As a pastor, I don’t often have the opportunity to get out of my own context and see how other communities function on Sunday mornings. The Sundays that I am away I am usually visiting the church of my in-laws or friends, maybe spending a day traveling in the car. The opportunity to go visit other places is a luxury that I am not always afforded.
This weekend, I had the opportunity to visit one of our sister churches within our denomination down in Charlotte, North Carolina. Sunday morning was a little harried as I visited two of the three campuses of this church. Needless to say, I did not make the service at my second location on time. I got hung up in conversation and was about 10 minutes late (the lead pastor told me later that I arrived right around the time that everyone else did).
It was great to see what God is doing down in Charlotte. It’s always neat to see how things differ from your own context. A shift of perspective is always helpful to give me added insight. Getting outside the familiar always forces me to look more closely at things.
One thing that happens when I am able to get out of my context is that I can see what things I feel like we are doing well in my own context. I’m not afraid to admit that I look at things through a very critical lens. I know what I like and what I want and I have specific thoughts and ideas about how to make that happen. I know what things are helping to make those thoughts and ideas come to fruition and I know what things are hindering them from coming true. So, realizing that a different perspective or context can help me be more encouraging is a “Win” for me.
That’s not to say that seeing a different context and realizing that we’re doing things well in my own context means that the other context isn’t doing it well, it just means that it clarifies my vision a little better. I don’t honestly think that you can carbon copy things from one context to another and make things work successfully and smoothly. Context is key and if you don’t know your context before trying something, it could be detrimental.
Experiencing a different context also helps to get new and different ideas. While some things might simply confirm that you’re doing things well and right in your own context, there might be opportunities to experience something new and different, to see how things are done elsewhere which in turn can inject a little creativity (or “borrowing”) from this new context.
When I’ve had the chance to get out of my own context and visit somewhere else, I’ve always been grateful when I’ve seen things done well and differently than I am used to. It helps to shake me out of a rut that I might have found myself in and jumpstart something in me that rethinks how I am doing something. It might mean that I borrow something that I have observed or it might mean that seeing something different helps me to think outside of the box just enough to come up with something new and different for my own context.
The best part of seeing another context is when this new context is filled with people who admit that they’re just doing their best to make it and who never claim to be experts. Humility is always a key factor for me because I’m kind of turned off when I hear someone say (either explicitly or between the lines) that they’re doing things perfectly and have no room for improvement.
We all don’t have the luxury of getting out of our own contexts, whatever they may be, to look elsewhere and to potentially shift our thinking. When we are limited in this ability, then we need to bring that shifting context to ourselves by enlisting someone else from another context to come in and give some honest feedback. It’s not the same as going to check out something different, but it can help to achieve the same goals by giving you a different perspective outside or yourself.
I was grateful for the new perspective I had after this weekend. I’ll get to spend some more time in this new context over the next few days and know that I will gain even more insights as I soak in what’s all around me.