Eugene Peterson's pastoral wisdom

In my opinion, in all the shelves and shelves of books written about the vocation of pastoring, there is nothing rivaling the work of Eugene Peterson. He is transparent, taking us through his own struggles to unearth the essence of the pastoral vocation. Our world incessantly works to reduce pastors to purveyers of religious commodities and Christians to bargain-seeking consumers of self-fulfillment. Our Christian culture too often abides by a similar arrangement that pastors and churchgoers should live in a sort of pact -- the pastor delivers the desired goods and in return, the churchgoers affirm the pastor, even occasionally exalting the pastor to star status. Keep the pact, and there will be peace (of a sort). Upset this equilibrium, and who knows what will break loose.

Peterson is not the only Christian leader to recognize and cry out against the pressure to live under the smothering blanket of this unholy and unspoken agreement. But he speaks with a rare combination of transparency and insight that ministers to those of us in vocational ministry. We can relate to his struggles. We battle the same ecclesiastical and personal illnesses of soul that he rails against. Some of us have given in and conceded defeat to the consumeristic beast. But many of us recognize that there is something more to being a pastor than satisfying a culturally reinforced compulsion to base a church on consumerism, and we are in the fight. Peterson is a voice of encouragement. He is like the platoon leader, running from foxhole to foxhole, exhorting the troops to repel the attack -- or in some cases, not to abandon one's post and run.

The essence of pastoring is not to pander to religious consumers. It is to recognize and fuel the activity of God in the lives of people individually and in community. When we, pastors included, come alive to God's activity within and among us, we come alive indeed. We experience the impact and joy of being turned inside out until we are truly living not for ourselves but for God and others. We find ourselves being "immersed in the life of the triune God" (Thomas Dubay). We find that being colaborers with Christ is what the good life is all about. Peterson is one of the important voices in helping me find a way to pastor that expresses these wonders. I appreciate him.


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