The most significant book I have read in the past two years has to be Eugene Peterson’s The Pastor: A Memoir. It is the story of his formation and his vocation as pastor. If you are not acquainted with Peterson or only acquainted with his contemporary translation The Message, then The Pastor would be a great place to start getting to know this important author. The book provides so many directions for fruitful reflection, conversation and prayer whether you are a pastor or not.
The one thought in particular that keeps on grabbing my attention is in his Letter to a Young Pastor found at the end of the memoir. In addressing the uniqueness of the pastoral vocation a 78-year-old Peterson confesses to this young pastor,
One aspect of this uniqueness is that we make far more mistakes in our line of work than other so-called professionals. If physicians and engineers and lawyers and military officers made as many mistakes in their line of work as we do in ours, they would be out on the street in no time. It amazes me still how much of the time I simply don’t know what I am doing, don’t know what to say, don’t know what the next move is. The temptation in that state of being is to determine to be competent at something or other. Unfortunately, there are many “ways of escape” in which we can exercise and develop some areas of administrative or therapeutic or scholarly or programmatic competencies in the church and in so doing avoid the ambiguity of being a pastor.
But I also had a sense much of the time (but not by any means continuously) that “not knowing what I am doing” is more or less what it feels like when I am “trusting in God” and “following Jesus.” The position in which the church has placed us by ordaining us to this vocation means giving witness to what we don’t know much about and can’t explain—living into the mystery of salvation and holiness. (315)
The significance of his confession here stretches far beyond the scope of the pastoral role. I have found it graciously undermining so many of my easy, idealistic notions of maturity, wisdom, and faithfulness. It makes me wonder how often do I seek “a way of escape” from those uncomfortably ambiguous moments (or seasons) in the life of faith by offering an easy answer or a simple fix or by ducking the question or tension altogether? It also makes me wonder whether living into the reality of who God is and what he would have us be and do in the world will necessarily involve moments and seasons when it feels like we are finding our way in the dark?
C.S. Lewis put it this way, “We read to know that we are not alone.” It is for this very reason that Eugene Peterson has become a conversation partner for so many of us. He doesn’t offer easy explanations and road maps to the terrain but rather a witness or testimony to a life spent “living into the mystery of salvation and holiness.” And as such his words and experience confirm so many of our thoughts, challenge so many of our perspectives and invite us into a genuinely alternative way of understanding and living out our Christian lives in North America.
We need Peterson’s wise companionship on the journey of following Jesus. I would highly encourage you to carve out some time to read this his latest book The Pastor: A Memoir.