Peterson, Crist, and Holiness

I’ve just started working through “The Contemplative Pastor” by Eugene Peterson, who also blessed us with “The Message” translation of the Bible.

It’s a good read and a good word for us pastor types, along with a challenge of how we spend our time and what it means for us to do our work. I particularly appreciated his critique of what it mean to be a “busy pastor.” He writes, “It is far more biblical to learn quietness and attentiveness before God than to be overtaken by what John Oman named the twin perils of ministry, flurry and worry. For flurry dissipates energy, and worry constipates it.”

For someone of Peterson’s theological acumen, it amazes me that he chose to remain at a congregation that numbered in the hundreds rather than the thousands. This is not a critique on Kingdom success, but rather an indictment of what many of us pastor types have bought into through the years. Size matters, and the size of your church is a reflection on your size of influence. Peterson’s life and ministry refutes such a craven view of life and ministry. It’s a liberating perspective.

I’ve gotten sick to my stomach at the latest minister type who has succumbed to sexual sin. Comedian John Crist has confessed to “moral failure” which doesn’t take into account the lives of the women who have been abused and shamed through his actions. They are the true victims and we must keep that in mind when we talk about redemption for John and what his future might be.

Upon reading the latest reports, I realized much to my disgust that he was exchanging free passes to his performances in exchange for sexual favors. How is this possible? A Christian comedian goes on stage to critique the church and us Christians while having people in the audience whom he has used and abused. His platform gave him power and influence over these women. I just can’t understand how this could happen (again).

Through personal conversation and mainly through the power of social media, I’ve realized that Crist’s fall has created a lot of angst in the evangelical community. It’s revived bitterness among those who have been personally victimized by those who were (are?) leaders in the faith community. We must listen to women when they tell their stories of abuse, not readily rationalize the behavior of those who would use and abuse them.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this except to say that my goals for ministry have changed somewhat through the years. Early on, my aspirations tended to relate to numbers in terms of how many people I could get to “come to church.” This marker is never too far away in my current context, or in previous situations also. Our church is working through a budget process right now and I’m keenly aware of its importance in maintaining staff and supporting ministries. So, it’s not to say that numbers aren’t important.

Through the observation of pastors and ministers going through moral failure, plus the ongoing challenges and criticisms lobbed at us clergy types, I’ve come to desire a more serious and spiritual goal, one that my friend and retired pastor Dr. John Marshall talked about a few years ago.

Even those he led a large congregation in our city, he took time to get to know other ministers in the community and encourage us. The one thing he said that has stayed with me is that his desire was not growing a large church or measured success–it was finishing well. His goal was holiness.

A verse that I keep close at hand is from I Corinthians 10 (from The Message, of course): These are all warning markers—danger!—in our history books, written down so that we don’t repeat their mistakes. Our positions in the story are parallel—they at the beginning, we at the end—and we are just as capable of messing it up as they were. Don’t be so naive and self-confident. You’re not exempt. You could fall flat on your face as easily as anyone else. Forget about self-confidence; it’s useless. Cultivate God-confidence.

We should not be celebrating another minister who has a public fall. I’m more in line with Ed Stetzer on this in that is should cause a holy fear in our lives. Perhaps the Lord is pruning his church, and this should cause us to be humble and seek holiness.

I’m vulnerable to “flurry and worry” too. I can’t lie down “in green pastures” when I’m caught up in those twin perils. I’m hopeful that I can learn to be at peace with myself where the Lord has placed me, and keep my focus on what He wants for me rather than what others from me.

The John Crist story is another in (sadly) a long line of ministers who have disappointed and shocked us. I’m grieving for the impact this is having on the body of Christ, and also believe that there is some good that will come from all this.

Beginning with myself first and then for others “who have ears to ear,” may we embrace the paths of humility and holiness as we seek to follow the One who embodied those qualities for us.

Thanks Eugene for challenging me to “be still and know that He is God.” The call of Pastor is a high calling, one that I’m thankful for each day. It is the calling that centers and anchors me during the highs and lows of ministry. And, I’ll do my best to guard against the temptations to “flurry and hurry.”

There’s a “Martha” in all of us who tends to be “worried and upset” by many things, but let’s seek to allow the “Mary” to draw us closer to the feet of Jesus.

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