A Pastoral Way of Using Language

Eugene Peterson is prying into my life again. He’s kind of annoying that way. Some authors I read and go, “Oh, that’s nice.” Peterson I read and go, “Oh, I’m sinful.” “Oh, I’m a bad pastor.” “Do I love Jesus?”

I am rereading Peterson’s memoir The Pastor and am on chapter 27 where Peterson speaks of three men whose lives and work he used to stay anchored in the rough waters of ministry.

One of those men, Baron Friedrich von Hugel, gave Peterson a “pastoral way of using language.” Marks of this way include: being “conversationalnot condescending, not manipulative, but attentive and prayerful. Not instructional, preparing my parishioners to pass examinations on matters of sin and salvation. Not diagnostic, treating these unique souls as problems to be fixed.”

The brief section on von Hugel concludes with Peterson’s summation, “I didn’t want to be a pastor who talked too much, who knew too much. I didn’t want to be a pastor who treated souls as dittos,” (226).

To treat souls as dittos means that people are problems to be fixed and overlook the fact that every soul is unique. General advice and/or superficial diagnosis via psychological categories won’t cut it.

Pastoral ministry is the hard work of knowing and loving people enough to try not to fix them but rather walk faithfully with them no matter the slowness of pace. This is as unsexy of a definition of ministry as I could think of. But it’s true. There are no shortcuts.

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