Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Peterson and Priorities of the Pastorate

One of my favorite books on pastoral ministry is Eugene Peterson's The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction. I differ from Peterson on a number of topics, but he is particularly good on discussing pastoral ministry. This quote is a gem. I encourage you to read it all carefully. He is describing the call of the people of God to their pastors. Let us hear, ponder and fulfill our ministry.
“We need help in keeping our beliefs sharp and accurate and intact. We don’t trust ourselves; our emotions seduce us into infidelities. We know we are launched on a difficult and dangerous act of faith, and there are strong influences intent on diluting or destroying it. We want you to give us help. Be our pastor, a minister of Word and sacrament in the middle of this world’s life. Minister with Word and sacrament in all the different parts and stages of our lives – in our work and play, with our children and our parents, at birth and death, in our celebrations and sorrows, on those days when morning breaks over us in a wash of sunshine, and those other days that are all drizzle. This isn’t the only task in the life of faith, but it is your task. We will find someone else to do the other important and essential tasks. This is yours: Word and
One more thing: We are going to ordain you to this ministry, and we want your vow that you will stick to it. This is not a temporary job assignment but a way of life that we need lived out in our community. We know you are launched on the same difficult belief venture in the same dangerous world as we re. We know your emotions are as fickle as ours, and your mind is as tricky as ours. That is why we are going to ordain you and why we are going to exact a vow from you. We know there will be days and months, maybe even years, when we won’t feel like believing anything and won’t want to hear it from you. And we know there will be days and weeks and maybe even years when you won’t feel like saying it. It doesn’t matter. Do it. You are ordained to this ministry, vowed to it.
There may be times when we come to you as a committee or delegation and demand that you tell us something else than what we are telling you now. Promise right now that you won’t give in to what we demand of you. You are not the minister of our changing desires, or our time-conditioned understanding of our needs, or our secularized hopes for something better. With these vows of ordination we are lashing you fast to the mast of Word and sacrament so you will be unable to respond to the siren voices.
There are many other things to be done in this wrecked world, and we are going to be doing at least some of them, but if we don’t know the foundational realities with
which we are dealing – God, kingdom, gospel – we are going to end up living
futile, fantasy lives. Your task is to keep telling the basic story, representing the presence of the Spirit, insisting on the priority of God, speaking the biblical words of command and promise and invitation.” (138-139)


Barry J. Maxwell said...

I ran out of ink when highlighting that passage! I love me some Peterson and highly recommend as well his "Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity". Man, I wish someone would've assigned me this reading in college. Perhaps I wouldn't be wreaking so much havoc on the church!

Ray Van Neste said...

I too wish I had read this in college. That's why I now require it in my Pasrtoral Ministry course!
At least we can help point those coming behind us to these things that they might learn them earlier and then might go well beyond us in advancing the Kingdom.

jmiller said...

Wow! That is great! It fits wonderfully with Dr. Mohler's Convocation message this morning from Colossians 1:24-29 about Paul's ministry of proclaiming, admonishing, and teaching in the context of conflict and suffering.

Gordon Cloud said...

What a challenge to men of God. Thanks for sharing this.

Lee Tankersley said...

This quote is one of the most challenging and comforting quotes I've read. I love the part about the congregation tying the pastor to the mast. Man, that's good. It makes me want to dedicate myself to these things today, and it comforts me to know that as I dedicate myself to these things today I am fulfilling my calling. Thanks, brother.