I broke down last night. Hunched over our kitchen sink and weeping, my wife told me it wasn’t silly to grieve a person I never personally met. On Monday one of my heroes had died.
As a sixteen-year-old preacher, I found a book in my dad’s office: Under the Unpredictable Plant by Eugene Peterson. My eyes and heart devoured each page as my imagination for the life of a pastor grew. While it took me another six years to admit my vocation, that was the moment I knew Christ called and made me to equip and care for the communion of saints—the church. In the years that followed, I’ve read each book. Many multiple times, each massaged into my ethos, perspective, and passion for the church. If you’ve been in any of the churches I’ve had the honor to lead, “Pastor Pete’s”, words were in every sermon, training, and coaching conversation. By sixteen I was already enamored with the power of the word of God, but reading the Message, I was awakened to its beauty, poetry, and as Eugene Peterson would say, “its earthiness”. The bulk of the influence of my life has been family, friends, and the churches I’ve belonged to; outside of those close connections, no one has influenced my life more than Eugene Peterson.
If you aren’t familiar with Peterson, he was a pastor, writer, poet, and scholar. He spent the bulk of his life and ministry serving a singular church he planted in Maryland. It wasn’t a mega-church, he didn’t do conference circuits, he didn’t blog, he didn’t podcast, he didn’t sell merch. His influence was in his words lived out.
Eugene Peterson’s Influence on the Decentralized Missional Movement
Peterson is one of the more influential voices in the decentralized movement. My admiration for him is not unique in our tribe. Too often we don’t pay tribute to the words and phrases that have impacted our journeys, organizations, and even the moments we get to walk in. Here are a few areas in which Eugene Peterson spoke into the decentralized missional movement. These quotes are some I’ve treasured as well as a survey of many men and women I’ve spoken with this week within the Soma Family of Churches and Saturate.
The Story of God
“The gospel is where God’s story and our story meet.”
“When we submit our lives to what we read in scripture, we find that we are not being led to see God in our stories but our stories in God’s. God is the larger context and plot in which our stories find themselves.”
“The Holy Scriptures are story-shaped. Reality is story-shaped. The world is story-shaped. Our lives are story-shaped. ‘I had always,’ wrote G.K. Chesterton in accounting for his Christian belief, ‘felt life first as a story, and if there is a story, there is a story-teller.’ We enter this story, following the story-making, storytelling Jesus, and spend the rest of our lives exploring the amazing and exquisite details, the words and sentences that go into the making of the story of our creation, salvation, and life of blessing. It is a story chock full of invisibles and intricate with connections. Imagination is required.”
“There is no way that I can preach the gospel to these people if I don’t know how they are living, what they are thinking and talking about. Preaching is proclamation, God’s word revealed in Jesus, but only when it gets embedded in conversation, in a listening ear and responding tongue, does it become gospel.”
The Definition of a Disciple
“Disciples are people who spend our lives apprenticed to our master, Jesus Christ. We are in a growing relationship, always. A disciple is a learner, but not in the academic setting of a schoolroom, rather at the work site of a craftsman. We do not acquire information about God but skills in faith.”
What the Church Is
“The church is the primary arena in which we learn that glory does not consist in what we do for God but in what God does for us.”
“In the long history of Christian spirituality, community prayer is most important, then individual prayer.”
Reorienting Everyday Lives Around the Gospel and Identity
“To follow Jesus implies that we enter into a way of life that is given character and shape and direction by the one who calls us. To follow Jesus means picking up rhythms and ways of doing things that are often unsaid but always derivative from Jesus, formed by the influence of Jesus. To follow Jesus means that we can’t separate what Jesus is saying from what Jesus is doing and the way that he is doing it. To follow Jesus is as much, or maybe even more, about feet as it is about ears and eyes”
“The paradigm shift is not accomplished by a change of schedule, attending a ministry workshop, or getting fitted in a new suit of spiritual disciplines—although any or all of these might be useful. It is the imagination that must shift, the huge interior of our lives that determines the angle and scope of our vocation. A long, prayerful soak in the biblical imaginations of Ezekiel and St. John, those antitheses to flat-earth programmatics, is a place to start.”
The Gospel Not Performance
“All the persons of faith I know are sinners, doubters, uneven performers. We are secure not because we are sure of ourselves but because we trust that God is sure of us.”
Long Obedience in the Same Direction
When I began my journey toward pastoral work, I had many heroes. Most lost their luster in the coming years as their faith was proven far shallower than their ambition. Many of the tears I’ve shed this last week thinking about Peterson, have been tears of joy and thankfulness. That in a microwave culture with a merchandising church, multiple generations of pastors were given an example of finishing well with humility, awe, and worship under the Christ we pastors proclaim each Sunday. Peterson finished well. May we all do the same within this movement
How have Eugene Peterson’s words and life impacted your discipleship and leadership?