The Pastor: Thoughts on Congregation and Church

I have been slowly plodding through the memoir of Eugene Peterson (the man responsible for The Message paraphrase of the Bible), entitled The Pastor. Think what you will of Eugene Peterson (he is sometimes too ecumenical for my tastes) or The Message (more of a commentary than an actual translation of the Bible) but this is a pretty good book so far (I am halfway through it).

There are a few criticisms but I will save those for when I finish the book.

What I really appreciate are Eugene's insights on congregation and the church. Eugene and I are both people who easily gets caught up in the academic and intellectual side of ministry and theology. We have to really try hard to remember that we are in the "people business" to quote Michael Scott, and Eugene's openness about that struggle has helped me immensely.

Here are some of my favorite excerpts regarding this:

I am a pastor. My work has to do with God and souls—immense mysteries that no one has ever seen at any time. (7)

Congregation is composed of people, who, upon entering a church, leave behind what people on the street name or call them. A church can never be reduced to a place where goods and services are exchanged. It must never be a place where a person is labeled. It can never be a place where gossip is perpetuated. Before anything else, it is a place where a person is named and greeted, whether implicitly or explicitly, in Jesus’s name. A place where dignity is conferred. (40)

The life of David that comprised prayer and adultery and murder could be written and told as a gospel story, no one in my congregation would be written off. For me, my congregation would become a work-in-progress—a novel in which everyone and everything is connected in a salvation story in which Jesus has the last word. (59-60)

Everything that I had imagined or expected in the formation of church was wrong. I had a lot of remedial learning ahead of me. (106)

Church is a core element in the strategy of the Holy Spirit for providing human witness and physical presence to the Jesus-inaugurated kingdom of God in this world. It is not that kingdom complete, but it is that kingdom. It had taken me a long time, with considerable help from wise Christians, both dead and alive, to come to this understanding of church: a colony of heaven in the country of death, a strategy of the Holy Spirit for giving witness to the already-inaugurated kingdom of God. (110)

This is also part of the church as story. Not everyone wants to be in the story if she (or he) doesn’t have a starring role. (121)

The people who made up my congregation had plenty of problems and more than enough inadequacies, but congregation is not defined by its collective problems. Congregation is a company of people who are defined by their creation in the image of God, living souls, whether they know it or not. They are not problems to be fixed, but mysteries to be honored and revered...And my work is not to fix people. It is to lead people in the worship of God and to lead them in living a holy life. (136-137)