Book Review: The Pastor

Sometimes a great book catches me by surprise.

Last year I read The Pastor by Eugene Peterson based solely on the outstanding reviews it had received on Amazon’s website. I rarely purchase anything on the strength of its reviews alone — Transformers is sitting with 4 out of 5 stars at the moment, so you know the system doesn’t always work — but Peterson intrigued me.

Before reading the book all I knew of Eugene Peterson was that he was the author/translator of The Message, a contemporary translation of the Bible that I’d used on occasion. The audience Peterson had in mind with The Message was contemporary — another way of saying that many Biblical scholars didn’t care for it because Peterson didn’t write a word-for-word translation. I had found it incredibly helpful for those who were reading Scripture for the first time and those who were looking to revitalize their Scripture-reading with a fresh take on this ancient text.

The Pastor is a memoir; it filled me with respect for Eugene Peterson and I was incredibly encouraged by his journey and his commitment to seeing his people grow in Christ-likeness. He pastored the same church for 29 years before retiring in 1991 and he has used the time in between to shepherd younger leaders and to help a new generation understand the Biblical texts.

Peterson recalls so many Christ-filled moments in his book, but I thought I’d share a few of my favorites.

On redeeming his congregation:

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. For me, my congregation would become a work-in-progress—a novel in which everyone and everything is connected in a salvation story in which Jesus has the last word. No reductions to stereotype…

On refusing to boil the work of the pastorate down to “fixing” people:

In the disordered times in which we live, pastors can’t get along without [psychologists] Dr. Wall and Dr. Hansen. But their work is not my work. Knowing they are there to do their work, I am free to do my work. And my work is not to fix people. It is to lead people in the worship of God and to lead them in living a holy life.

On his wife Jan’s calling to be a pastor’s wife:

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 welcomed, 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.

I could go on like this for a long time. I have well over 100 highlights in this book, and I had to restrain myself from coloring every page yellow.

If you’re serving as a pastor, I can’t recommend this book enough. Read it, marinate in it. I legitimately believe that Peterson’s book has already helped to shape my ministry and I look forward to re-reading it on an annual basis.


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