made, but mistakes of motion are always better than stagnation of status-quo. Methodologies should be fluid.

(4). The threat to the future of any religious institution does not come from more freedom. On the contrary, institutional death springs from authoritative leadership, tight controls, and fixed methodologies.

Ask Albert Einstein.


Anonymous said...


Your conclusions are right on target. The only one I would take exception with is the last point, but it may be only a issue of semantics. I have always assumed that authoritative and authoritarian leadership are different (this is explained in Baumrind's parenting models).

I'll quote from an Psychology Today article by Dr. Nancy Darling: "Authoritative parents teach and guide their children. Their goal is to socialize their children, so they come to accept and value what the parents value. They hope their children will internalize their goals. They are shepherds. The word "authoritative" was chosen to imply that parents have power, because they are wiser and are legitimate guides to the culture.

Authoritarian parents, however, exert control through power and coercion. They have power, because they exert their will over their children."

For the most part, our seminary leaders have modeled the authoritarian style (strict adherence) and have trained pastors to follow their lead.

Anonymous said...

Just a thought hopefully someone will address:

We are in a new community and just completed our search for a church home.

We found several churches that could be considered cutting edge of new methodologies. Each of those had gone from churches numbering over a thousand on Sunday to churches of at best a few hundred. And meeting with leadership inevitably brought a lament from them that many will come, some will join, few be saved and lives actually changed.

We also found several "stuck in the 50's" model churches. They were growing, albeit slowly. Lives are being profoundly changed in them. Leadership would suggest we "meet so and so" and "so and so" would show up to visit us. The sort of salvation that broke their bondages was consistent testimony.

Maybe our goal not even be sound and thriving institutions. Maybe it should be more a focus on saved souls and changed lives?

Just musing.


Chris said...

I agree that the legalistic methodology of many churches prohibits many from walking in their God-given purpose. Leaders want to be the director of their calling, rather than allowing the Lord to guide.

However, there also seems to be a swing in the opposite direction, which is just as damaging. Freedom is encouraged, but discipleship is void.

I am thankful to no longer be a part of the legalistic, self-righteous, judgmental church I grew up in, but I often long for the deep, intimate, Spiritual relationships from that body of believers.

There is a balance.

I am a firm believer that the Holy Spirit does the changing in the person's life and we are only commanded to love. However, I also believe that there needs to be some discipleship, beyond an encouragement message once a week.

I see so many people come to the church and get excited and motivated by the love of the people and the message of Grace, only to find themselves completely away from it all, and very alone, in 6 months to a year.

I am not speaking negatively against any particular methodology or church or program or leadership. These are just personal observations and experiences. I also understand there is responsibility on behalf of the believer. I just don't see the opportunities to grow deeper, as I have in the past.

Wade Burleson said...


Interesting perspective.

Culture, in general, may be reversing from "tech-driven" to "quiet, unplugged liturgy" with candles and chanting the Psalms.

We have someone on staff who has volunteered to lead that service.

The point I'm making is that contemporary today is con-TEMPORARY.

We'll be the first to have a de-plugged service to chant the Psalms.

Methodologies are amoral.

Wade Burleson said...

Just don't get stuck in any one direction.

Bob Cleveland said...

Bingo! This explains a whole lifetime of stuff in my life!

Thanks for the post!

Aussie John said...


Good stuff!

But Anonymous is correct.

Authoritarian = Characteristic of an absolute ruler or absolute rule; having absolute sovereignty like a dictator. An authoritarian is a person who behaves in a tyrannical manner.

Authoritative = Having authority, ascendancy or influence, such as good leadership. An authoritative person is one with acknowledged accuracy or excellence; highly reliable: teaching an authoritative account of the of Scripture as you do.

Bob Cleveland said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bob Cleveland said...

And .... another thought.

I've always been impressed that the highest compliment I ever received, as a teacher, was: "You make me think!". Well, now I know why I felt that way!

When you can question someone to the right conclusion, they will always remember it as their idea! And folks rarely forget those things.

Christiane said...

My daughter attended the funeral of a sorority sister in a Baptist Church (don't know if it was SBC-connected), and my daughter said the Church was filled with flowers and lit candles and she felt that the Church had created a very beautiful, peaceful, and appropriate atmosphere that seemed intended to comfort the grieving family.

I recommend for those who live extremely busy lives, to get up an hour or so earlier in the morning before the family rises;
and light some candles and pray or sit quietly reading sacred Scripture (the Psalms are excellent for this) and, if time, journal in the quiet and drink some coffee or tea . . .
As the day unfolds with its difficult demands, without doubt,the peacefulness from those early moments helps to bring strength and calm 'into the storm'. :)

Rex Ray said...


I looked up Einstein on Wikipedia and was surprised to see it had the same picture of your post. He lived 76 years from 1879 to 1955.

You said he was 17 when he went to school in Munich, Germany. I was also 17 when I won a gold medal in the mile at a track meet in Munich.

It looks like Einstein was so soured against being told how to learn and obey, he sure made a dumb statement: “When a person can take pleasure marching in step to a piece of music it is enough to make me despise him. He has been given his big brain only by mistake.”

I’ll never forget our first day in ROTC to learn how to march in step. We were watching an experienced drill team, and when they came by us my twin brother joined them as the last in line. He was really proud until “To the rear march!” got him run over.

Samuel Conner said...

I wonder whether it may be the case that sometimes our methods get borrowed from the wider world for the simple reason that they are already in place and seem to be working there.

Current standard training methods for 'young evangelical pastors and leaders' look to me to be an illustration of this. It's essentially the professional education model we use to train medical doctors -- 4 years of undergraduate college followed by a few years of intense training in a full-time graduate school followed by a few years of supervised 'hands-on" practical training. By age 30 you're a 'fully qualified christian leader' ready to be parachuted into a position of institutional authority over people who may be much older and wiser than you.

I'm not sure this is wise. Paul seems to have appointed as overseers in the churches he founded people who already had a measure of "organic" trust and leadership credibility in the local community. They were heads of households who had good reputations among the people they would lead and who had proved themselves already in private forms of "ministry", such as raising family, hospitality, etc. I wonder whether it might be that the admitted efficiencies of our present-day professional education model are counterbalanced by an unfortunate side effect of encouraging young men to seek what may be "hasty laying on of hands."

Wade Burleson said...


Good points. I think "elders" is a very important concept in the New Testament. I do NOT believe an elder has some "mystical or spiritual authority" over anybody. I just think "elder" means "older" and typically, wiser. :)

Aussie John said...


"I just think "elder" means "older" and typically, wiser. :)" I'm pleased to see that you put that smile after the last three words!:)

Samuel Conner is spot on in his observations! I would add that there is no better place for an elder to train and be recognized by the congregation than in the local church.

Rex Ray said...


We watched an hour long TV show titled “In the mind of Einstein”. When he was a small child his parents took him to a doctor in trying to find out why he was not talking. While a boy he liked to stack ‘playing cards’ as high as he could which looked like they were several feet tall.

As a young man he worked in a ‘patent office’. He was to decide if the ideas had merit and worthy of a patent. He became fascinated how gravity, acceleration, simultaneously, and the speed of sound effected each other.

He was strong in physics but not so much in math. He enlisted the help of one of the greatest mathematicians. Together they raced to see who could prove his theory correct. Einstein won.

Charley Chapman told Einstein: “The public loved them because everyone understands every word I say and they don’t understand any words you say.”

Yesterday, I met a lady and her 3 year-old girl at Walmart. I said, “I just love your little girl.”

“You should! Sunday was my turn to take care of the nursey. As we walked by Judy, she said “I want her.” Can you imagine wanting her over her own MOTHER.”

I didn’t tell her that was what I was referring to. :)

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