School of The Rock


Is “Bloom Where You’re Planted” a Universal Principle?

Written by Paul Race

The phrase "Bloom Where You're Planted" is not found anywhere in the Bible, and is not actually a principle even among gardeners.  But but it does communicate a legitimate principle for would-be spiritual workers.  Some Christians who never seem to have time for any valuable Christian service in their home church or community, nevertheless fantasize that they would be invaluable Christian workers if they could just somehow get into some ministry or to a foreign mission field with 100% support.

Over the last forty years of my life, I've - sadly - seen any number of hardworking, well-meaning people "hit the wall hard" in some ministry or mission, and have to withdraw.  But I've NEVER seen someone who was - to all intents and purposes - worthless in their local church suddenly gain a work ethic and good attitude when thrust into a ministry or mission.

Over the centuries, most missions boards and local churches have figured out that there are already more gifted, hardworking, "proven" individuals in the church than there are fully-funded full-time positions.  So why should they bother with wannabes who are so sure of their "calling" that they are in a constant "holding pattern" that keeps them from accomplishing anything at all in the "here and now"?

You can see that in this context, "Bloom where you're planted" is a sort of shorthand for "let us see your commitment to the cause of Christ and willingness to work within institutional guidelines before you start telling us all the great things you're going to accomplish once WE start paying the bills."

Yes, churches violate this on occasion; for example, more than one useless or embarrassing offspring of an influential family has been sent off to a foreign country or put into some ministry position for personal or political reasons.  The results are never pretty:  Congenitally lazy people who can evade doing any actual work in their new position usually put whatever ministry they're "in charge of" into a death spiral, or worse yet, wind up embroiled in some scandal because they had too much unsupervised time on their hands.  And hopelessly unprepared people who can't avoid the work part of their new position almost always "crash and burn."

But what about people who are doing their best to serve Christ in their local church, who have prepared diligently for greater service, but who are constantly passed over for less-qualified people with better connections? Especially if you're in one of those churches that believes its a sin to change churches or make any major decision without the pastor's approval?  To them, “Bloom where your planted” seems to be shorthand for “Forget ever doing what you feel God has called you to do with your life; stay here and keep helping my ministry stay afloat.”

Picking up and moving may not seem like an option.  After all, if you've established any kind of credibility in your local church, it is hard to transfer that to some other church or ministry.  And the leaders at the new place may be justifiably paranoid of potential workers coming to them with tales of a "raw deal" in the old place. 

What's left?  Breaking away and starting your own church or ministry? Churches and other ministries founded on contention seldom turn out well, at least while the founders are still involved, and often they harm many people in the long run.  Throwing yourself into a parachurch ministry?  Maybe, but not if you're doing it for the wrong reasons.  Staying where you are and hoping something will come along a year from now?  Or five years from now?

You don't need me to tell you that all of your options may look bad. What I CAN tell you, though, is that "Bloom where you're planted" isn't a universal principle, even in the garden.  Our first house had a row of rosebushes that were planted before huge trees grew up around them.  By the time we moved there, our entire yard was heavily shaded and most of the roses had died.  I tried valiantly to keep the rest alive, but the fact is that roses don't survive without sunshine, even if you do everything else "right."  Our second house had a pale hosta whose leaves would wilt and literally melt away every summer, because it couldn't stand direct sunshine.  I had room to move them to a shaded corner, where they thrived.  Until the tree that gave them shade came down; then they reverted to turning to slop every August.

Telling the roses or the hostas that they needed to "show me something" to earn the transplant they so desperately needed would have been useless, even if they had free will and understood what I was saying - every plant is not suited to every environment.

If you're in a toxic church, especially one that preaches it's a sin to change churches without the pastor's express permission, don't feel bad about changing.  Feel bad if you don't change - you and your family will suffer worse in the long run (for other reasons not presented here).

But even if you're in a healthy church where everyone is sincerely trying to do everything right by you, it still might not be the right church for you.  Moreso if you are in a church - or a denomination - where every opportunity for Christian service of any sort goes to some church leader's nephew or son-in-law who has failed at everything else.

By the way, such dynamics appear in the workplace even more than they do in most churches.  But if you realize you'll never get ahead at work and change companies, nobody accuses you of threatening your family's spiritual future or "putting your hand to the plow and drawing back" or whatever. 

What About Oversight?  There IS a spiritual principle that you should seek spiritual counsel when making life-changing decisions. Enrolling in Bible college, going to seminary, moving to another city or country to help with a church planting or mission - any of those things. If your spiritual counselors have good reason to tell you to "put the brakes on," you should listen carefully, and prayerfully. That is a mature Christian response. But if the counsel is ALWAYS "stay here and help me keep my programs on track," and nothing ever changes, you may need to - prayerfully - choose another path.

Don't make a rash decision out of resentment or jealousy or frustration (we’ve seen how whining “So-and-so is holding me back” plays out in the real world, and it’s never pretty).  Don't stop doing what you can for the cause of Christ.  Don't stop preparing for greater service in any way your life circumstances permit.  Don't burn bridges unnecessarily.

But don't assume that other people, even the best spiritual leaders, are as invested in your life choices as you are.

Back to the bloom metaphor.  Imagine if every greenhouse kept all those peonies, begonias, pansies, and geraniums all summer long.  Not only would they fail to serve their purpose of beautifying homes and communities, but they would wilt and die early from the hothouse heat.  Your home church may be the "greenhouse" that has prepared you for planting somewhere else, and you may need to look to the Master Gardener to help you decide just where that will be.

God bless and guide you through your life choices -

Paul Race


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