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The Pastor: A Memoir by Eugene H. Peterson

The Pastor: A Memoir

by Eugene H. Peterson

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Eugene Peterson has had an interesting career in ministry, to put it mildly. He stumbled into ministry as he was finishing an undergraduate degree in philosophy and literature. After seminary he began a PhD in Semitic languages, intending to have an academic career. While teaching at seminary and pastoring a church as he worked on his dissertation he sensed that God was calling him into pastoral ministry. He followed the call and planted a church, serving there for 29 years. He then went back to teaching, and along the way mixed in writing, producing a large body of what I’ll call “really good books,” including the Bible paraphrase, The Message. In The Pastor: A Memoir, he takes a look back on his life and reflects on the things that gave it shape and meaning, particularly into that curious identity of “pastor.”

Peterson provides snapshots from each area of his life, describing things that in some cases he never considered having great meaning when they happened, but that were influential in shaping him as a pastor. As I read them I was reminded of things from my own life that have shaped me and prepared me, as I, like Peterson, move into a vocation that at one time I would have laughed if it was suggested to me.

Peterson has most definitely not written a “how to” guide on being a pastor, and he would have a low opinion of any such book. He learned, through trial and error, that being a pastor is not a job but a vocation, a vocation that is best lived into as the pastor serves among their congregation, day after day and year after year.

While not writing a “how to” manual of the pastoral vocation, as Peterson relates his own experiences I find that he does provide some general guidelines to foster a particular pastoral ethos among those who read this book. “Pastor” was not so much “what he did” but “who he was.” He did not “work” as a pastor 24/7 but his identity as a pastor permeated his life and relationships. He counted being a pastor to be a great privilege, writing,

“But the overall context of my particular assignment in the pastoral vocation, as much as I am able to do it, is to see to it that these men and women in my congregation become aware of the possibilities and promise of living out in personal and local detail what is involved in following Jesus, and be a companion to them as we do it together.” (247)

This is a book I highly recommend to anyone who has responded to God’s call to pastoral ministry. I believe that no matter how much experience one has in ministry reading it will stimulate both reflection and possibility on their journey. I’m looking forward to reading it again in a few years and seeing how the wisdom Peterson has written here speaks to me anew. ( )
  BradKautz | Jun 2, 2012 |
There are parts of this book that I really liked. I thought the conversation about what it means to have a pastoral vocation and imagination were really helpful and interesting. I appreciate that he creates an understanding of a contemplative pastor.

But I can't give this book a higher rating. Parts of it are repetitive. The same stories repeated with almost the exact same language. I was also left with a sense of unease throughout the book; One gets the sense that Peterson think quite highly of himself and not much of his congregation. He says over and over again that they are not intellectual, that they have TVs in every room and no books, etc. While this may be the case, the disdain he holds for this part of their lives is clear.

I know that this is a memoir about him as a pastor, but one gets the sense that he was the only spiritual person in his entire congregation. That he was the only one who knew what he was doing or had any language to express it.

There were also racially charged things throughout the book. Overuse of the word "gypped", talking about "Indians" instead of First Nations people, a couple comments about "the city", etc.

Overall I was disappointed. I don't expect Peterson to know it all or to be holy, but I would hope that he would have some sense of his own shortcomings and that that humility would come through in his story. I didn't get that sense. ( )
  shannonkearns | Dec 26, 2011 |
In my personal hierarchy of "Most Important Books I've Ever Read", two always rise to the top: Mere Christianity (C. S. Lewis), and A Celebration of Discipline (Richard Foster). Everything else suffers by comparison . . . until now. Meet the most important book I've read in over a decade: The Pastor.

Here's why it ranks so highly:
* Like Peterson, I'm a pastor—this book resonates with my own experiences.
* Peterson bucks the trends of modern Christendom in favour of authentic biblical fidelity.
* Peterson is painfully honest, describing both failures and successes.
* Peterson describes how the various themes that form his major books developed.
* Peterson spends time describing how he wrestled with what he was called to do.
* In the end, there's nothing better than hearing the wisdom of a seasoned pastor with an academic background.

You know, that list doesn't seem so spectacular in retrospect. There's something about this book that I can't quite put my finger on yet. Sure, his writing is as poetic and lucid as ever—but there's something extra.

All I can suggest is that you read it for yourself. If you're a North American pastor, order it right away! ( )
  StephenBarkley | Sep 26, 2011 |
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To insure the greatest efficiency in the dart,
the harpooners of this world
must start to their feet from out of idleness,
and not from out of toil.
Herman Melville
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"Pastor Pete! Pastor Pete! It's Pastor Pete!"
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0061988200, Hardcover)

In The Pastor, Eugene H. Peterson, the translator of the multimillion-selling The Message and the author of more than thirty books, offers his life story as one answer to the surprisingly neglected question: What does it mean to be a pastor?

When Peterson was asked by his denomination to begin a new church in Bel Air, Maryland, he surprised himself by saying yes. And so was born Christ Our King Presbyterian Church. But Peterson quickly learned that he was not exactly sure what a pastor should do. He had met many ministers in his life, from his Pentecostal upbringing in Montana to his seminary days in New York, and he admired only a few. He knew that the job's demands would drown him unless he figured out what the essence of the job really was. Thus began a thirty-year journey into the heart of this uncommon vocation—the pastorate.

The Pastor steers away from abstractions, offering instead a beautiful rendering of a life tied to the physical world—the land, the holy space, the people—shaping Peterson's pastoral vocation as well as his faith. He takes on church marketing, mega pastors, and the church's too-cozy relationship to American glitz and consumerism to present a simple, faith-filled job description of what being a pastor means today. In the end, Peterson discovered that being a pastor boiled down to "paying attention and calling attention to 'what is going on right now' between men and women, with each other and with God." The Pastor is destined to become a classic statement on the contemporary trials, joys, and meaning of this ancient vocation.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:03:15 -0400)

"'This book is the story of my formation as a pastor, and how the vocation of pastor formed me. I had never planned to be a pastor, never was aware of any inclination to be a pastor, never 'knew what I was going to be when I grew up.' And then--at the time it seemed to arrive abruptly--there it was: Pastor. I can't imagine now not being a pastor. I was a pastor long before I knew I was a pastor; I just never had a name for it..."--Jacket.… (more)

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