17 Of My Favorite Quotes From “The Pastor” By Eugene Peterson

Knowing people and preaching: On one of these evenings he was asked by one of the students something about preaching. Something on the order of “What is the most important thing you do in preparing to preach each Sunday?” I think we were all surprised by the answer, at least I was. His answer, “For two hours every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon, I walk through the neighborhood and make some home visits. There is no way that I can preach the gospel to these people if I don’t know how they are living, what they are thinking and talking about. Preaching is proclamation, God’s Word revealed in Jesus, but only when it gets embedded in conversation, in a listening ear and responding tongue, does it become gospel.” P. 86-87

The Pastor by Eugene PetersonThe importance of hospitality: But a serious problem surfaced quite early. From her early adolescence Jan had wanted to be a pastor’s wife. And from an early stage I had wanted nothing to do with pastors. For Jan, “pastor’s wife” was not just being married to a pastor; it was far more vocational than that, a way of life. It meant participation in an intricate web of hospitality, living at the intersection of human need and God’s grace, inhabiting a community where men and women who didn’t fit were welcome, where neglected children were  noticed, where the stories of Jesus were told, and people who had no stories found that they did have stories, stories that were part of the Jesus story. Being a pastor’s wife would place her strategically yet unobtrusively at a heavily trafficked intersection between heaven and earth. P. 95

The Americanization of Congregation: The ink on my ordination papers wasn’t even dry before I was being told by experts, so-called, in the field of church that my main task was to run a church after the manner of my brother and sister Christian who run service stations, grocery stores, corporations, banks, hospitals, and financial services. Many of them wrote books and gave lectures on how to do it. I was astonished to learn in one of these best-selling books that the size of my parking lot had far more to do with how things fared in my congregation than my choice of texts in preaching. I was being lied to and I knew it. This is the Americanization of congregation. It means turning each congregation into a market for religious consumers, an ecclesiastical business run along the lines of advertising techniques, organizational flow charts, and energized by impressive motivational rhetoric. But this was worse. This pragmatic vocational embrace of American technology and consumerism that promised to rescue congregations from ineffective obscurity  violated everything-scriptural, theological, experiential-that had formed my identity as a follower of Jesus and as a pastor. It struck me far worse than the earlier rhetoric and crusader illusions of church. It was a blasphemous desecration of the way of life to which the church had ordained me-something on the order of a vocational abomination of desolation. P.112-113

God does not select people like we do: It became more and more clear that when God forms a church, he starts with the nobodies. That’s the way the Holy Spirit works. Those are the people he started with-Zechariah and Elizabeth, Mary and Joseph, Anna and Simeon-to bring our Savior into the world. Why would he change strategies in bringing the salvation community, church, this congregation into formation? P. 127

Unrealistic expectations about what church is like will kill you: But without this substantial “cleansing” and “shift” that took place in the catacombs, we would not have been able to recognize and participate in the actual church that was being formed among us. Without that, the church that most of us expected and wanted would have become the enemy of the church we were given. P. 129

Becoming a pastor who is not in a hurry: I was in the process of coming to terms with my congregation, just as they were; their less-than-developed emotional life, their lack of intellectual curiosity, the complacent acceptance of a world of consumption and diversion, their seemingly peripheral interest in God. I wasn’t giving up on them. I didn’t intend to leave them where I found them. By now I was prepared to enter a long process of growth in which they would discover for themselves the freshness of the Spirit giving vitality to the way they loved and worked and laughed and played. And I was finding areas of common ground that made us fellow pilgrims, comrades in arms in recognizing unexpected shards of beauty in worship and scripture and one another. I was learning not to impose my expectations of what I hoped for them but rather let them reveal to me, as they were able, who they were. I was becoming a pastor who wasn’t in a hurry. P. 135

People are not a problem to be fixed: Congregation is a company of people who are defined by their creation in the image of God, living souls, whether they know it or not. They are not problems to be fixed, but mysteries to be honored and revered. Who else in the community other than the pastor has the assigned task of greeting men and women and welcoming them into a congregation in which they are known not by what is wrong with them, but by who they are, just as they are? P. 137

Embracing slow sanctification: Would I trade my pastoral birthright for the mess of pottage that provided the immediate satisfaction of affirmation and discernible results? Or would I be willing to live in the ambiguities of congregation in which growth was mostly slow and mostly, at least for long stretches of time, invisible? Would I embrace the emotional gratification of solving a problem that could be diagnosed and dealt with head-on rather than give myself as a companion in searching out the sacred mysteries of salvation and holiness? P. 140

The ecstasy of crowds: Classically, there are three ways in which humans try to find transcendence-religious meaning, God meaning-apart from God as revealed in the cross of Jesus: through the ecstasy of alcohol and drugs, through the ecstasy of recreational sex, through the ecstasy of crowds. Church leaders frequently warn against the drugs and sex, but, at least in America, almost never against the crowds. Probably because they get so much ego benefit from the crowds. P. 157

Church growth or church cancer? Meanwhile, the momentum of what was being termed church growth was gathering. All of us in the company agreed that 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. A year or so later, another of our company left us. We hadn’t realized the rapid spread of the lust for size that was spreading through the American church and was now penetrating our own Company. P. 158

Seminary: My seminary professors had no idea what pastors were or did. P. 162

Not a strategy, just being a good neighbor: She didn’t have a strategy (Eugene talking about his wife). She didn’t have a “business plan,” or a “vision statement.” She just went about being what she has always been, a neighbor, a friend. P. 189

What do we do about our broken and hurting world? Is it possible to live in this increasingly inhospitable world in a hospitable way? Is is possible to do something focused and intentional about what is wrong in our society without turning the wrongdoers into the enemy? Gathering friends and family to the table for a meal is our most frequent act of hospitality.  P. 192

Spiritual dormancy: Did I think that being a pastor in the workplace of a congregation was all fertile farmland and and rolling green hills, grand horizons and majestic mountains? I was a pastor in a place and with a people in an American culture and an American church that seemed more like the badlands and Wall Drug than the continental kingdom of God fertility and horizon and peaks in which God’s throne is established and over which God reigns. Annually on pilgrimage to the sacred ground of Montana, my vocation was renewed in the company of my family. I was a pastor: I would stay with these people for as long as necessary to acquire an imagination and develop a faith to follow Christ right here, in this congregation, in this place, with this family, in this workplace. Didn’t I know by now that growth, any growth-but especially character growth, spiritual growth, church growth, body-of-Christ growth, soul growth-had periods of dormancy? Did I want to be a nonpastor who by diversions and novelties and distractions-“challenges”-perpetuated a kind of sub-Christian adolescence? I remembered a line from the English Novelist E. F. Forster: Ecstasy doesn’t last. But it can but a channel for something lasting.”  P. 207-208

Addicted to adrenaline: I was addicted to adrenaline. And now I was realizing how my already well-honed competitive instincts were exacerbated by the competitive and consumerist church culture that surrounded me. P. 210

Suburbia souls: Suburbia souls. I needed to renew my conversations with Newman, cultivate a way of understanding these men and women in my congregation in terms of who they were, not in terms of how they either interested  or bored me, not in terms of what I could make of them-but souls. Which I did. P. 225

God and the workplace: Most of what Jesus said and did took place in a secular workplace in a farmer’s field, in a fishing boat, at a wedding feast, in a cemetery, at a public well asking a woman he didn’t know for a drink of water, on a country hillside that he turned into a huge picnic, in a court room, having supper in homes with acquaintances or friends. In our gospels, Jesus occasionally shows up in a synagogue or temple, but for the most part he spends his time in the workplace. Twenty-seven times in John’s Gospel Jesus is identified as worker: “My Father is still working, and I am also working” (Jn. 5:17). Work doesn’t take us away from God; it continues the work of God. God comes into view on the first page of our scriptures as a worker. Once we identify God in his workplace working, it isn’t long before we find ourselves in our workplaces working in the name of God. P. 281

1 Comment

  1. Jean says:

    Yep! Be that, MIchael!!


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