Tag Archives: Eugene Peterson

“Care of Souls in the Classic Tradition” by Thomas C. Oden

After years of teaching pastors and Christian leaders about the merits of modern psychotherapy, Thomas Oden became “painfully aware of the so-called outcome studies reporting the dubious effectiveness of average psychotherapy.”[1] This awareness lead Oden on a circuitous journey that ultimately concluded with him turning towards the psychological insights held within the pastoral tradition “expressed by the ecumenical consensus of Christianity’s first millennium of experience in caring for souls.”[2] The book under question is the result of this journey with Oden actively promoting the pastoral soul care teachings of the early church.

            The first chapter of the book is devoted to unpacking Oden’s personal research showing the shift in the early 1900’s away from classic tradition of soul care to the teachings of modern psychologists and psychotherapists.[3] The result of this shift is that, in Oden’s option, there is no longer any “distinction between Christian pastoral care and popular psychological faddism.”[4] The problem with this shift is not just a theological issue, but a practical one as the modern psychotherapy cure rate is about the same as what would happen if nothing was done.[5] The answer to this crisis isn’t to forgo modern research, but to develop an approach to pastoral care that blends both the modern and ancient insights into the human soul.[6]

            After this stage-setting chapter, Oden shifts gears to exploring the life and message of the most influential writer on pastoral care in the history of Christianity.[7] The person in question is none other than St. Gregory the Great (540-? C.E.), whose Pastoral Care became the “standard handbook of pastoral care” [8] for over a millennium. To that end, chapter two of Oden’s book is devoted to St. Gregory’s background, pastoral work, theology, and other influences. Chapters three and four dive deeper into the content of St. Gregory’s book with Oden highlighting the overlap between modern clinical psychotherapy and the soul care promoted by St. Gregory.

            On a personal level I thoroughly enjoyed Thomas Oden’s book and his promotion of the classical tradition of pastoral soul care. While I firmly believe that psychotherapy can be helpful, I also firmly believe that the role of a pastor is vastly different from that of a professional psychologist. In this I have been influenced by Eugene Peterson who reminded pastors that their job was to call people to worship God and not to be counselors.[9] Accordingly, I found Oden’s comments about recovering the classic role of a pastor very lifegiving and freeing. In this, Oden has fulfilled his goal of helping ministers like myself find freedom from modernity while grasping the “emerging vision of a postmodern classical Christianity.” [10]

[1] Thomas C. Oden, Care of Souls in the Classic Tradition (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Fortress Press, 1984), https://www.religion-online.org/book-chapter/introduction-30/.

[2] Thomas C. Oden, Care of Souls in the Classic Tradition, https://www.religion-online.org/book-chapter/introduction-30/.

[3] Thomas C. Oden, Care of Souls in the Classic Tradition, https://www.religion-online.org/book-chapter/chapter-1-recovering-lost-identity/.

[4] Thomas C. Oden, Care of Souls in the Classic Tradition, https://www.religion-online.org/book-chapter/chapter-1-recovering-lost-identity/.

[5] Thomas C. Oden, Care of Souls in the Classic Tradition, https://www.religion-online.org/book-chapter/chapter-1-recovering-lost-identity/.

[6] Thomas C. Oden, Care of Souls in the Classic Tradition, https://www.religion-online.org/book-chapter/chapter-1-recovering-lost-identity/.

[7] Thomas C. Oden, Care of Souls in the Classic Tradition, https://www.religion-online.org/book-chapter/chapter-2-why-gregory/

[8] Thomas C. Oden, Care of Souls in the Classic Tradition, https://www.religion-online.org/book-chapter/chapter-2-why-gregory/

[9] Eugene H. Peterson, The Pastor: A Memoir (New York City: HarperOne, 2011), 136-142.

[10] Thomas C. Oden, Care of Souls in the Classic Tradition, https://www.religion-online.org/book-chapter/introduction-30/.

Top 14 Books For Every Pastor or Church Leader

My friends over at Think Theology have started listing out their top books every pastor should either own or have read. After reading over Able Baker, Robby McAlpine, and Kenny Burchard lists, I just had to respond as I think they missed the mark on some must have books!! 😀

breakthrough1) “Breakthrough: Discovering the Kingdom” by Derek Morphew

The Scriptures tell us that central message of Jesus and the 12 was the Kingdom of God. Sadly the original meaning behind these words have been shifted and changed as the years march by. Building upon the works of George Ladd, Albert Schweitzer, John Wimber and others, Derek Morphew lays out the historical and biblical foundation for the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God in human history. If you are at all interested in Enacted Inaugurated Eschatology of Kingdom Theology, you simply MUST read this book.

the pastor2) “The Pastor: A Memoir” by Eugene Peterson

I first read this book a few months after I became a senior pastor, and I have to say that it did more to shape my view of pastoring than any other book I have ever read. Drawing from 30 years of experience as the pastor of a small 300 member church in Maryland, Peterson shares the tough times and the good times, the happy times and the not-so-happy times. And in doing so he lays out an amazing pastoral model built on empowering the people to be the people of God. A model that can, and should be adapted to the modern setting through the use of modern Church Software. Due to technological and software advance pastors can now effectively manage and monitor their flocks mental and spiritual well-being, and empower people to be people of God.

Gods epic adventure3) God’s EPIC Adventureby Winn Griffin

A lot of Christians know the different Bible stories, but very few actually know how they are connected. Winn Griffin connects all the dots with an amazing book that outlines the grant meta-narrative of the Scriptures from Genesis to Revelation. An added bonus is that the book gives detailed information about each book of the Bible: author, date written, theme, purchase, audient, and outline. This is truly a great resource that I constantly refer too when preaching/teaching.

start here4) “Start Here: Kingdom Essentials for Christians” by Don Williams

The book’s subtitle says it all. Don did a great job listing out and talking about the kingdom essentials for all Jesus followers. Things like spiritual warfare, prayer, allowing God to change your desires and actions… it is all here. Not only does it make a good reference book, it is one of those books that should be read every few years as it reminds you about the basics of Christianity and what we should be focused on.

doing church5) “Doing Church: Building from the Bottom Up” by Alexander Venter

This is a more practical book on the philosophy of ministry along with various tips and points on how to do church. For many years, this was the premier church planting book for the Vineyard as it was written out of Venter’s work with John Wimber in the early 1980s. While I highly recommend this book, I do have to say that I disagree with Venter’s view on women leaders (he’s more complementarian while I’m egalitarian; or at least he was in the first edition of this book, I don’t know if he has changed his view or not in the later editions).

The Biblical Metanarrative6) “The Biblical Metanarrative: One God, One Plan, One Story” by Bill Jackson

This volume is similar to Winn’s book in that it tells the grand story of the Scriptures. Only instead of outlining each book of the Bible, Bill stays focused on the main themes of the Bible: kingdom, covenant and the great rescue mission of the Creator King. Bill also brings in some cool historical and cultural facts that breathes life into the story of the Bible.

12 steps with Jesus7) “12 Steps with Jesus” by Don Williams

Every living human being is an addict. The only difference is what we are addicted too – chemicals, relationship, work, actions, etc. In this book, Don talks about finding freedom from addictions by embracing the abundant life that God has promised to each person who follows Him. This is a powerful book that will challenge you to your core.

speaking of Jesus8) Speaking of Jesus: The Art of Not-Evangelism by Carl Medearis

The church at large has embraced a lot of different things over the past two thousand years since Jesus walked this earth, some good and some not so good. In this book, Carl walks you through a process of separating the culture trappings of Christianity as a religion and the person of Jesus. For some this can be a hard journey as it is easy to confuse the way we do something with being in relationship with Jesus. Definitely a book to read for any Jesus follower – let along a pastor or leader.

working the angles9) “Working The Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity” by Eugene Peterson

Every pastor has a TON of pressure placed on them by the culture at large, the folks in their church, those in authority above them as well as by themselves. As such it is easy to drift away from the essentials of what it means to be a pastor and start doing everything else. In an effort to call pastors back to their calling, Peterson outlines the three essentials jobs of a pastor: praying, reading Scripture, and giving spiritual direction. Everything else is icing on the cake; no matter how “good” or “profitable” those tacks are, if you aren’t doing these three things, you are not pastoring.

the orthodox way10) The Orthodox Way by Kallistos Ware

Most Christian books that I have read over the years are written with the view that humanity can understand God if only we study hard and apply the right theology mindset. This book offers a different route. Written by an Eastern Orthodox bishop, this book lays out a way to embrace the mystery of God without having to understand everything. It is truly a spring of fresh water in the middle of a dry desert of sureties and I-know-everythings. The book also gives us Protestants a chance to learn from our brothers and sisters in the East.

a theology of the NT11) “A Theology of the New Testament” by George Ladd

George Ladd was one of the pioneers in the re-discovering the message of the Kingdom within the Scriptures. His “Theology of the New Testament” is a gold mine of information about the Kingdom of God. Definitely a must have.

celtic daily prayer12) “Celtic Daily Prayer: Prayers and Readings from the Northumbria Community”

It may sound odd to place a daily prayer book on a list of books for pastors…but the fact remains that if your soul is dry then nothing you do matters. This book has some beautiful and ancient prayers that will refresh your soul and draw you deeply into the love and grace of the Creator King. It also has some great situational and seasonal prayers that make excellent congregational prayers. An added bonus is that the book is written from a very strong Trinitarian theology viewpoint.

hope13) “Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church” by N.T. Wright

One of the awesome things about following Jesus is that He told us about the end – that He will defeat sin, evil and death and restore the earth and heaven while giving us new physical bodies. Sadly enough very few church going people really know about or understand the blessed hope of the second coming. Instead they rely on popular culture for their view of heaven and life after death. In this book, N.T. Wright lays out the end game of Bible in a matter that will change the way you live your life in the here and now.

church history14) “Church History in Plain Language” by Bruce Shelly

King Solomon once said that there is nothing new under the sun. Sadly however, the church today seems to think that the struggles we face are brand new instead of just a variation of what happened before. As such, I think all pastors and church leaders should be a student of history. Bruce Shelly’s “Church History in Plain Language” is a great place to start as tells the story of the church in an engaging manner that should keep the attention of pretty everyone.

A Pull To The Mystical Side Of Christianity

Coptic icon of Saint Anthony the Great
Coptic icon of Saint Anthony the Great

A few days ago I admitted my desire to listen to the song of the Sirens of Doing…the song that takes one heart and pulls it into the active world of busyness. At some level, everyone struggles with listening to their song as it courses through our culture like the Mighty Mississippi runs through our nation.

Some are able to sit on its shores and causally fish for a while before walking away into the stillness of the woods. Others, like me, long to float the river of busyness thinking that they can tame the rapids and wilds of the coursing waves. It is a strong desire that is on one hand a blessing while being a curse in the other hand.

The one thing that keeps me sane and anchored to the shore of calmness is an equally strong pull to the mystical side of Christianity. For those unfamiliar with that term or its association with Christianity, let me assure you that it is a good thing and not a snare of the evil one. Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines “mystical” in the following manner:

  • having a spiritual meaning or reality that is neither apparent to the senses nor obvious to the intelligence
  • of or relating to mystics or mysticism : resulting from prayer or deep thought

Throughout the history of Christianity (and Judaism before that) there have been followers of Jesus who have basked in the mystery of God without trying to define or explain everything they saw, felt or hear. Some of these Mystics followed Antony the Great into the starry skies of the desert away from the river of busyness and the cry of the Sirens of Doing. Yet in doing so, one wonders whether or not they forsook the mission of the King to proclaim His rule and reign…

The anchor and the river… the tension of the song and the breath of the wind…..living between two worlds…..doing and being…understanding and mystery…..

To bring these two worlds together….to join the doing with the being… the contemplative with the mission….it is a hard tension to maintain…yet it has been done before by the Celtic monks of old who not only had their beehive caves but also their monasteries close to the local villages – becoming the hospital and anchor of the people, drawing them away from the Sirens song….

This past week as I’ve fought the Siren’s song I couldn’t help but think about the future and what I would like my legacy to be…to be known as a pastor who started a big church that touches a lot of lives? As the man who worked his way up the corporate letter, giving away his money and time to the church? As a pastor who started this and that ministry/church? The mystic who sought God through the mystery?

Good things all of them….all powerful legacies to leave behind …but do they fit me and the call that the Lord has given me?  At the moment I don’t have an answer…just lots of questions…perhaps that’s why I’m on Sabbatical?! =P

In ending, I would like to leave you all with a quote from Eugene Peterson as his writings have influenced my life and ministry style these last few years:

[box]“Three pastoral acts are so basic, so critical, that they determine the shape of everything else. The acts are praying, reading Scriptures, and giving spiritual direction. Besides being basic, these three acts are quiet. They do not call attention to themselves and so are often not attended to. In the clamorous world of pastoral work nobody yells at us to engage in these acts. It is possible to do pastoral work to the satisfaction of the people who judge our competence and pay our salaries without being either diligent or skilled in them. Since almost never does anyone notice whether we do these things or not, and only occasionally does someone ask that we do them, these three acts of ministry suffer widespread neglect.

“The three areas constitute acts of attention: prayer is an act in which I bring myself to attention before God; reading Scripture in an act of attending to God in his speech and action across two millennia in Israel and Christ; spiritual direction is an act of giving attention to what God is doing in the person who happens to be before me at any given moment.”

-Eugene Peterson, “Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity” [/box]

The Pastor’s Main Duty…

As a pastor it is easy to get carried away doing this and that, wearing different hats, doing different things –good things, mind you. Yet, in the middle of doing and being this and that, it is very, very easy to forget what it means to be a Pastor. Dave Workman, pastor of the Vineyard Community Church in Cincinnati, Ohio, recently brought this tension in the pastorship with a light-hearted, but serious post about the “top 5 things pastors should stop pretending to be.” In the post Dave states the following:

“…the pastor’s main duty is making sure the mission of the local church is carried out, and primarily that’s finding lost people and shepherding them through the process of seekers to servants. And so we have to lean into the expertise of theologians and biblical scholars we’ve learned to trust. It doesn’t mean that we don’t study; it simply means there are people who only and solely do that as a vocation for the purpose of schooling pastors like me. In many ways, a pastor has to be a generalist. We should best be able to pass on creedal basics and lead and shepherd the local church.”

This concept of what it means to be a pastor echoes the words of Eugene Peterson in his book  “The Pastor: A Memoir” – a book, by the way, that that have greatly influenced my own thoughts on what it means to be a pastor:

“I was not primarily dealing with people as problems. I was a pastor calling them to worship God….Congregations is a company of people who are defined by their creation in the image of God, living souls, whether they know it or not. They are not problems to be fixed, but mysteries to be honored and revered. Who else in the community other than the pastor has the assigned task of greeting men and women and welcoming them into a congregation in which they are known not by what is wrong with them, but by who they are, just as they are?”

In other words, a pastor isn’t someone with all the answers, or someone who does everything – they are, at the core, someone who stands in the middle of the community calling people to worship God. They, we, are a bell ringing in the day and a light on a hill, reminding folks that God is real and is passionately in love with them. It is as Archbishop of Canterbury-elect Justin Welby said this week at the Vineyard UK/Ireland National Leaders’ Conference:

“The key piece of advice for Christian leaders is that you have to be the one who is growing closer to Jesus; closing closer in your love for Jesus – and nothing else counts. The rest is decorations. If you are not doing that, you’re wasting your time. Nothing else counts, however skillful you are.”

It really is that simple. Love Jesus with all you soul, heart, mind and strength, and then love others as yourself.

It’s Messy and I Don’t Like It

Regardless of culture background or individual personalities I think one of the common factors of humanity is a desire to be in control. We want crave the desire to make choices that effect our lives and, for the most part, having a certain amount of control over what we do, think, act, goes, etc. is a GOOD thing! The opposite of having control is being out of control, which by definition, means that something or someone else is controlling you.

Yet this basic urge to have control over our lives is in direct conflict with the life that Jesus is calling us all towards. St. Paul in Romans 12:1 tells us that are to “offer [our] bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God.” While we may want to pretty things up a bit, in ancient days sacrifices involved the killing of an animal. So if we are to be a “living sacrifice”, that means we are to give Jesus everything (our desires, passions, jobs, family, dreams, future, etc.) as if we had died.

In fact, though we are still physically alive and make look the same, when we do give Jesus everything we do “die” in the sense that the “old us” is gone and we have been made anew through the life giving grace and blood of Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:17). In doing this, we, as followers of Jesus, take up His mission, passion, dreams, hopes, etc. (this would be the “transformed by the renewing of your mind” that St. Paul mentions in Romans 12:2 right after his “living sacrifice” comment).

C.S. Lewis puts it this way:

“The more we let God take us over, the more truly ourselves we become – because He made us. He invented us. He invented all the different people that you and I were intended to be. . .It is when I turn to Christ, when I give up myself to His personality, that I first begin to have a real personality of my own.”

So far so good…However, there is a catch…Most Jesus followers would be ok with giving up everything to Jesus if it only meant taking up good ethics and living a good life. You know, don’t lie, cheat, steal, kill folks or any of those ‘bad’ things. Unfortunately, Jesus didn’t define things that way. When He called us lose our lives for His sake (Mark 8:34-35), He actually meant giving up EVERYTHING – no holdovers or hidden places where we get to keep a little something for ourselves.

This is where things gets messy.

You see, in most of places of Christianity around the world and throughout time there has been a desire to control the working of the Holy Spirit (who, by the way, is God just as Jesus is God and the Father is God – they are One through the great mystery Christians call the “Trinity”). In his first letter to the Thessalonians, St. Paul addressed this issue and told them not to “quench the Spirit” or to “treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:19-22).

Continue reading It’s Messy and I Don’t Like It

Worship: The Heart of Worship

Today I wanted to post the second part of my short sermon series on worship (part one can be found here). The full audio version can be found on the PRV website along with the audio file of part three presented by Shelton Taguma from Zimbabwe.

Core Values

I was re-reading our core values this past week when I ran across a beautifully written statement about this:

“God is eager to be known and experienced by all. We believe that God is searching for lost humanity in order to draw us into intimate relationship with Himself. In response to God’s initiative, we value the life-changing power of the experience of His presence.

The primary place where that relationship is nurtured and developed is in the act of worship – both private and corporate. So, experience-based worship is the central activity of all that we do in the Vineyard. It is worship that causes all else that we do to become an act of worship. We experience God’s presence as a palpable reality when we worship. As we worship we become increasingly sensitive and response to the Spirit’s presence so that we can do as Jesus did: “See what the Father is doing,” (John 5:19) and support His work with our lives.”

We are a people of the presence of God. We seek His presence as a child seeks their parents – as a calf is drawn to its mother, so we are to be drawn to the presence of the Lord.

This desire to be in the presence of God affects how we worship as a community for it must be:

  • Regular
  • Real
  • Non-religious
  • Relevant
  • Contemporary
  • Simple
  • Love-song-oriented
  • Honest
  • Free
  • Warm
  • Open
  • Personal
  • Tender
  • Non-manipulative
  • Non-hyped
  • Sincere
  • Intimate
  • Music

(the above list was drawn from Alexander Venter‘s book about the Vineyard called “Doing Church”)

There is just something powerful about music as it has a way of uniting our mental, emotional, and spiritual parts into one. It connects with us in a way that is deeper than our mind – we remember songs more so than sermons (which is why we need to be careful about the songs we sing and/or listen too)….

Continue reading Worship: The Heart of Worship

A Third Way of Pastoring

One of the things that I discovered fairly quickly after becoming the pastor was that I did not know how to be a ‘pastor.’

The two pastoral models that I knew about was the small town pastor who did everything – or the mega church pastor who guided a large volunteer force.

Neither model would work at the Payette River Vineyard.

The first one was unhealthy as it created a sacred/secular divided and kept the people from being the hands and feet of Jesus. Instead of teaching people to live a life following the voice of Jesus, this model would teach folks that someone else – the pastor – would do it for them.

The second model was…well…good if you have a church of 2,000 or 3,000 members…but not so good if there are only 40 to 60 people in your church.

I was stuck.

Until I noticed a blog post by a friend about a Eugene Peterson’s newest book,  “The Pastor: A Memoir” – this friend, who has been a pastor for many, many years, even went as far as to recommend it to anyone looking at entering into the ministry.

I ordered it that day (thanks to a gift card given to me by another friend!! It is good to have friends, isn’t it?)

Wow…that is all I can say about this book. Eugene Peterson laid out an amazing pastoral model – one build on empowering the people to be the people of God.

Continue reading A Third Way of Pastoring