What I Learned From Eugene Peterson

“Now the overseer is to be above reproach…”

1 Timothy 3:2a NIV
I love Eugene Peterson’s books on pastoring and have been a big fan/disciple of his profound reflections through the years of my ministry. Ever since Jesus told us to “Go, and make disciples” (Matthew 28:19), the church has set aside spiritual leaders called “Pastors,” who are to shepherd and lead people into Christlikeness. But this is not easy or quick work in a broken and compromised world filled with many preferences and pathways.

In his book, “The Contemplative Pastor,” Peterson uses imagery from Homer’s boo, “The Odyssey.” The story is about King Odysseus’ epic journey back home. During the voyage, he encounters many obstacles that threaten to push him off course, or allure him into trouble. To escape from the clutches of the Sirens (beautiful women). Their enchanting singing would draw sailors toward their island — and the rocky coast would dash mariners’ vessels to pieces. To avoid this fate, Odysseus has his men lash him to the mast of their ship, so that even when he hears the Sirens’ “honeyed voices,” he’ll be unable to respond to their pull.

Peterson wrote (at the end of chapter 12) how important it is for pastors to be “Lashed fast to the mast of word and sacrament so you will be unable to respond to the siren voices.” The truth is, there are many “alluring” voices, messages, invitations, admonitions, and every form of seduction seeking a self-gratifying detour in our lives. To be “lashed to the mast” is an image of a chosen safeguard deployed ahead of known vulnerabilities. These measures help us to “stay on course” and to eventually, “arrive home safely.”

Pastors have been known for going in a lot of different directions in life and ministry. There are many ways one can stray from “word, Sacrament, and Order” (the ordination vows of all United Methodist clergy). We must find ways of lashing ourselves to this sacred mast for safe sailing through troubled waters here on this earth. My Wednesday morning Pastors Support Group is a wonderful place where we seek to keep ourselves anchored, lashed, focused, and faithful to our callings of Gospel speakers and livers.

Elliot Ritzema, in a blog article celebrating Eugene Peterson’s life and ministry, reflected on his learnings from Peterson, and how he was applying this one to his role of Pastoral Search Committee Chair. He says,
 “I don’t know yet what kind of pastor will be best for our church. But I do know that I don’t want to create a job posting that is looking for Superman: someone who will use the latest techniques to efficiently to do a religious job, who will entertain us and relieve us of the responsibility of being Christlike ourselves, who will project an air of omnicompetence, who will be lured by the siren song of Christian celebrity culture and see our church as little more than a platform from which to launch their own larger ministry.

I want someone who will love us, who will help us to be as healthy as we can be, who will help us to be attentive to the ways that God is moving in our congregation and our community, who understands in their deepest self that Jesus is the head of the church and not them, and who will be lashed to the mast of Word and sacrament.”
I am profoundly inspired by his articulation of a faithful pastor. I long to be this version of a shepherd who is helping to guide and shape sheep into the likeness of Jesus Christ. This work on any one of us is never done this side of heaven. Practicing “lashing” is the art and discipline of proactive protection. It is a form of establishing boundaries and behaviors before a crises
necessitates a choice. These life-forming habits (daily scripture reading, prayer, meditation, worship, service, fasting, confession, giving, and silence/listening) all help to promote Heaven’s best and to protect us from evil influences that would lead us astray.

May each one of us help each other to “lash ourselves” to the mast of God’s Word, Sacrament, and Order (body of Christ). This is how we will do “Church” well, and live vital lives!

Pastor David 😊

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