Today’s Eugene Peterson Quote:
The apocalyptic pastor is patient. The ‘patient endurance’, what the Greeks called ‘hypomone’ – the hanging in there, the sticking it out – is one of the unexpected but most notable achievements of apocalyptic. The conceived-in-holy-wedlock apocalyptic develops communities that are passionately patient, courageously committed to witness and work in the Kingdom of God no matter how long it takes, or how much it costs. If we’re going to learn a life of holiness in the mess of history, we are going to have to prepare for something intergenerational and think in centuries. But the working environment of pastors erodes patience and rewards impatience. People are uncomfortable with mystery (God) and mess (themselves). They avoid both mystery and mess by devising programs and hiring pastors to manage them. With programs shaping the agenda–not amazing grace, not stubborn sin–the pastor doesn’t have to be patient. We set a goal, work out a strategy, recruit a few Christian soldiers, and go for it. If, in two or three years the soldiers haven’t produced, we shake the dust off our feet and hire on as captain to another group of mercenaries. Apocalypse shows this up as inexcusable exploitation. Apocalypse convinces us that we are in a desperate situation, and in it together. The grass is not greener in the next community, or parish, or state. All that matters is worshiping God, dealing with evil, and developing faithfulness. Apocalypse ignites a sense of urgency, but it quenches shortcuts and hurry, for the times are in God’s hands. Providence, not the newspaper, accounts for the times in which we live. Eugene Peterson (from Chapter Four, The Contemplative Pastor pp.55-57)
“Give me patience, Lord. And please…give it to me quickly!”
If you’re like me, and this has been your prayer for patience over the years, take heart. Now that I’m sixty-plus years old, I’m just now starting to see my prayer for patience starting to be answered! Who knows? Maybe by the time I reach eighty-five, I will be one of the most patient men on my block?
I guess time will tell, huh?
So when Peterson rips into us pastors for being an impatient bunch of ‘grass-is-greener’ opportunity-seekers, I grow very impatient, don’t you? But maybe, Eugene is on to something here. Maybe after his 30+ years in pastoral ministry, serving in one church only, he has won the right to make such statements.
I mean who else but a pastor of one congregation for thirty years has the right to say some of the things Peterson says here? Consider his idea of Christian community, for example: “passionately patient, courageously committed to witness and work in the Kingdom of God no matter how long it takes, or how much it costs.”
Now, how’s that for a powerful definition of the gathered body of Christ? And what about Peterson’s idea that we Americanized Christians have little patience for the mystery of God or the mess of our lives, thus we “avoid both mystery and mess by devising programs and hiring pastors to manage them.”
I knew there was a reason why the boring predictability of standardized church programming tastes so sour in the mouth of many who are truly hungry for the real taste of God.
As I see it, Peterson is right.
We pastors have got to remove ourselves from the ‘what have you done for me lately’ social club we so often call ‘church’ and start growing some deep roots in the pastoral assignments God has given us. And God’s people? How about if a few folks in the pews stop using the well-worn excuse of ‘God is leading me to a different church’ when relationships in our present church get sticky or challenged in some way? How about if we stop the merry-go-round of both pastors and parishioners riding with one church for two or three years, getting bored or mad, and then leaving for yet another church with greener pastures?
As Peterson states it, there is no such animal.
Or how about if we followers of Christ just hunker down a bit more, stop complaining about the person sitting across the pew, and get down to work together, loving ‘the hell’ out of each other and our community while committing our lives to the cause of Christ in our city? If more of us had a bit more of that Greek ‘hypomone’ (i.e. sticking it out), just maybe the Church of Jesus Christ might be moving more mountains for Kingdom purposes rather than running church programs designed to avoid the mystery of God while hiding the mess in each of our broken lives.
As Peterson states, “All that matters is worshiping God, dealing with evil, and developing faithfulness.”
Call me impatient, folks, but as I see it, the simplicity stated here by Peterson is long overdue. Don’t you think?
My prayer: Father, sadly, me and my generation have become a ‘what’s-in-it-for-me,’ impatient bunch of wanderers who have little or no ability to stick it out when times get tough. Rather than a ‘keep showing up’ attitude, we flounder, complain and eventually drop out, looking, once again, for that greener grass on the hill over the horizon. Spirit, please stop the madness and give me the inner fortitude to stand my ground, remaining faithful to You and the assignment You’ve given me, even when others don’t. For Your name’s sake. Amen.
My questions to ponder: Am I listening to the sweet voices coming from greener hills or am I listening for the voice of the Father who remains faithful, even when times get tough? What might it look like for me to stand my ground right now, determined to keep showing up for Jesus versus running off to the next green hill?
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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