‘There are no successful churches’

From Eugene Peterson’s Working the Angles:

The pastors of America have metamorphosed into a company of shopkeepers, and the shops they keep are churches. They are preoccupied with shopkeeper’s concerns — how to keep the customers happy, how to lure customers away from competitors down the street, how to package the goods so that the customers will lay out more money.

How much truth is there in Peterson’s charge?

It is hard not to think of these words of Peterson when I am collecting up my vital congregations statistics — the same ones that some of the largest churches in my conference do not bother to submit — and read the latest encouragements and tips coming out of various offices in the denomination.

Peterson, a Presbyterian square peg, never fits perfectly into the round hole of Wesleyan Methodism. He distrusts our talk of entire sanctification and there lingers in his writing a less-than-robust enthusiasm for the doctrine of “free grace” as articulated by Wesley.

And yet, I find that he says things that arrest my attention and encourage my soul.

But, lest we be unclear, his vision is at odds with certain widespread approaches to being a pastor:

The biblical fact is that there are no successful churches. There are, instead, communities of sinners, gathered before God week after week in towns and villages all over the world. The Holy Spirit gathers them and does this work in them. In these communities of sinners, one of the sinners is called pastor and given a designated responsibility in the community. The pastor’s responsibility is to keep the community attentive to God. It is this responsibility that is being abandoned in spades.


5 thoughts on “‘There are no successful churches’

  1. So…John…I take it you are doing some deep thinking here about your own future as a pastor. I’m not very sanguine about the long-term prospects for “shopkeeper” model pastors. The BIZ will increasingly challenge these pastors to hang on to market share in their communities and pay apportionments (“in full,” of course) as the market splits and writhes in capricious ways beyond our control.

  2. I am convinced that the remedy to these concerns is for pastors to repent and recognize they fear man more than God. When we can fall asleep at night knowing we have done our duty for His glory the shopkeeper mentality dies.

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