I never wanted to be a pastor. I always said I didn’t want to be one because I grew up with one (my Dad) and therefore knew personally the underbelly of pastoring. Maybe in reality, I didn’t think I could live up to the standard my Dad set. Instead of pastoring, I chose to work with the church in other ways. That changed in my mid-40’s as I accepted the call to be a pastor. A little personal maturity, an expanded understanding of being a pastor and the opportunity to church plant led to the change.
With this background, I picked up Eugene Peterson’s memoir appropriately titled “The Pastor” and read it in eager anticipation of the secret to my new calling. I never found the secret. Instead, Peterson has written an honest, wonderfully written reflection on his life – 30 years of which were spent pastoring a church outside of Baltimore, MD, USA.
He says in the afterward: “As I look back on a lifetime in the pastoral vocation what I remember most is a kind of messiness: a lot of stumbling around, fumbling the ball, losing my way, and then finding it again. It is amazing now that anything came of it.”
I can relate.
Peterson, author of “The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language”, is a Presbyterian so I have a natural affinity for him. As he tells his story of growing up in the wilds of Montana, to moving East for university, to growing into his identity as a pastor, Peterson communicates as a wise old grandfather with wonderful gift of storytelling. While reading, I had the image of sitting next to him, drinking coffee together and listening to story after story of his life in ministry.
This is not a theological textbook. There were times while reading that I had questions which went unanswered. But answering all my theological questions was not the intention of “The Pastor”. It is one man’s story. His story of love for God, his wife and family and his people. The people he was called to pastor.
I could also relate to his calling to be a pastor: “It had taken a long time to come to realize that I was a pastor… It was a good feeling, this vocational clarity, a way of work that fit who I was. Not just a job so that I could make a living but a way of living that was congruent with what I had spent all my life becoming. It had taken a long time. It felt like an arrival at an appointed destination.”
There are no pastoring secrets here but there are good stories. Stories which give hope for this pastor and others who claim the name.