Letters to a Young Congregation – Eric Peterson

Letters to a Young Congregation Eric Peterson
Letters to a Young Congregation: Nurturing the Growth of a Faithful Church by Eric E Peterson
Also by this author: Letters to a Young Pastor: Timothy Conversations Between Father and Son
Published by NavPress on June 9, 2020
Genres: Non-Fiction, Memoir, Leadership, Christian Life
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Eugene Peterson instilled the love of the local church in his family, and especially his son, pastor Eric E. Peterson. This collection of letters, written over several years by Eric, offers a poignant, pastoral vision for what the people of God are to be about in their personal lives and their life together. You'll find this wisdom for one local church to be warm, winsome, knowing, understanding, and universally relevant.
Eric E. Peterson addresses essential questions such as "What is a church? What should a church be doing? What do we owe each other? What can we expect from one another? How do we follow Christ together?" A pastor in the state of Washington, he wrestled with how to grow his infant church into a mature Christian community. This book was born in the midst of a church coming to life, and is a compelling read for any pastor, church leader, or congregant.
Purchase individually or together with Letters to a Young Pastor, a book that contains letters written back and forth between Eugene Peterson and his son, Eric E. Peterson.

Letters to a Young Congregation is the companion book to Letters to a Young Pastor. Where the latter was written by Eugene Peterson to his son, Eric, this is written from Eric to his congregation. These letters were written over the course of Eric’s still-ongoing ministry at Colbert Presbyterian, the church he founded, and showcase his thoughts and feelings about the church at various times in the church’s relatively young life.

Unlike Letters to a Young Pastor, Letters to a Young Congregation is structured topically, rather than chronologically. While this best fits the nature of the writing, I do also feel like there might be something lost by not knowing if a letter was written one year or twenty years into the journey. (Although one can determine some generalization from context.)

Eric writes with a pastor’s heart to a fledgling congregation, hoping to set up the foundation of a Christian community that lives a life of liturgy. The book is divided into four themes:

  1. What My Life is About
  2. What God is About
  3. What the Church is About
  4. What Following Jesus is About

My favorite letters, I think, come from that third part, where Peterson writes on the nature of the local church. Church has, too often, been commodified and consumerized. It is a production to attend, not a community to join. It is so obvious in this book that Rev. Peterson has taken great pains to avoid that pitfall and truly create community. The personalness and passion that flow through the book—particularly in this section—is a case study for how pastors should care for their churches.

Whether you’re a church leader or layperson, Letters to a Young Congregation will be influential in helping you develop a theology of the local church and the church service as spiritual practice. The focuses that Peterson brings to his congregation, and therefore to his readers, are all too often lost in many churches.

As a pastor, I found a great solidarity in reading this book. What Peterson asks of his congregation is not easy—which is why it often goes unasked. The missional type of community he desires is an ideal, one that is messy by nature in its implementation, one that results in more conflict, stress, and attention than if one simply ran a church as an organization. To know that others are going through this same process, that have the same goals, that aren’t content with the normal, superficial life of the church, but truly desire to live in and lead a community like this…it gives me hope that the church can truly be the church and live as a transformational community.

Letters to a Young Congregation is a modern-day epistle to a modern-day church. It had a specific application to a specific location, but its principles are timeless and true whatever the situation. Church growth and church planting books are often very rigid and structural, with diagrams and lists and strategies. Letters to a Young Congregation eclipses them all with its pastoral tone and relational bent that captures the true heart of ecclesia.