Pastors and Poets.

Today’s Eugene Peterson Quote:

Pastors and poets do many things in common: use words with reverence, get immersed in everyday particulars, spy out the glories of the commonplace, warn of illusions, attend to the subtle interconnections between rhythm and meaning and spirit. Poets are caretakers of language, the shepherd of words, keeping them from harm, exploitation, misuse. Words not only mean something; they are something, each with a sound and rhythm all its own. Poets are not primarily trying to tell us, or get us, to do something. Pastors are also in the word business. We preach, teach, and counsel with words. People often pay particular attention on the chance that God may be using our words to speak to them. We have a responsibility to use words accurately and well. But it isn’t easy. We live in a world where words are used carelessly by some, cunningly by others.  Eugene Peterson (from Chapter Fourteen, The Contemplative Pastor p. 161)


Words. Words. And more words.

We live in a world full of words. Back in 2008, there was a study done by the University of California at San Diego called “How Much Information?” The study tried to quantify just how much information the average American consumes across all forms of the media: TV, newspaper, the internet, radio, you name it. When they crunched all the numbers, it looks like the average American consumes 34 gigabytes of data every single day. The report went on to state that Americans take in information for an average of 12 hours per day, and that each one of us will ‘consume’ 100,000 words per day. That number includes all words read, all words heard, etc.

Speaking of words, other reports out there show that both men and women in America speak about 16,000 words per day on average. (No, the old adage that women speak twice the number of words than men is just not true!) So now, let me see. 100,000 words per day in my in-box and at least 16,000 words in my out-box. In other words, you and I are living lives consumed with words, words, and more words.

My pastoral coach has done a masterful job in my life by exposing the way we pastors tend to use those 16,000 words we speak each day. As a long-time pastor himself, my coach has come to the conclusion that so many of us fall prey to the lie that we need to use our words to ‘sell and tell’ others. Over the last few years, my coach has been helping me to become more aware of the pastoral language I use with my parishioners; teaching me to carefully choose my words so that I ask more questions and give space for more listening rather than defaulting into my typical ‘tell and sell’ approach to words. As I see it, both Eugene Peterson and my coach are right when they suggest that we pastors, as Peterson states it, might become more like poets who “are not primarily trying to tell us, or get us, to do something.”

I wonder, for example, if you and I were much more careful with our daily allotment of 16,000 words, treating them more like poets do, with care and grace, we just might end up becoming the wise shepherds of God’s people our Lord wants us to become?

In a world where over 100,000 words are tossed around in my life like popcorn, could it be that the Lord Himself would give us, His shepherds, His words to speak to His people, bringing true life and hope amongst the chatter of this world?

Well, this blog just used 623 words of my daily allotment. I certainly hope they encouraged you, my poet-pastor friend.

My prayer: Lord, as a man who is trying to become much more careful with the use of my words, all I can say today is “Thank You, Jesus. Blessed be Your name. For Your name’s sake. Amen.” 

My questions to ponder: Am I taking the necessary time to edit my words, choosing my phrases more carefully? Am I ready to speak less, holding back the insatiable drive inside me to ‘tell and sell’ to others? What might my conversations look like if I chose to ask more questions and then, by stilling myself, increase my listening skills?

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 “Pastors and Poets.

  1. Pingback: Sabbaticals: Not Just for Wimps. | The Contemplative Activist

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