The two pastors who have most formed my approach to my pastoral vocation are Will Willimon and Eugene Peterson. I’ve decided to take my copy of Eugene Peterson’s book The Pastor and blog through it over the next few weeks.
Here is something from the Introduction that spoke to me:
In the process of realizing my vocational identity as pastor, I couldn’t help observing that there was a great deal of confusion and dissatisfaction all around me with pastoral identity. Many pastors, disappointed or disillusioned with their congregations, defect after a few years and find more congenial work. And many congregations, disappointed or disillusioned with their pastors, dismiss them and look for pastors more to their liking. In the fifty years that I have lived the vocation of pastor, these defections and dismissals have reached epidemic proportions in every branch and form of the church.
I wonder if at the root of the defection is the cultural assumption that all leaders are people who “get things done,” and “make things happen.” That is certainly true of the primary leadership models that seep into our awareness from the culture — politicians, businessmen, advertisers, publicists, celebrities, and athletes. But while being a pastor certainly has some of these components, the pervasive element in our two-thousand-year pastoral tradition is not someone who “get things done” but rather the person placed in the community to pay attention and to call attention to “what is going on right now” between men and women, with one another and with God — this kingdom of God that is primarily local, relentlessly personal, and prayerful “without ceasing.”
In the last few months, the leaders of my conference have put in my hands books that take the exact opposite approach to Peterson. And I am mindful that Peterson and John Wesley, who you may have noticed I admire, would disagree about many things, including the role of clergy.
But I must confess that I find Peterson’s descriptions of the vocation of pastor extremely attractive and compelling.
My sense is that my denomination does not fully embrace Peterson’s vision of the pastor. I may be reacting to limited information and experiences. I do find this a pressing issue as I am trying to live out my call to ministry within the United Methodist Church.