Wednesday, May 04, 2005

The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction, Eugene H. Peterson, Eerdmans, 1989, 171 pp.

Peterson, a pastor (though now retired after serving as a professor at Regent College, Vancover, BC), wrote this book about the pastorate and for pastors. In the first four chapters, he defines the character of a pastor. A pastor should not be busy. He should be active, in prayer, talking, teaching and preaching—but not busy. A pastor should do his work in a low-key way seeking quietly to effect biblical change in lives and community. A pastor in preaching and talking offers sacrificial love, justice and hope. He is not flashy. He wins no big battles. He prepares the ground and changes the mood a bit at a time towards belief and hope, so that when Christ returns, there will be a people waiting for him.

The pastor is a Minster of the Word and sacraments. This he must be and remain and not get caught up in the business of "running a church."

Surprisingly, the book only speaks about the Sunday work of the pastor incidentally. Peterson writes more about the rest of the pastor's life, character and work. In fact, the next eight chapters (100 pages) speak of the pastor's work between the Sundays. Here he writes about how important it is for the pastor to know his congregation, to talk and pray with them. He resolved never to serve a church so large that he could not remember everyone's names (when he wrote this book, he served a Presbyterian Church of 300). He writes about how important it is for a minister to be able to do "small talk" with parishioners. He realizes that both congregation and pastor will, at times, be tempted to have the minister preach and speak of things the congregation likes to hear and have him drift away from the biblical themes of sin, grace in Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, renewal and hope. In "Lashed to the Mast" he strongly underlines how important it is to remain faithful to one's ordination vows rather than fall under the spell of siren voices.

In the XIII chapter he relates his sabbatical (year-long) story. Very interesting to read while on a sabbatical!

Peterson writes in an almost poetic way. In fact he is also a poet. The book is interspersed with his poems. The last chapter contains fourteen exquisite poems he wrote about the incarnation of the Son of God. Of course there is a close connection between pastors and poets: both work with words and are attuned to the rhythms and rhymes of life.

One will not learn important things about preaching from this book; rather, the reader will be blessed as he listens to the thoughts and reflections of an experienced pastor.