Shepherd’s Care: Vocational Perspective (4)

I want to spend another week on the relationship between vocation and location, sharing with you a mistake I made early on in my ministry—a mistake that I continue to see made all over the place today.  It is the failure to understand context.

Starting personally, when I moved from the first church (after graduating from seminary) to the second, I naively assumed that the things which worked in one place would work in another.  I failed to take the time to notice that the second church was far different from the first one.  The two places were simply not the same.  But because I failed to recognize that, my ministry in the second church was diminished because I tried to make the second church like the first one.

Peterson’s “pastor’s question” begins, “Who are these people?”  Every place is a distinctive place, and we make a great mistake when we try to make one place like another one.

I’ve not only done this myself, I’ve watched it happen time after time over the years.  It can happen when one church tries to be like another one it admires.  It also happens when a growing church adopts a multi-site structure or an institution establishes a second campus

Look around and you won’t have to look long to see churches and institutions doing this all the time–one place trying to be, or expected to be, like another place.  It’s a form of spiritual “cloning” rather than “creating.”  God never clones.  God only creates.  Every person and every place is unique and unrepeatable.  If we fail to grasp this, we’re in for trouble.

Where you are is not somewhere else.  What you are supposed to do is different from what’s supposed to happen somewhere else.  If you take your cues from “the other place,” you will never know who God has called you to be where you are.

Concepts are transferable.  But actual churches and campuses are not.  Part of our vocation is to “remain conscious of where we are.”

About Steve Harper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 42 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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