Over three decades ago, my late hero and Protestant “Saint” (if Presbyterians canonized people) Eugene Peterson wrote the following in the opening paragraphs to his book on pastoral ministry called Working the Angles (1987):
“American pastors are abandoning their post, left and right, and at an alarming rate. They are not leaving their churches and getting other jobs. Congregations still pay their salaries. Their names remain on the church stationary and they continue to appear in pulpits on Sundays. But they are abandoning their posts, their calling. They have gone whoring after other gods. What they do with their time under the guise of pastoral ministry hasn’t the remotest connection with what the church’s pastors have been doing for twenty centuries.
A few of us are angry about it. We are angry because we have been deserted. Most of my colleagues who defined ministry for me, examined, ordained, and then installed me as a pastor in a congregation, a short while later walked off and left me, having, they said, more urgent things to do. The people I thought I would be working with disappeared when the work started.
Being a pastor is difficult work; we want the companionship and counsel of allies. It is bitterly disappointing to enter a room full of people whom you have every reason to expect to share the quest and commitments of pastoral work and find within ten minutes that they most definitely do not. They talk of images and statistics. They drop names. They discuss influence and status. Matters of God and the soul and Scripture are not grist for their mills.” (pp. 1-2)
Eugene Peterson had the countenance of a warm and gentle Mr. Rogers, but he could wield a sharp machete tongue and pen when the occasion called for it. Whoah!
For the past couple years of my doctoral research, I have had the opportunity to go back twenty centuries to look more closely at how “pastors” went about their task of guiding souls and making disciples in the early centuries of the church. Eugene was right; we’ve drifted a long way from our roots.
In the next 3 posts I want to invite pastors to reclaim the heart of the pastoral vocation and return to being first and foremost curates of the soul and spiritual guides.