Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Dignity of Vocation and Unbusy Pastors

Eugene Peterson talks about his twenty-six years serving Christ the King Presbyterian Church congregation in Maryland, a church that was originally started in his basement. Peterson writes at one point, he got tired of being a "busy pastor" and wanted to become an "unbusy pastor," where he was present and available to his family and to the folks in his congregation. So Peterson approaches his elders, and they give him full support to pursue becoming an "unbusy pastor," meanwhile the congregation discovers a kind of "vocational renewal." Peterson writes:

An unintended consequence of this decision, now that I was unbusy was to be the pastor that I had spent much of my life becoming, was that I now had energy and time to pay attention to the work of the men and women in my congregation in their workplaces. They were helping me in my workplace. I developed an imagination now to help them in theirs. Together we were restoring dignity to the term laity: we were in this together. Running the church was not a full-time job for them. They spread the work throughout the congregation, trusting others to help them do the work in the same way that I was trusting them.

As we did this together, the conviction spread through the congregation that one of the most soul-damaging phrases that had crept into the Christian vocabulary is “full-time Christian work.” Every time it is used, it drives a wedge between the way we pray and the way we work, between the way we worship and the way we make a living.

One of the achievements of the Protestant Reformation was a leveling of the ground between clergy and laity. Pastors and butchers had equal status before the cross. Homemakers were on a part with evangelists. But insidiously that level ground eroded as religious professionals claimed the high ground, asserted exclusive rights to “full-time Christian work,” and relegated the laity to part-time work on weekends under pastoral or priestly direction. A huge irony–the pastors were hogging the show, and the laity were demeaned with the adjectives “mere,” “only,” or “just”: “He or she is just a layperson.”

As we together were making the transition, I to unbusy pastor, they to full-time Christian teachers and bankers, homemakers and farmers, I wrote a reflection. . .

Most of what Jesus said and did took place in a secular workplace in a farmer’s field, in a fishing boat, at a wedding feast, in a cemetery, at a public well asking a woman he didn’t know for a drink of water, on a country hillside that he turned into a huge picnic, in a court room, having supper in homes with acquaintances or friends. In our Gospels, Jesus occasionally shows up in synagogue or temple, but for the most part he spends his time in the workplace. Twenty-seven times in John’s Gospel Jesus is identified as a worker: “My Father is still working, and I also am working” (Jn. 5:17). Work doesn’t take us away from God; it continues the work of God. God comes into view on the first page of our scriptures as a worker. Once we identify God in his workplace working, it isn’t long before we find ourselves in our workplaces working in the name of God.

For months afterward when visiting in a home, I would notice that that paragraph had been cut out and pinned on a bulletin board or attached to a refrigerator door. I took it as evidence that we were becoming a congregation of Christians who were confident of the dignity of our vocation, which was identical both within and outside the church sanctuary.

The Pastor: A Memoir, by Eugene Peterson, pp. 280-1

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