Eugene Peterson’s The Pastor again in a reflection upon the role of story in pastoral leadership…
…congregation is a place of stories. The stories of Jesus, to be sure. But also the stories of men and women… It is never just my story; it is a community of stories. I learn my story in company with others. Each story affects and is affected by each of the others. Many of those others are distressed, in debt, discontent – or out of tune, angry, rude, or asleep. This complicates things enormously, but there’s no getting around it. We’re a congregation. We’re looking for meaning to our lives. We catch a thread of the plot and begin to follow it, receiving the good news that God is gracious, receiving the sacraments of God’s actions in our actual lives. And then we bump up against someone else’s story that we don’t even recognise as a story and are thrown off balance. Distracted, we stumble…
And every once in a while a shaft of blazing beauty seems to break out of nowhere and illuminates these companies. I see what my sin-dulled eyes had missed: Word of God-shaped, Holy Spirit-created lives of sacrificial humility, incredible courage, heroic virtue, holy praise, joyful suffering, constant prayer, persevering obedience – Shekinah. And sometimes I don’t – Ziklag.
[By the way, the Shekinah and Ziklag references do make sense in the far bigger context from which I have drawn this quotation, although that is not apparent from this portion. Sorry!]
This whole thought captures something which I have reflected upon several times in the last year when church has been hard and pastoral leadership even harder (you know those days when you really, really don’t want to go to church but you’re always on duty to lead some element of the service?!).
You see, I haven’t yet seen numerical success in the way I admit I’d like to. I know it’s not the right measure but still…! And yet, it has come to me many times in the last year that the true measure of this little church’s success is not how many bums are on seats but rather whether we can tell stories of lives that have been transformed through the love of Christ made flesh in this church community.
And we can. Story after story of God at work passes through my mind. Most of us were distressed, in debt, discontent, sang out of tune, were angry, rude or just slept through my sermon. (The latter, by the way, was generally not me, although there have been times when my own sermon has nearly put me to sleep. :D) And at times, our stories bump up against each other in a truly unpleasant way.
But sometimes, just sometimes, my sin-dulled eyes are opened and I see the glory of it all. And that’s why I am still here, in this place with this people. Because it is all somehow beautiful.