10 Lessons Learned From Eugene Peterson This Year About Pastoral Work


(Update: For obvious reasons, this is a very popular post. So popular, I have become a Peterson reference for dozens and dozens of men, mostly pastors. Most want to know where to start with his works because they are exasperated with what they have been sold as pastoral work. I used to tell them to start with The Contemplative Pastor since it is the book in most direct opposition to everything other way of thinking about the pastorate that is popular today. It is a quiet manifesto of insurrection. But now it may be good to start with his memoir – The Pastor I still get emails thanking me for the review I posted on amazon. Usually, it’s because a pastor thought his was alone. Now he knows he is not.

A word to young pastors…Read Peterson now. Eventually you will most likely thirst for his sanity and long to get off the hamster-wheel. I know most of you will not do it, you are drunk on trends and excitement.)

I’ve been slowly reading through Eugene Peterson’s books this year. I’ve learned a lot about being a pastor that is in direct opposition to the way I naturally think…and most people think, I would hazard. The following are ten of those lessons.

1. Pastoral Work does not look “busy.”

2. The hard work of a pastor is done in the quiet of study and prayer.

3. Most pastors are pragmatists because they have never seen any other kind of pastoral work done.

4. You will never get the job of pastoral work down to a science.

5. Read novels as a part of your ministry.

6. How-to sermons are rarely – if ever –  helpful.

7. Don’t listen to the conventional wisdom.

8. It is so normal for bullies to fill our pulpits we can no longer recognize the problem.

9. Pastors should not seek to be part of the super-spiritual crowd but seek to be normal – only more so.

10. God and his work in Christ are our subject.

8 thoughts on “10 Lessons Learned From Eugene Peterson This Year About Pastoral Work

  1. travisconnick December 14, 2010 / 8:22 pm

    Love Eugene Peterson's books. One of my favorite thoughts is the ministry of small-talk, building relationships through day-to-day small talk. Good list!

  2. Brad O'Brien December 22, 2010 / 3:25 pm

    Matt,Can you give me a top 3 of Peterson's books? There are a ton to choose from!Brad

  3. Matt B. Redmond December 22, 2010 / 3:38 pm

    Brad, If you are a pastor I would recommend Working the Angles, The Contemplative Pastor and Under the Unpredictable Plant.If you are not not, start the Spiritual Theology series with Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places. All of it is great writing.

  4. Michael December 24, 2010 / 3:14 pm

    You know, when I was at Beeson, my Spiritual Formation Director class and my Supervised Experience in Ministry mentors both dug Peterson. Had to read several of his books. Pretty much love hate relationship with him. Loved him for touching deeply what I thought pastoral ministry, shepherding, loving people well ministry should look like, hated him b/c in my experience in church and in the PCA guys I wanted to "be like" I did not see this model at all, and yet they were "successful." I'm still recovering from both of these and have a long way to go. Surprised my church has survived me so far. Grace upon grace.

  5. Sam Powell October 24, 2018 / 5:41 pm

    This list is spectacular. Thank you.

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