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Final Reflection from Q Practices with Eugene Peterson

If you’d like to read my thoughts after Day One of Q Practices with Eugene Peterson, you can read here.

Day Two was today, and we covered Peterson’s views on Embodiment, Scripture, Community, and the Church.

Here are some reflections:

Jan Peterson was keepin' it real.

1) Hearing from Jan Peterson, Eugene’s wife, was a highlight
– I’m a firm believer that spouses keep it real, and I was excited when Jan was invited on stage to answer questions.  I was most moved when she talked about whether or not Eugene’s life with God was real…

Her response?

Absolutely.  She strongly reiterated how the person we hear on the pages of Eugene’s writings are really him.  She then talked about how she really respected how firm he was in not getting enticed by the trappings of fame and notoriety.

So cool.

And then Eugene shared some heartwarming stories about Jan and her hospitality, and it was all really quite wonderful.

I’m convinced that a long obedience in the same direction is not limited to one’s life with God, but also to one’s love and commitment to one’s spouse and family (and if single, one’s close family and friends).

The Peterson’s marriage was one of the best sermons of the day.

2) Pastors are to be local and relational – Peterson stressed this greatly, and even challenged the notion that Pastors are chiefly communicators.  Pastors are conversationalists, he said, people whose vocation is intricately tied to people.

This is such a great reminder for me as a church planter.

One of the reasons Tina and I chose Astoria for Hope is because we could be “local”.

It was so great to learn from Eugene Peterson for two days.

3) One of the things I most admire about Eugene Peterson is his clear sense of what he’s called to do… and not to do.  

Here are a couple of things he said which stood out to me.

First, he said, “I really haven’t done much.”

Second, he said, “I’m really not that busy.  Jan and I actually have quite a bit of leisure in our lives.”

I think there was a collective gasp (or maybe it was just me) when he said both these statements.

When I read Peterson’s bio and the list of books he’s written, I’m really stunned at his capacity.

But realistically, although it’s true that Peterson has some unique gifts, he’s human too.

And because he’s human, Eugene knows what he’s called to do, and therefore he also knows what NOT to do.

Throughout the day, I was struck by what he’s chosen not to do, including:

1) Jan spoke of speaking engagements Eugene has said no to (as well as celebrities).

2) Eugene spoke of giving up TV 30 or so years ago.

3) Eugene does not use social media.

4) When it came down to whether or not the church should expand after reaching capacity, Eugene knew he wasn’t the leader to take the church to the next level.  Sure enough, the next leader expanded the church missionally.

Part of Peterson’s “long obedience in the same direction” is a willingness to say “no” to many “good” opportunities.

In this way, Peterson has been able to have a laser-like focus in what he commits himself to.

He also mentioned that he simply does things that he loves, and so immersing himself in Scripture, writing, and pastoring, are all “loves” of his.  These loves have helped define what he has committed his life (and time) to.

4) I’m so excited about Hope.  I love our launch team, I love what we’re building, and I’m so excited about what God’s going to do!

5) There were a couple of “well-known” Christian leaders in the audience as learners. 

I didn’t get a chance to talk extensively to these folks (hence I won’t blog who they were), but I was greatly encouraged that there were a few nationally known American Christian leaders in the audience there to learn.

It was so cool and encouraging to see these folks learning, too.  It’s nice to know that we’re all on the journey and there’s always something new to learn.

6) I was so fortunate to be there, especially in Peterson’s advanced age. Being able to learn from Peterson in a small setting is a gift I do not take for granted.

Thank you so much, Q.  Thank you for caring about how to better serve and resource pastors and church planters like me – it’s much appreciated!


Q Practices and Eugene Peterson – Day One

Today was Day One of Q Practices with Eugene Peterson, and it was an honor to be there with 98 others from around the country to learn from Peterson, a seasoned pastor and prolific author.

Peterson is most well known for his translation/paraphrase of the entire Bible (called The Message), and he’s written several other books on a wide range of topics, though mostly in the areas pastoral work and spiritual theology.

It's been a great day learning from Eugene Peterson and Gabe Lyons

Q is a fantastic organization founded by Gabe Lyons, author of the terrific book The Next Christians (I’m currently reading it).  I’m really grateful for Q’s work in forging a new way for Christians to think about culture and engagement with the world.  I scour the Q website regularly to learn from some really thoughtful Christians.

The relatively small group of us (99 – most conferences I have attended are at least 300) had a chance to hear Peterson’s reflections on his life, Sabbath-keeping, Simplicity, and Prayer, mostly by way of interview by Lyons.

Here are some of my reflections from today.

1)  There is Much to Learn from Age – As a relatively young pastor in my 30s, there’s much to learn from people who are older.  There’s a depth that I personally experience listening to an older sage like Peterson, a man who seems to have pressed more deeply into God and Scripture as he’s aged.  There is something uniquely profound listening to someone who has practiced “a long obedience in the same direction.”  Peterson could be talking about the difference between blue and red M & Ms and he’d have my rapt attention as a result.

I once heard Richard Rohr once say, “there are many elderly people, but very few elders.”  That phrase has stayed with me since I heard it, mostly because I long to be an elder, not simply one who grows old.

To be an elder, I’ve learned, one must be willing to learn from elders.

Peterson, through his writing and today, has been a tremendous elder to learn from.

2)  Peterson’s Values are so Counter-Cultural to the Western Church – I know, this is a pretty strong statement, but I’ll explain why I believe this to be generally true.

I think the Western Church tends to inordinately celebrate fast-growing, numerically large churches.  I don’t think this is the fault of any person or church – I think we simply live in a culture which values big things (hence, this is not a critique of mega-churches – I actually really like megachurches!).  Big events, big crowds, big buildings, Big Macs.

Most conferences and learning opportunities for pastors err this way too – celebrating and offering platforms for large church leaders and their churches.

Whether intentional or not, big churches with big budgets and big programs are highlighted and uplifted more than other churches.

Again, this is not a critique – it’s simply an observation.

There have been many times in my brief ministry career when I’ve been swept up into this thirst for “big” too, and I think as much as I might say it’s to “reach more people” (which really is true), I think there’s also been some mixed motives of wanting to be “known” as somebody, too.

But the values that Peterson highlighted today – Sabbath-keeping, simplicity, and prayer – are really counter to growth, expansion, and becoming widely known.

In fact, Sabbath, simplicity, and prayer are all practices that lend one toward more obscurity and scaling down, not up.

In this respect, these values run counter to the Western Church.

I was moved when Eugene spoke of his visit to Israel a couple of years ago.  He walked through different areas of Judea, and he noticed the non-descript desert where the Patriarchs walked and the smallish size of towns around Galilee where Jesus grew up and did most of his ministry.

In comparison, the Egyptians had their spectacular pyramids and Herod had his grand palaces.

You see, God works in small, obscure places too.

For every large, miraculous moment in Scripture like the Pentecost (which seemed pretty mega to me), there are also small, obscure practices of retreat, solitude, and obscurity in the life of Jesus.

Peterson’s trying to counterbalance the overwhelming tilt toward bigger, larger, and more… to remember the values of mustard seed living.

Sidenote: Throughout today, I kept thinking of Pete Scazzero as a mini-me of Eugene Peterson.  They talk about so many of the same topics!  I’m fortunate to have learned, taught, and implemented many similar principles of Sabbath-keeping, prayer, and simplicity, throughout the years, and Pete has certainly had a big hand in that. Pete would be another great voice for Q, I think.

This is not to say that I’m an expert by any means – I’m simply very fortunate to have been exposed to these principles early in my ministry career.

Laura Speiller was also the first to introduce me to many Contemplative Prayer Practices that I use to this day.

As you can see, New Life has been a key part of my formation as a practitioner and a leader, and I pray that Hope Church NYC can share similar values.

3)  I’m Really Diggin Q – I love what Gabe’s doing, and what many other Christians are doing in being culturally relevant yet counter-cultural.  Very cool.

As for this event in particular, the organizers have done a great job and actually got a Sweetery NYC food truck to be stationed outside the venue where we’re gathering.  We get unlimited goods from the food truck whenever we want.  Holla!

4)  It’s Been Fun Hangin’ with my buddy Jared Howard – I didn’t think I’d know anyone here, but when I heard Jared was coming, I was ecstatic.  Fun times raiding the Sweetery truck together, Jared.

5) I’d be Remiss if I Didn’t Mention the Participants – I’ve met some really cool people here, and I have tons of respect for the fellow pastors and leaders that I’ve met.  I even had a chance to meet some leaders from Reality Santa Barbara, a church movement in California that I’ve visited once and absolutely loved!

Another interesting observation, though, is that the participants here are largely white and male.  I think I expected this, but not in terms of the volume I’ve experienced.

It’s fairly easy to do percentages because there are 99 participants, and I’d guesstimate that 80-85 of the participants are white males.

I’m saddened by this because I know so many other women and minority leaders in NYC (and beyond) who would benefit from this event and have much to contribute to the discussion.

Maybe next time!

6)  All in all, it’s such an extraordinary gift to be here.  I also love that Q Practices is happening in our own backyard in NYC, IMHO the best city in the world.

Lastly, I think I’m going to ask Eugene Peterson what he thinks about Linsanity.