Eugene Peterson and Regular Pastors

Eugene Peterson

Recently a friend recommended that I read A Long Obedience in the Same Direction by Eugene Peterson. The book isn’t directed specifically towards pastors. Peterson writes for all Christians, urging them to press on in faithful, ordinary discipleship. However, as a regular pastor I loved the insights I found in Peterson’s book. Before I finished A Long Obedience I got online and ordered just about everything else Peterson wrote.

I know Peterson is a polarizing figure among pastors and theologians. I realize many laugh at the notion that The Message is a “translation.” I know the outrage that erupted at Peterson’s response to a question about gay marriage. I understand that many are uncomfortable with Peterson’s bent toward ecumenism.

I’m not championing everything Peterson wrote, said, preached, or stood for. However, his writing has struck a chord with me – a regular pastor.

More recently I’ve read through The Pastor, Peterson’s memoir. Towards the end of this self-reflective work, Peterson gives a remarkable description of church in America.

“The religious culture of America that I was surrounded with dismayed me on both counts. Worship had been degraded into entertainment. And community had been depersonalized into programs.

By the time I arrived on the scene as a pastor, the American church had reinterpreted the worship of God as an activity for religious consumers. Entertainment, cheerleading. and manipulation were conspicuous in high places. American worship was conceived as a public-relations campaign for Jesus and the angels. Worship had been cheapened to a commodity marketed by using tried-and-true advertising techniques. If so-called worshippers didn’t “get anything out of it,” there had been no worship worth coming back for. Instead of calling people to worship God, pastors all over the country were inviting people to “have a worship experience.” Worship was evaluated on the “consumer satisfaction scale” of one to ten.”

It struck me as a violation of the holy, a secularization of the sacred. Taking the Lord’s name in vain …

And community. The church as a community of faith formed by the Holy Spirit. Church in America was mostly understood by Christians and their pastors in terms of its function – what it did: build buildings, become “successful.” change the neighborhood, launch mission projects, and create programs that would organize and motivate people to do these things. Programs, mostly programs …

This struck me as a violation of the inherent dignity of souls … Treating souls for whom Christ died as numbers of projects or resources seemed to me something like a sin against the Holy Spirit.”

I love Peterson because he helps Christians and pastors see ourselves as we truly are. He helps us see things that are so prevalent and so common, we instinctively take them for granted as normal and right. He exposes our churches and our ministries as cheap, consumeristic, and market driven.

Peterson also gives us permission to be regular. We don’t have to measure “success” with the standards of the world. We don’t have to be busy like the church down the street. We don’t have to entertain the masses. We can fall into older patterns of worship, obedience, discipleship, and community. We can pursue a long obedience in the same direction.