Eugene Peterson is probably best known for translating a paraphrase of the Bible called “The Message.” What is perhaps not as well known is that he pastored a church for 29 years, and that he has now written a memoir titled The Pastor.
Here’s a passage that occurs early on that I found rather provocative:
Men and women who are pastors in America today find that they have entered into a way of life that is in ruins. The vocation of pastor has been replaced by the strategies of religious entrepreneurs with business plans. Any kind of continuity with pastors in times past is virtually nonexistent.
As increasingly large numbers of church goers attend increasingly large churches, I guess I see a lot of truth in that. Great public speakers, yes. Dynamic leaders, yes. Shrewd businessman and marketing geniuses who know how to package product and build increasingly large empires, yes. But pastors… not so much.
And if it is true that the “traditional pastor” (my words) is now “virtually nonexistent” (Peterson’s words), this creates a huge challenge for those of us who still feel that a pastor is what we are called to be: How do we stay true to our calling without being cranky, bitter, or disparaging towards those who are doing church in this new way? How do we cling to the value of what we are doing without being given to sour grapes?
Joel O' Steen (who I really like, BTW) has the largest church in American right now, with some 40,000 people in attendance each week. While many churches may not agree with Osteen’s message, they do agree with his metrics. While they might not agree with Osteen’s larger theology, the do agree with the single most visible part of it—what the church is supposed to do on Sunday mornings. And that in turn has shaped what more and more people expect of a church-- and the people who run them.
So just where, exactly, does leave the person who would genuinely prefer to "pastor" a congregation of 400 rather than "lead" a church of 40,000?
I should probably be clear I'm not feeling sorry for myself or looking for people to tell me I'm great. I'm just wondering, as I often do, in a general sort of way about life, God, the intersection of the two, and our place in it.