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A Few More Reflections from Eugene Peterson

Last week I shared about Eugene Peterson’s intersection with my own life and some excerpts from his biography, A Burning in My Bones.

First… Thanks to those of you expressing interest in partnering with our training in Africa! Rika can provide you with more information.

Second… Another thanks to those of you getting some champions started next month in Multipli’s Genesis Leader, starting a new hope-filled life cycle for your congregation. Here’s a free resource that might be helpful! And, contact Erin Guelzow to determine how to get started with Multipli.

Back to Eugene Peterson

Eugene’s biography sometimes validates some of my deepest yearnings and at other times wistfully invites me into deeper reflections that I’ve forgotten to engage.

One night, his daughter asked him to read her a story after dinner. He declined…elders meeting at church. Five-year-old Karen recounted, “This is the twenty-weveth night in a row you have had a meeting!” 

 He was convicted on his way to the elders meeting.

Imagine this. In a less than tactful way he addressed the church elders:

I’m tired of running this **** church! 
I’ve tried not to work so hard, but I can’t do it. I resign. I haven’t been a pastor to this congregation for six months. I pray in fits and starts. I feel like I’m in a hurry all the time. When I visit or have lunch with you, I’m not listening to you; I am thinking of ways I can get the momentum going again (in our church). My sermons are thrown together. I don’t want to live like this, either with you or with my family.

from A Burning in My Bones

I’m tired of running this **** church!

So, I hear this all the time from pastors! They’ve caught on to the “disciple and send” vision that can bring new life into their congregations, and they want to live it. Model it. Disciple people into it. But they feel strapped with “running the programs of the church,” or at least the perceived expectations that they need to keep running the programs of the church. With congregation members not even realizing that they cut off their congregational futures trying to make the “attract and assimilate” work like it maybe used to work.

Over lunch, a pastor shared that he wanted to listen to the stories of unbelieving people in their community. Be available to them. Build relationships with them. Share the Gospel with them.

Eugene asked: Well, why don’t you do that? 

Tom replied: I have to run the **** church.

Later in life, Eugene was asked what he would say to pastors in the United States.

I think the primary thing that I want them to hear is that they simply must quit taking themselves so seriously. Not taking the Lord seriously, and not taking their vocations seriously, but themselves. …all of that destroys growth in the Spirit, growing up in Christ. We keep trying to do the work of the Trinity ourselves. And we are not the Trinity. I would want to tell pastors to quit being so busy and learn quiet, to quit talking so much and learn silence, to quit treating the congregation as customers and treat them with dignity as souls-in-formation. 
…By and large pastors are not deficient in energy or motivation or knowledge. But they are not conspicuously attentive, reverently listening to the voice/word of God and in being totally and personally present with the people we meet and serve.

from A Burning in My Bones, pages 238-239

After The Message was published Eugene became celebrated by many and criticized by others. Both were difficult for him. When he retired (for the final time) to his boyhood home in Montana, he wrote: 

“Ready to make a fresh saint-start. There is a growing realization that I am starting over in this gospel business—learning how to be a Christian as a dying person.”

The biographer follows this quote with the note: “The vistas thinned and the vigor dimmed; but the holy fire burned hot.”

Some of you will appreciate this journal entry after a family Christmas gathering:

“I don’t want to be over-dramatic about this, but I feel like I am getting ready to die—preparing for a good death. A sign? Today I gave away my banjo to my grandson Drew. He’s become a better banjo player than me.”

My hope? Somewhere in the middle of some deeply honest reflections before God by a flawed follower is a word or two that’s valuable to you!

What do you think?

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