I’ve changed my reading strategy. I am learning to read deeply rather than widely. My previous strategy was to read the insights of multiple authors so that I acquired a wide range of knowledge. In the last eighteen months, I’ve discovered the joy of finding the writings of one person whose work feeds my soul and then reading as much of their work that I can locate on Amazon!
My most recent discovery? Eugene Peterson. I’ve discovered he wrote more than the Bible (well, ‘The Message’ at least!). I appreciate that I’m probably late to the party, but I’ve discovered that he wrote deeply about the pastoral vocation, about church leadership, about the formation of the human soul and the damage that the driven-life can have on the those three.
After years of church planting, church building and church leadership, Peterson sensed God speak to him about transitioning from living as a ‘Competitive Pastor’ to becoming a ‘Contemplative Pastor’. In Peterson’s mind, pastoral leadership was developing into an unhealthy organisational role, one that it was never meant to be. The focus had become on strategy, systems, numerical growth and unending activity. He sensed an internal prompting to be a different kind of pastor whose focus was on reflecting, slowing, listening and being (rather than doing).
Drawing on an analogy from C.S. Lewis’ wardrobe into the magical world of Narnia, Peterson defined his new goal: ‘The inside is larger than the outside’. His new stated goal was to become bigger on the inside rather than the outside. Radical, I know.
In most spheres of life we aim to become larger on the outside. A larger car. A larger house. A larger bank balance. Bigger is better.
Most leaders aim to grow their outer-world. Their influence. Their Facebook likes. Their profile.
Most people think that fulfilment and satisfaction come from a larger outer-world. But then so many people who have a large outer-world mourn the size of their inner-world because internally there is a void. Their inner-world has shrunk.
The key to a growing inner-world? According to Peterson, ‘submit yourself to non-performance.’
(Let that statement settle in your soul.)
The way you get larger on the outside is through ‘performance’, while at the same time the inner-life often remains empty and it shrivels up. A life of non-performance requires a healthy secret-life. Pray in secret. Give in secret. Worship in secret. Go into your room, close the door and discover that your inner-world grows when there’s no one to perform to. When you find a comfortable seat and a quiet space and you say, ‘God, I am here for you.’ No one else. Nothing else.
And the most important thing of all?
God is on the lookout for people with a growing inner-world. People who are curators of their own souls.
Just ask David.
His brothers had an impressive outer-world.
But the Lord looks at the heart.