Back in the day, I didn’t think much of Eugene Peterson. I also didn’t know much about him. All I knew about him was that he had written The Message paraphrase of the Bible, which wasn’t the most accurate version. I’ve read a couple of his books for school now and I really like his writing. He says many counter-cultural things about church leadership and being a pastor. My discipleship teacher introduced the following Peterson quote to us this week:
People are uncomfortable with mystery (God) and mess (themselves). They avoid both mystery and mess by devising programs and hiring pastors to manage them. A program provides a defined structure with an achievable goal. Mystery and mess are eliminated at a stroke. This is appealing.
In the midst of the mysteries of grace and the complexities of human sin, it is nice to have something that you can evaluate every month or so and find out where you stand. We don’t have to deal with ourselves or with God, but can use the vocabulary of religion and work in an environment that acknowledges God, and so be assured that we are doing something significant. We set a goal, work out a strategy, recruit a few Christian soldiers, and go to 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. When a congregation no longer serves our ambition, it is abandoned for another under the euphemism of ‘a larger ministry.’ In the majority of such cases, our impatience is rewarded with a larger salary.”
– Eugene Peterson, The Contemplative Pastor : Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction
I am taking four classes this semester. Three of these classes deal with growth: Preaching and Writing about Gospel Transformation, Growing Disciples Intentionally, and Practicing a Theology of Change. As I consider what it means to grow spiritually, the tendency is to build a program that makes a big splash and people grow immediately.
What I’m finding in my life, however, is that growth is a long obedience in the same direction (also a Peterson book). It takes years to build momentum in discipleship. I have more to say on this subject, but that will have to wait for another forget-me-not post.
As I pray about my next steps, God keeps asking me, “Do you want significance or prominence?” For now, I must say that I am challenged to plant myself.
I am challenged to plant myself where I am and really aim at a longer view of ministry. I am challenged to allow things to be messy.