The Work of the Church
I spent a bit of time this morning listening to an interesting little interview with Eugene Peterson over at NPR’s “Books” page. The interview accompanies a short excerpt from Peterson’s new book, The Pastor: A Memoir—a book that is in the mail, and that I am very much looking forward to. Unfortunately, Eugene Peterson wasn’t on campus much during the three years I spent at Regent College so I did not have the privilege of taking a course with him, but his books have been a lifeline to me over the course of my first three years in pastoral ministry (I’m thinking specifically of Under the Unpredictable Plant, Working the Angles, and Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work). Peterson’s consistent refusal to allow the pastoral vocation to be accommodated to the logic and demands of the marketplace (I believe “religious shopkeepers” is the term he uses) is an inspiration and a challenge.
At any rate, since I’m thinking about Eugene Peterson today, here’s a sobering quote about the nature of the church from Practice Resurrection (I think we can safely substitute “North American” for “American” throuhgout):
Americans talk and write endlessly about what the church needs to become, what the church must do to be effective. The perceived failures of the church are analyzed and reforming strategies prescribed. The church is understood almost exclusively in terms of function—what we can see. If we can’t see it, it doesn’t exist. Everything is viewed through the lens of pragmatism. Church is an instrument that we have been given to bring about whatever Christ commanded us to do. Church is a staging ground for getting people motivated to continue Christ’s work.
This way of thinking—church as a human activity to be measured by human expectations—is pursued unthinkingly. The huge reality of God already at work in all the operations of the Trinity is benched on the sideline while we call timeout, huddle together with our heads bowed, and figure out a strategy by which we can compensate for God’s regrettable retreat into invisibility. This is dead wrong, and it is responsible for no end of shallowness and experimentation in trying to achieve success and relevance and effectiveness that people can see. Statistics provide the basic vocabulary for keeping score. Programs provide the game plan. This way of going about things has done and continues to do immeasurable damage to the American church.