After a long, beautiful, and faithful life, author/pastor/theologian Eugene Peterson passed away this morning at his home on the shores of Flathead Lake here in Montana. Peterson is the author of over 30 books on scripture, pastoral leadership, and the spiritual life, but is best-known for penning the incredibly profound Bible paraphrase, The Message. He has impacted countless people throughout his magnificent career and has left behind a beautiful library of resources to guide Christians long into the future.
And I count myself as one who has been deeply impacted by Peterson’s wisdom. The Message has been a great resource in understanding and communicating the context and relevance of scripture; many of his books have greatly altered the way I think about God, scripture, and the Christian life; and I’m especially grateful for his book, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, which has been transformative in my spiritual life for years.
But the text from Peterson that first flooded my memory when I heard the news of his passing was a piece published in Christianity Today in 1981—an article called ‘The Unbusy Pastor.’ I providentially stumbled upon these words just days after becoming the pastor at FBC, and his thoughts have been my constant guide for the past three years.
In the article, Peterson discourages pastors from finding their worth in the idolatry of busyness. We love being busy—the vain adrenaline of being needed. Or, as Peterson argues, we allow busyness to happen to us because we are too unfocused or spineless to say no that which God has not called us, so we can say yes to our true pastoral calling.
But the part of the article that is most helpful are the three outcomes of an ‘unbusy life’: a life of prayer, the ability to actually preach and not just deliver sermons, and the time to be a pastor who really listens. Peterson says:
“I want to be a pastor who prays. I don't want to live as a parasite on the first-hand spiritual life of others, but to be personally involved with all my senses, tasting and seeing that the Lord is good.”
“I want to be a pastor who preaches. I want the people who come to worship in my congregation each Sunday to hear the Word of God preached in such a way that they hear its distinctive note of authority as God's Word, and to know that their own lives are being addressed on their home territory.”
“I want to be a pastor who listens. The question I put to myself is not ‘How many people have you spoken to about Christ this week?’ but ‘How many people have you listened to in Christ this week?’”
And I want these things too…so Peterson’s words are deeply profound and continue to ring in my heart and soul as I seek to pastor well. Thank you, Eugene, for being a mentor from afar. Thank you for your constant and unending faithfulness. Thank you for your wisdom and insight. Thank you for leaving a great legacy for the next generation of pastors, leaders, and Christ-followers. You will be missed.