On a recent trip to England, I sat beside a young man who, when he learned I am a preacher, started asking questions with a noticeable amount of energy. He wanted to know if my church allowed me to marry and whether I thought women could preach. He asked how I get paid and what I do when I'm not preaching. This persisted for over an hour. Having grown up in a post-Christian culture, this fellow had a vague notion of what a pastor is but clearly had never talked to one.
In American culture, being a pastor is not enough of an oddity to start an hour-long conversation with a stranger. (More often than not, telling your airplane seatmate that you're a pastor is enough to ensure an awkward silence for the remainder of the flight.) Still, if you spend any time with pastors, even around here, it is clear our vocation is facing something of a crisis. Many pastors aren't sure how to describe their calling or explain why it matters to the rest of the world.
In the introduction to his new book, The Pastor: A Memoir (HarperOne), Eugene H. Peterson addresses this crisis head-on: "North American culture does not offer congenial conditions in which to live vocationally as a pastor. Men and women who are pastors in America today find that they have entered into a way of life that is in ruins."
Though the rhythms of his voice are familiar to admirers of The Message, this is not Paul or Moses or Jesus speaking in Peterson's contemporary American idiom. It is, instead, Peterson himself, attending to the text of his life—mining it, even, for some understanding of what it has meant to be a pastor. Unless you're traveling in Europe, the book probably won't leave any airline companions in a state ...