Matt B. Redmond on Lessons Learned from Eugene Peterson

Note from CM: Eugene Peterson died yesterday. He was the pastor’s pastor, and a delightful, important subversive voice in today’s church culture. Peterson was my pastoral hero and (book-)mentor. One of my greatest regrets is knowing that he pastored in the town where I lived while a teenager and I never attended his church. I hope to have a full appreciation ready for tomorrow. We’ll continue our Reformation thoughts next week. This is personal, and not only for me. Countless pastors and Christians who care about quality control when it comes to pastoral ministry benefited from his words, including my friend Matthew B. Redmond. Here is a post he wrote several years ago, sharing some of the lessons he learned from a master pastoral practitioner.

• • •

A word from Matt: …I have become a Peterson reference for dozens and dozens of men, mostly pastors. Most want to know where to start with his works because they are exasperated with what they have been sold as pastoral work. I used to tell them to start with The Contemplative Pastor since it is the book in most direct opposition to everything other way of thinking about the pastorate that is popular today. It is a quiet manifesto of insurrection. But now it may be good to start with his memoir – The Pastor: A Memoir I still get emails thanking me for the review I posted on amazon. Usually, it’s because a pastor thought he was alone. Now he knows he is not.

A word to young pastors…Read Peterson now. Eventually you will most likely thirst for his sanity and long to get off the hamster-wheel. I know most of you will not do it, you are drunk on trends and excitement.)

I’ve been slowly reading through Eugene Peterson’s books this year. I’ve learned a lot about being a pastor that is in direct opposition to the way I naturally think…and most people think, I would hazard. The following are ten of those lessons.

1. Pastoral Work does not look “busy.”

2. The hard work of a pastor is done in the quiet of study and prayer.

3. Most pastors are pragmatists because they have never seen any other kind of pastoral work done.

4. You will never get the job of pastoral work down to a science.

5. Read novels as a part of your ministry.

6. How-to sermons are rarely – if ever –  helpful.

7. Don’t listen to the conventional wisdom.

8. It is so normal for bullies to fill our pulpits we can no longer recognize the problem.

9. Pastors should not seek to be part of the super-spiritual crowd but seek to be normal – only more so.

10. God and his work in Christ are our subject.

13 thoughts on “Matt B. Redmond on Lessons Learned from Eugene Peterson

  1. What stuck the most to me was that Peterson regards love, faith, hope as subversive. That in the community he appeared like everyone else. Same car, clothes, same stores. All those years invested in one community. As a subversive not attempting showy stuff. But you know there is more to the truth than meets the eye.


  2. Just spoke to his granddaughter. For anyone who may care, his funeral will be at First Presbyterian Church in Kalispell, MT on Nov 3 at 1 pm.


  3. I live about 30 miles south of Eugene’s “retirement” home in Montana; actually, on the site of the cabin his father built for his family growing up. I had the privilege of meeting him at his home nearly three years ago now. I will regret forever not spending more time with him. What struck me the most was the peace I felt in his presence. A humble man of God.


  4. Eugene Peterson caused no harm and he did a lot of good. Was he perfect? No, at times he stumbled where he could have lifted up the downtrodden and least of these. But overall, he did no harm, and helped many.

    Well done.


  5. Nice list. If I was a pastor and saw that list, I’m sure it would’ve been like drinking a fresh cup of water.

    Of course, one would need a board and elders to agree with the contents of that list to succeed in applying it.


  6. Hello ChrisS,

    I know what you. It’s the simple things that matter . . . fresh grown food, a chance to recover from the world by going out into nature for a retreat, a quiet morning spent in a garden . . . . most of what is really really important doesn’t cost a dime. Why didn’t we know this sooner???? 🙂


  7. I am deeply saddened by learning of his death. His books were beacons of hope in a fundamentalist land for me. I’m grateful for his servant’s heart, his gift or writing and his Jesus-shaped life. May his family and loved ones find rest and comfort from their grief through the Creator Mr. Peterson served and attempted to share with others.


  8. Funny how far you have to get down the road before you learn the ordinary and mundane that was disdained as too simple, common and unspirtual at the start.


  9. Sad to say, I have interacted little with Mr. Peterson’s works. In my Reformed days he was classified as “untrustworthy”, and afterwards I was too busy deprogramming myself with D&D and other unread books in my collection. Perhaps I have come far enough to actually learn something from The Message now…


  10. Never met him, and have only read The Message so far.
    But I have felt his influence indirectly, I guess mostly here.

    I’ll be buying The Pastor today.


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