Today’s Eugene Peterson Quote:
The pastor’s question is, ‘Who are these particular people, and how can I be with them in such a way that they can become what God is making them?’ My job is simply to be there, teaching, preaching Scripture as well as I can, and being honest with them, not doing anything to interfere with what the Spirit is shaping in them. Could God be doing something that I never even thought of? Am I willing to be quiet for a day, a week, a year? Am I willing to spend fifty years reclaiming this land? With these people? Eugene Peterson (from Rodney Clapp’s Introduction to The Contemplative Pastor pp. 11-12)
As I see it, this powerful quote from Eugene Peterson shakes the very definition of pastoral ministry as we know and understand it in the Americanized church. From my very beginnings of being a pastor, I’ve been taught that I need to be a visionary leader, one who sees the clear pathway to the future, one who drives the herd (or flock of sheep if you’d prefer a softer, more empathetic word picture), one who sets the goals and then works diligently to meet or exceed those goals. If I read Peterson carefully here, he’s saying that my role as a pastor/shepherd of God’s people is not nearly as important as that. Unless I’m mistaken, he’s suggesting that my job as a pastor is to simply be present with the people. Not demanding. Not selling or telling. But simply present.
Oh sure, I preach and teach God’s Word. I’m honest with the people when it comes to real life, but beyond that, Peterson is suggesting that if I try to do more than just be present, faithfully loving ‘the hell’ out of those God has gathered around me, I actually stand the risk of getting in God’s way, interfering with things the Spirit is doing in people’s lives. Things that are beyond my understanding. Works of God that are accomplishing great stuff that my pea-brain just can’t perceive. Miracles that only a big God can do. Wonders from above that just cannot be planned out or constructed by human achievement. Or should I say, human over-achievement?
Sadly, the truth is this. Most of us pastors are over-achievers at the very core. Our ‘doing church well’ mentality combines with our personal drive to succeed, and presto change-o, we have the Americanized version of the visionary pastor/rancher who will successfully lead his or her church to the promised land of success. And all the while, the Lord stands off to the side, asking great questions like Eugene Peterson is found here, asking of himself…
Could God be doing something that I never even thought of?
Am I willing to be quiet for a day, a week, a year?
Am I willing to spend fifty years reclaiming this land? With these people?
My dear friends in pastoral ministry, may I ask us all this difficult question? Who died and left us the keys to God’s church? And if that question didn’t offend you enough, how about this one? Who do we think we are, anyway? Do we really believe that the people attending our churches are our people? And while we’d all readily deny the idea that any of God’s people are ours to control or manipulate, I have to readily admit that Peterson is spot on correct when he challenges himself (and us) to be quiet for a day, or week, or year, before we make our next leadership decision in our churches. Maybe, just maybe, God knows better than we do, oh wise visionary leader. Maybe Yahweh has a better idea of where He wants to take His people. Maybe the mountain we’re prepping to take is the wrong hill, for God’s sake? And if so, then why in the Sam Hill are we working so hard to take it?
Well, enough tough questioning for one day. And we haven’t even left the book’s introduction yet!
My prayer: Lord, You are the visionary leader and CEO of Your church. Not me. My job is simply to be there. Not demand. Not tell or sell. Not threaten or presume. Forgive me, Lord, when I overstep my boundaries of leadership, trying to lead Your people for Kingdom purposes. Empower me, Spirit, to be willing to be silent for a day, a week, or a year, in order to be in step with all Your Spirit is doing in the lives of the people You call Your own. For Your name’s sake. Amen.
My questions to ponder: Could God be doing something with the people in my church…something that I never even thought of? If that’s true, am I willing to make major adjustments in the way I’m ‘doing ministry’ in order to better cooperate with those things God is doing?
So what is God speaking to you today as we ponder together The Contemplative Pastor?
Over a 37-blog series, you and I will take a deeper look at Eugene Peterson’s classic, The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction. In order to keep all the blog sessions organized, we suggest you bookmark our blog series home page for ease of use. Keep in mind that one of the best ways to explore the on-going applications of this blog series is to walk alongside a biblically-based, Christ-centered spiritual director who is familiar with how to make material like this part of your overall spiritual formation in God. Many of our directors in our Contemplative Activist network are available to companion you in your journey with Jesus. Click here for more info.
Watch this short video that offers a marvelous description of the work of “simply being there” might look like: i.e. holding space for others.
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