Not too long ago I stepped away from being a pastor to a small group of people.  It was a very significant thing for me to do.  I have felt the call of pastoral ministry on my life for almost ten years and to step away was an identity-shaking decision.  The past months have been filled with questions and doubts about my role as a pastor.  I question whether or not I am really “called” by God into that type of role.  I doubt that I might have the character to pastor people.

I see so much about the American church that I don’t understand or believe is rooted in historical Christianity, yet I feel drawn to the church nonetheless.  When I think about the possibility or probability of working for a church again I find myself shaking my head or throwing up my hands in confusion.  I have lost hope in the church lately.

I have thought that my calling to ministry was not to a particular age group or city, but to the work of reconciling the church to the people who have left — working with broken and bruised churches to seek forgiveness from the people who they have hurt.  This isn’t the type of language that is in most ministerial job descriptions.  I have felt awkward and out of place lately as I have contemplated going back to a ministry position.

But when I read Eugene Peterson I am reminded of the hope that I have lost.

I’m close to finishing “Under the Unpredictable Plant.”  I’m not going to explain the book or try to tell you whether or not you should read it.  There are plenty of qualified people to do that for you.  I will say this:  When I read Peterson’s pastoral books I dream of being a pastor again.

Peterson writes about people.  The people behind the pulpit and the people in the congregation and the people who want nothing to do with church.  He warns the pastor of becoming consumed with “pastoring” to the point of losing sight of the people that he should be pastoring.  This is such a strong encouragement to me.  Without people, the gospel is not the gospel, and if we lose sight of the purpose of the gospel we have no right calling ourselves “pastors.”

In the middle of this book Peterson starts to borrow words from Wendell Berry.  And at this point I’m in bliss.  Peterson writes that “whenever Berry writes the word farm, I substitute parish; the sentence words for me every time.”  Then building off of a thought about “treating the land not as a resource to be cared for but as loot,” Peterson writes:

It is a prevalent attitude of pastors toward congregations, and one that I have held more often than I like to admit.  When I take up that attitude, I see the congregation as raw material to manufacture into an evangelism program, or a mission outreach, or a Christian Education learning center.  Before I know it, I’m pushing and pulling, cajoling and seducing, persuading and selling.  It would not be nearly as bad if our congregations resisted and resented and challenged us when we work out of this attitude, but they are so used to being treated this way by businesses, public relation firms, educators, medical practitioners, and politicians that they don’t see anything amiss when we also do it.  (And, in fact, when we don’t do it, or quit doing it, they wonder why we aren’t acting like a pastor anymore.)

When I read Peterson I am reminded about the work of a pastor– to be present with people, guiding them along the path of the cross as they are reconciled to Jesus, not to sit quietly in a pew and fill up the plate as it passes by.

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