The Pastor’s Pastor: Top Ten Books 6

Screen Shot 2015-01-07 at 3.35.58 PMBy John Frye:

The second book in the 1980s that profoundly influenced me and my ministry is Eugene H. Peterson, Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work. Think of all the phrases: paradigm shift, game changer, a new way of seeing, where have I been all my life. This little book literally overhauled my identity and vocation of pastor. I wrote about the transformative impact of Peterson’s book in my book Jesus the Pastor: Leading Others in the Character and Power of Christ. Eugene graciously wrote the Foreword to my book. Here is a little of what I wrote:

This book [Five Smooth Stones] is valuable to me for two reasons. First, the

            book’s content caused a continental shift in my understanding of the work of

            the pastoral task. Second, my copy is autographed with these words:

                        For John,

Sharing in the life of Christ in the work of pastor—meeting you at

Spring Arbor!

Eugene H. Peterson, 24, June, 1987

            My reaction [to the book] is caused by Peterson’s steady drumbeat reminder

            that authentic pastoral work is not grounded in current trends or social sciences,

            but in ancient truths and scriptural personalities.

I wrote about receiving no coherent, unified vision of pastoral work while in seminary. The book we read for our one and only pastoral polity class was Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People. Out in the field, I had to create “my own patchwork quilt” of pastoral work by sewing together snatches from this verse and that, pieces of advice from this famous pastor and that leadership book, from principles of management from that seminar and this conference. Always on the look-out for what would make sense of my calling, I would sew the latest help into my home-made vision. It was a ragged mess. Can you imagine the wonder I felt when I read a competent pastor-scholar who actually anchored his whole life and ministry as pastor in the Holy Scriptures?!

Hear ye. The plot doth thickenest. Eugene H. Peterson dared to anchor contemporary pastoral ministry in the Megilloth! “You mean he didn’t quote Paul?!” [In the 1970s and 1980s any good Dallas grad knew that the only necessary book for church work was Ephesians.] A gentle reminder: the Megilloth is five little Old Testament books—Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes and Esther. These books were read on major holy days in Israel’s calendar. Like a crusty, dry sponge, I soaked in the refreshing clean waters of pastoral work pumped from the artesian well of the Word of God.

Peterson writes, “Pastoral work, in large part, deals with the difficulty everyone has in staying alert to the magnificence of salvation. …But over a period of years it [salvation] becomes part of the familiar landscape, one religious item among many. The vocabulary of salvation becomes hackneyed, reduced to the level of valentine-card verse. Whenever we are associated with greatness over a long period of time, there is a tendency in us to become stale… Orthodoxy is preserved even while intimacy is lost” (32-33).

The chapter that is worth the price of the book is “The Pastoral Work of Story-making: Ruth.” Let’s face it, pastors get bored with people. We handle holy, energized-with-kingdom-of-God- realities daily. Why isn’t the plumber, the real estate agent, the house wife, the kindergarten teacher excited about this eternal stuff? Enter ‘story-making’ as presented in Ruth. A mad-as-hell old widow named Naomi, a young alien Moabite named Ruth, and a by-the-book single farmer named Boaz is the book’s focus. No kings or priests mentioned in Ruth. No Goliaths, no Bathshebas. No. Just plain folk who get caught up in the grand Story called redemption. There are no gratuitous characters in God’s Story. Every life has eternal significance. Pastors and all of us in the faith need to be reminded of this day in and day out.

About Scot McKnight

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