Even a Presbyterian “Smacks Down” the Likes of “Five-Two”

WKAOnce upon a time, in a time long, long ago, all the way back in 1987, Eugene Peterson, now retired Presbyterian pastor and professor, “smacks down” the likes of the “Five-Two” crowd, even before they were a glimmer in the eyes of their “sacramental entrepreneurs.” Check it out:

“American pastors are abandoning their posts, left and right, and at an alarming rate. They are not leaving their church and getting other jobs. Congregations still pay their salaries. Their names remain on the church stationery and they continue to appear in pulpits on Sundays. But they are abandoning their posts, their calling. They have gone whoring after other gods. What they do with their time under the guise of pastoral ministry hasn’t the remotest connection with what the church’s pastors have done for most of twenty centuries.

“A few of us are angry about it. We are angry because we have been deserted. Most of my colleagues who defined ministry for me, examined, ordained, and then installed me as a pastor in a congregation, a short while later walked off and left me, having, they said, more urgent things to do. The people I thought I would be working with disappeared when the work started. Being a pastor is difficult work; we want the companionship and counsel of allies. It is bitterly disappointing to enter a room full of people whom you have every reason to expect share the quest and commitments of pastoral work and find within ten minutes that they most definitely do not. They talk of images and statistics. They drop names. They discuss influence and status. Matters of God and the soul and Scripture are not grist for their mills.

“The pastors of America have metamorphosed into a company of shopkeepers, and the shops they keep are churches. They are preoccupied with shopkeepers’ concerns–how to keep the customers happy, how to lure customers away from the competitors down the street, how to package the goods so that the customers will lay out more money.

“Some of them are very good shopkeepers. They attract a lot of customers, pull in great sums of money, develop splendid reputations. Yet it is still shopkeeping; religious shopkeeping, to be sure, but shopkeeping all the same. The marketing strategies of the fast-food franchise occupy the waking minds of these entrepreneurs; while asleep they dream of the kind of success that will get the attention of journalists. ‘A walloping great congregation is fine, and fun,’ says Martin Thornton, ‘but what most communities really need is a couple of saints. The tragedy is that they may well be there in embryo, waiting to be discovered, waiting for sound training, waiting to be emancipated from the cult of the mediocre.’

“The biblical fact is that there are no successful churches. There are, instead, communities of sinners, gathered before God week after week in towns and villages all over the world. The Holy Spirit gathers them and does his work in them. In these communities of sinners, one of the sinners is called pastor and given a designated responsibility in the community. The pastor’s responsibility is to keep the community attentive to God. It is the responsibility that is being abandoned in spades.”

Eugene Peterson, Working the Angles, 1-2

About Pastor Randy Asburry

Pr. Randy Asburry serves as Senior Pastor of Hope Lutheran Church, St. Louis, MO. In addition to earning his MA in Classics (Greek and Latin) from Washington University, St. Louis (1992), he also earned his STM in Systematic Theology from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis (1998), writing on Luther’s view of faith in the Catechisms. He has written for Good News magazine and Concordia Publishing House, served on subcommittees for Lutheran Service Book, and has been a regular guest on Issues, Etc. He serves as regular fill-in host for KFUO's "Thy Strong Word" Bible study program, and now produces the podcast called Sacred Meditations.


Even a Presbyterian “Smacks Down” the Likes of “Five-Two” — 16 Comments

  1. The “shopkeeper” analogy is similar to Robert Farrar Capon’s “accountant” mentality. This, of course, was the Pharisees’ problem, and it is easily ours. But Grace, as he puts it, will have none of this accounting business. No keeping score in the Kingdom of God.

  2. Negative generalizations about pastors, attacking and castigating an entire group on the basis of the ones who fall short, seems a bit too much for me. Many of the pastors included in this grouping are struggling to do the right thing, love The Lord, and are not deserving of blanket condemnation and disdain. The writer is a judgmental type, a legalist, and lacks humility of spirit. Rather than attack brothers in Christ, it would be better to specify areas needing improvement, writing with clarity, understanding, encouragement.

  3. @John J Flanagan #2

    “The pastors of America have metamorphosed into a company of shopkeepers, and the shops they keep are churches.

    Ain’t nobody got time for that.

    And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.  Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:24, 25)

    Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. (Ephesians 4:29)

    We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death.  I Jn. 3:14

  4. Even a Presbyterian “Smacks Down” the Likes of “Five-Two”

    Seems like a lot of “worst construction” assumptions here.  Are you saying that LCMS pastors, church workers, volunteers who attend FiveTwo seminars:

    – are abandoning their posts left and right

    – are whoring after false gods

    – talk of images and statistics, drop names, discuss influence and status

    – are preoccupied with keeping customers happy, luring customers away from competitors, packaging the goods so customers will lay out more money

  5. @John Rixe #6
    LCMS pastors, church workers, volunteers…
    – are abandoning their posts left and right
    – are whoring after false gods
    – talk of images and statistics, drop names, discuss influence and status
    – are preoccupied with keeping customers happy, luring customers away from competitors, packaging the goods so customers will lay out more money

    At best, they aren’t using good judgment.

    1. If pastors aren’t preaching about Jesus and redemption; they may be standing in their pulpits but they aren’t doing the job they were called to do. [They may be doing something else, as Woolsey is, which is detrimental to the flock and the church.]
    2. If they think, (and I have heard it said) that “Word and Sacrament aren’t doing the job”; we have to do something more, then “yes”, they are putting more faith in themselves (the most frequent “false god”).
    3. The ambitious for temporal recognition do all those things.
    4. What else do you think the “I’m no theologian” types with entertainment instead of worship are trying to do, pray tell!? [They sneer at providing sound doctrine!]

    “Reach the lost”… Even Dwight L Moody and Billy Graham did not reach the “lost”; they sometimes moved Christians from one denominational pew to another. Moody admitted it. Our “entertainers” do the same.
    All the new ‘members’ I can remember came from some other Christian experience. Some may have needed adult baptism, because the places they’d been really didn’t believe in baptism.

    I suspect I’ve been baited… but there you are, John: I bit.

  6. Dear BJS Bloggers,

    This post is a great quote from a Presbyterian pastor admired by many clergy and pastors around the world. Eugene Peterson is one of the best writers who comes at the that task from the perspective of a working pastor. You can read just about any of his books and learn something from them–even though he is Presbyterian. Watching his literacy gifts at work reminds us that our Lord distributed his gifts not only to Lutherans.

    The quote definitely hits the target of the mega-church-growth-crowd, no matter what denomination. I don’t know how many of those folks are in the LCMS, but there are enough to make life miserable. I don’t think that we have had the mass “sell-out” in the LCMS to this way of thinking and “doing church” as is found in American Evangelicalism.

    I have had a few of my Fort Wayne classmates (1980s era) “sell-out” to the “church-growth-mega-church mentality,” but not too many. By my estimate, about an equal number have gone that way from the Saint Louis seminary from that era. My guess is that only one or two from each seminary faculty from that era have “sold out.” So our seminaries have “held the line” pretty well, as much as can be expected in a sinful world.

    By the way, it was those one or two at Fort Wayne back in the late 1980s that caused all the trouble that led to the termination of Robert Preus. They were trying to “take him down” and take over the place. They were not successful, though a lot of people suffered resisting that hostile takeover.

    I have heard a number of these “church-growth-mega-church” people say they don’t need the rest of the LCMS, its seminaries, its missions, its universities, etc., etc. If that is true, I don’t know why they don’t leave and start their own denomination. I think they would be a lot happier and probably more successful, without having to deal with the “road obstacles” (their term; or something like that) like me and all the old folks who have been Lutheran all their life, and still want to stay that way.

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  7. @Martin R. Noland #13

    Dr. Noland–

    I think you’re a bit optimistic. Too many LCMS pastors have sold out to the Evangelicals, which in many ways is related to CG. My study of the websites in my Ohio District seems to bear this out. Way too much “gospel as information” preaching, and even a few websites with a Lutheranized version of the Four Spiritual Laws, which, as you know, can be found in 2 Hereticus 5:15 & 16.

    Not a pretty picture.

  8. @Martin R. Noland #13
    I don’t know why they don’t leave and start their own denomination. I think they would be a lot happier and probably more successful,

    The money; they like their salaries, their Concordia plans, their weekend retreats, …paid for by LCEF and Thrivent, which is to say, pewsitters who probably are not their members… and outside Missouri it still has the remnants of a reputation (even inside, among those who aren’t aware). Why should they start “outside”, where they will have to compete with the big names they are dragging in, when they have little competition or resistance “inside”?

    A few irritating blogs, but they can be ignored; (the IC ignores them).
    One by one the faithful pastors will be picked off;
    some even marginalize each other!

    Sorry! Pessimism seems to be in the ascendant tonight.

  9. @Joe Strieter #14

    Dear Joe,

    Thanks for your comments (#14). I’d say that one LCMS parish pastor “selling-out” to the Evangelicals out of ca. 5,700 is one too many. Don’t get me wrong on that point!

    We should be presenting a united front against heresy and the stupid ideas that pass for religion in America. By the way, this does not mean there is anything wrong with the size or complexity of really big congregations. Walther pastored a huge, multi-site congregation in Saint Louis, and so did the pastors in Frankenmuth. There is nothing wrong with being big.

    But the question is: Are the “megachurch-church-growthers” going to “run the show” in the LCMS? Are they going to train the next generation of church-workers? Are they going to foist their “mission” lingo and foolish ideas on our mission fields and partner churches? Are they going to lead the laymen of our beloved synod from the pure Gospel of Jesus Christ to the devil’s golden calf–the love of Mammon? God only knows, but we can do something about it.

    The only reason that the synod was able to rid itself of historical-criticism and Liberal Protestant theology in the 1970s was that the laymen finally “woke up” and joined the relatively few faithful pastors that had been fighting against it all along. Among those faithful pastors I include Paul Burgdorf, Paul Kretzmann, Siegbert Becker, Herman Otten, Cameron Mackenzie Sr., as well as many others less well-known. Our present-day laymen need to “wake up” en masse and say “that’s enough” to the “megachurch-church-growth” ideas and practices.

    Thanks for all the folks here at BJS who have woken up and are saying “that’s enough,” whether laymen or clergy. I can tell you, from comments received privately from all around the USA, that your voice is being heard and is felt, but the struggle is not over. Keep up the good work for the Gospel, all of you!

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

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