Eugene Peterson talks about Jonah going into Nineveh and becoming
“a pastor in this place – not to improve their religion and not to serve their religious needs but to subvert their religion, insinuate doubts into its validity, and then help them to deal in faith with a living God. ‘Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.’ He didn’t accuse them of being evil. He didn’t denounce their sin and wickedness. He called into question their future. He introduced eschatology into their now-oriented religion, their security-obsessed present.”
- Meeting religious need
- Improving religious experience
- Identifying evil
- Denouncing sin and wickedness
At first glance, this list doesn’t seem all that insidious. Most pastors I know would affirm the validity of all of these practices in their own ministries. But a shallow, fickle flock is their end. There are veins we must explore that run deeper in the pastoral role than these. Tasks that sound much less ‘pastoral’ to today’s churches. In youth ministry, they sound flat out scary:
- Subverting religion
- Insinuating doubts
- Questioning the future
- Re-orienting without an emphasis on ‘now’
- Embracing a dangerous way into the future
The first set of phrases is the most commonly embraced, but can lead to a brand of religious consumerism that is strangling many churches today… “We shouldn’t sing this or that song.” “Just keep faithful(ly doing the same thing we’ve been doing the last twenty years).” “What needs can we meet with our ministries (to each other)?”
The second set of phrases seems pretty shaky, but forces us to really think about what we believe and why we do the things we do. I want to develop a band of believers that isn’t afraid to be questioned, who see beyond today’s issues and struggles and will walk the difficult path into a better tomorrow. A people who are not merely coloring between the lines set before us, but who are creatively molding the colors and shapes into dynamic portrayals of God’s faith, hope, and love for the world around us.
If you’re a pastor, don’t pander to the spirit of religious consumerism and job security. If you know me, help me keep out of that mentality, too. May we clearly see the face of the God we seek, and undeniably display Him wherever we are.