on the pastoral ministry

Mark has a post responding to Brian LePort about academics in the church.  Well, Mark linked to an online interview with Eugene Peterson where he talks alot about his experiences as a pastor.  There is so much important and really good stuff there for small church pastors to be thinking about and that, really, should be an encouragement.

One really strong point about Eugene Peterson’s work is how so much of what he is says applies to pastoral ministry in general  irrespective of denominational affiliation.   If you are a pastor you are a pastor.  It is a vocation, a calling.  I don’t know if it really matters what denomination you associate with in effort to pursue your vocation (though I grant that some groups might make that a little easier than some others and some are a better fit for some than others, and it is even sadder that we’ve come to a place where many can no longer appreciate diversity in the body such as one’s Pentecostal friend or one’s Methodist friend or Presbyterian or Lutheran, Catholic etc.).  Pastors are people whom God has called to feed his sheep, to oversee the spiritual welfare of his people in their respective communities of faith.  They are pastors in their communities as well (towns and cities).  It really is a way of life and not just a job.  It’s a vocation.

Well anyways…

Here are some snippets:

I remain convinced that if you are called to it, being a pastor is the best life there is. But any life can be the best life if you’re called to it.

on how he became a pastor:

I think I was attracted to the intense relational and personal quality of this life. At the time I decided to become a pastor, I was assistant professor at a seminary. I loved the teaching, but when I compared it with what I was doing as an associate pastor, there was no comparison. It was the difference between being a coach in the locker room, working out plays on the chalkboard, and being one of the players on the field. I wanted to be one of the players on the field, playing my part as the life of Christ was becoming incarnate again in my community.

This is a good quote too:

We’re not a market-driven church, and the ministry is not a market-driven vocation. We’re not selling anything, and we’re not providing goods and services. If a pastor is not discerning and discriminating about the claims of his or her vocation and about the claims of a congregation, then the demands or the desires of the congregation can dominate what he or she is doing — and that creates the conditions for nonpastoral work.

Here is a segment that could go towards support for blogging:

I think the primary reason for wanting to leave was boredom. After one episode of boredom, I realized that the boredom was my fault. I wasn’t paying attention to things. It was like I was walking through a field of wildflowers and not seeing any of them because I’d seen them 500 times before. So I learned to start looking. For me, writing helped me see what I was missing. My writing became a partial cure for the boredom, because it made me look more closely.

Well, read on and be blessed!

Some new books

Thank you to the anonymous donor of a few new books that showed up in my mailbox yesterday!!  (Well, I hope they were for me and not sent to my address on accident!  lol!)  It was very gracious of you, kind person!   Thanks so much I really appreciate it!

Here is what they are:

Eugene Peterson’s A Long Obedience in the Same Direction (IVP).

Gordon Fee’s New Testament Exegesis (WJK).

Gordon Fee’s Paul, the Spirit and the People of God (Baker).

Jurgen Moltman’s The Trinity and the Kingdom (Fortress).

So… pretty much , nothing less than the BEST!!  🙂

Eugene Peterson on writing

Over at the Gospel Coalition page Owen Strachan interviews Eugene Peterson about the reading and writing life of the Pastor.  It is simply “must” reading for any and every pastor, even bloggers.  I admit I need to be sure I am working on my writing as I blog and just just post stuff from other people all the time (though I do think blogging has helped my writing quite a bit).  Here is an excerpt:

Good writers are people who pay attention to language, are interested in telling the truth, and are in some ways finding themselves inoculated against the fads of what will sell, what will please. Good literature almost always goes against the grain of the culture: interpreting it, subtly criticizing it, maybe not polemically. Pastors are right in the center of deceit and corruption and bad use of language. We have a commitment to use words accurately and honestly.

Good writing does not come easy; it takes a lot of discipline, a lot of self-criticism. A lot of people in my position want to know how to write, and after talking to them for a while I realize, “You don’t want to write, you want to get published; you’re not willing to go through the disciplines, the rejections.” Rejections are often compliments, because we’re not writing for popular taste or the stuff that just titillates people, what makes them feel good or bad or whatever. Propaganda is the worst kind of writing; there’s almost something pornographic about it. It just dehumanizes what’s going on, and we’re just filled with it right now politically, so I think of the importance of poets and novelists, because I think of poets as the high priests of the language. No poet writes in order to get published, not in America, so anybody who takes the path of poetry is going a lonely way and a not lucrative way.

It’s hard to be a good novelist in America because of all the Stephen Kings. There are good novelists and great novelists, but I think for pastors their training isn’t how to use their imagination like novelists in the sense that they see the narrative connection of everything, how everything fits into the story. So if our imagination isn’t trained to see these connections, relationships, and the way words work to bring out truth rather than just facts, we are just giving lectures from the pulpit, moralisms in a counseling place. It’s a great responsibility, I think, to learn to use words rightly. Pastors don’t realize how much we owe to our congregations, to the public, to learn how to use words rightly and skillfully and truthfully.

Boy, isn’t that the truth??!! I would take it just a little further and suggest we pay attention to how we use our words when preaching or teaching.  It is an art as much as it is a science and it takes discipline to preach or teach well.  There is a deep need for preachers and teachers to carefully craft their words in speaking as in writing.  As the old adage goes it isn’t so much what you say as it is how you say it!  This is why, I think, it is important to write out your sermons and teaching scripts word for word as much as possible, as often as possible.  It will help you in your speaking and in your writing, and it will help those who read or listen too!

Read on for more!!   Blessings!

on large churches

Eugene Peterson shares in his book, The Pastor: A Memoir,  a letter he wrote to someone who abandoned a study group he was in for a pastorate in a large congregation (the quote is only a portion of the letter):

I certainly understand the appeal and feel it frequently myself.  But I am also suspicious of the appeal and believe that gratifying it is destructive both to the gospel and the pastoral vocation.  It is the kind of thing America specializes in, and one of the consequences is that American religion and the pastoral vocation are in a shabby state.

It is also the kind of thing for which we have abundant documentation through twenty centuries now, of debilitating both congregation ad pastor.  In general terms, it is the devil’s temptation to Jesus to throw himself from the pinnacle of the temple.  Every time the church’s leaders depersonalize even a little, the worshipping/loving community, the gospel is weakened.  And size is the great depersonalizer.  Kierkegaard’s criticism is still cogent: “the more people, the less truth.”

The only way the Christian life is brought to maturity is through intimacy, renunciation, and personal deepening.  And the pastor is in a key position to nurture such maturity.  It is true that these things can take place in the context of large congregations, but only by strenuously going against the grain.  Largeness is an impediment, not a help  (133).

What do you think?

Eugene Peterson on teaching how to Pray

he writes in his book The Pastor…. (142):

Up until then I had concluded that prayer was not something for which there was much of a market.  Wanting to serve my congregation on their terms, I kept my prayers to myself and did what I was asked.  Marilyn’s “Would you teach me to pray?” was a breakthrough.  I reflected on the irony: the work that I was most equipped for, that I most wanted to do, what most pastors for most of our twenty centuries of working in congregations expected to do and did, was not expected of me.  Until Marilyn asked.

An inner resolve began forming within me: I was not going to wait to be asked anymore.  In the secularizing times in which I am living, God is not taken seriously.  God is peripheral.  God is nice (or maybe not so nice) but not at the center.  When people want to help with their parents or children or emotions, they do not ordinarily see themselves as wanting help with God.  But if I am going to stay true to my vocation as a pastor, I can’t let the “market” determine what I do.  I will find ways to pray with and for people and teach then to pray usually quietly and often subversively when they don’t know I am doing it.  But I’m not going to wait to be asked. I am a pastor.

Last I checked this is called intentional discipleship (or perhaps a kind of spiritual direction) and it is the responsibility of pastors (and probably most Christians) to engage their congregations and or brothers and sisters in the Lord in this action of intentional discipleship (it is part of loving one another), which is not on their terms, but in the leading of the Spirit and with an eye to what is needed to help people grow in their relationship and understanding of God.   Obviously intentional discipleship is a process that takes time as does anything else and of course we should operate in grace and mercy but at the same time should be done with some degree of purpose and intentionality!

Thanks Eugene Peterson for this memoir!

Eugene Peterson on The Book of Acts

Acts is not a manual with blueprints and a set of instructions on how to be a church.  Acts is not a utopian fantasy on what a perfect church would look like.  Acts is a detailed story of the ways in which the first church became a church.  A story is not a script to be copied.  A story develops a narrative sense in us so that, alert to the story of Jesus., will be present and obedient and believing as we participate in the ways     that the Holy Spirit is forming the Jesus life in us.  The plot (Jesus) is the same.  But the actual places and circumstances and names will be different and form a narrative that is unique to our time and place, circumstances and people.

Churches are not franchises to be reproduced as exactly as possible wherever and whenever – in Rome, and Moscow, and London and Baltimore – the only thing changed being the translation of the menu.

But if we don’t acquire a narrative sense, a story sense, with the expectation that we are each one of us uniquely ourselves – participants in the unique place and time and weather of where we live and worship – we will always be looking somewhere else or to a different century for a model by which we can be an authentic and biblical church.  The usefulness of Acts as a story, and not a prescription or admonition, is that it keeps us faithful to the plot. Jesus, and at the same time free to respond out of our own circumstances and obedience.

Eugene Peterson – The Pastor: A Memoir (HarperOne, 2011).

Living the Lord’s Prayer?

I did a pretty substantial amount of reading in Eugene Peterson’s newest book The Pastor: A Memoir (HarperOne, 2011) today, and as I was reading/listening and he was writing/talking, I realized something he was saying (I can’t remember where at the moment – but I think in chapter 11 “Holy Land” when he was working the night shift in Kalispell, MT right before going to college and he was reflecting on Psalm 108) – he was talking essentially about not just praying prayers but living them too or living out the prayer – and in reflecting on that I wondered if we fall shot just to pray one of the most significant prayers in the Bible: the Lord’s Prayer?  Instead of praying it, what if we lived it out, sort of in the line of the old Keith Green song Make my Life a Prayer to You?  I am positive this is not new and lots of people have probably already talked about this – but still – live out the Lord’s prayer?

Yup.  Line by Line.  To really live as he is our Father; in as such, to live a life that hollows God’s name in every way; to live in anticipation of the Kingdom and as much as possible in seeking his will to be done on Earth as it is in Heaven (and not just in our own lives or or own little world) but in the lives of others as well; to live in dependency on him daily; to live graciously forgiving lives both seeking forgiveness and extending it; living in the strength of the Lord to resist temptation and to not be taken in by the evil one and so on.

Living out our prayers can be a challenge but I wonder if that is how it is intended to be – not just praying prayers (as we should and we must) but also living out the prayers.

What say you?

New Book: USPS edition: The Pastor

Thanks to a good blogger buddy, I now have a copy of Eugene Peterson’s latest book, The Pastor: A Memoir (Harper One, 2011).   I did not know how big of a book it would be, but it is thicker than I expected and I look forward to reading it (though it seems like it has been quoted almost in its entirety on various blogs!  lol!).  For those who don’t know yet, here is a description:

In The Pastor, Eugene H. Peterson, the translator of the multimillion-selling The Message and the author of more than thirty books, offers his life story as one answer to the surprisingly neglected question: What does it mean to be a pastor?

When Peterson was asked by his denomination to begin a new church in Bel Air, Maryland, he surprised himself by saying yes. And so was born Christ Our King Presbyterian Church. But Peterson quickly learned that he was not exactly sure what a pastor should do. He had met many ministers in his life, from his Pentecostal upbringing in Montana to his seminary days in New York, and he admired only a few. He knew that the job’s demands would drown him unless he figured out what the essence of the job really was. Thus began a thirty-year journey into the heart of this uncommon vocation—the pastorate.

The Pastor steers away from abstractions, offering instead a beautiful rendering of a life tied to the physical world—the land, the holy space, the people—shaping Peterson’s pastoral vocation as well as his faith. He takes on church marketing, mega pastors, and the church’s too-cozy relationship to American glitz and consumerism to present a simple, faith-filled job description of what being a pastor means today. In the end, Peterson discovered that being a pastor boiled down to “paying attention and calling attention to ‘what is going on right now’ between men and women, with each other and with God.” The Pastor is destined to become a classic statement on the contemporary trials, joys, and meaning of this ancient vocation.

I am looking forward to reading this!

Quote of the Day: The Pastor

“…I want to insist that there is no blueprint on file for becoming a pastor. In becoming one, I have found that it is a most context-specific way of life:the pastor’s emotional life, family life, experience in the faith, and aptitudes worked out in an actual congregation in the neighborhood in which she or he lives – these people just as they are, in this place. No copying. No trying to be successful. The ways in which the vocation of pastor is conceived, develops and comes to birth is unique to each pastor.”

-Eugene Peterson from his new book just published The Pastor: A Memoir (HarperOne, 2011)

I think this quote alone is worth a million dollars.  It is (and should be) freeing to know the process of becoming a pastor is highly individual to each person – each pastor is different and each pastor should feel free to be who they are and function in the role of pastor as God has called them and as is befitting with their own personalities and makeup.  I don’t know if I can say any one pastor is better than another but to say some do “seem” to live out their callings as pastors more effectively than others.

But then again, if the process of a life lived as a pastor is unique, how can such a statement stand?  What is considered effective?  Who is considered a “good” or “bad” pastor?   I think I can make such a statement because of a concept called “pastoral identity.”  Some pastors reveal a strong and healthy pastoral identity (which is a kind of sense of security in one’s calling and vocation as a pastor) whereas, I know there are others who have more or less weaker senses of pastoral identity, they do not seem to be as comfortable with their calling or vocation (which could call into question the validity of such) – I would suggest those with stronger pastoral identities are “more effective” in their callings than those who are not primarily because they are not trying to be something they are not.

Seems to me that anyone who is a pastor should read this book and those struggling with their own sense of pastoral identity should seriously consider reading this other book by Peterson.

You can learn more about the book here.