What if Pastoring Looked Like This?

The following are quotes from page 278 in Eugene Peterson’s memoir The Pastor. It is everything I’ve thought but never said, including much that I didn’t know how to put in words. After 50 years in ministry I guess one finds the words. This is Eugene responding to his elders’ question, “So what do you want to do?” Eugene had walked into the elders’ meeting that night to resign after 3 years in ministry. He felt it necessary because he had been in meeting upon meeting and didn’t feel like he had time to read a story to his daughter. “So what do you want to do?”

“I want to be a pastor who prays. I want to be reflective and responsive and relaxed in the presence of God so that I can be reflective and responsive and relaxed in your [the elders and congregation’s] presence…I can’t do that on the run…I feel too crowded.”

“I want to be a pastor who reads and studies. This culture in which we live squeezes all the God sense out of us. I want to be observant and informed enough to help this congregation understand what we are up against, the temptations of the devil to get us thinking we can all be our own gods…It demands some detachment and perspective.”

“I want to be a pastor who has the time to be with you in leisurely, unhurried conversations so that I can understand and be a companion with you as you grow in Christ—your doubts and your difficulties, your desires and your delights. I can’t do that when I am running scared.”

“I want to be a pastor who leads you in worship, a pastor who brings you before God in receptive obedience, a pastor who preaches sermons that make scripture accessible and present and alive, a pastor who is able to give you a language and imagination that restores in you a sense of dignity as a Christian in your homes and workplaces and gets rid of these debilitating images of being a ‘mere’ layperson.”

“I want to have the time to read a story to Karen [daughter].”

“I want to be an unbusy pastor.”

That’s what I want.

The Card up Every Pastor’s Sleeve or Robe or Tunic or Suit

If you survey a wide enough spectrum of pastors and ask the question, “Why did you become a pastor?” I suspect the most common answer would be along the lines of, “I felt called by God to ministry.” After all, if I say I’m called by God to pastor, what are you going to say? “No you aren’t.” You see, when played, the calling card (pun) is unbeatable. It’s the Joker of ministry. This is where it all begins for so many men and women.

I remember my calling like it was yesterday. I was suited up on Sunday, literally wearing a suit and tie cause that’s how I used to roll. I was 15 at the time and had a love for the church. I also had a love for the ladies, but that didn’t feel as much like a call from God as becoming a pastor did. My pastor was making the traditional and somewhat predictable invitation following the sermon. “If you want to accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, come on down. If you want to join this church family, come on down.” I always wanted to shout, “BECAUSE YOU’RE THE NEXT CONTESTANT ON THE PRICE IS RIGHT!!!” But I didn’t.

On this particular Sunday morning, however, the pastor added a line I’d never heard before and wouldn’t have expected to hear in a thousand years, or as it’s known in the biz, ‘a millennia.’  He opened up invitation time to a third category of folks: “And if there is anyone here who is feeling the call to ministry and haven’t told someone about that, I’d like for you to come forward.” What! Ministry! Call! He’s talking to me. That’s what I thought. I felt my face get flush. When I’m nervous, angry, or socially uncomfortable my face turns red. Luck of the Irish I suppose.

I felt my heart beating faster and more heartily than ever before. This was it. The Lord had spoken. I was going to become a pastor. I thought I’d become a lawyer. I actually took the LSAT several years later when trying to run away from ministry. But I knew at 15 that I would become a pastor. I didn’t go forward though because someone might of thought I wasn’t saved the first time or that I had sinned since then. So instead I made an appointment to talk with the pastor.

From that moment on everything in life would be used to shape that calling. After all, every pastor has to have sermon illustrations, so even experiences that weren’t significantly formative could make for a good story. To this day though, if you ask me why I’m a pastor I’ll give you the answer, “Because I was called to be a pastor.” There are plenty of questions that I have about that calling. Is the calling permanent? Does the calling come with a contract? Is there free-agency? Do I really understand what being a pastor means? Was I called to be a different type of pastor than I’ve become?

I get the sense that my calling is ever evolving. In other words, I’m not sure a calling for everyone is a static thing, a once and done type of experience. What do you think about the calling card? Do you ever consider what God’s call on your life may be?

Eugene Peterson is Ruining my Life

I have been reading Eugene Peterson’s memoir The Pastor for a couple of weeks now and am approaching the end. Previously I had read a couple of his pastoral/spiritual books and knew he penned The Message, but I didn’t know much about him as a person. My plan is to write several posts on what I’ve gleaned from the pastor and his experiences. But suffice it to say for now, he’s ruining my life.

That is to say, he is further ruining the tidy picture of pastor I had framed and sitting on my desk. The work of pastor is not tidy. It’s not clean. It’s not boxable (new word). For years I have been growing weary of the American church and the consumerism that has so pervasively overtaken the bride of Christ. If I were an Old Testament prophet, I would say that many in the church have prostituted themselves out rather than being faithful to Christ, but I’m not a prophet so I won’t say it.

Peterson does not have much validation in terms of having grown a megachurch or headlining innovative conferences. I resonate with Eugene there; for I’ve yet to receive my speaking invitation at any conference, and I’m not the pastor of a megachurch. Peterson’s words have been like kindling on a fire of re-imagining the call of pastors and the community that is the church. Perhaps I am alone, but I have a hard time reading this book and being satisfied with the status quo of how we ‘do church’ in the states and the way pastors see their roles. I look forward to sharing more in the coming days and weeks.

Until then, if you’re a pastor please read it. If you don’t like pastors, you too should read this and see if it’s pastors you don’t like or the kinds of pastors you’ve experienced. If you aren’t a pastor but you like pastors, I would also encourage you to read it. I wonder if it would help you understand what your pastor probably feels week in and week out. Peterson is a pastor for pastors–that is, for pastors who will bravely disassociate with the status quo of pastoring a successful church, whatever successful is.

Now’s the Time for the Church

I recently downloaded a free mini-album from Elevation Church in North Carolina, which you can get here. One song in particular struck me and has been with me since I heard it. The song is called “The Church.” I encourage you to download the song and listen,  but here’s a part of the first verse that made me think:

Now’s the time for us to rise and carry hope to hopeless eyes and show this world that mercy is alive

The ‘us’ there is the church. And when you hear church it’s easy to think of the steeple topped building, but the church is you and me and those who claim Christ as master and Savior of their life. When I hear the lyrics, I zero in on the words now, hope, and hopeless. Martin Luther once said, “How soon not now becomes never.” Let that sink in. Have you ever said, “Not right now” when it comes to changing something only to have that ‘not now’ become ‘never’? It happens all the time. And it happens with the church as well. We wait for perfect circumstances or situations to come along and when that perfect opportunity comes along, THEN we’ll go do good deeds, THEN we’ll go and proclaim the news of forgiveness and salvation. But THEN and not now quickly become never. We have no guarantee of a tomorrow. So while it’s great to plan ahead and be patient, that doesn’t mean we become a passive people. The church is a fluid, living, active movement.

And we are a movement that carries hope to hopeless eyes. Talk to people around you and once you get beyond superficialities and surface conversation, you will find a person and people who are pining for hope in anything that will fulfill or satisfy. The allures of success, power, money, and sex have left them wondering if there really is a hope worth living for. So why is it that we as the church harbor and hide away when we not only have a hope worth living for, but we have a hope worth DYING for? It makes no sense.

Have you told ANYONE in the past week, month, year, 10 years, that any “hope” we can see is no hope at all (Romans 8.24)? Are you eagerly waiting for the redemption of the body and the earth? If so, you cannot help but want to bring as many people into that redemption as possible. If you wait for the perfect opportunity to share that hope with someone, you’ll never do it. Now’s the time for the church to be the church, and at the very core that means we put the hope of Christ on display in word and deed.

What keeps you from sharing the hope?