What Does It Mean to Live Out Vocational Calling in a Local Context?

Blog / Produced by The High Calling

*This is part 4 of the Laity Leadership Institute Missional series with Senior Fellow Darrell Guder, who is the Princeton Theological Seminary Henry Winters Luce Professor of Missional and Ecumenical Theology. Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7

David Greusel has designed stadiums for major league teams including the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Houston Astros.

Yet this principal architect at Convergence Design in Kansas City, Missouri, suffered for years under the message that his work didn’t matter.

“It’s all going to burn anyway,” he heard from fellow Christians. “The only thing that lasts is the human soul.” Dualistic evangelical theology taught Greusel that designing buildings had no value, especially designing the kind of sports architecture that is his specialty.

Only in the last five or ten years has the architect felt confident in his vocational calling.

“God has called me to be an architect, to design buildings for people and communities and that’s what I’m supposed to be doing. That’s my ministry,” said Greusel.

More than just creating spaces though, his design style confronts the nihilistic philosophy that has dominated architecture for the last 80 or 90 years.

“I have pretty consistently held to a style of design that would be described by some as retro, by others as traditional, but by the deans of most architectural schools as unconscionable,” Greusel said.

“I’m convicted that the modern movement grew out of a set of assumptions about life, reality, and human nature that as a Christian I disagree with. One of those underlying assumptions is that tradition is always bad, authority must always be challenged, and rules were made to be broken. As a credo I don’t think that fits well with the biblical understanding of human nature or reality or life,” Greusel said.

On the contrary, his work communicates the idea that tradition has something to teach us, that there’s a purpose to submitting ourselves to authority, and that maybe rules aren’t always made to be broken.

“Because of this, I’ve been somewhat marginalized by the gatekeepers of our profession,” Greusel said.

“That’s okay. I’m having fun pushing back against it by speaking at local and national architecture seminars on topics like Architecture as Moral Art: Designing as if People Mattered.

“Most architects don’t realize that they’re designing Nietzschian philosophy every day when they create modern glass box buildings,” said Greusel.

“It’s a fun, uphill battle. Sometimes I lose and that’s okay,” he said.

Confronting Nietzschian and dualistic philosophies wouldn’t make sense in every business context, but for Greusel it does.

Laity Leadership Senior Fellow Darrell Guder found Greusel’s story illustrative of what it means to live out a missional theology.

The missionary identity of the church demands that we be a unified, global, multicultural movement, Guder said in an earlier interview with The High Calling.

He credited this idea to John A. Mackay, a native of Scotland and veteran missionary who served as president and professor of Ecumenics at Princeton Theological Seminary from 1936 until 1959.

Mackay was internationally recognized as a leader in the Christian ecumenical movement and defined ecumenics as the “science of the church universal, conceived as a world missionary community; its nature, functions, relations, and strategy,” said Guder in a 2002 lecture at the seminary.

“It would be presumptuous for a western theologian to define the matter of missional theology for a colleague working in India, Indonesia, or Korea, although one can and should have very stimulating conversations about our common themes of interest,” he said.

Guder explains that missional theology is always and essentially ‘local.’

Just as missionaries seek to make the gospel meaningful to different people in different contexts, Greusel seeks to make his work relevant to the communities where his designs are implemented. Being aware of tradition doesn’t mean that he can only do classical buildings, he said. He also looks at the building traditions of a particular place. The predominance of brick in St. Louis, for example, suggests that using brick in a new building will be seen as respectful of tradition, even if the building itself is fairly contemporary.

Being local is of paramount importance to Greusel because his work spans many different communities, regions, and nations. He believes an architect has a special responsibility to understand and speak to the history, geography, culture and peoples of a place in a serious manner.

  • In thinking about living out your vocational calling in a local context, how do the history, geography, culture, and people of that context inform what you do and how you do it?
  • How do you find the line between respecting local context and confronting the aspects of it that a faithful Christian must reject?

Image of PNC Park, Pittsburgh, Pa., by David Greusel. Used with permission. Post by Christine A. Scheller.