Eugene Peterson on Pastoral Impatience

Eugene Peterson always has a unique way of putting things. Recently, I ran across an old interview of Peterson in which he said the following:

I think the besetting sin of pastors, maybe especially evangelical pastors, is impatience.

We have a goal. We have a mission. We’re going to save the world. We’re going to evangelize everybody, and we’re going to do all this good stuff and fill our churches.

This is wonderful. All the goals are right. But this is slow, slow work, this soul work, this bringing people into a life of obedience and love and joy before God.

And we get impatient and start taking shortcuts and use any means available.

Impatience is the sin that pastors struggle with most.

Why? Because it tempts us to take shortcuts and do whatever it takes. It tempts us to use the ends to justify the means, to do all the right things in all the wrong ways.

It’s a fascinating way of looking at the pastoral life.

And a stunningly accurate critique.

We are an impatient culture. We don’t like waiting for results. We are an instant society.

And that carries over to the church. We want to be holy, but in only five minutes of prayer. We want to change the world, but in only an hour of service. We want to grow our church, but in only a year’s worth of work.

So, we look to programs and marketed methods. And there is nothing wrong with some of these. Methods and programs can be good.

The question is: Is it the right method used at the right time and in the right way? Is it a program focusing on people and their best interests or on institution and the things that benefit institutional survival?

Peterson touches on the right question for us. Impatience is driving us as Methodists these days. We are anxious about our future.

But, the things we need to do can’t be done in five minutes. It will require patient, consistent work done in the right ways over a very long time.

I wonder. Do we have the patience for it? Or will we rush off after another program or method that promises a quick fix? Time will tell.

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