A quote from Moving On Moving Forward by Anthony and Boersma:
"Watching what other churches are doing is a popular activity for contemporary ministry leaders today. After all, why waste your energy trying to gain a new vision for your ministry if you can easily replicate one that's working in a nearby neighborhood?" (77)
Regardless of ministry, how much looking around at other institutions/ministries does your institution/ministry do to gain new ideas?
What harm or gain results from this type of behavior by the church? Seminary? Textbook publisher?
What does one need to do to guard against looking around instead of looking to the Lord and at his/her own ministry setting?
We can learn from what others before us have done, and we stand on the shoulders of giants, as Newton said. A general awareness of what is going on in the world around you is important, but not for the reason of lifting someone else’s paradigm to tattoo it on the Body. That’s one reason why we do research- to see what works and to gain wisdom that is applicable in our situation. To take an agricultural metaphor, you can’t go harvest someone else’s planting, but you can learn what works in general terms. Then you apply it in your field, plowing around your own particular stumps, hoeing your weeds, irrigating properly, or whatever technique has been shown to aid in producing the results you seek.
Organizational structures, programs and approaches are tools to use to till in the vineyard, not an end in themselves. He makes all things new. We should be willing and anticipatory that God will do something marvelous in our calling if we lay it on the altar. Wherever we work, as we do it as unto the Lord, he will supernaturally empower and form our ministry. This is the kind of service that is pleasing to God, living sacrifices grow ministries from within and up from the soils God has watered with living water. So you can use the tools of programs to till the soil, but that is about all. It is all of grace of Him and through Him and to Him.
So can something be gained by seeing what works in other contexts? Sure, as long as you remember that pretexts are born out of a lack of context. We can and should look to the Scriptures to derive principles, but our models are something best sculpted with hammer and chisel and fire. The individuals God calls out as the local church will be the artists he fills with the Spirit of Wisdom and Skill. The idea that we can import other peoples’ models in toto presumes that it is the model itself that brings change, success in ministry, and efficacy our organization.
One cannot clone a living, breathing work of the Lord. There is a supernatural element that is distinctive of this work. That’s what we all want to be a part of, not some programmatic approach to success. Ministry is first ministry unto the Lord. It is born out of a fire in our bones, not out of shopping a smorgasbord of ideas that are on the market. The idea that “easy replication” of another person’s vision is possible is not aligned with the realities we face in this world. Vision is Spirit-imparted from within, not imposed from without. One cannot annex it or import it anymore than you can truly preach someone else’s sermon.
New ideas are a synergistic outpouring of new wine that only God can grace us with, but they are born in the fires of Holy passion and koinonia, the intersection of our situation’s great need and our great desire. We join with our Creator in partnership to effect this kind of new work as agents of redemption and change in this sojourn we call life. New ideas are a natural outflow of a walk in the deep grace of our Jesus; however, ideas can be nurtured just as soil can be tilled.
A call from God to labor in whatever vineyard you are planted in must first and foremost be accompanied by the understanding that it is He that gives the increase. If we believe that we are unique and that our calling is specific to a people, place and time, than we must seek the face of God in humble Spirit and contrite heart. If we let God form the ministry it will always be different and better than anything we could presuppose or import from another work. If we dare to try something that has never been tried, by His Spirit’s leading, he will provide for the blessing and breaking of ourselves, to be poured out and distributed as wine and bread and fruit to nourish others.