Tag Archives: eugene petersen

Church Planting and A Long Obedience in the Same Direction

Church planting has humbled me in many ways, and I think one lesson/appreciation I’ve gleaned the past few weeks has been the great value of “a long obedience in the same direction”, a phrase coined by Eugene Petersen.

I’ve been particularly grateful for many of the stellar leaders who have gone before me, doing the long, plodding work of ministry and faithfulness so that younger people like me can stand on their shoulders – often times unbeknownst to them.

I was fortunate to spend a week with Leith and Charlene Anderson along with other pastors/leaders.

I recently took a week-long class at Fuller with Leith Anderson, now retired pastor of Wooddale Church and the President of the National Association of Evangelicals, and I was absolutely floored by all of his insights into Scripture, leadership, and life in general.  His wife Charleen joined us for the class as well, and it was such a privilege to have her there to answer questions and interact with us.

Leith shared that he had just retired as pastor at Wooddale after 35 years of being the senior leader there.  Wow.  That means that Leith was the senior pastor at Wooddale longer than I’ve been alive (sorry Leith, I never shared that out loud, but I was startled by this fact).

As we’re in the first few weeks of Hope’s launch team gatherings, I’ve wondered to myself what a long obedience in the same direction would look like.

Most of all, I’m wondering what it would look like to remain faithful in living and leading well, both in my family and in a church.  The Andersons are such great examples of this, and I’m humbled and grateful for their long service.

I’m also grateful for the many mentors I’ve had throughout my life, all of whom have modeled faithfulness in different ways.

I feel indebted to many church leaders with long-standing histories in NYC too, people who have paved the way for many years.  People like personal mentors Pete & Geri Scazzero, Craig & Ellen Fee, Mark & Pam Taft, Jim Owens as well as people I’ve learned from afar like AR Bernard, Michael Durso, Robert Johannson, Floyd Flake, Tim Keller, Mac Pier, Joseph Mattera, and Marcos Rivera (just to name a few).  These church leaders have faithfully served this city for decades (along with their spouses), and now younger leaders like me get to run with the baton that they pass on to a new generation of leaders.

I think one of the biggest leadership lessons I’ve learned in recent weeks is the difference between the question, “can we do this?” and “should we do this?”

My youthful impatience often propels me into the first question.  Wise friends and mentors at Hope (as well as mentors past) have directed me toward the second question.

With that said, I return to the serenity prayer once again, a daily discipline for me as I hope to live with a “long obedience in the same direction.”

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

God, grant me a humble, attentive heart, one that will commit to a long obedience in the same direction.


Thoughts on Spiritual Maturity – Part 2

You can read Part 1 of this series here.

I mentioned how evaluating spiritual maturity based on spiritual practices can be problematic, but by no means does this indicate that spiritual practices should be done away with altogether.

In fact, I’d argue that spiritual practices are necessary for growing spiritually, even if they might not be the most accurate indicators of spiritual maturity.

In other words, spiritual practices are not signs of spiritual maturity, but they are catalysts of spiritual maturity.

To succeed in any task, there is some form of practice or discipline that helps me to excel in that task, even if the task might be somewhat amorphis like “loving my wife,” a highly unquantifiable endeavor.

There are practices and disciplines that I must implement for a better marriage, for example, things like telling Tina how much I appreciate her, trying to serve her whenever I can, and actively listening to her whenever she speaks to me.

Growing in any area of my life takes work, and that work usually fleshes out as “practices” or “disciplines.”

Sidenote: Whether single or married, you should really pick up Tim and Kathy Keller’s new book The Meaning of MarriageIt’s an extraordinary bookone of the best books I’ve read on marriage with helpful advice to singles.  

In it, the Kellers talk about how disciplines and practices can lead toward feelings of love in marriage.  The same is true for the spiritual life! End of Sidenote

Alas, any kind of maturity takes work.

As I mentioned last time, some have to work harder than others due to nature/nurture, but nonetheless healthy maturing takes some measure of “a long obedience in the right direction,” as Eugene Petersen would say (Pete Scazzero calls building a framework of spiritual practices “Developing a Rule of Life.”

For each person the practices and disciplines are different.  However, we all need some sort of discipline in order to grow more loving, more healthy, more whatever the aim might be.

At this point it’s easy to react by saying, “the spiritual life is all grace!  you’re advocating some sort of works based system!”

Now, while it’s true that grace is the foundation of everything, we can too readily dismiss any type of healthy striving as an overreaction against anything that hints of dare I say, work.

The key, I believe, is that our end goal always be in mind when it comes to our disciplines – to fall more deeply committed and in love with Jesus – instead of having the list of spiritual disciplines as our measuring stick of spiritual maturity (a la the Pharisees).

In my next post, I’ll share one practice that has really challenged me this year, and I’ll mention the little book whence it came.

Praying as the Middle Voice

My reading to start 2011 has included an eclectic array of books, and they’ve ranged from business/management oriented (Jack Welch’s Winning and Daniel Pink’s Drive), to spiritual (Eugene Petersen’s The Contemplative Pastor, Walter Brueggemann’s Awed to Heaven, Rooted to Earth, Ronald Rolheiser’s The Holy Longing, Howard Thurman’s Search for Common Ground) to practical parenting (Daniel Silk’s Loving our Kids on Purpose).

Very rarely do I get on a string of books this good, but each one of the titles above might be the best I’ve read in their respective fields.  Obviously each of the fields are so broad that it’s tough to say these are “the best”, but I dare say these are all “must-reads”.

For parents especially, I’d recommend Daniel Silk’s book.

Anyhow, one point that Petersen makes in The Contemplative Pastor is that prayer is similar to what grammarians would refer to as “the middle voice”.  For those of you who have learned a language other than your native language (and for those who haven’t), here’s a refresher on “the middle voice”.

1.  Active Voice (my action) – “I counsel.”

2.  Passive Voice (action done to me) – “I am counseled.”

3.  Middle Voice (I actively participate in an action done to me) – “I receive counsel.”

Sometimes we can revert to prayer being one or the other – active or passive, and so it becomes a rote tradition that is either really tiring (constant intercession, no contemplation) or not very meaningful (constant silence, constant dozing off).

But prayer is one of those “middle voice” realities where I am actively passive in communion with God.

I’m trying to be as mindful of this as possible, and I think the Psalms are a good model for what this middle voice looks like.

This is just a hunch, but I think we’d probably all be better off if we practiced praying in the middle voice when it came to management, spirituality, and parenting.