I read this immediately after it came out just over a month ago. I wrote a gushing review. Then I was asked if I wanted to review the audiobook as well. At first I thought I would just listen to a little bit of the audiobook and rework the original review a bit. But this is a very good book. And ‘reading’ it twice in less than six weeks is not too much.
Eugene Peterson reads the introduction and afterward himself. So you get a sense of his own voice. But it is narrated by Arthur Morey. His voice is not the same as Peterson, but his reading understands the nature of the book. As with many good narrators you forget the narration and hear the voice of the author, as the authors intends you to hear.
About half way through this second reading I think I understood what Peterson was trying to do in a different way. Peterson, through his own story, is showing us different way to conceive of the role of pastor. That is part of why I liked the book so much the first time I read it. But it is more than simply giving a new language. He is outright rejecting the way that most of us conceive the role of pastor. I had started reading The Economics of Good and Evil (my review) and was thinking about how the author was deconstructing our ideas about what Economics was capable of explaining. I understood that the book was particularly post-modern, in a very good way, because it was attempting to work through the variety of ways that Economics had been conceived through the texts of ancient and modern literature. Using these texts Sedlacek was able to help us understand the the modern, mathematical, predictive understanding of Economics is not only recent, but just one of many ways that Economics can be conceived. In many ways, this is exactly what Peterson is doing. He is doing it not through a variety of ancient texts, but through his own memoirs. Peterson is helping us, whether parishioner or pastor ourselves, to see that the modern, CEO, pastoral counselor, mega-church Preacher, etc., is but a recent understanding of a role that goes back thousands of years. We do not have to adopt the recent definition, instead we can adopt a different definition, one that is counter-cultural, but that Peterson thinks is more biblical.
The center point, where he seems to finally understand his role as pastor is the point where he suggests his job is not to help people with problems (or see the people as problems themselves to be fix) but to pray with and for them and help them see themselves as followers of God. The role of the pastor is to point people to God. That seems simple and uncontroversial, but if that were what people expected pastors to actually do, churches would look very different. Instead many pastors are expected to look busy (and actually be busy), not praying or studying or preaching, but leading meetings, growing churches, doing the work of the church.
Part of the problem that Peterson speaks about several time is the lack of understanding about what a pastor should be about by those that should know. Only one of his seminary professors had ever been a pastor. (I had two, the one who was a current pastor did not have his contract renewed and was replaced by a professor that had never been a pastor to teach about pastoral care, preaching and supervise church internships. And the other, a famous professor that many would recognize had only been a pastor for a couple years and that was more than 40 years before I had him.) The writer that was recommended to Peterson as the best writer of pastoral theology had served one year as an assistant pastor. Peterson’s supervisors in church planting literally wrote a book about church planting, but had never planted a church, and humorously never actually read Peterson’s reports. If the professionals that teach and supervise pastors do not understand what it means to be a pastor, how can the members of the church be expected to understand?
It is a long and hard task to help a congregation see that a pastor’s role is more complicated, but more important than we usually conceive. The last time I read this I thought that it should be read by all pastors and especially all seminary students. With this reading I think it is equally important that lay people read this, especially those that serve in roles where they supervise pastors or on pastoral search committees. The role of pastor is too important to be primarily shaped by our culture. Peterson is calling for a re-examination that could influence churches throughout the world.
The audiobook was provided by christianaudio.com for purposes of review.