The Pastor: What’s In the Name?

Today’s Eugene Peterson Quote:

A healthy noun doesn’t need adjectives. Adjectives clutter a noun that is robust. But if the noun is culture-damaged or culture-diseased, adjectives are necessary. ‘Pastor’ used to be that kind of noun – energetic and virile. I have always loved the sound of the word. From an early age, the word called to mind a person who was passionate for God and compassionate with people. And even though the pastors I knew did not embody those characteristics, the word itself held its own against its exemplars. Today still, when people ask me what I want to be called, I always say, ‘Pastor.’  Eugene Peterson (from Chapter One, The Contemplative Pastor p.23)


Now that I’ve finally reached chapter one of Peterson’s book, The Contemplative Pastor, (after a dozen ramblings just on the book’s introduction!) I’m faced with my own dilemma.

‘Pastor’, the naked noun that Eugene Peterson speaks of here in chapter one, seems to have deteriorated even more over the last 30 years since Peterson first wrote of it in 1989. Talk about a noun that has become “culture-damaged or culture-diseased.” Yikes. Now-a-days I know very few of us pastors who really like using the ‘p’ word to describe our profession. I, for example, ask people who call me ‘pastor’ to simply call me, “Marty.” I’ve found that I can get my job for Jesus done in more productive ways if people don’t actually know that I’m one of those ‘pastors’ they’ve come to distrust!

Back in the day when Peterson first wrote these words, (1989) Jim & Tammy Faye Baker were the scandalized pastors of Americanized Christianity. And while there is no doubt that church history is full of unscrupulous men and women who have dragged the noun, ‘pastor’ through the mud, it was these popular TV evangelists in the late 1980’s who captured the world’s attention by being the typical American ‘pastors’ who scam their way into fame and riches.

Over the last thirty years, the long list of failed pastors has climbed to dizzying heights. A quick peek at Wikipedia finds a shopping list of 30 big-name pastors who have disappointed the evangelical Christian world since 1990 with their exploits and scandalous adventures. This, of course, doesn’t include the horrific sex scandals associated with the great number of priests from the Catholic Church who have been found abusing their parishioners for years. And while these headline-grabbing stories weave their way into our national awareness, local stories of pastoral failures abound as well. Just recently, here in Cedar Rapids, a well-known senior pastor was arrested when he showed up one evening looking to buy the wares of a prostitute. It seems the local police had set up a sting operation by placing highly-suggestive advertising in area magazines. The police were as shocked and surprised as the congregation the pastor served since 2002!

I heard a wise prophetic man do a powerful teaching called The Temptations of the Three G’s back in the early 1990’s. Just as many of the scandals of big-name pastors were being exposed during that season, this man talked about the ugly drawing power of the Three G’s: Gold, Glory, & Girls. And while he didn’t have to go into much detail, this teacher reviewed for us how every generation of godly leaders are tempted by these three powers of the world. Richard Foster, author of the classic, Celebration of Discipline, wrote a book that dealt with these same worldly temptations, Money, Sex, and Power, released in 1999.

So here we are, thirty years after Eugene Peterson states that the noun, ‘pastor’ is “culture-damaged or culture-diseased,” and I’m thinking to myself, can this ‘p’ word survive another few years of our pastoral failures? As I see it, our generation of shepherds of God’s people, living in quite possibly, the darkest of all times on our planet, can choose to listen carefully to the Spirit of God and find a way for Jesus to rescue the word that, as Eugene Peterson states, should be one of the most glowing nouns in the English language. Time will tell. And if you and I can humble ourselves enough to listen and respond, maybe God can accomplish, in His power, the redemption of a noun long given over to human failure.

My prayer: Jesus, I’m guessing the word ‘pastor’ means so much to You and yet, down here, the word has sadly been run through the mud in recent times. I, for one, Lord, would love to see a restoration of the word and I believe with Your help, it can be done. For Your name’s sake. Amen.

My questions to ponder: So what’s my role in coming alongside God as He rescues the noun ‘pastor’ from the scrapheap of our generation? Am I living a life that honors the word? Are my words and actions congruent with all that’s good in the original recipe Jesus gave this ‘P’ word two thousand years ago?

So what is God speaking to you today as we ponder together The Contemplative Pastor?


Over a 37-blog series, you and I will take a deeper look at Eugene Peterson’s classic, The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction. In order to keep all the blog sessions organized, we suggest you bookmark our blog series home page for ease of use. Keep in mind that one of the best ways to explore the on-going applications of this blog series is to walk alongside a biblically-based, Christ-centered spiritual director who is familiar with how to make material like this part of your overall spiritual formation in God. Many of our directors in our Contemplative Activist network are available to companion you in your journey with Jesus. Click here for more info.

If you like what you’re reading, might we suggest you share this page with others!

Click here to continue to the next blog in this series…

1 thought on “The Pastor: What’s In the Name?

  1. Pingback: Stop Chasing God’s Chickens. | The Contemplative Activist

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