Book Review: The Contemplative Pastor

I brought up this book a few days ago in a post and just finished it this evening. Eugene Peterson wrote The Contemplative Pastor as one of the four books in a pastoral series. All four of them were quite brilliant, and books that every pastor should have in their library. This particular book seems to be scatterbrained more than the others, like Peterson was trying to throw together all his leftover thoughts for pastors that did not fit into the other books. And yet, there is still much to be learned from the rich wisdom of Peterson. The first four chapters describe the tension that exists between a congregation’s perceived notions of what a pastor should do and then actually what a pastor is called to do. For example, congregations expect pastors to keep busy. Peterson believes otherwise. Listen to what he says:

But the word busy is the symptom not of commitment but of betrayal. It is not devotion but defection. The adjective busy set as a modifier to pastor should sound to our ears like adulterous to characterize a wife or embezzling to describe a banker. It is an outrageous scandal, a blasphemous affront.

If we’re always busy, we are never free to simply be present. So, Peterson dispels certain definitions of what a pastor should be, and instead offers some helpful suggestions such as being a subversive pastor (“I am undermining the kingdom of self and establishing the kingdom of God. I am being subversive.”) and the apocalyptic pastor (“With the vastness of the heavenly invasion and the urgency of the faith decision rolling into our consciousness like thunder and lightning, we cannot stand around on Sunday morning filling the time with pretentious small talk on how bad the world is and how wonderful this new stewardship campaign is going to be.”)

From there it seems to lose a little of its direction, but the more I reflect on it, the more I wonder just how genius it might be. The rest of the book is focused on what pastors do between Sundays because that is where most of pastoral work is actually done – in the nitty-gritty grind of day-to-day life. I do not know if it was his intent or not, but maybe the randomness of it was to signify what Monday through Saturday actually looks like – often without direction and difficult to draw connections between experiences. He offers some great advice through these sections that I’m sure will stick with me for years to come and that I might even write about in a later post.

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