I don’t know how long it took Eugene Peterson to actually write his book The Pastor, but though he’s written around thirty others, it took him almost eighty years to be able to write this one.
An amazing book (Peterson doesn’t write any other kind), what he says for pastors and churches (and Christ’s church as a whole) has never been more important for us to hear. We live in a culture “uncongenial” not only to the vocation of pastors but to what is most truly important in the life of Christ’s Body, the church.
As Peterson says, “The vocation of pastor has been replaced by the strategies of religious entrepreneurs with business plans.” The church has often become just one more business among many, the only difference being that it specializes in religious goods and services.
Congregants become consumers, always shopping for the best deal, the best show. Congregations become competitors instead of outposts of one Kingdom. Pastors, whose idea of “success” is measured only by numbers, jump on a career ladder where God “calls” them to ever larger churches where their “effectiveness can be maximized” and the beautiful term “pastor” loses any meaning. Always on the prowl for more exciting pastures and more promising sheep, they don’t even know the names of the sheep, much less their needs and struggles, hopes and dreams.
In their drive to be religious rock stars, “religious entrepreneurs” have little time for the sacred trust of living life walking beside “ordinary” sheep whose lives are notably short of dazzle and drama. Desperate to orchestrate the next eye-popping program or the next worship explosion, they bow to the very temptation Christ eschewed as Satan cajoled, “Throw yourself off the pinnacle of the temple! Play to the crowd!” No addict ever needed cocaine more than they need a crowd.
Much of the religious business marketing could be carried out just as effectively if God had retired. It pays lip service to God’s presence, but almost completely disregards God’s most truly amazing work: his presence in the sacred realm of what we easily disregard as the ordinary—ordinary people and places and events and life.
So much of the modern approach to mega-religion is profoundly disrespectful of sheep and of the Shepherd as it trades the values of the Kingdom of God for those of the kingdom of man. The whole thing becomes impersonal, competitive, and manipulative, functional rather than relational, something to be counted and charted, quantified and graphed, and thus judged valuable or not.
Those “ordinary sheep” are God’s sheep. He loves them and lives in them. What a sacred privilege to walk with them and “be present” together with “what God has done and is doing.”
Copyright 2012 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.