Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Peterson on "new ways of doing church"

By my count, I have a dozen books about practical ministry in the local church. This is exclusive of books about pastoring, books about the theology of church, and books about evangelism, discipleship, missions, church leadership, small groups, etc. These dozen books are simply about the topic of what the local church is designed to be and do and how that should look in a contemporary context. Titles include: Simple Church, Breakout Churches, 9 Marks of a Healthy Church, The Deliberate Church, The Connecting Church, Effective Church Growth Strategies, Vintage Church, and books both pro- and con on the Emerging Church (is that still around, by the way?). Many of these books have helpful information, but we do well to remember that every church is both populated with, and led by, a gaggle of sinners. Here's Peterson's Unpredictable Plant again:
A bare sixty or seventy years after Pentecost we have an account of seven churches that shows about the same quality of holiness and depth of virtue found in any ordinary parish in America today. In two thousand years of practice we haven't gotten any better. You would think we would have, but we haven't. Every time we open up a church door and take a careful, scrutinizing look inside we find them there again--sinners. Also Christ. Christ in the preaching, Christ in the sacraments, but inconveniently and embarrassingly mixed into this congregation of sinners.

It is to be expected in these situations that with some frequency certain persons will come forward with designs to improve matters. They want to purify the church. They propose to make the church something that will advertise to the world the attractiveness of the kingdom. With few exceptions these people are, or soon become, heretics, taking on only as much of the gospel as they can manage and apply to the people around them, attempting to construct a version of church that is so well behaved and efficiently organized that there will be no need for God.

They abhor the scandal of both the cross and the church. They will have nothing to do with a congregation in Nineveh. They are going to sail to Tarshish and start fresh, clean, and gloriously.

But it is the very nature of pastoral work to embrace this scandal, accept this humiliation, and daily work in it. Not despising the shame, and not denying it either.

Listening to many pastors talking to other pastors when they are away from their parishes, you would think none of this was true. Every congregation features wonderfully glowing stories about successful programs and slick conversions. I used to hear such stories and read such books and be impressed. After some years of careful Bible reading and congregation watching, I am no longer impressed. I think it far more likely that these pastors, insofar as they are telling the truth, are presiding over some form of Greek mystery religion, or Baal shrine, or Babylonian religous parade.

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