With the deepest gratitude to a man of God who showed the world what being a pastor was meant to look like. Eugene Peterson died on Monday 22nd October, and after running with the horses all his life, he has now stopped for his eternal reward and rest. It is deeply symbolic for me too, that this post should come in between three posts on Pastoral Ministry that I am writing. I had wanted to keep them together in the post-chain of posts, but a dedication to Eugene Peterson is perfectly fitting.
His book, Run with the Horses, is for me, one of the most important books that I try to read once a year. It is a superb commentary on the life of the great prophet Jeremiah, and shows forth the real elements of a life lived in service to God and pastoral ministry to the people. The phrase, run with the horses, is taken from Jeremiah 12, and is God’s challenge and slight warning to him, after he had complained about how tough ministry had become for him. I use this phrase and unpack it when teaching other students in ministry, since I can’t find a better picture than this.
I remember when I myself received a word of the Lord at just the right time. I was fairly new in pastoral ministry, but was considering quitting. I wasn’t sure about a lot of things, not least whether this thing called pastoral ministry was worth it. During this time, I was waiting for the arrival of Peterson’s book on the Book of Jonah called, Under the Unpredictable Plant (another work of pastoral genius). The book arrived and as is my custom when I have any new books delivered, I rip open the packaging like a five year old at Christmas. Despite my ministerial melancholy, I flipped through the pages, and then it hit me like a Divine Steam Train: The pages stayed open on a page with a sub-heading that read: Stay Where You Are. That was it. God spoke through that text, and so I stayed. It was enough to know that God was speaking despite my situation and feelings and confusion; and God went to work. He still is.
I could write so much about the influence of Eugene Peterson. Others who knew him will do that for the rest of us. Here’s a comment Peterson wrote in one of his other great pastoral works, The Contemplative Pastor,
“The people encountered in pastoral ministry today are sinners. But they don’t look like it, and many of them don’t even act like it. They rather look and act and feel like the youth they admire so much, struggling for “identity” and searching for “integrity.” A quick theological eye that is able to pick up the movements of sin hiding behind these seemingly innocent characteristics will keep a pastor on track, doing what he or she was called to do: sharing a ministry of grace and forgiveness centred in Jesus Christ.”
Eugene Peterson, The Contemplative Pastor, p.128