Reflections on The Pastor: A Memoir by Eugene Peterson

I recently finished Peterson’s autobiographical work and found myself underlining something on dozens of pages. Perhaps it’s because I have just embarked on a new journey of leading a city-center church that seeks to reach the diverse neighborhood of downtown L.A. that I found his words deeply challenging while refreshingly empowering.

His reflections on starting and leading a church on the East Coast provided rich insight into the challenges of pastoring regardless of your context.  In the American Church there is a great emphasis on “getting things done” and I certainly have  been one to focus on the pragmatic aspects of church leadership. Peterson encourages a different way:

“the pervasive element in our two-thousand-year pastoral tradition is not someone who ‘gets things done’ but rather the person placed in the community to pay attention and call attention to ‘what is going on right now’ between men and women, with one another and with God–this kingdom of God that is primarily local, relentlessly personal, and prayerful ‘without ceasing.'”

Can I learn to be a pastor that is attentive to the subtle realities of what God is up to in people’s lives and in the neighborhood over-and-above the more obvious metrics that I am so accustomed to be attentive to (attendance, budgets, etc.)? I know I cannot ignore these traditional metrics but I will need the discipline to pay attention to the subtle work of the Holy Spirit that isn’t as easily measured. Peterson believes it is this less obvious activity that is most joined with the revolutionary work of the kingdom of God:

“the most effective strategy for change, for revolution–at least on the large scale that the kingdom of God involves–comes from a minority working from margins…a minority people working form the margins has the best chance of being community capable of penetrating the noncommunity, the mob, the depersonalized, function-defined crowd that is the sociological norm of America.”

What is Peterson encouraging? Don’t assume the Holy Spirit is working only in the pragmatic, amongst the majority and on the center-stage. Look for God working in everyday relationships, amongst the minority and in the margins.

As our church seeks the shalom of the city (Jer. 29:7) may we be attentive to the people who come each Sunday and treat them as holy people made in the image of God. Though it may not look like God is working at times, the Holy Spirit is always up to something for the community of faith to discover and then to join God in.

 

 

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