Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Some Ramblings and Reflections on The Pastor: A Memoir” by Eugene Peterson (Part two)

It is interesting to me that for Peterson (at least in his younger days), felt that seminary professors were clearly regarded as top of the church hierarchy. Pastors to him were "shadowy, undefined figures in the background" (p.21). He of course changed his mind rather quickly saying he found himself (it was a surprise to him) preferring the four days he spent in the congregation to the two days he spent teaching in the classroom.

I have been told and I do agree that one of my gifts is that of teaching. And I have been asked many times of whether I should seriously consider going for  further studies and one day teaching at a seminary. I love teaching. I love to try and create order and practical application from the Bible. I love to show that the Bible is immensely relevant and practical. BUT I have long come to the conclusion that academia is not for me. I don;t have the discipline required. Neither do I have the intellect required.  Never much of a struggle there.
But interestingly it often is an open secret wish that I had the capacity and call to be a seminarian ... not for the love of academia, with its research and writing papers but to escape the church! Obviously wrong motives and so it is good that God in His wisdom decided not to equip me to such a task!

BTW it seems to me today that seminary professors are generally no longer regarded as being on the top of the church hierarchy! Well, at least in Malaysia ... :-) But I digress :-)

Anyway, Peterson's point was basically that the classroom was too easy as it was too tidy, orderly, too limiting ... . But in the congregation, " contrast, everything was going on at once, random, unscheduled, accompanied too much of the time by the undisciplined and trivializing small talk." (p.21)

I guess put that way, the church (as in the congregation) is far more exciting. In a sense I agree, but there are many days where I wish the church was more like the seminary classroom - everything neat and tidy, focused, with everyone there self motivated to learn and contribute. The mess that is the church sometimes overwhelms me.

More troubling for me is the stray thoughts that flit through my mind every now and then that make me question whether being a pastor is who I am. I prefer the neatness, the order. I get frustrated at times with the mess that is the church. The many uncertainties that is the church cause me a lot of inner tension and I know because it too often shows up in my dreams. Every time I visit someone, or have an appointment / meeting, I tend to "imagine" the worst case scenario" because I know life is messy. And I wonder how I am to cope or help when my life is equally, if not more messy.

But Peterson is right that the flip side of the coin of all this "mess that is the church" (not his phrase but mine), there is also amazing things that remind me that God is at work and there is real hope. In his words ... "heroic holiness, stunningly beautiful prayers, sacrificial love surfacing from the tangled emotions in a difficult family situation, a song in the night, glimpses of glory ..." I have seen all these and more as a pastor. And perhaps I might have missed some of these if I were not a pastor.

2 Corinthians 12:9-10 helps a lot though I must admit that I have not been able to actually "delight" in weaknesses, insults, persecution etc.

 9 But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.
 10 That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

I still struggle with the challenges and joys of being a pastor. On the good days I think "there is no other vocation as wonderful as this!". On not so good days, I whine (Kiwi's call it whinging") to God about wanting out .... (ahem - it's called "prayer" :-)) But I am glad that the good days far outweigh the not so good ones and I have grown up enough to be able to see beyond the circumstances.

And Peterson has a wonderful phrase which I like in this book "Intently Haphazard" (which is the way he begins part 2 of his book. Will share about this in part 3. But I love it as it goes hand in hand and expresses so well what I have long ago realized is my understanding, my "philosophy of life".


  1. i can't even begin to process for myself how helpful this is!!!

  2. Church is messy. Spiritual life is messy. Life is messy. God is not.

  3. Church is messy. Spiritual life is messy. Life is messy. God is not.