Eugene Peterson (d. 22 October 2018)

Thank you, Eugene.

I am among a countless number of pastors and god-botherers who have been absolutely blessed through your ministry and witness, especially through your words – words that saved me on more than one occasion. Thank you so much.

May the Lord bless you and keep you …

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For any listening in, who could forget that timely- and perceptively-diagnosed challenge and invitation with which Peterson began his extraordinary book Working the Angles?

American pastors are abandoning their posts, left and right, and at an alarming rate. They are not leaving their churches and getting other jobs. Congregations still pay their salaries. Their names remain on the church stationary and they continue to appear in pulpits on Sundays. But they are abandoning their posts, their calling. They have gone whoring after other gods. What they do with their time under the guise of pastoral ministry hasn’t the remotest connection with what the church’s pastors have done for most of twenty centuries.

A few of us are angry about it. We are angry because we have been deserted. Most of my colleagues who defined ministry for me, examined, ordained, and then installed me as a pastor in a congregation, a short while later walked off and left me, having, they said, more urgent things to do. The people I thought I would be working with disappeared when the work started. Being a pastor is difficult work; we want the companionship and counsel of allies. It is bitterly disappointing to enter a room full of people whom you have every reason to expect share the quest and commitments of pastoral work and find within ten minutes that they most definitely do not. They talk of images and statistics. They drop names. They discuss influence and status. Matters of God and the soul and Scripture are not grist for their mills.

The pastors of America have metamorphosed into a company of shopkeepers, and the shops they keep are churches. They are preoccupied with shopkeeper’s concerns – how to keep the customers happy, how to lure customers away from competitors down the street, how to package the goods so that the customers will lay out more money.

Some of them are very good shopkeepers. They attract a lot of customers, pull in great sums of money, develop splendid reputations. Yet it is still shopkeeping; religious shopkeeping, to be sure, but shopkeeping all the same. The marketing strategies of the fast-food franchise occupy the waking minds of these entrepreneurs; while asleep they dream of the kind of success that will get the attention of journalists. “A walloping great congregation is fine, and fun,” says Martin Thornton, “but what most communities really need is a couple of good saints. The tragedy is that they may well be there in embryo, waiting to be discovered, waiting for sound training, waiting to be emancipated from the cult of the mediocre.”

The biblical fact is that there are no successful churches. There are, instead, communities of sinners, gathered before God week after week in towns and villages all over the world. The Holy Spirit gathers them and does his work in them. In these communities of sinners, one of the sinners is called pastor and given a designated responsibility in the community. The pastor’s responsibility is to keep the community attentive to God. It is this responsibility that is being abandoned in spades.

7 thoughts on “Eugene Peterson (d. 22 October 2018)

  1. I hadn’t heard about this until now. I’m still reading the Message alongside my more formal translation and constantly there are insights. As well as a few odd paraphrases, some curious omissions, and some very clunky Psalms! LOL.
    But at least the translation got people reading the Bible who might not have otherwise.
    And then there the books: some great, great ones…and again a few oddities…
    Ah, well, can’t win ’em all, as the Father has probably said in an aside to Eugene as they finally met face to face.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Good question, Dave. I guess at one level, the answer would have to be no. Peterson’s unique. At another, many of us pastors have been gifted with those who pastor us. I am so grateful for these gifts.

    Like

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