Many of you know that Eugene Peterson has been a mentor of mine for the past six years. We’ve written dozens of letters to each other. No one has marked me more in pastoral ministry than Eugene. See earlier post on one of his letters he wrote to me and the Renew Community here.
A few days ago I received a letter from him. I’ve read it about a dozen times and I am still digesting it. I asked him: 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.”
I then asked: what is the greatest temptation when planting a church – and how do I avoid it:
“I’d say ambition. Church planters are tempted to do what it takes to succeed. Most of us grow up as competitors, competition is bred into our bones. And most of us are good at it. But the very nature of church – the Christian life – is to stay close to the ground that you are given, the people you are given, the Jesuw ho comes alongside of us. The temptation is to look for ‘leaders’ or ‘winners’ or look at people as ‘resources.’ That is not a mindset that cultivates patiences with losers and the mediocre. Not that we don’t want to do our best, but unchecked ambition cripples us for dealing with the people who are right under our noses, the left-out and ignored. If we hold our competitive instincts on a short leash, we will probably stay small for a considerable time.”
Eugene is one wise man. His words, teachings and life are a gift.
What question(s) should I ask him in my next letter?