Eugene Peterson on Pastoring: Vocation, Not Job

eugene petersonI’m reading through Eugene Peterson’s pastoral memoir, The Pastor (HarperOne, 2011). He offers some great insights and scriptural reflections on the work of the pastorate throughout the text. I don’t agree with some of Peterson’s theology, to be sure, but I have found myself resonating deeply with his conception of the Christian pastor–and work more broadly. This isn’t a book to tear through; it’s one to read slowly, carefully, turning over sentences in your mind.

Here’s a selection that stood out to me:

But a vocation is not a job in that sense [that it's easy to tell if its done well or badly]. I can be hired to do a job, paid a fair wage if I do, dismissed if I don’t. But I can’t be hired to be a pastor, for my primary responsibility is not to the people I serve but to the God I serve. As it turns out, the people I serve would often prefer an idol who would do what they want done rather than do what God, revealed in Jesus, wants them to do. In our present culture the sharp distinction between a job and a vocation is considerably blurred. How do I, as a pastor, prevent myself from thinking of my work as a job that I get paid for, a job that is assigned to me by my denomination, a job that I am expected to do to the satisfaction of my congregation?

The book is worth purchasing and thinking through. I’ve also really enjoyed Peterson’s un-modern view of the importance of place, the silliness of worrying about congregational size, and the need to actually nurture people. These are overlooked yet powerfully needed contributions.

It strikes me that “job as vocation” is a helpful way to think of work as a Christian. I appreciate how much more deeply this perspective goes than a shallow, task-driven conception of our work. As a professor training students for ministry, the idea of vocational teaching, teaching unto God, is clarifying and enlivening. I’m not merely rendering services to my school; I’m working unto the Lord, giving him glory, growing in piety through my job, using all my faculties for his kingdom (see Colossians 3:23).

That’s a helpful way to think about all of work, I think.


Cross-posted from Thought Life.