Prevenience – What in the World?

I just received a link to the following email from Guy Muse, my missionary friend from Ecuador. Just as he thought it worth sharing, so did I.

…from an email received from John White (Denver, CO)…

I first learned the word “prevenience” from Eugene Peterson in his book “The Contemplative Pastor”. I was struck by what he had to say because it was immediately obvious to me that he was right. However, it was exactly the opposite of what I had been taught.

I knew how to be proactive. I knew how to “run the church” and get things done. I knew how to “make it happen”. I had a lot of unlearning to do (I’m a recovering control addict).

Here’s what Peterson has to say (with a few of John’s comments in italics):

“In running the church (or the house church), I seize the initiative. I take charge. I take responsibility for motivation and recruitment, for showing the way, for getting things started. If I don’t, things drift. I am aware of the tendency to apathy, the human susceptibility to indolence, and I use my leadership to counter it. (Isn’t that what we have been taught that leadership is? If it isn’t this, what is it?)

By contrast, the cure of souls (he means here the true work of a pastor or leader of a church as an organism) is a cultivated awareness that God has already seized the initiative. The traditional doctrine defining this truth is prevenience: God everywhere and always seizing the initiative. He gets thing going. He had and continues to have the first word. Prevenience is the conviction that God has been working diligently, redemptively, and strategically before I appeared on the scene, before I was aware there was something here for me to do.

…there is a disciplined, determined conviction that everything (and I mean, precisely everything) we do is a response to God’s first work, his initiating act. We learn to be attentive to the divine action already in process so that the previously unheard word of God is heard, the previously unattended act of God is noticed?

What has God been doing here?
What traces of grace can I discern in this life?
What history of love can I read in this group?
What has God set in motion that I can get in on?”

I call these “the prevenience questions”. Learning to ask/answer these questions is the starting place for the church each time she meets. This is the “prevenience model” of church.

With apologies to Steven Covey, we Christians were never called to be “proactive”. We are called to be “reactive” to God. (Or, perhaps “responsive” to God is better.)

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