The Apocalyptic Pastor: Avoiding a Career in Religious Sales.

Today’s Eugene Peterson Quote:

Ernst Käsemann captured what many think is the unique biblical stance in his sentence: ‘Apocalyptic was the mother of all Christian theology.’ Perhaps, then, the grandmother of all Christian pastoral work. Early church Christians believed that the resurrection of Jesus inaugurated a new age. They were in fact – but against appearances – living in God’s Kingdom, a Kingdom of truth and healing and grace. This was all actually present but hidden from unbelieving eyes and inaudible to unbelieving ears. Pastors are the persons in the church communities who repeat and insist on these Kingdom realities against the world appearances, and who therefore must be apocalyptic. In its dictionary meaning, ‘apocalypse’ is simply ‘revelation’, the uncovering of what was covered up so that we can see what is there. Under the crisis of persecution and under the urgency of an imminent end, reality is revealed suddenly for what it is. I have been a pastor for thirty years to American Christians who do their best to fireproof themselves against crisis and urgency. Is there any way that I can live with these people and love them without being shaped by the golden-calf culture? How can I keep from settling into the salary and benefits of a checkout clerk in a store for religious consumers? How can I avoid a metamorphosis from the holy vocation of pastor into a promising career in religious sales? Here is a way: submit my imagination to St. John’s apocalypse – the crisis of the End combined with the urgencies of God – and let the energies of the apocalyptic define and shape me as pastor. When I do that, my life as pastor simplifies into prayer, poetry, and patience.  Eugene Peterson (from Chapter Four, The Contemplative Pastor pp.50-51)


Peterson asks some pretty challenging questions here, my fellow Americanized pastor-friends.

Don’t you think?

The phrase, for example, ‘settling into the salary and benefits of a checkout clerk in a store for religious consumers’ or Peterson’s suggestion that we might choose ‘a promising career in religious sales’ brings a tingle to my spine.

How about you?

These challenges presented by Peterson make me recall a haunting conversation I had with a handful of Methodist pastors over a decade ago when I worked for Promise Keepers. I had been asked by the Iowa Methodist Conference to speak to their pastors about all God was doing in men’s lives through the ministry of PK. After my presentation, I had lunch with a few men who truly wanted to see more life in their churches. As I sat with them I heard their hunger for God and their passion to see God’s people renewed with the same revival fire experienced by the Methodist founder, John Wesley, so many centuries ago. As we eat our lunch and spoke of our dreams to see the church in America come alive once more, one pastor sheepishly admitted to me that the only reason he hadn’t left a denomination that was, from his perspective, full of compromise and ‘golden-calf culture’ (as Peterson describes it), was because of his fear of losing his pension. That day, a godly man made an honest confession that it was because of his fear of losing his retirement booty which kept him from being the apocalyptic Methodist pastor he wanted to become. To this day, I remember the face of that pastor, and as I read Peterson’s words here, my heart breaks for all of us Americanized pastors who allow the flow of our American traditions to override God’s voice calling us to become the apocalyptic pastors He wants us to be.

How about you, my pastoral friend?

What’s keeping you from moving beyond your ‘promising career in religious sales?’  What is God saying to you about ‘settling into the salary and benefits of a checkout clerk in a store for religious consumers?’ Maybe it’s time to get honest, like that Methodist pastor did with me so many years ago. I never heard from that pastor again, but my prayer is that he did some real gut checking in the months following our conversation. Maybe today, he’s one of those apocalyptic pastors out there. One of the ‘outside of the box’ men or women of the cloth who see pastors like St. John or John Wesley as ones whose footsteps we’d like to follow.

Our next three sessions will unpack Peterson’s trio of qualities to the apocalyptic pastor: prayer, poetry, and patience. Join us.

My prayer: Jesus, forgive me when I reduce Your call on my life to nothing more than a career in religious salesmanship. If that’s all I’m doing, Lord, I guess I need to sign my resignation and find a ‘real’ job greeting shoppers at Wal-Mart. Spirit, transform me from the inside out, so that I become the man of God who burns with holy passion inside for the advancing Kingdom of God. For Your name’s sake. Amen.

My questions to ponder: So what steps am I taking to move away from “settling into the salary and benefits of a checkout clerk in a store for religious consumers?” As a pastor, am I looking more for a pension fund and a 401-K retirement plan versus picking up my cross and following Jesus, despite the cost of doing so?

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 Apocalyptic Pastor: Avoiding a Career in Religious Sales.

  1. Pingback: The Apocalyptic Pastor: Thunder & Lightning Anyone? | The Contemplative Activist

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