Tuesday, August 16, 2016

One Minute with Eugene Peterson

Sleeping Bear Dunes, Michigan

I never really thought I’d be a pastor because I had so many pastors I didn’t respect.... 
I’d never been around a pastor who was a man of God, to tell you the truth.

I can't get enough Eugene Peterson in my life. I'm currently reading The Unnecessary Pastor (with Marva Dawn) and Under the Unpredictable Plant: An Exploration in Vocational Holiness. Peterson thankfully removes the "mega" from church and calls me to my senses as a pastor. He exposes the insanity of the bloated "size matters" American church when he writes things like this:

"The pastoral vocation in America is embarrassingly banal. It is banal because it is pursued under the canons of job efficiency and career management. It is banal because it is reduced to the dimensions of a job description. It is banal because it is an idol — a call from God exchanged for an offer by the devil for work that can be measured and manipulated at the convenience of the worker. Holiness is not banal. Holiness is blazing." (Under the Unpredictable Plant: An Exploration in Vocational Holiness, p. 5)

Pastors must focus on holiness, and bring their people to the living waters of relational purity. Then, and only then, will "all things be added" unto them. This doesn't mean "Your church will be huge." It does mean "Your church shall have influence disproportionate to its size." It's about influence, not size.

In an interview Peterson said: "One of the things that distresses me most is how much ambition there is. I'm alarmed that we measure things by what the world counts as important." ("The Relationally Grounded Pastor")

Peterson is a prophet with an upside-down voice. In another interview he is asked what he would tell a younger Christian who is longing for a deeper and more authentic discipleship. His counsel was:

"Go to the nearest smallest church and commit yourself to being there for 6 months. If it doesn’t work out, find somewhere else. But don’t look for programs, don’t look for entertainment, and don’t look for a great preacher." ("Faithful to the End: An Interview with Eugene Peterson") How refreshing, how true. This is why, among other reasons, Bono (U2) carries Run With the Horses with him.

Do you like truth, spoken in love? "Pastors commonly give lip service to the vocabulary of a holy vocation, but in our working lives we more commonly pursue careers. Our actual work takes shape under the pressure of the marketplace, not the truth of theology or the wisdom of spirituality." (Under the Unpredictable Plant, p. 5)

A few years ago I talked on the phone with Eugene Peterson. I was inviting him to speak at a pastor's retreat in Michigan. I googled him and found his phone number. I called. "Is this Eugene Peterson?"


I introduced myself and asked if he would consider being with us for two days. He said,

"I'm sorry. I can't do it. I'm out of gas."

I thanked him for his time. I also thanked him for his voice that has been used by God to influence so many, including me. And that was it. One minute with Eugene Peterson. The sound of his voice, addressing me. One minute with Eugene Peterson is better than a thousand minutes elsewhere.

Give me one authentic voice calling in the darkness of the hyped market-driven numbers-evaluated smoke-and-mirrors religion of the American church. Peterson (and just a few others) are that, for me.

My partially Peterson-inspired book is Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God