The Smith System

The spiritual life and “spiritual disciplines” seem somehow, disconnected from “real life” too many if not most Christians. That is likely as true with the Old Testament people of God as it is today. If so, and I think it is, that would explain why God uses so many every day life examples to communicate spiritual truth. I was again reminded of the importance of making spiritual truths understandable to the average person as I read The Coming Evangelical Collapse. Barna also came out with his latest survey Barna Survey Examines Changes in Worldview Among Christians over the Past 13 Years The change in worldview as Barna demonstrates, explains the potential collapse of Evangelical Christianity. However, it doesn’t explain why. Perhaps a corollary would be helpful to explain what is going on.

As Joy and I worked on getting our licenses for trucking the driving school spent a great deal of time telling us all of the various ways we could kill ourselves and others. It should make the decision to proceed and the carrying out of the daily tasks sobering and to be taken seriously. When we graduated and began the next phase of our training, the company we work for spent more time telling us the various ways we could kill ourselves and others. One of the more graphic media which they used was a short video and photos of a truck accident on Donner Pass. To protect their drivers and others on the road many professional trucking companies teach the “Five Keys” of the Smith System. Understanding these, in all of their simplicity, may help to explain spiritual truth. The “Five Keys” are:

1. Aim High in Steering
2. Get the Big Picture
3. Keep Your Eyes Moving
4. Leave Yourself an Out
5. Make Sure They See You

In truck driving (or any driving actually) these translate as:

Aim High in Steering means to be looking substantially ahead of yourself. In the city perhaps 2 blocks. On the interstate perhaps ¼ to ½ of a mile. This equates to about 15 seconds into the future. This gives you the opportunity to observe road and traffic conditions where you are headed. Are there break lights? How long have the traffic lights been read of green? Is there someone pulled off on the side of the road? All of these can quickly turn into an emergency and having a cushion of time by looking ahead can mean the difference between catastrophe and safe transition.

Get the Big Picture is pretty much how it sounds. Our driving is not simply forward motion but encompasses 360 degrees around us. What is happening in front, on each side and behind? These conditions are constantly changing. There may be a car coming on from the rear which suddenly tries to come around on the right. A pedestrian may be preparing to step into the intersection and didn’t see you coming. Traffic ahead may be suddenly stopping or a couple of drivers may be playing Steve McQueen from behind. Having a grasp on all of the potential dangers on all sides at all times gives a safe driving space for you and others

Keep your eyes moving is again simple to say but most don’t practice this. Often drivers only look forward and occasionally in their rear view mirror. This key has the drivers looking at all mirrors (rear and side views) every 6 – 8 seconds and towards the front and sides in between. This prevents succumbing to a sort of hypnotic trance that happens when staring straight ahead.

Leave Yourself an Out is something pilots also do. When flying they are always on the look out for somewhere to land if there is a mechanical failure on their aircraft. In driving this equates to a traffic emergency which may suddenly appear. Where can you go to avoid being a part of the problem? The truck accident on Donner Pass not only demonstrates someone who was not practicing these “Keys” but someone who was. The video is the result of another company which has a camera rigged to the breaking system. In this case the driver was practicing the above “Keys” and was able to anticipate and safely maneuver out of the way and to a safe stop.

The last one is also simple and important. Make Sure They See You. Don’t assume someone walking or bicycling beside the road sees you. In a truck, there is enough suction that they could be pulled under. When changing lanes the other drivers may not see your turn signal. Make sure you are seen before you make a move so that all understand what you are doing and can be accommodating or you know they are going to get in your way.

How does this work with spiritual truths? It is similar in many ways. When making plans or teaching we need to be asking what will happen ahead if we follow this? Does numerical church growth equal spiritual growth? Does adding nickels and noses equal making disciples? Is someone in church leadership discerning enough to anticipate heresy as a result of attitudes and teaching occurring today? Keeping our eyes moving (watching all the time) prevents us from being mesmerized by teachers or trends which are “stamped” as good by big names in the faith. Leaving an out is the process of being prepared to move one way or the other in order to avoid a spiritual catastrophe. It may mean trying to persuade the church to make changes quickly or even leave a church that is intent on being bigger and culturally acceptable rather than biblical and biblically acceptable. Making sure they see you is pretty straightforward. Don’t assume leadership knows what you are thinking or planning. Let them know. Where you disagree, raise the issues in love and asking questions is better than making assertions. Don’t assume motives but stay focused on what you think and are planning. They may be more willing to make changes than you think. The Coming Evangelical Collapse is a guess at what may be coming but is not the end of the story. Things can change as believers and churches begin teaching essential doctrine, practice and discipling their people to challenge culture.


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