Eugene Peterson is known most for his paraphrase of the Bible, The Message, but to many pastors it is his work on pastoral ministry that forms his true legacy. He is no stranger to controversy, and I occasionally note things in Peterson with which I disagree, but let me say with no hesitation that Eugene Peterson’s voice is important and well worth heeding. I daresay that if pastors were to heed the wisdom of a book like Under the Unpredictable Plant (the last in a trilogy on pastoral ministry, the first two beingWorking the Angles and Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work), that much heartache and confusion could be avoided.
Using the story of Jonah as a metaphor for modern minsitry, Peterson argues that too many pastors are enticed by the lure of Tarshish. By Tarshish, he means that fictional pastorate where the people are perfect and the problems nonexistent, where the pastor gets to bask in the spotlight and where all is a bed of roses. He believes that the lure of Tarshish has led to an influx of careerism into modern ministry and results in scandalously short tenures among clergy who keep jumping from church to church in search of that perfect place.
Peterson admits that he himself knows the lure of Tarshish. But, he warns us, Tarshish isn’t real. The vast majority of pastoral work, he argues, isn’t glitzy and glamorous. On the contrary, it’s a day-by-day walk with normal people in normal circumstances (or “a long obedience in the same direction” to borrow a title from another of Peterson’s books). But, Peterson says, it’s in the normal life experiences of people where God is at work, if only we’ll open our eyes to see it.
For example, Peterson reveals how he used to see visitation with people as dull work, until he came to see that each person contains a fascinating story, a whole universe of experiences, and that, most importantly, God is at work in each person. This transformed Peterson’s approach to visitation. He came to see each meeting as a great opportunity to find out where and how God was working in the lives of each of his members.
This book hits me at the right time. I found it powerfully convicting and prophetic and I found myself reading selections to my wife over and over again. I daresay that every pastor should read this book!