The Hireling vs. The Shepherd.

Today’s Eugene Peterson Quote:

The definition that pastors start out with, given to us in our ordination, is that pastoral work is a ministry of Word and sacrament. Century after century, Christians continue to take certain persons in their communities, set them apart, and say, ‘You are our shepherd. Lead us to Christlikeness.’ (Yet) being a pastor who satisfies a congregation is one of the easiest jobs on the face of the earth – if we are satisfied with satisfying congregations. Flannery O’Connor describes one pastor (he knows) as one part minister and three parts masseur. (But) we set out to do something quite different. We set out to risk our lives in a venture of faith. We committed ourselves to a life of holiness. At some point we realized the immensity of God and of the great invisibles that socket into our arms and legs, into bread and wine, into our brains and our tools, into mountains and rivers, giving them meaning, destiny, value, joy, beauty, salvation. We responded to a call to convey these realities in Word and sacrament. We offered ourselves to give leadership that connects and coordinates what the people in this community of faith are doing in their work and play, with what God is doing in mercy and grace. In the process, we learned the difference between a profession, a craft, and a job. Eugene Peterson (from Chapter Twelve, The Contemplative Pastor p. 139, 140, 143)


So, my fellow pastors, what is your profession?

What is your craft?

What is your job?

No wait. Let’s ask the question this way. What is your calling?

I’m convinced that Eugene Peterson wrote chapter twelve in The Contemplative Pastor so that you and I would open it up every Monday morning, read it, and recall the high reasons we signed up for this enthralling-yet-highly-frustrating profession called pastoral ministry. As Peterson states it, it’s in the profession of pastoral ministry where “we have an obligation beyond pleasing somebody; (where) we are pursuing or shaping the very nature of reality, convinced that when we carry out our commitments, we benefit people at a far deeper level than if we simply did what they asked of us.”

In other words, signing up for the ‘job’ of pastor is not our calling. Hirelings do that. But we’re not hirelings. We’re shepherds. And it’s shepherds, not hirelings, who respond to the holy call of God to go serve His Kingdom purposes in the midst of a people who are, most often (as Peterson states it), “dominated by a sense of self, not a sense of God.”

As I see it, it’s the hireling in us who comes very close to quitting on most Monday mornings. Not the shepherd. It’s the hireling in us who sets out on Sunday morning expecting to see heaven on earth. But it’s the ‘long-obedience-in-the-same-direction’ shepherd who chooses to stay the course, even when we get much less in return than what we expected. And it’s that discrepancy between our high expectations and the low return-on-investment that tends to wear us down, pulling us away from the God we love.

As a result, the hireling in us wants to jump from church assignment to church assignment, looking for that imaginary ‘holy people of God’ who will appreciate our passions. Or worse yet, it’s the hireling in us who chooses to scale down our expectations, settling for ‘doing church well’ in the midst of a society where mediocrity in faith is plenty-enough for day-to-day living.

But then, just when it’s getting cold and dark, there’s Eugene Peterson’s chapter twelve, stirring in our hearts, once again, the real reasons you and I stepped forward when God asked, ‘Who will go for me?’

So what will it be, my friends. Are you tired of being like the pastor/hireling who is one part minister and three parts masseur?

Take a peek at Jesus’ invitation once more.

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to Me. Get away with Me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with Me and work with Me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with Me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly. (Matthew 11: 28-30)

How about it, pastors and shepherds?

Let’s dump the hireling attitude, hobble back to Jesus, and see what He has to say about doing pastoral ministry well for the Kingdom of God here at the beginning of the third millennium after the Master’s death, resurrection and ascension.

Sounds better than being three parts masseur. Don’t you think? 

My prayer: OK, Father, I confess that there are days when I sense that I just can’t go on in this job of pastoral ministry. Some days it’s because I feel so un-anointed and un-fruitful. Other days, it’s because I sense the people I serve are just not paying attention or could care less about this upward call to follow Jesus wherever He leads. Other days, it’s all of this…and more! But, Jesus, I understand that You didn’t call me to be a hireling for the church, but to be a faithful servant, laboring in Your vineyard for Your glory, not mine. Holy Spirit, come. Holy Spirit, fill me. Holy Spirit, use me. For Your name’s sake. Amen.

My questions to ponder: How have I been guilty of being one part minister and three parts masseur? What needs to change in my day-to-day activities so that I rid myself of the hireling mentality and return to the original call of Jesus to be His faithful shepherd to His flock called by His name?

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 Hireling vs. The Shepherd.

  1. Pingback: The Issues of Sin and Sinner. | The Contemplative Activist

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