The Pastor: Give Me Three Words.

Today’s Eugene Peterson Quote:

When I observe the way the vocation of pastor is lived out in America and listen to the tone and context in which the word ‘pastor’ is spoken, I realize that what I hear in the word and what others hear is very different. In general usage, the noun is weak, defined by parody and diluted by opportunism. The need for strengthening adjectives is critical. I find I have to exercise this adjectival rehabilitation constantly, redefining by refusing the definitions of ‘pastor’ that the culture hands me, and reformulating my life with the insights and images of Scripture. The essence of being a pastor begs for redefinition. To that end, I offer three adjectives to clarify the noun: unbusy, subversive, apocalyptic.  Eugene Peterson (from Chapter One, The Contemplative Pastor pp.23-24)


Without a doubt, the three adjectives (busy, subversive, and apocalyptic) Peterson chooses here to redefine the naked noun ‘pastor’ are certainly ‘out-of-the-box’ kind of words. As a matter of fact, I can’t recall ever reading a leadership book geared for pastors that mentions these three words as being associated with much of anything to do with successful pastoral ministry in America! Can you?

Let me see.

If I walked into any Christian bookstore across the fruited plains of North America, or ‘Googled’ on-line, searching for books on successful pastoral ministry, I’m certain I could find ones that use the three P’s: 1) productive, 2) powerful, and 3) persuasive.

Or let’s try the 3-C’s: 1) calculated, 2) charismatic, and 3) convincing.

Wait, I know. Let’s type in the 3-E’s: 1) effective, 2) evangelical, and 3) electrifying?

Or finally, let’s try the 3-V’s: 1) visionary, 2) vigorous, and 3) van-tastic!

Whoops. I kinda made up that last word. Can you tell?

The truth of the matter here is that Peterson’s three adjectives (unbusy, subversive, and apocalyptic) just don’t line up well with 3-B thinking, where the successful pastor is to be the guy or gal who builds big (B)uildings, increases the (B)ucks in the bank, and draws in the crowd so there are always more (B)utts in the seats this week than last!

As I see it, this trek through The Contemplative Pastor will be very interesting indeed. I’m curious to see where Peterson takes us on this ride to re-define the noun ‘pastor’ using three unique adjectives that I would never choose in defining my job description to the rest of the world.

Already, I can tell this won’t be the typical church-growth, ‘become a stronger leader/CEO’ type of book. Maybe, just maybe, Peterson might open a few eyes, ears, and hearts with his message. I know he certainly has my attention.

How about you? 

My prayer: Father, the vocation of pastor is a holy thing. Yet the world I live in has taken the word and added adjectives that just don’t seem to be in agreement with all I see in Your Word. As I explore these new words of unbusy, subversive and apocalyptic, may Your Spirit rest on me, so that I might hear Your truth. For Your name’s sake. Amen.

My questions to ponder: As I look over my time in ministry, what adjectives honestly describe the type of pastor/leader I’ve been? Do the words ‘unbusy’, ‘subversive’ or ‘apocalyptic’ appear on the radar screen? If not, which words do?

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…

3 thoughts on “The Pastor: Give Me Three Words.

  1. Pingback: The Pastor: What’s In the Name? | The Contemplative Activist

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