A Good Book for Pastors to Read

the-pastorSo I’m back – the mini blog sabbatical didn’t leave me shaking uncontrollably in the corner – in fact I rather enjoyed it. The world kept turning, I kept breathing, Jesus kept reigning so, all in all, good to get a sense of perspective.

During my time off over the summer I read a number of books which I’ll put you on to in coming weeks. The first, and, in some ways, most important for me personally was The Pastor: A Memoir by Eugene Peterson. Every summer I like to read something on pastoral ministry that enables me to refocus and gain some much needed perspective after a year of running at 120 mph. Peterson’s memoir is essentially just that – reflections on a life of pastoral ministry. I’ll come clean – this book won’t be for everyone. It’s a bit ‘beads and sandals’ if you know what I mean. Some of it I’ve no doubt would raise strong disagreement. But, and here’s the but, if you can look past the stuff you disagree with there is some genuinely brilliant insight and encouragement here for those in pastoral ministry. As Doug Wilson once said of Peterson, the man can flat out write! Here’s a few of my favourite bits:

On the contemporary ministry culture:

“I don’t love the rampant consumerism that treats God as a product to be marketed . . . I don’t love the competitive spirit that treats others as rivals and even enemies . . . these [are] cultural pollutants dangerously toxic.”

On butchery as a metaphor for ministry:

“Hackers . . . ignorantly impose their wills on meat. They didn’t take into account the subtle differences between pork and beef. They used knives and cleavers inappropriately and didn’t keep them sharp. They were bullies forcing their wills on slabs of bacon and hindquarters of beef . . . They commonly left a mess behind that the rest of us had to clean up.”

On the complexities of pastoral ministry:

“For every problem there is an answer that is clear, simple and wrong (quoting H.L. Mencken) . . . If the life of David that comprised prayer and adultery and murder could be written and told as a gospel story, no one in my congregation would be written off.”

“Ziklag: . . . the premier biblical site for realizing that when we get serious about the Christian life, we eventually end up in a place and among a people decidedly uncongenial to what we expected . . . [God] didn’t seem to call nice, accomplished, courteous, alert people to worship.”

“I don’t want to be so impatient with the mess that I am not around to see the miracle being formed.”

On perseverance:

“Faced with a thousand disconnected pieces spread out on the table, you keep that picture propped before you. You know that if you just stay with it long enough, all those pieces will finally fit together and make a beautiful picture.”

On the prime responsibility:

“my primary responsibility is not to the people I serve but to the God I serve. As it turns out, the people I serve would often prefer an idol who would do what they want done rather than do what God, revealed in Jesus, wants them to do.”

When nothing good seems to be happening:

Submit yourself to “the refining fire of nonperformance . . . Alot is going on when you don’t think anything is going on.”

For pastors in their early years:

“Looking back now, I see myself . . . as a Labrador puppy, full-grown but uncoordinated, romping and playful but not yet ‘under authority.’ oblivious to the master’s command: “Sit.” The only verbal signal that the puppy was capable of responding to was “Fetch,” which sent him galloping across a field, catching a Frisbee in full flight, and returning it with wagging tail, ready for more.”

On long pastorates:

“In the mess of work and sin, of families and neighbourhoods, my task was to pray and give direction and encourage that lived quality of the gospel – patiently, locally, and personally. Patiently: I would stay with these people; there are no quick or easy ways to do this. Locally: I would embrace the conditions of this place . . . Personally: I would know them, know their names, know their homes, know their families, know their work.”

On harpooning as a metaphor for ministry (no, really!)

From Herman Melville’s Moby Dick: “To insure the greatest efficiency in the dary, the harpooners of this world must start to their feet out of idleness, and not out of toil”


If you want a good read, and to have your soul refreshed and stirred I’d really recommend you get some Peterson in you.


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