Eugene Peterson Likens Today’s Ministers to “Religious Shopkeepers”

This is good. Really good. It’s an excerpt from the introduction to Eugene Peterson’s book Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity. My comments are [in brackets] along the way.

American pastors are abandoning their posts, left and right, and at an alarming rate. They are not leaving their churches and getting other jobs. Congregations still pay their salaries. Their names remain on the church stationary and they continue to appear in pulpits on Sundays. But they are abandoning their posts, their calling. They have gone whoring after other gods. What they do with their time under the guise of pastoral ministry hasn’t the remotest connection with what the church’s pastors have done for most of twenty centuries. [Y’know, this Peterson guy’s a pretty good writer.]

A few of us are angry about it. We are angry because we have been deserted…. [“Us”? “We”? Who’s he talking about? Ministers who have not abandoned the call? This is a little weird.] It is bitterly disappointing to enter a room full of people whom you have every reason to expect share the quest and commitments of pastoral work and find within ten minutes that they most definitely do not. They talk of images and statistics. They drop names. They discuss influence and status. Matters of God and the soul and Scripture are not grist for their mills. [And they are largely the product of churches and families where care of the soul and Scripture are not grist for their mills.]

The pastors of America have metamorphosed into a company of shopkeepers, and the shops they keep are churches. They are preoccupied with shopkeeper’s concerns–how to keep the customers happy, how to lure customers away from competitors down the street, how to package the goods so that the customers will lay out more money.

Some of them are very good shopkeepers. They attract a lot of customers, pull in great sums of money, develop splendid reputations. Yet it is still shopkeeping; religious shopkeeping, to be sure, but shopkeeping all the same. The marketing strategies of the fast-food franchise occupy the waking minds of these entrepreneurs; while asleep they dream of the kind of success that will get the attention of journalists.

The biblical fact is that there are no successful churches. [That’s a good line… “there are no successful churches.”] There are, instead, communities of sinners, gathered before God week after week in towns and villages all over the world. The Holy Spirit gathers them and does his work in them. In these communities of sinners, one of the sinners is called pastor and given a designated responsibility in the community. The pastor’s responsibility is to keep the community attentive to God. It is this responsibility that is being abandoned in spades. [Yeouch!]

The larger point being, I think, that keeping the community attentive to God is the result of first keeping oneself attentive to God.Also, it’s a scary point to make, but I think many churches are just fine being religious shops, thank you very much. And these same churches don’t really want to structure church life and ministry so that their ministers are anything more than shopkeepers who maintain programs about which a prevailing value must always be “not being boring.” Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for “not being boring,” but part of why it’s a prevailing value is because no one will come otherwise. Hmm… wonder why that is? (For a partial answer, see previous Dallas Willard article called, “Why Bother With Discipleship?”)

Actually, on the other hand, as Peterson would certainly want to say, churches are pining for something more than shopkeepers.

Just wondering… How it is that the church has thrived for centuries before now while being boring!?


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