Encouragement for pastors to be pastors

eugene-petersonEugene Peterson is always worth listening to, and his writing on pastoral ministry is enormously encouraging. Here’s some snipperts from a Leadership interview with this pastor to pastors:

‘The most important thing a pastor does is stand in a pulpit every Sunday and say, “Let us worship God.” If that ceases to be the primary thing I do in terms of my energy, my imagination, and the way I structure my life, then I no longer function as a pastor. I pick up some other identity. I cannot fail to call the congregation to worship God, to listen to his Word, to offer themselves to God. Worship becomes a place where we have our lives redefined for us. If we’re no longer operating out of that redefinition, the pastoral job is hopeless. Or if not hopeless, it becomes a defection. We join the enemy. We’ve quit our basic work’.

‘I don’t ever want to convey that our primary job as pastors is to fix a problem. Our primary work is to make saints. We’re in the saint-making business. If we enter the human-potential business, we’ve lost our calling’.

‘I begin with the conviction that everything in the gospel is experience-able. As a pastor, whatever the person’s situation, you’re saying to yourself, This person can experience the gospel here. I haven’t a clue how it’s going to happen, but I’m willing to slog through whatever has to be slogged through and not give up. I will continue to keep the gospel clear on Sundays; I will continue to be a companion with this person on Fridays’.

‘You cannot go to a pulpit week after week and preach truth accurately without constant study. Our minds blur on us, and we need that constant sharpening of our minds. And without study, without the use of our mind in a disciplined way, we are sitting ducks for the culture’.

‘I get my job description from the Scriptures, from my ordination vows. If I let the congregation decide what I’m going to do, I’m as bad as a doctor who prescribes drugs on request. Medical societies throw out doctors for doing that kind of thing; we need theological societies to throw out pastors for doing the same thing. And if you give up prayer and study, you will soon give up the third area: people’.

‘Listening, paying attention to people is the most inefficient way to do anything. It’s tedious, and it’s boring, and when you do it, it feels like you’re wasting time and not getting anything done. So when the pressures start to mount, when there are committees to run to and budgets to fix, what’s got to go? Listening to people. Seeing them in their uniqueness, without expecting anything of them. You quit paying attention, and people get categorized and recruited. It doesn’t take long for pastors to become good manipulators. Most of us learn those skills pretty quickly. If you can make a person feel guilty, you can make him or her do almost anything. And who’s better at guilt than pastors?’

‘The person who prays for you from the pulpit on Sunday should be the person who prays for you when you’re dying. Then there’s a connection between this world and the world proclaimed in worship. Classically – and I have not seen anything in the twentieth century that has made me revise my expectation – a pastor is local. You know people’s names, and they know your name. There’s no way to put pastoral work on an assembly line … Pastoral care can be shared, but never delegated. If the congregation perceives that I exempt myself from that kind of work, then I become an expert. I become somehow elitist; I’m no longer on their level. Elitism is an old demon that plagues the church’.

‘The church is not a functional place. It’s a place of being’.

‘It’s odd: We live in this so-called postmodernist time, and yet so much of the public image of the church is this rational, management-efficient model. If the postmodernists are right, that model is passe; it doesn’t work any more. In that sense, I find myself quite comfortably postmodern. I think pastors need to cultivate “unbusyness.” I use that word a lot. My father was a butcher. When he delivered meat to restaurants, he would sit at the counter, have a cup of coffee and piece of pie, and waste time. But that time was critical for building relationships, for doing business. Sometimes I’m with pastors who don’t wander around. They don’t waste time. Their time is too valuable. They run to the tomb, and it’s empty, so they run back. They never see resurrection. Meanwhile, Mary’s wasting time; she’s wandering around. To be unbusy, you have to disengage yourself from egos – both yours and others – and start dealing with souls. Souls cannot be hurried’.

‘For me, being a pastor means being attentive to people. But the minute I start taking my cues from them, I quit being a pastor’.

‘Most pastoral work is slow work. It is not a program that you put in place and then have it happen. It’s a life. It’s a life of prayer’.

To read the whole interview: Part I; Part II.


  1. Hello Jason. There is a certain smugness discernible in someone my age who in the late 1970’s was already reading the first few Peterson books publisjed by John Knox Press. A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, Reversed Thunder, and Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work, three of his earliest are amongst the very best Eugene has written. Much he has written since is explication of these earlier statements of pastoral intent and spiritual thoughtfulness – written in a style shaped by prayer, Bible and pastoral care. Thanks for reminding us of him. Have you read Reversed Thunder? His best, I think.


  2. When I say “reminding us of him” – sounds as if he has gone to glory! Not yet thankfully, which means his further ministry makes us further blessed!


  3. Jason,
    Once again you’ve found and mined another gem for pastoral ministry. There was a period in my ministry when I felt Peterson was just about the only popular writer for pastors that really knew what he was talking about. And, of course you know this, the writings of P.T. Forsyth have been a big influence on him. Thanks.


  4. Jason,

    Thanks a heap for this. Peterson is far and away my favorite author. I rely on his insight into Scripture as I do no other author. What I appreciate is that he is a pastor first. He understands the rigor of weekly sermon preparation. I agree with Jim above about Reversed Thunder. That was my first encounter with Peterson. I’ve been hooked ever since. His current ‘conversations on spiritual theology’ series (now 4 volumes big) is masterful.

    Grace and peace.


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