Eugene Peterson, on pastoring

From Jon Merritt’s wonderful interview with Eugene Peterson:

JM: With your experience in both the church and the academy, I wonder what advice you would give to young seminary students today. If you were asked by one to describe what is at the heart of the work of pastoring and shepherding, what would you say?

EP: I’d tell them that pastoring is not a very glamorous job. It’s a very taking-out-the-laundry and changing-the-diapers kind of job. And I think I would try to disabuse them of any romantic ideas of what it is. As a pastor, you’ve got to be willing to take people as they are. And live with them where they are. And not impose your will on them. Because God has different ways of being with people, and you don’t always know what they are.

The one thing I think is at the root of a lot of pastors’ restlessness and dissatisfaction is impatience. They think if they get the right system, the right programs, the right place, the right location, the right demographics, it’ll be a snap. And for some people it is: if you’re a good actor, if you have a big smile, if you are an extrovert. In some ways, a religious crowd is the easiest crowd to gather in the world. Our country’s full of examples of that. But for most, pastoring is a very ordinary way to live. And it is difficult in many ways because your time is not your own, for the most part, and the whole culture is against you. This consumer culture, people grow up determining what they want to do by what they can consume. And the Christian gospel is just quite the opposite of that. And people don’t know that. And pastors don’t know that when they start out. We’ve got a whole culture that is programmed to please people, telling them what they want.  And if you do that, you might end up with a big church, but you won’t be a pastor.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Steve_Winnipeg_Canada

    Every time pastoring feels tough, Peterson is a great help.

  • John W. Frye

    EHP has a knack for the simple, but counterintuitive expression on pastoring.

  • metanoia

    For almost 35 years, being a pastor was fulfilling for me, all the while being difficult and gritty work. You see, I never learned how to construct a sermon rather than laboring over a message, I never mastered the art of listening while not caring, and couldn’t get a grip on enjoying crowds while detesting individuals. ;-) Being a pastor is not for the weak of stomach but rather it is for the strong of heart.

  • Ted M. Gossard

    Really good stuff. Yes, I wonder how much true pastoring as in shepherding goes on today. Could be more or less than what I imagine, I don’t know. Just wonder.

  • Kyle McDaniel

    This was a great encouragement to me to be patient in my ministry. Any pastor who hasn’t read Peterson’s “Contemplative Pastor” needs to order it now. It’s excellent.


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