Summary: A pastor’s thoughts on being a pastor (and I think an essential book for anyone that relates to pastors.)
This past week I have started walking to the top of Kennesaw Mountain, a nearby park. I am going backpacking with friends at the end of the month and need to start preparing.
I am not a pastor, I have no intention of ever becoming a pastor. But Eugene Peterson exemplifies not only what it means to be a pastor to me, but also what NT Wright is talking about in what character and spiritual maturity are about.
Part of my need for these books are that I think I have absorbed the myth that spiritual growth is somehow different from growth in areas of life. Peterson is a man that has been shaped by scripture. Most of his books loosely revolve around a portion of scripture. One of the complaints about Peterson’s Message Bible is that it has done too much interpretation. First that complaint misunderstands the nature of translation, but more importantly, Peterson believes that the role of the pastor is to proclaim and illustrate through his or her life what scripture is saying to them.
The Pastor is really a record of Peterson finding his way as a pastor, but he is never far from the root of how scripture shapes him and directs him.
The art of pastoring that Peterson is recommending is a direct challenge to the leadership model that many understand pastor to be. For Peterson, the role of the pastor is first to call people to God, second to teach them to pray and third to call them together to love one another. Like most books by Peterson, he is rarely that explicit. Peterson tells stories. He tells stories about how he was convinced that the way he had done things was wrong and how worked to become a better pastor by changing.
Since most Christians are not pastors this may not seem like a book that everyone needs to read. But if we as lay people do not understand what the role of a pastor is, then we will expect things of them that is not their job. If it is the job of the pastor to teach people to pray and calling them to worship, why do we assume that they should be leading meetings about building maintenance? If they should be helping us to learn what it means to live as a Christian (and love others) in our Monday to Saturday world, then how can we free them up from answering phones and scheduling child care to actually meet with people?
One of the best examples of how this shared understanding of the role of the pastor worked in the book was Peterson’s focus on the Sabbath. Since Peterson was working on Sunday, he and his wife celebrated the sabbath on Mondays. Yearly, Peterson wrote a letter to his church asking them to respect his sabbath and when not essential, to wait to contact him until Tuesday. But he also illustrated that the sabbath was not just a day off, but a day for ‘prayer and play’ and in calling on the church to respect his sabbath, he called them at the same time to have a sabbath themselves (and he pledged to never hold church committee meetings or other work on Sundays so they could have a sabbath themselves.
As has been noted by many, the sabbath may be one of the most counter cultural things that we as Christians can do in our modern world.