by Stephen W. Smith
Scriptures make it plain and simple: “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18). I’ve taken some time to revisit the vision of Potter’s Inn and review some of the planks in the platform. This article highlights the critical need for a space where people can come to do their own soul care work.
Pioneering a Third Space
Sociologist and environmental planners have reminded us that people need a space to share their life. It is a needed space to gather, share meals, enjoy conversation and connect on personal levels. Starbucks has capitalized on this need and realization with tremendous success. Their coffee shops have become a sort of third space where people come to work, come to meet, come to relax and come to get a refreshment. We are told that there are three primary spaces human beings need to thrive: There is the space of home—the space where we share our life with our family, relatives and close friends. There is the space defined by our work. It is in this space that we spend most of our adult lives. Our offices, cubicles and factories become this important space where we give of our talents, gifts, passions and desires to help, make, heal, teach, sell and provide services.
But a third space is needed if we are to live out community, to connect, share, meet in safe settings and invest our lives—not just our trades in one another. We are told that “In community building, the third place (or third space) is the social surroundings separate from the two usual social environments of home (“first place”) and the workplace (“second place”). Examples of third places would be environments such as cafes, clubs or parks.” For many, a third space is found in their churches. For centuries church buildings became hallowed spaces for worship, weddings, teaching and training. For others, the idea of church today is being abandoned because of disappointment; irrelevance to today’s rapidly changing world and culture. A new generation and people group has now been assigned the term “the dones”—the men and women who have tried church; been involved in the work of the church but now are “done” and leaving the church in droves. What is the solution? How are we to live, work and practice our faith considering the turbulent cultural wars we are now engaged in?
Nagging questions many people carry interiorly sound like these: How can I live in the world yet live out my Christian faith? How can I be in the world but not of the world? How can Christians be leaven to the dough of this world and help make a real difference?
As our world spins and changes, I have been feeling for some time that what God has done through Potter’s Inn is a small part of the answer to these looming questions. To help us have a foundation in this regard, please allow me to review a bit of the history and vision of Potter’s Inn.
How Potter’s Inn Morphed into a Third Space
In 1997, a clear and distinct vision was given that was as literal as, “ This will be called, Potter’s Inn.” I took out a yellow ledger pad and pen and begin to write out what I discerned to be the vision. It involved an actual place. It involved caring for the souls of leaders in ministry and the marketplace. It involved offering people a safe space to do their inner work of spiritual transformation. It involved training. It involved some limited lodging and it involved sharing in some sort of a Great Room with a fireplace. This was a consuming and compelling vision that Gwen and I shared together. We resigned our pastorate and moved our four teenage sons to Colorado in the year 2000; and the pioneering work began. It continues to this day and we don’t feel like we are “done” yet.
We began in our home by inviting couples and singles to come for soul care. We began offering small retreats around the themes of caring for our souls. I began to write my first book on this in 2006. By the grace and generosity of our donors, we purchased a 35-acre ranch to convert to what is now known as Potter’s Inn at Aspen Ridge in Divide, CO.
Aspen Ridge has become this “third space” for many over the years. People from other 70 countries have come for soul care. Global workers, church planters, mega pastors, business leaders, medical doctors and school teachers have felt drawn to come—to ponder the trajectory of their lives and to re-think their walk with God.
We Are Not the First
We are not the first to have seen such a vision. Followers of Jesus down through the ages have left what they knew to pioneer what was desired. We stood on the shoulders of others who had come before us to establish a space and place where people could come for the care of their souls. St. Benedict of Nursia pioneered his own God-given vision in the 6th century on a hillside in Italy. There, he established a certain way of doing life, practicing faith and impacting the culture. Monasteries around the world were built where monks would live, people would visit and faith was sustained. People in various countries have always sought out retreats and spiritual guides to help them deepen their faith; maintain their spiritual vitality and re-enter their work with renewed passion and vigor.
Francis and Edith Schaeffer envisioned their own “L’Abri” in the later part of the 20th century and there lived out their own vision of helping people in the work of apologetics and a defense of the faith. People came. People studied. People were equipped through that particular vision that is ongoing today after the founder’s deaths. Potter’s Inn at Aspen Ridge was envisioned to be a space and place where leaders in the marketplace and ministry could come for soul care—a place to be restored from the battles of life and work—a place to regain ground that had been lost on the journey and place to be ministered to by a staff who are trained, skilled and gifted in caring for the soul of others. Just as Jesus described in the story of the Good Samaritan, the man who had been beaten, abandoned in pain and left for dead, was taken to an actual place where an “Inn Keeper” was given instructions to care for the injured man. We are sort of Inn Keepers helping people who have been wounded in the battles of life and teeter-tottering on the edge of burnout.
J.R.R. Tolkien described such a place in his novel, The Lord of the Rings: “A perfect house, whether you like food or sleep or storytelling or singing, or just sitting and thinking best, or a pleasant mixture of them all. Merely to be there was a cure for weariness, fear and sadness.” What we have done at Potter’s Inn builds upon the shoulders of men and women who like, Gwen and I have seen a need and moved out in faith to meet that need. The retreat, Potter’s Inn at Aspen Ridge resulted in the total transformation of an old barn where the stalls held cattle, llamas and goats.
Now, each old and smelly animal stall is a gallery of beautifully appointed rooms for meeting, dining and lodging. The library now shares the same space as the old Vet Clinic where the local Vet came to give shots to the animals and care for their physical needs. The old hayloft where bales of hay once were stacked are now three breakout rooms for private retreats. People now come for vacation, leisure, off-site meetings, and for retreats in soul care themes.
Potter’s Inn as a Needed Resource in Today’s World
Over the years, people who have felt a similar calling as us have come to help us. Through this calling to work at Potter’s Inn comes the reality of raising your support and moving out in faith as others have done before us. We are grateful for each of our Team members who have come to work alongside us. Now, the vision has expanded and it takes this small, yet dedicated team of men and women to share in this ministry. We are forming a missional community linked by our calling to help fulfill the mission of Potter’s Inn.
We have launched 2-year, cohort based training initiative called The Soul Care Institute, to teach and model for others how to live out and offer the message of soul care in the work space and church space. We hear the real cries for help from leaders in the marketplace and the church. They want to know how to live the abundant life now and to live in a sustainable rhythm of life with sanity. The Soul Care Institute is now expanding to a center in North Carolina and Colorado to best meet the needs of pople who want to be trained in the great themes of caring for the soul. Also, books and guides have been written which circulate in multiple languages and countries to extend this message beyond our own physical hub in Colorado. The Transformation of a Man’s Heart (IVP, 2006), Embracing Soul Care (Kregel, 2006) , The Lazarus Life (Cook, 2008), Soul Custody (Cook, 2010), The Jesus Life (Cook, 2012), Inside Job (IVP, 2016) and most recently Soul Care 101 (Potter’s Inn, 2016) are our primary resources to teaching and training others in the message of soul care.
Our Team is called upon to lead retreats off-site and for other churches and organizations who have realized they need help to live; work and exist in a culture of constant white-water and change. Together, we see the movement of soul care helping to prevent burnout, blowouts and implosions. Preventative care is offered in all our sessions and interaction with people in individual, group or church-wide settings. Our primary way to care for leaders in the marketplace and ministry is the Soul Care Intensive, which is a private, 5-day, guided retreat at our Aspen Ridge property in Colorado. In 2017, we will be leading twice as many soul care intensives than any previous year. There is a growing need; and we have been so glad to help meet a part of this need.
The unfolding vision of Potter’s Inn has followed a path I would call, ‘progressive revelation.’ As we moved forward, we saw more light, received more clarity and took a step-by-step pace to where we are today. But we are not done. The vision is not yet complete. With the grace of God, we hope to continue this calling and strengthen what exists to realize our vision more fully.
Potter’s Inn is a vision which resembles the early American pioneers who left the East in search of the West to explore, chart, and open new, unknown territory. They established forts in remote parts of the new territory that would be posts from which people would still advance, still proceed and still explore. The Kingdom of God is this territory for us. This Kingdom which Jesus came to offer us is the larger picture of the vision. Potter’s Inn is but a post—a center—a space where people can come for rest, renewal, retreat and restoration. As we sing, “The kingdom of this world, shall become the kingdom of our Lord, and He shall reign forever and ever.” We are but a small part of this enormous, glorious mission.
We want to provide excellent care for those who come to us wounded and in need.
We want to teach others the principles of caring for the soul as preventative maintenance.
We want to be a resource to the marketplace and church in the themes of soul care.
The space—Potter’s Inn at Aspen Ridge—is the hub where our ministry of providing soul care, teaching soul care and resourcing soul care takes place. It’s a marker of how our vision is becoming reality. It has become sacred space, holding the stories of many. We are so deeply thankful to all of those who have come and especially to those who stand with us in the financial and prayerful support of Potter’s Inn. We celebrate this!