Every pastor, or anyone wanting to become one, should read Eugene Peterson’s The Pastor.

A fellow pastor friend of mine recommended it, saying Peterson’s writing reminded him of mine. I’m certainly one for flattery so I bought it immediately. I might concur with my friend: Peterson’s writing is like mine, if mine were more polished and backed by theological education and decades of ministry experience, specifically the kind of pastoring experience that sees relationships as primary and not viewing people as numbers, projects, or resources.

I’m coming to embrace my banishment to rural Ohio. I’m starting to grasp why God brought us here, which has a little to do with a church’s needing a worship director and a lot to do with my own character growth, my understanding of what this calling of pastor really entails. Peterson has been guiding me through this.

The Pastor is the memoir of man who served most of his life as the shepherd of an insignificant flock in the suburbs of Baltimore. Insignificant when you consider those loudest voices in church leadership, those megachurch pastors.

Treating souls for whom Christ died as numbers or projects or resources seemed to me something like a sin against the Holy Spirit.

I thought for a long time I wanted to serve at a large church. A few thousand attenders maybe. I envisioned a huge worship arts team with accomplished musicians and techs, where I was the least knowledgeable, the least musically talented. Not that I wouldn’t serve there if I were called to, but I’m less certain it’s where I could have the most influence. I’m beginning to view church growth, as in people numbers, like Peterson — “church cancer.”

Peterson is skeptical of abnormally large churches, partly because for him there is nothing more repulsive than the stench of the pastor ego, the desire for a pastor to be noticed. As a leader of worship, a pastor should go unnoticed. Peterson is also concerned about the pervasiveness of American consumerism in many of our churches, and how churches are being run like businesses that market spirituality.

This from a pastor who never wanted to be a pastor. He’d been intent on being a professor. Books and lecture halls would be his life, not people and sanctuaries. Yet his fiancee had always wanted to be a pastor’s wife, and in order to marry her, he became a pastor.

Many of you might know Peterson best for his rendering of the Bible: The Message. When he was commissioned to translate the New Testament into modern vernacular, he realized that he had always been a translator, that as a pastor he was always translating the Bible for his parishioners. He has written many other books, one of which I’ve read (A Long Obedience in the Same Direction). He tells of how he came to see his calling as a pastor and that of a writer as complementary.

I found that there was a way of writing that I had only peripheral acquaintance with and never pursued — heuristic writing. I began to sense that my writing was at some deeper level a conversation with scripture. At the same time a conversation with my congregation. But conversation, not explaining, not directing.

I’ve often wondered about my own writing. What am I looking to accomplish? Do I even need to set out to accomplish something? Is there a larger project God might be wanting me to work on? A book perhaps? Why not just share my heart with those willing to listen (or to read)?

My favorite part of The Pastor might be his epilogue, “Letter to a Young Pastor.” I read a book a few years ago I touted last year in “Taming Your To-Do’s” aptly titled Getting Things Done. But Peterson reminded me — or perhaps informed me — that a pastor doesn’t just get things done. Yes, there are tasks to check off, worship gatherings to be planned, but a pastor serves people, not a task list. Checking off tasks causes me to feel I’ve accomplished something, which is ironic considering Peterson’s final words:

One aspect of that uniqueness is that we make far more mistakes in our line of work than other so-called professionals. If physicians and engineers and lawyers and military officers made as many mistakes in their line of work as we do in ours, they would be out on the street in no time. … As I reflect with you on my fifty years in this pastoral vocation, it strikes me right now as curious that I have almost no sense of achievement. Does that seem odd?

6 thoughts on “The Pastor's Pastor

  1. We thought God moved us to Atlanta, too, for Denny’s job…it took us almost 2 years to realize it wasn’t about his professional life, but about our personal life.  Two years of humbling goes a long way and we’ve been praising God ever since!!  Love to you & Cindy, Matt!


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