The Subversive Pastor: Undermining the Kingdom of Self.

Today’s Eugene Peterson Quote:

I learned early that the methods of my work must correspond to the realities of the Kingdom. The methods that make the kingdom of America strong – economic, military, technological, informational – are not suited to making the Kingdom of God strong.  I have had to learn a new methodology: truth-telling and love-making, prayer and parable.  These are not methods very well adapted to raising the standard of living in suburbia or massaging the ego into fashionable shape.  But America and suburbia and the ego compose my parish. Most of the individuals in this amalgam suppose that the goals they have for themselves and the goals God has for them are the same. It is the oldest religious mistake: refusing to countenance any real difference between God and us, imagining God to be a vague extrapolation of our own desires, and then hiring a priest to manage the affairs between self and the extrapolation. And I, one of the priests they hired, am having none of it. I am being subversive. I am undermining the kingdom of self and establishing the Kingdom of God.  Eugene Peterson (from Chapter Three, The Contemplative Pastor p.38)


So, which side are you and I on?

Which kingdom are we serving as pastors and shepherds of God’s people?

Which realities are we serving?

Which priest are we going to be?

One who manages the affairs of American suburbia and the ego? Or one who moves in subversive, counter-culture ways, making “truth-telling and love-making, prayer and parable” a way of life?

Hard questions, aren’t they, for those of us who dream of pastoring a ‘successful’ church in North America? And if these issues Peterson addresses here were difficult back in 1989 when he first wrote them, think how much more difficult they are here in the second decade of the twenty-first century!

The culture we live in continues to promote the kingdom of self. And while we Christians cluck our tongues and point our fingers at all those selfish folks out there in our society, I wonder when someone might suggest we followers of the Americanized Christ just might want to re-evaluate our motivators as well?

When will we awaken to the glaring truth that we can’t be priests in both worlds? We just can’t continue trying to secure one foot in the kingdom of self while keeping our other foot in the Kingdom of God. Jesus made it very clear in the first century. The two worlds have never been one, but unfortunately, Americanized Christianity over the last century has tried its best to sell us on this faulty idea that we can be priests to this world of self while also holding firm to God’s advancing Kingdom.

And now, the circus act is starting to show its wear. The gig is up. The farce is found out.

It’s time to choose. Living in this world while not of it will never mean double-dipping from the rules and regulations of both kingdoms. The Kingdom of God runs contrary to the kingdom of self. Opposites that don’t attract, but alienate. And, as I see it, the sooner we can adopt Eugene Peterson’s subversive, counter-culture approach to the pastoral ministry, the sooner you and I can get back on track with being God’s servants and not servants to the almighty self.

Recently, I ran across this quote from John Wimber, founding pastor of the Vineyard Churches. Written in the late 1980’s, about the same time as Peterson wrote The Contemplative Pastor, I think Wimber hits the nail on the head.

“All too often in my counseling with young pastors I have found many who become so wrapped up in their quest for success, advancement, and visibility that they have little understanding how to serve God in a hidden, humble way. Like (others who have gone before them), they serve a God of their own making—the triumphant god of success, not the Suffering Servant of the Cross.” 

As I see it, we pastors/shepherds of God’s people must choose this day whom we will serve. Like Wimber and Peterson, my prayer is that we will choose to be those who are found “undermining the kingdom of self and establishing the Kingdom of God.”

My prayer: Father, the problem is this. If I begin to undermine the kingdom of self that seems to rule the land in which I live, I’m actually warring against my own self as well. The Kingdom of God demands my undying loyalty and yet, dying to my own self is part and parcel with being the subversive pastor You desire me to be. Help me, God. For Your name’s sake. Amen.

My questions to ponder: How has the kingdom of self woven its way into my approach to pastoral ministry? Am I guilty, as so many are, of self-promotion and self-gratification, searching for success, advancement, and visibility while having little understanding of how to serve God in a hidden, humble way?

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.

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1 thought on “The Subversive Pastor: Undermining the Kingdom of Self.

  1. Pingback: The Subversive Pastor: Undercover for Jesus. | The Contemplative Activist

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