The Subversive Shepherd

Eugene Peterson calls pastors to return to the hard work of making saints.
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Few have given clearer thought to the role of pastoral ministry than Eugene H. Peterson, professor of spiritual theology at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, and a pastor for more than three decades. Kevin A. Miller, editor of LEADERSHIP journal (a sister publication of Christianity Today, from which this article is excerpted), probed Peterson on the following subjects:

—The pastor's first responsibility. My job as pastor is to call people to repent, deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow Jesus. If I revise "Repent!" to "How can I help you get your life in order?" I'm turning away from the gospel. If I take out the "follow" part and say, "We'll find out how you can live your life best the way you define it," who needs Jesus?

Sometimes I feel like somebody carrying a sign around Times Square that says repent! I've been a pastor for 35 years, and I don't trust people one inch in defining what they need. We don't know ourselves. We need God to tell us what we need.

The most important thing a pastor does is stand in a pulpit every Sunday and say, "Let us worship God." If that ceases to be the primary thing I do in terms of my energy, my imagination, and the way I structure my life, then I no longer function as a pastor. Our primary work is to make saints.

—Problems. Do pastors face more difficult problems today than in previous generations? I know this is a mixed-up, difficult, damaged generation. But it's arguable that the main difference today is not how much people are hurting, but how much they expect to be relieved from their hurting.

The previous century suffered just as much—in fact, probably much ...

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