Eugene, me, and extroverted churches

The one thing I think is at the root of a lot of pastors’ restlessness and dissatisfaction is impatience. They think if they get the right system, the right programs, the right place, the right location, the right demographics, it’ll be a snap. And for some people it is: if you’re a good actor, if you have a big smile, if you are an extrovert. In some ways, a religious crowd is the easiest crowd to gather in the world. Our country’s full of examples of that. But for most, pastoring is a very ordinary way to live. And it is difficult in many ways because your time is not your own, for the most part, and the whole culture is against you. This consumer culture, people grow up determining what they want to do by what they can consume. And the Christian gospel is just quite the opposite of that. And people don’t know that. And pastors don’t know that when they start out. We’ve got a whole culture that is programmed to please people, telling them what they want.  And if you do that, you might end up with a big church, but you won’t be a pastor.

Whenever I read words like these form Eugene Peterson, I want to know how much time he has spent around “big churches.”

On the one hand, something rings true in what he says. I went to a satellite church of one of our big United Methodist mega-churches earlier this year. In the sermon, the campus pastor was going on for a few minutes about “our leader.” I thought he was talking about Jesus. Turns out he was talking about the senior pastor at the main campus. We do fall into cults of personality rather easily. So, I understand the worry there.

On the other hand, it seems rather convenient to dismiss extroverted church as not real church. I am an introvert, like Peterson, so I suspect I’ll never lead a big, big church. Indeed, the thought of doing so makes me shudder a bit. Not only am I introverted, but I’m also not much of an administrator. These are not my gifts. And yet, I do not see why we would dismiss those gifts as not useful to God’s purposes. By some accounts, 75% of people in the United States are extroverts. They need church, too.

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5 thoughts on “Eugene, me, and extroverted churches

  1. Pope Francis recent said the Vatican is full of narcissists
    He may be right.

    I would like to recommend a book for you John.
    It is an old book by a professor of sociology at Harvard University.
    The Book is titled “Family and Civilization” by Carle C. Zimmerman.
    You can read some excerpts on the web for free.
    The Book is about family structure, the rise and fall of civilizations and what role the Christian Church played in the drama.

    Priests and preachers are always cautioning the layman about what they fill their mind with and that truth is also applicable when it comes to who we choose to teach our minds.
    The Apostles where the greatest Christian leaders and teachers the world had ever known.
    They where students of the greatest teacher that ever walked the earth, Jesus Christ.

  2. Great questions. I’ve got so many thoughts about this that I don’t know where to start replying. From reading Peterson’s biography, I would image that at least some of his experience of “big church culture” came during his church planting days and the “wisdom” he received from denominational officials in growing a big shiny church.

    I am an introvert, but I serve in a large United Methodist congregation as an associate pastor. I don’t know if I would say these churches are only designed to appeal to extroverts. In some ways our largest churches are well-suited for the introvert who wants to come, sit in the back, and leave still largely anonymous. But maybe that is part the problem. The extrovert can indulge in big, flashy, and exciting, while the introvert gets to indulge in privacy, anonymity, etc., with neither being specifically confronted with the community they need for spiritual growth and maturity.

    I see Peterson’s primary concern being the way some of our largest churches completely and uncritically baptize the broader consumer culture, without any concern for the specific challenges the gospel would offer to our desires and demands.

    This would lead to some of the other questions I see Peterson asking regarding how some of our larger congregations sometimes see people as objects to further “the vision” rather than souls to be tended and cared for. If a congregation’s reason for existence is growth for the sake of growth, then we are nearing the border of a less-than-real church.

    I know that’s a little jumbled up, but those are just a few thoughts I have on the subject.

    1. Thank you, Matt. They are good thoughts. I find myself thinking of Wendell Berry quite a bit when I read Eugene Peterson. (Speaking of a jumbled thought.)

      1. I discovered Berry via Peterson, so that’s probably not an accident. Lately I’ve been doing some thinking about the way of the church not being bigger, better, and faster, but local, artisinal, and authentic. Maybe I’m just absorbing that from the surrounding culture as well, but it seems to fit the model of Peterson and even Berry’s work in tending the soil in ways that don’t violate the local habitat.

        1. I’ve always found Berry a great source of reflection about ministry. Whether he’s writing about poetry or farming or marriage, I always find echoes that cause me to reflect.

          Often, though, they are the kinds of things that clash quite a bit with what I perceive to be the messages I’m getting from elsewhere … including my own anxious head.

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