Eugene Peterson, a pastor (though now retired after serving as a professor at Regent College, Vancover), wrote this book about the pastorate and for pastors. The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Director is one of his best books. He begins by insisting on some “redefinitions,” which reflect the Christian tradition rather than cultural conventions. Here he says the right title for him is “Pastor,” a noun rich in meaning, which includes being “unbusy, subversive, apocalyptic” (p. 24).
First, pastors should be unbusy. My favourite quote of the book is:
“Hilary of Tours diagnosed our pastoral busyness as irreligiosa solicitudo pro Deo, a blasphemous anxiety to do God’s work for him”
We stay busy because we want to be thought important, But if pastors must study and pray in order to preach, they must devote large chunks of time to study and prayer, staying still long enough to hear the Word they need to proclaim. Here he compares pastors with the harpooners portrayed in Moby Dick: “‘To insure the greatest efficiency in the dart, the harpooners of this world must start to their feet out of idleness, and not out of toil'”.
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.” I found this section the most helpful and challenging.
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 members). He writes about how important it is for a minister to be able to do “small talk” with parishioners. He realises 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.
One will not learn important things about preaching or a model of church growth from this book; rather, the reader will be blessed as he listens to the thoughts and reflections of an experienced pastor.