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My first several years of pastoral ministry were difficult. Not because of the work, mind you, but because of a lingering, unanswered question, “What should I be doing?” Studying and preaching seemed to be a given, but what else? Discipleship, prayer, hospital visits and evangelism seemed like good things too, but things kept falling through the cracks and simply going undone. It didn’t help that I was a single, solo-church planter for my first two and a half years of pastoral ministry. I had no one to take me under their wing and help me grow.
Then another unanswered question began to surface, “What do the people want me to be doing?” Ministry for the next few years would be guided by the pulse of others. Occasionally, I spontaneously swung over to the “Pastor-as-Big-Boss” model which, in contrast, gets the people to do what they want them to do. But there was no guidance system from within me that helped to prioritize my service. During this pastoral frenzy, I happened upon a Eugene Peterson book titled The Contemplative Pastor. My pastoral lostness found a northstar. Peterson writes:
Others - People - Work - Pastor - Agenda
“I am busy because I am lazy. I indolently let others decide what I will do instead of resolutely deciding myself. I let people who do not understand the work of the pastor write the agenda for my day’s work because I am too slipshod to write it myself. The pastor is a shadow figure in these people’s minds, a marginal person vaguely connected with matters of God and good will. Anything remotely religious or somehow well-intentioned can be properly assigned to the pastor.”
Peterson’s words hit me straight between the eyes. I finally understood what pastoral ministry wasn’t! But this also raised another question. If not that, then what? Finding out what something isn’t only...
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