Assembly Line vs. Growing Trees: Reflections from Graduation



As I reflect on the graduation ceremonies this week, I have great appreciation for evidences of maturity and accomplishment demonstrated by many of our graduates. I also clearly see that it is inappropriate to assess what kind of person an eighteen-year-old is likely to become over the long haul of life. Certainly many are off to a great start!

Product or Plant?

We often fall into the use of industrial language when describing this phenomenon and say that we are working with “unfinished products.” We know that the shaping of lives that occurs during the K-12 education years does not “produce” a “finished product”. Even the use of the term product seems to infer that when it’s completed it is ready for its fully-intended use or perhaps even ready for sale. The image of the assembly line undergirds this thinking.

It is interesting that scripture does not use manufacturing language when describing personal growth. In Psalm 1:3 the blessed man is described as a tree planted by a river. The picture is one of organic, incremental growth over time. How do you know when a tree is “finished”?

This tree is planted by the river. Someone planted it. Parents “plant” their children in places of influence. A tree draws its nourishment through the root system and foliage and is influenced by the elements as it grows. Parental decisions about where children go to school, with whom they spend time, the level of involvement in the life of the church and the priority of corporate worship, all have profound influence on how the “tree” grows up. These are critical, parent-level decisions that are time sensitive. That is, the parents’ ability to control those variables changes after the child leaves high school.

Root Systems

I think of trees I have seen while hiking in the mountains. Some are twisted, gnarled, and seem to be growing out of bare rock. They have been pounded by extreme weather and climate conditions and have become stronger for it. Their life span has not been pristine by the stream described by the psalmist, but they have been strengthened to stand in adversity and have flourished even through the storms. Some students experience incredible adversity during their K-12 years and many respond in ways that cause them to emerge stronger and more resilient. They develop a root system that fosters perseverance.

The growth of trees happens incrementally at almost imperceptible rates. So it is with our children. Day after day the direction of their lives is shaped by the influences around them. We know that the analogy breaks down at this point because, unlike the tree, children are made in God’s image. They have a will that interacts with the surrounding conditions and shapes their responses to the surrounding influences. It has been said, “No one gives birth to a sixteen year-old!” The point is that a sixteen-year-old is evidencing a lifetime of influences and choices. The “sudden” problems or successes in this adolescent life are probably rooted in long-standing patterns of influence and response.

Nurturing the Plants

So as we think of our roles as educators and parents, let’s be aware of where we are planting our children. As Christian school teachers, we have a lot of seedlings and saplings planted around us each day. It behooves us to walk wisely, to love well, to model repentance when necessary, and to teach with all our hearts. The incremental effects of 180 days of schooling year after year are significant. As parents, let’s resolve to be wise in where we “plant” our children. Let’s be faithful in worshiping together as a family even in the summer time. Let’s pray together, read the Bible together, and talk often of our growing relationship with Christ. After all, planting season doesn’t last forever!

Have a great summer!

Dr. Mike Sligh, Headmaster, has served at LCS for more than 40 years. To contact Dr. Sligh, email him at

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Posted In Viking Views Blog From Headmaster Reflections

Published on by Mike Sligh.