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The Best of ChurchLeaders: Eugene Peterson on What Most Pastors Don’t Know about Pastoring

Eugene H. Peterson

Eugene H. Peterson was a pastor, scholar, author, and poet and one of the U.S.’s most well-known theologians. In 1962, he was a founding pastor of Christ Our King Presbyterian Church in Bel Air, Maryland, where he served for 29 years before retiring in 1991. Eugene was Professor Emeritus of Spiritual Theology at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia, until retiring in 2006. He wrote over thirty books, including “The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language,” the purpose of which was to help the original meaning of the Bible be more accessible to contemporary readers. Eugene Peterson passed away on Oct. 22, 2018, at the age of 85.

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Key Questions for Eugene H. Peterson

-What do you think most pastors today don’t understand about the role of pastor?

-You share about a moment of self-awareness, a lecture, and a poem which had an abiding impact on your life as a pastor. Can you share those with us?

-Why is it so important to listen to God’s questions as we journey with him?

-What advice would you give to pastors feeling the pressure to grow their numbers?

Key Quotes from Eugene H. Peterson

“They had no idea what a pastor did, they just wanted to be in on something exciting…It satisfied their desire for being important and being effective, but the people they were doing this with—they didn’t even know their names.”

“I was rescued from the consumer mentality by the beauty of that poetry and by the honesty of the doctor.”

“What we want from God is something to do, something to make me better, something to give me the answers to life. And what we’re really after is to answer God ourselves.”

“My approach to preaching was developed by reversing what was so common in American Protestantism: Trying to treat God as an answer-person. And we don’t know enough about God to know what to ask. So we listen, and we listen, and we listen.”

“There’s not very much good preaching these days. Lot of entertainment, lot of stories.”

“Conversation is one of the most important things pastors need patterns on how to develop—instead of telling people what to do, asking them what they’re doing.”

“We don’t need more words; we need accurate words.”

“The Psalms are all prayers, but they don’t always look like prayers.”

“I think pastors need to be more modest in what they’re doing.”

“I think pastors, if they knew what it meant, would do a lot better job instead of just trying to raise a crowd of people or get some special speaker who knows how to tell stories…I guess, becoming a pastor I realized how difficult it is to be a pastor because it’s a lonely business, except when you have fellowship with pastors like I had organized. [Then] it’s not lonely any more.” 

“Being a pastor, for so many people, is competitive. And when you’re competitive, you’re a lot more interested in winning than helping.” 

“I think it’s important, according to me anyway, to have some mentors in the cemeteries. People who did it right, before there were crowds of people to become important.”

Mentioned in the Show by Eugene H. Peterson:

As Kingfishers Catch Fire: A Conversation on the Ways of God Formed by the Words of God” by Eugene H. Peterson

As Kingfishers Catch Fire” by Gerard Manley Hopkins
The Diary of a Country Priest: A Novel” by George Bernanos

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Jason serves as the Chief Strategy Officer at PastorServe, a ministry committed to strengthening the Church by serving pastors through personal coaching and church consulting. He also hosts FrontStage BackStage, a podcast and YouTube show, that helps pastors embrace healthy, well-balanced leadership as they develop a sustainable rhythm for life and ministry. Prior to joining the PastorServe team, Jason served as Vice President of Ministry Mobilization at Outreach, Inc., and as the Executive Director of the National Back to Church Sunday movement. Additionally, Jason served for nearly two decades in pastoral leadership, primarily as a lead pastor, in several contexts, including church plant re-launch, multisite church, multiethnic urban church, and an established suburban church. His experience as a lead pastor has provided numerous opportunities to coach and mentor pastors across the country. Jason and his beautiful wife, Monica, are the proud parents of six children and live on Anastasia Island, Florida. @jasondaye