Top Ten Books of 2012. . . # 4 Eugene Peterson, The Pastor: A Memoir

I now come to the fourth best book that I read this past year, 2012.  I read more books this past year than I have ever read because of a reading contest I got into with my boys, Justin and Nathan (who aren’t boys anymore!).  By March, Nate had been left in the dust and Justin was reading text books at school.  This is the reason that I probably read books with a vengeance this year.  Some of them were mindless and nothing more than an outlet to escape but others of them were soul-impacting.  The book by Eugene Peterson fell into that category. 

Most people are familiar with Eugene Peterson because of his paraphrase of the Bible called The Message.  It is a very good devotional supplement to regular Bible reading because he has a way of using common language to come at Scripture from a little different angle. 

I must again put this disclaimer out about not just this book but all books:  Read with a discerning mind and heart and take the good and toss out the bad.  Brother Griffin used to tell us in our classes at TBC that he could learn something from every book he read and every preacher that he heard preach.  He could learn some things to do and some things not to do.  I believe that ! 

Author:  Eugene Peterson
Publisher:  Harper One, 2011.

He starts from the get-go and draws you in to his Pentecostal roots of which I was completely unaware.  His mother was a preacher of sorts in a movement that he doesn’t identify that had very strong holiness roots.  Peterson describes his association with some of the early Pentecostal services that he attended and throughout the book he laments the loss of that spiritual atmosphere as he progressed along the way in his various pastorates among the Presbyterians. 

Peterson is very honest when he confesses that his view of pastors as he was growing up was not a very high one.  He same them as transient and migratory who would follow the money to another church if the opportunity presented itself.  He thought largely that they were a lazy bunch.  The point that came to me as I read this was how important it is for a pastor to be diligent and hard-working at his calling because there are young minds that are being shaped by the example that we set forth.  He did note that these men were larger than life but often their ideologies were so far-fetched that there was little practical application for living out the Christian life. 

He traces his path from his early roots in Montana all through life until his retirement well into his seventies.  Along the way, he would relate how that his books came to life out of his experiences in pastoral ministry.  His series of books on pastoral ministry:  Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work, The Contemplative Pastor, Working the Angles, and Under the Unpredictable Plant came from his involvement with people, their victories and their defeats.  You also find tucked in these books the prevailing emotions that come to any man who will find himself in pastoral ministry.  The joys, the victories, and the spiritual authority mixed with the desperate lows, the monotony, and the defeats that fall under the same calling. 

There are multiple places in this book where I can see that I dog-eared the page, underlined not only sentences but entire paragraphs and some pages.  I found this quote as I am writing this morning:  I realized that emotions were not a very reliable witness to the presence of God in my life and that the pastoral manipulation of emotions in others had a very short shelf life.  That is an important thought to take to heart for all men who are called to preach.  As time has passed, I have personally found that I shy away from emotional stories that are extra-biblical because it becomes a poor way to inspire change.  On the other hand, I have found myself very much driven by those biblical stories that drive much feeling and emotion for a response. 

His characters are incredibly colorful all throughout the book but there is one that particularly will leap off the page for you and that is a man named Willi Ossa who was an artist.  He painted a picture in the story that had a very powerful effect on Eugene Peterson.  I won’t spoil it for you but suffice it to say that it should be required that every pastor and spiritual leader read what happened.  It is a chapter that will literally send you to your knees in supplication and pleading. 

I also found what Eugene Peterson wrote concerning his “badlands” experience to be very instructive.  He spoke of a six-year dry spot in his ministry where he could as he wrote, “feel the adrenaline seeping out of my soul!”  What a word picture!  He said this period of time came shortly after they had built a new building and it appeared that the church was firing on all cylinders and then many of his most faithful members lost their enthusiasm and fire to press on forward.  He writes with such a force about this time in his life that you cannot but feel the angst of soul and mind.  He went through all sorts of emotional duress, personal examination, and even considered resigning to move on to another place.  What he learned in that time is God uses “badland” experiences to sharpen our focus on Him and not the material trappings that we often confuse for the Kingdom of God. 

Various quotes from this book:

Unrelieved intellectual work, especially theological intellectual work, can shrivel your soul!

Meanwhile, the momentum of what was being called church growth was gathering.  All of us in the Company agreed it was misnamed.  It was more like church cancer—growth that was a deadly illness, the explosion of runaway cells that attack the health and equilibrium of the body. . . We hadn’t realized the rapid spread of the lust for size that was spreading through the American church was now penetrating our own Company. 

He’s not sick now, but that’s the way he will look when the compassion is gone, when the mercy gets squeezed out of him.

. . . Warning me against entering the American competition to be a pastor who “gets things done” and who is “going somewhere.”

In the badlands I was learning that being a pastor didn’t put me on the fast track for encountering the most interesting people, the most promising leaders, the latest in innovations, and living on the cusp of the “breaking news.”

The religious culture of America that I was surrounded with dismayed me on both counts.  Worship had been degraded into entertainment.  And community had been depersonalized into programs.

I want to be a pastor who prays. . . I can’t do that on the run.  It takes a lot of time. . . I want to be a pastor who reads and studies.  This culture in which we live squeezes all the God sense out of us. . . I want. . . to help this congregation understand what we are up against, the temptations of the devil to get us thinking we can all be our own gods. . . . I want to be an unbusy pastor.

This is another book that ministers should read because it is especially helpful in allowing men to see where their blind-spots are and pot-holes of ministry lie.  I would recommend that you add this book to your list to read in 2013. 

Thanks for reading. . .


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