Monday, July 15, 2002

leading from depth

I've been thinking more about Bailey's Petersen interview. A couple of things that Petersen said jumped out at me, particularly in relation to the emerging church movement.

Petersen mentioned that he read and studied a lot when he was a pastor. Bailey then asked him,

"Did you have anyone to tutor you in this, or was it intuitive?"

Petersen responded,

"I remember going out and asking somebody who was the best pastoral theologian he knew of, and he gave me a suggested name. So I went and bought all of his books. I was going to learn from him all about pastoral formation, I thought. But after reading the third book I realized that not once was prayer ever mentioned. “Something’s wrong here,” I thought. So I literally threw them all into a trash can."

A little later in the interview, Petersen talked about how today there is more material available on "the vocation of the pastor and the spirituality of the pastoral life" than when he first started, but

"...most of the books being sold have to do with technique and sociology and leadership, and it is totally secular."

Bailey then asked,

"How would you suggest pastors today go about thinking through their vocational identity?"

Petersen responded with,

"Basically, we simply have to get our identity from the Bible, from this Biblical story. And Americans are not very good at that. We assume we are living in a Christian country, and everybody’s on our side. So we let the culture shape what we’re doing because it seems so benign, and then we think, “We can Christianize it.” But we can’t. The church is a totally counter-cultural movement. We are a marginal people. There is no way we can be a success in this culture on their terms" (emphasis mine).

Petersen's countercultural note reminded me of Hauerwas. But what really struck me about his comments was his emphasis on what I call spiritual breathing as a primary means of maintaining effective spiritual leadership. Spiritual Breathing is taking in what God has to say to us - by His Spirit and thru His Word - and speaking to God - thru prayer. This impacts the character of the spiritual leader. In fact, Petersen notes,

"I think the most important thing a pastor does is who he or she is. We do a lot more by the way we live than by the way we are conducting ministry. This means that people are watching us..." (emphasis mine).

I was thinking of this regarding the emerging church movement because Spiritual Breathing can certainly be approached in a very modern way: "The secret to the Christian life is 30 mins a day of Bible reading and study and 30 minutes of prayer." And, when these activities are merely programmatic means by which spiritual maturity is supposedly acquired, the charge of "modern" could be a fair critique. But listening to God and speaking to him can be formative to spiritual character when those activities are genuine expressions of love-relationship with God. Certainly towards the beginning of the spiritual journey - and surely at times throughout - there can be an awkwardness - or sometimes even a mundacity - to these activites, just as there is in any relationship. But what can be approached with a superficial, modern, check-off list mentality doesn't have to be approached that way. These activities can be expressions of love and commitment.

When a genuine Godseeker opens herself up to the Spirit-breathed Scriptures as the Spirit breathes the words into her soul, propositions achieve results in her heart. The Spirit works to make mere propositions performative in the life of the sincere Godseeker. Consider,

So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth;
It will not return to Me empty,
Without accomplishing what I desire,
And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.

(Isaiah 55:11, NASB)

One reason Petersen's article stimulated my thinking along these lines is that sometimes in emerging church circles (and maybe this is just me) I feel a little sheepish about quoting Scripture! As if the response would be, "Oh, listen to that! He's become debilitated to a truncated view of spiritual reality that considers mere proposition transfer to be the primary modality of spiritual transformation! How shallow!" Now - again - maybe I'm just paranoid, but if that's our automatic reaction whenever we hear someone quote the Bible, then I'm concerned that we've thrown some baby out with bathwater. Communication is the stuff of relationship: who we are is molded by what we hear from God, what we say to Him, what He does for us, and what we do for Him. When the Lover speaks to the Beloved, the impassioned context of their relationship segues what is merely propositional on paper to the transpropositional.

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