peterson

 

From The Pastor

“When I became a pastor, I resolved on a double focus for keeping my vocation on track: worship and community. At this point in my ‘long obedience,’ that resolve had been thoroughly tested and had developed an extensive root system. It had to if it were to survive. The religious culture of America that I was surrounded with dismayed me on both counts. Worship had been degraded into entertainment. And community had been depersonalized into programs.”

“By the time I arrived on the scene as a pastor, the American church had reinterpreted the worship of God as an activity for religious consumers. Entertainment, cheerleading, and manipulation were conspicuous in high places. American worship was conceived as a public-relations campaign for Jesus and the angels. Worship had been cheapened into a commodity marketed by using tried-and-true advertising techniques. If so-called worshippers didn’t get ‘anything out of it,’ there had been no worship worth coming back for. Instead of calling people to worship God, pastors all over the country were inviting people to ‘have a worship experience.’ Worship was evaluated on the ‘consumer satisfaction scale’ of one to ten.”

“And community. The church as a community of faith formed by the Holy Spirit. Church in America was mostly understood by Christians and their pastors in terms of its function – what it did: build buildings, become ‘successful,’ change the neighborhood, launch mission projects, and create programs that would organize and motivate people to do these things. Programs, mostly programs. Programs had developed into the dominant methodology of ‘doing church.’ Far more attention was given to organizing and giving leadership to programs than anything else. But there is a problem here: a program is an abstraction and inherently nonpersonal. A program defines people in terms of what they do, not who they are. The more program, the less person. Church was understood not in terms of personal relationships and a personal God but in terms of ‘getting things done.’

“This struck me as violation of the inherent personal dignity of souls. The abstraction of a programmatic approach to men and women, however well-meaning, atrophied the relational and replaced it with the pragmatic. Treating souls for whom Christ died as numbers or projects or resources seemed to me something like a sin against the Holy Spirit. I wanted to develop a congregation in which relationships were primary, a household of hospitality. A community in which men and women would be known primarily by name, not by function. I knew this wouldn’t be easy, and it wasn’t. The programmatic methodology was epidemic in the American church.”

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