While searching for a particular volume in my library, another book caught my attention. The Pastor: A Memoir, by Eugene Peterson, is an inspiring autobiographical account of what it means to be called to pastoral ministry and to live out that vocation in a unique community. This book has inspired me to reaffirm my calling with fresh perspective.

While Peterson is known to many primarily for his popular Bible translation called The Message, his most significant contribution to my world has been his writings about pastoral work.  Years ago I read three of Peterson’s books about pastoral ministry:  Five Smooth Stones of Pastoral Work, The Contemplative Pastor, and Under the Unpredictable Plant.  In a church world that looks to the pastor to be the CEO, a chaplain-on-demand, or an ecclesial entrepreneur, Peterson reminds ministers and churches that a pastor is more like a spiritual director, a “soul friend” who walks alongside others pointing out what God is doing in their life.

In a fast paced world, where a competitive consumerist culture has invaded the church, pastors are often expected to be an idealistic combination of captivating motivational speaker, savvy executive/administrator, and extraordinary counselor.  But the call to be a pastor is unique.  There is no other vocation like it.

Veteran pastor Hardy Clemons reminds us that the church is to be “more family than corporation.”  Clemons reminds pastors and churches of their peculiar mission:

Our goal is to minister: it is not to show a profit, amass a larger financial corpus or grow bigger for our own security. The ultimate goals are to accept God’s grace, share the good news, invite and equip disciples, and foster liberty and justice for all.”

For Peterson, the call to be a pastor is a call to spiritual discernment and caring within a unique local congregation and community.  It is not a “one size fits all” occupation that functions uniformly in cookie cutter churches.  The “pastoral intelligence” you glean from ministering to your people becomes a primary tool of the Spirit which informs and inspires how you lead and preach to your people.

In Peterson’s Memoir, he summarizes his understanding of the biblical role of a pastor:

The pastor is “not someone who ‘gets things done’ but rather the person placed in the community to pay attention and call attention to ‘what is going on right now’ between men and women, with one another and with God—this kingdom of God that is primarily local, relentlessly personal, and prayerful ‘without ceasing.

Each of us is responsible to God for fulfilling our calling. Forty-one years ago I confirmed my calling to be a pastor, and I am still learning and growing and understanding more of what it means to provide spiritual direction to a congregation.  Being a pastor is more than what I do. It is who I am called to be.

Barry Howard
Dr. Barry Howard retired in 2017 after spending 39 years in pastoral ministry. He served the last 12 years as the Senior Pastor at First Baptist Church Pensacola. He completed his coach training at the Pastoral Institute in Columbus, Georgia and he has a natural talent for fostering healthy practices among clergy and congregations. He is a coach for CHC.