Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Heart of a Pastor @christianaudio @caReviewers

A couple of weeks ago, I posted an initial review of Eugene Peterson's memoir, The Pastor. I have finally finished it and absolutely loved it. While I am not in the role of professional clergy, this book hit home to me. If you want to know what my heart is as a psychologist and where I find meaning in life, read this book.

Peterson's book is a perfect example of how amazing of a writer he is. His prose becomes beautifully poetic (and I'm one who generally dislikes poems) with vivid imagery. In the afterward, a letter to a young pastor, he stated that he does not feel like he is a pastor of great achievement. While he did translate The Message Bible and has written many books, I got the sense from reading this that he is not your typical uber-famous Christian who has met the world's standards of success.

Yes, Peterson has had some of that, but he writes not to be famous, but because that is his love and passion. In fact, his personal testimony about the development of The Message makes me love and appreciate it all the more.

But returning to his pastoral work, this is where he finds his primary identity, with the writing elements being more of a supplement to that work. As a pastor, he led a flock of about 500 by the time he left. That's large compared to many institutions, but quite modest compared to those congregations of the best selling authors. And Peterson seemed to have no problem with the size. In fact, he indicated that he didn't want it bigger. He was satisfied with his work, and it showed through his heart and the true, lasting transformation that occurred in his community.

As a psychologist who definitely can be tempted by trying to achieve widespread notoriety, this tome reminded me of the power of daily, incarnational work that we all do on a daily basis. Our daily relationships and connections are what counts. Peterson knows that and lived it. And I have been blessed by his testimony of that life.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


  1. It's ironic that I was reading this book at the same time as you, and not because of any pre-planning. I totally agree with this assessment. The book is probably the most wise, literate, authentic, and spiritual account of what it actually means to be a pastor that I've ever read. He "gets it." Reading this evoked the response "Yes, that's why I'm a pastor."

    Peterson understands the ordinary, messy, ambiguous, and personal nature of pastoring. Most books on congregational life, especially if the term "leadership" is lurking anywhere in the title, skip over that. Real congregations are not neat canvases upon which we can paint our personal stories of epic success. And real church leadership is not about a starring role that validates the ego or about whipping people into shape so that they obediently charge in the direction of our bidding. It does not feel like cosmic heroism most of the time. It's messy, human, and ambiguous. And yet that's the beauty of it.

    Peterson also portrays the importance of balance. "Being busy" is often a way of evading what's most important. We can't contribute to congregations anything that we aren't quietly cultivating in the way we actually live our lives when we aren't engaged in completing tasks.

    Peterson's reflections on the role of pastoring in preparing people for "a good death" struck me as particularly profound. Magnificent buildings, big crowds, and full offering plates evoke images of success and help us engage in what Ernest Becker calls the "denial of death." And yet facing death has historically been a major task of the church and of the pastor. Not glorious or glamorous but one of the most important aspects of real life.

    Above all, Peterson grounds his work in the great acts of God, in scripture, and in prayer. A much needed corrective in this day of consumer Christianity where Jesus becomes just one more commodity or product line.

    Well worth the read.


  2. Thanks for your always thoughtful and wise comments, Cal! You're right on on all those points!

    The "good death" idea struck me as powerful, too. We so often avoid death and think death is always bad. But we can, indeed, have good deaths.



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