Wednesday, March 24, 2010

snail mail from Eugene Peterson: advice to church planters

Eugene Peterson is age 78, he has just released his 467,878th book, and of course it, too, is a classic (excerpts here).

And how cool that he still writes real letters, answering real questions, like in the personal letter to JR Briggs below, responding to JR's letter/question asking "
What are the non-negotiables of being a church planter?'

"The one great advantage you have as a new church pastor is that you are forced to start small. Nothing is imposed on you. Determine that you will know every person, their names and whatever of their lives they are willing to let you in on. Be in their homes. Invite them into your home in small groups for an evening or lunch. The killing frost in too much new church development is forming programs that will attract people or serve their perceived ‘needs,’ getting them ‘involved.’ The overriding need they have is worship and that is the one thing that is lowest on their ‘needs’ list. Insist on it: keep it simple – learn to know every last one of them relationally. And call them to worship – and not entertainment worship, but a community at worship. Americans these days are not used to being treated that way, personally and apart from promotional come-ons. Religious entrepreneurism has infected church planting all over the country. When it is successful numerically (and if you are a good salesman and smile a lot it probably will be) you will end up with a non-church.”
, Eugene Peterson

A previous letter to JR and the church he pastors, in response to
"What would you want to say to a group of committed followers of Jesus who were starting a new faith community?”:

“…I have a strong conviction that one of the primary responsibilities of the pastors is to use language that is appropriate to living the gospel relationally on the ground, locally, in place with the people you are living and working with… The most conspicuous ways in which the gospel is communicated is by preaching (kerygma) and teaching (didache). They are essential. But pastor and congregation train one another in using a much more relational and personal, informal and unstudied language as we work wit people primarily not to proclaim or teach them about God but ot get it into their everyday, around the house, around the workplace lives. I call this language paracletic (from Paraclete, the Holy Spirit). It gets its content from preaching and teaching, but it gets its tone and syntax from this local and relational setting and encounter. This is the language of conversation – not telling people the truth of God and not explaining the things of God, but letting those languages be translated into the vernacular of our ordinary lives when we are not preaching and not teaching. Which is the way we use language most of the time and most naturally.

And the only way you can do that is with people whose names you know and whose stories you know. This is what is unique about the pastoral vocation. And this is the great opportunity of a newly developing church. You can preach from the pulpit and teach from the lectern but when you walk into the church parking lot or stand in the checkout line at Wal-Mart you are using the language of the Word made Flesh in the places where people spend most of their time, where you spend most of your time.

And now you are forming a congregation where that conversational gospel is possible. I am so glad for you.”
-link, Eugene Peterson

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