Small Talk & Sinners

I'm almost finished reading The Contemplative Pastor by Eugene Peterson. I've intentionally taken my time reading this one. The chapters were hitting me hard enough that I needed to let them ruminate in my mind for a while between readings.

As I was reading tonight, two things stood out to me. First, was his chapter entitled "The Ministry of Small Talk". Peterson writes about how important it is for a pastor to develop the art of small talk. This one hurt me. I've always been honest with people about how I hate and suck at small talk. I love talking about spiritual things or even political things. I can go on for hours about these things. I even enjoy sharing my own spiritual failures and victories. But small talk is difficult for me. When guys get together and start talking about the weather, the price of gas, traffic patterns, NASCAR, auto mechanics, home repair, etc... it's hard for me. It's not always that it's boring to me, but more that I have a hard time starting and maintaining those conversations. The closest thing I do to good small talk is discussing entertainment - movies, music, TV, etc... I can go on and on about that stuff. Peterson states, "I do not want to be misunderstood: pastoral conversation should not abound along on mindless cliches like gutter water. What I intend is that we simply be present and attentive to what is there conversationally, as respectful of the ordinary as we are of the critical." He even states that in some instances pastors can be snobbish in their conversation - not wanting to come down and communicate on the level of the masses. That is certainly never my intention. I've just always viewed "small talk" as a personal weakness. I admire guys who are good at it. However, I am (and rightly so, I think) critical of Christians who have known each other for years and never moved beyond small talk. What a waste of time and fellowship! But I definitely need to develop the art of small talk more in my life.

In the next chapter, Peterson discusses the importance of never ceasing to view yourself and your parishioners as SINNERS. He states that the reason most pastors become so frustrated or even bitter with their congregations, is that they lose sight of the fact that they are only sinners. If we constantly accept them as sinners, then we will spend more time celebrating even the smallest victory and be more understanding of the weaknesses. He used a great quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer - "A pastor should not complain about his congregation, certainly never to other people, but also not to God. A congregation has not been entrusted to him in order that he should become its accuser before God and men."


Father, forgive me.


Jamie said...

Wow... that cuts like a knife! A great reminder on what our outlook should be for each other in general, not just the pastor for his congregation.

As for small talk, I'm probably the reason you hate it. It never ends.

Joshua said...

Jamie makes a good point. Maybe that's why God brought you two together. Jeff's severe lack of small talk skills is complimented nicely by Jamie's obscene wealth of small talk skills. Like peanut butter and jelly, I tells ya.