Eugene Peterson is really a pastor-poet. He is deeply reflective on his vocation and upon God, and these traits all come out in this beautifully crafted memoir. Peterson recounts his "intently haphazard" journey to becoming a pastor, as he discovered his own vocation, and further, discovered what it means to live out that vocation in the modern church. Woven together with his vocational journey are experiences as a church planter and pastor in Maryland for almost thirty years, and some of the people and situations he encountered in those years.
As I would expect from Peterson, his insight runs deep. Foundational to his own development is his discovery of reading the Bible as a conversation:
I was no longer reading words--I was listening to voices. . . . I was learning to listen carefully. (85)Central to Peterson's story, and probably the key theme of the book, is his developing understanding of the role of a pastor amid the "religious clutter" of congregational life, struggling to understand and live it as a vocation instead of a job. He writes of "discovering my workplace fundamentally as God's workplace" (104), with a "primary responsibility . . . not to the people I serve but to the God I serve" (165). And Peterson's account of learning to live this way puts flesh on these thoughts and aspirations, as he frequently encounters the challenge to get beyond "godtalk" and religious, depersonalized language to "acquiring fluency in the vocabulary and syntax in the 'land of the living'" (242). He also includes many stories and experiences from his years of congregational ministry, including reflections on his own "badlands" years of dryness and dormancy. He also describes his transition away from pastoring to teaching, as well as his writing of the Message.
The Pastor is an eminently pleasing read, and at the same time deeply challenging. Peterson's keen insight is matched by his use of words. I am not a pastor, but I still greatly benefited from his reflection specifically on that vocation, as his fundamental insights really do apply to all followers of Jesus, if sometimes in slightly different ways. And I gained a deeper appreciation for what it means to live as the gathered people of God with lives entwined as we listen to God and are attentive to what he is doing among and around us. I highly recommend the great book. Take and read!