Thursday, March 27, 2014

Spiritual Formation Tele-Class Discussion of Peterson's The Contemplative Pastor

My Spiritual Formation Tele-Class meets by conference call this evening. Fourteen pastors (from around the U.S.) will join me.

I've assigned us to pray 30-60 minutes a day, 5 days a week. Tonight I'll ask each one to share 1-2 minutes in response to this question: What is one thing God has said to you during these prayer times in the past month?

We're also reading three books together. Tonight we'll discuss Eugene Peterson's The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction. I'll begin the discussion by teaching from the following Peterson-points, relating them to spiritual formation and pastoral leadership.

There’s so much to discuss in Peterson’s book. I’m going to emphasize the following things.
        Pastors cannot let their people define them, or the surrounding culture define them.
        If I, even for a moment, accept my culture’s definition of me, I am rendered harmless.
o    I can denounce evil and stupidity all I wish and will be tolerated in my denunciations as a court jester is tolerated. I can organize their splendid goodwill and they will let me do it, since it is only for weekends. The essence of being a pastor begs for redefinition. To that end, I offer three adjectives to clarify the noun: unbusy, subversive, apocalyptic. (Kindle Locations 146-148)
Our culture says “Be busy.” Peterson (and Henri Nouwen et. al.) says “Be unbusy.”
For me this is the place of prayer-abiding. My “busy-ness” must come out of my “being with God.”
o    But the word 'busy' is the symptom not of commitment but of betrayal. It is not devotion but defection. The adjective busy set as a modifier to pastor should sound to our ears like adulterous to characterize a wife or embezzling to describe a banker. It is an outrageous scandal, a blasphemous affront. (Kindle Locations 152-154)
The Subversive Pastor (We are not to be “chaplains to our culture.”)
Subvert culture, rather than be subverted by culture. Influence culture towards God's kingdom, rather than be influenced by culture towards the other kingdom (2-kingdom theology).
·        Pastors are engaged in revolutionary, culture-overthrowing activity.
·        We are “undermining the kingdom of self and establishing the kingdom of God. I am helping them to become what God wants them to be, using the methods of subversion.” (Kindle Locations 257-259)
·        We are bringing people under the rule and reign of God. (The “kingdom of God.”)
·        We are not to be chaplains to our culture.
o    Peterson is concerned that this is what many pastors have become. He writes: “It is easy to do so. But some pastors do not; they become subversives in their culture.” (K 276)
o    (Many of our church people are seduced and kept under the spell of our culture. The Real Jesus gets assimilated into culture, rather than influencing culture like a tiny bit of yeast influences the entire loaf. We will not help our people get out of their world-shape by forcefully trying to do this. "Influence" usually does not work that way. Therefore...)
·        “Indirection is the biblically preferred method.” (K 289)
·        For example: the parable.
o    “Jesus' favorite speech form, the parable, was subversive.” (Kindle Location 296) (Jesus spoke through parables. They looked like ordinary stories, but something about God's kingdom got into the peoples' hearts.)
    “Three things are implicit in subversion.” (K 307)
1.       The world is “totaled.”
a.     “The status quo is wrong and must be overthrown if the world is going to be livable. It is so deeply wrong that repair work is futile.” (Kindle Locations 311-312)
2.       There is another world, another reality.
a.     “There is another world aborning that is livable. Its reality is no chimera. It is in existence, though not visible. Its character is known. The subversive does not operate out of a utopian dream but out of a conviction of the nature of the real world.” (Kindle Locations 312-314)
3.    “The usual means by which one kingdom is thrown out and another put in its place - military force or democratic elections - are not available.” (Kindle Locations 314-315)
What Does It Mean to Be a Pastor?
Not to solve all the peoples’ problems.
To connect the people with Jesus.
·        My job is not to solve people's problems or make them happy, but to help them see the grace operating in their lives. It's hard to do, because our whole culture is going the other direction, saying that if you're smart enough and get the right kind of help, you can solve all your problems. The truth is, there aren't very many happy people in the Bible. But there are people who are experiencing joy, peace, and the meaning of Christ's suffering in their lives. (K 62-63)
Peterson asks: If no one asked me to do anything, what would I do? Three things.

a.   I can be a pastor who prays.
                                          i.    I want to do the original work of being in deepening conversation with the God who reveals himself to me and addresses me by name. I don't want to dispense mimeographed hand-outs that describe God's business; I want to witness out of my own experience. I don't want to live as a parasite on the first-hand spiritual life of others… (Kindle Locations 175-178)
                                         ii.    It takes time to develop a life of prayer: set-aside, disciplined, deliberate time. (Kindle Locations 178-179)
                                        iii.    I cannot be busy and pray.
                                        iv.    In order to pray I have to be paying more attention to God than to what people are saying to me; to God than to my clamoring ego. Usually, for that to happen there must be a deliberate withdrawal from the noise of the day, a disciplined detachment from the insatiable self. (Kindle Locations 180-182)
b.   I can be a pastor who preaches.
                                          i.    Peterson is not interested in putting in a few hours a week to give a “fairly respectable sermon.” He writes: “what I want to do can't be done that way. I need a drenching in Scripture; I require an immersion in biblical studies. I need reflective hours over the pages of Scripture as well as personal struggles with the meaning of Scripture. That takes far more time than it takes to prepare a sermon.” (Kindle Locations 186-188)
                                         ii.    “This kind of preaching is a creative act that requires quietness and solitude, concentration and intensity. "All speech that moves men," contends R. E. C. Browne, "was minted when some man's mind was poised and still." I can't do that when I'm busy.” (Kindle Locations 190-192)
c.   I can be a pastor who listens.
                                          i.    “Listening is in short supply in the world today; people aren't used to being listened to.” (Kindle Location 194)
                                         ii.    “Too much of pastoral visitation is punching the clock, assuring people we're on the job, being busy, earning our pay. Pastoral listening requires unhurried leisure, even if it's only for five minutes. Leisure is a quality of spirit, not a quantity of time. Only in that ambiance of leisure do persons know they are listened to with absolute seriousness, treated with dignity and importance.” (Kindle Locations 196-198)
·         I can find time to pray, preach (including the deep study and meditative preparation), and listen. How? “The appointment calendar is the tool… that provides the pastor with the means to get time and acquire leisure for praying, preaching, and listening… When I appeal to my appointment calendar, I am beyond criticism.” (K 203)
These things ARE my ministry, and I schedule them in.

Against McSpirituality
o   The Jesus-life, and pastoral ministry, is a slow-cooker.
o   The person ... who looks for quick results in the seed planting of well-doing will be disappointed. If I want potatoes for dinner tomorrow, it will do me little good to go out and plant potatoes in my garden tonight. (K 35-36)
Contra the Program-Driven Church
o   “The working environment of pastors erodes patience and rewards impatience. People are uncomfortable with mystery (God) and mess (themselves). They avoid both mystery and mess by devising programs and hiring pastors to manage them. A program provides a defined structure with an achievable goal. Mystery and mess are eliminated at a stroke. This is appealing. In the midst of the mysteries of grace and the complexities of human sin, it is nice to have something that you can evaluate every month or so and find out where you stand. We don't have to deal with ourselves or with God, but can use the vocabulary of religion and work in an environment that acknowledges God, and so be assured that we are doing something significant.
o   E.g. – we have a Young Adult Ministry beginning tomorrow night. (How this came about.)
·        Don’t let programs shape the agenda.
o    With programs shaping the agenda - not amazing grace, not stubborn sin - the pastor doesn't have to be patient. We set a goal, work out a strategy, recruit a few Christian soldiers, and go to it.  If, in two or three years the soldiers haven't produced, we shake the dust off our feet and hire on as captain to another group of mercenaries. When a congregation no longer serves our ambition, it is abandoned for another under the euphemism of "a larger ministry" In the majority of such cases, our impatience is rewarded with a larger salary.” (Kindle Locations 439-447)
[Note: we don’t have meeting to “set goals.”]