‘Tis the Gift to Be Simple.

Today’s Eugene Peterson Quote:

‘Lord, how I loathe big issues!’ is a sentence I copied from one of C.S. Lewis’s letters and have kept as a reminder. He was reacting to pretentiousness that only sees significance in the headlines – in the noisy and large. Lewis warned of the nose-in-the-air arrogance that is oblivious to the homely and the out-of-the-way, and therefore misses participating in most of the rich reality of existence. Pastors especially, since we are frequently involved with large truths and are stewards of great mysteries, need to cultivate conversational humility. Humility means staying close to the ground (humus), to people, to everyday life, to what is happening with all its down-to-earthness. We simply (need to be) present and attentive to what is there conversationally, as respectful of the ordinary as we are of the critical. Some insights are only accessible while laughing. Others arrive only by indirection. The art of small talk. Such art develops better when we are convinced that the Holy Spirit is ‘beforehand’ in all our meetings and conversations. I don’t think it is stretching things to see Jesus – who embraced little children, which so surprised and scandalized His followers – also embracing our little conversations.  Eugene Peterson (from Chapter Ten, The Contemplative Pastor p. 122)


The old Shaker melody, made world-famous by Aaron Copeland’s orchestral compositions, comes to mind when I read Peterson’s tenth chapter of The Contemplative Pastor.

‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free,

‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be.

And when we find ourselves in the place just right,

‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight. 

When true simplicity is gain’d,

To bow and to bend we shan’t be asham’d,

To turn, turn will be our delight,

Till by turning, turning we come ’round right.

As I see it, ‘the gift to be simple’ is a God-gift seldom used by modern-day clergy across North America. In a world where the more you know opens doors of power and prestige, pastors who desire to climb the ladder of success in their denominational circles are required to be highly-trained, highly-productive CEO’s of rapidly-growing congregations.

Unfortunately, the model for success today in many of our denominations is the big-name rancher who can successfully herd God’s people into massive cattle drives, taking ministry mountains for God. Unfortunately, there is little room in American pastoral ministry for the simple shepherd of God who humbly desires to walk alongside his or her parish of people, loving and caring for the sheep as they live simple lives, hidden away from the bright lights of fame and celebrity.

Sadly, as Peterson states, the gift of small talk, (i.e. the ability to truly relate to the common man and woman in our society), is so often forgotten by pastors in American churches. How refreshing, for example, might it be to see some Christian leaders across the fruited plain choose to ‘come down to where we ought to be,’ modeling simple lifestyles that buck the human zeal and ambition found so often in ‘successful’ churches across America.

Maybe there needs to be a grass-roots movement of pastors and shepherds who choose to restore this unique gift of simplicity back to the Church which bears the name of Jesus?

Call me old-fashioned but I think most folks would still prefer to follow a pastor/shepherd who looks and acts more like the old family doctor who was never too busy to come to a home when a person was sick, compared to those slick-n-shiny super men and women of God who treat their congregations as cattle to be herded.

Maybe the old Shaker melody is right, if we turn, turn, ‘we can come ‘round right.’

I’m just sayin’.

My prayer: As I see it, Father, there’s a move afoot in Your church to restore the original call of the pastoral shepherd. I, for one, need to ‘come down where I need to be,’ acting in intentional ways to simplify and reduce my life into one that better reflects the Master Shepherd who thought Himself never too important to stop and relate to the least, the lost, the overlooked, and the down-trodden. Give me eyes to see and a heart that cares. For Your name’s sake. Amen.

My questions to ponder: How have I over-complicated the work of a pastoral shepherd? What Americanized values of big success need to be stripped off my life so that ministry in the Name of Jesus can become full of simple conversations, gentle compassions, and overt mercy shown toward others?

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.

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1 thought on “‘Tis the Gift to Be Simple.

  1. Pingback: Humble Boldness – Bold Humility. | The Contemplative Activist

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