The Pastor by Eugene Peterson – Discussion Questions – Chapters 1-8

  1.  On p. 2 in the Introduction, Eugene Peterson writes, “This book is the story of my formation as a pastor and how the vocation of pastor formed me.”  What are some key moments or influences in the story of your formation as a church worker?
  2. Peterson writes, “The cultural conditions in which I am immersed require, at least for me, a kind of fierce vigilance to guard my vocation from these cultural pollutants so dangerously toxic to persons who want to follow Jesus in the way that he is Jesus.  I wanted my life, both my personal and working life, to be shaped by God and the scriptures and prayer” (5).  In comparison to Peterson, how would you describe the influence of your cultural context on your spiritual life?

    English: Eugene Peterson lecture at University...
    English: Eugene Peterson lecture at University Presbyterian Church in Seattle, Washington sponsored by the Seattle Pacific University Image Journal. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
  3. Peterson tells us, “I want to be as mindful of the conditions [time and place] as I am of the holy mysteries” (7).  How have time and place influenced and impacted you as a pastoral person?
  4. On p. 10 we read, “What I do know is that for sixty-five years now this place [the family cabin in Montana] has provided a protected space and time to become who I am” (10).  If you have a place that has done that for you, please describe it to the rest of the group.
  5. On p. 16, Peterson shares this insight, “I didn’t know it at the time, but what I absorbed in my subconscious, which eventually surfaced years later, was a developing conviction that the most effective strategy for change, for revolution—at least on the large scale that the kingdom of God involved—comes from a minority working from the margins.  …[A] minority people working from the margins has the best chance of being a community capable of penetrating the noncommunity, the mob, the depersonalized, function-defined crowd that is the sociological norm of America.”  How would Peterson’s insight compare with your experience and views?
  6. Peterson writes, “When …[our vocations as pastor and pastor’s wife] finally came into focus, I realized that I was not, in my bones, a professor at all.  I was a pastor.  This came as a total surprise to me for I had never seriously entertained the life of pastor as a vocation” (18).  Describe how you came to realize that you were, in your bones, a pastor.
  7. We hear this from Peterson, “I was pastor to people who were in the lion’s den, to men and women facing wild beasts in the Colosseum” (20).  How are some of the people that you pastor in the “lion’s den” ?
  8. What parts of the story of Peterson’s mother ministering to miners and lumberjacks living in camps (Chapter 3 – My Mother’s Songs and Stories) surprised you?
  9. Peterson notes, “Not so much by words but by example, I internalized a respect for the material at hand.  The material can be a pork loin, or a mahogany plank, or a lump of clay, or the will of God, or a soul, but when the work is done well, there is a kind of submission of will to the conditions at hand, a cultivation of what I would later learn to call humility.  It is a noticeable feature in all skilled workers—woodworkers, potters, poets, pray-ers, and pastors.  I learned it in the butcher shop” (37).  What does “submission of will to the conditions at hand” look like for you?
  10. On p. 39 we see, “I am quite sure now that the way I as a pastor came to understand congregation had its beginning in the “congregational” atmosphere of our butcher shop.  Congregation is composed of people, who, upon entering a church, leave behind what people on the street name or call them.  A church can never be reduced to a place where goods and services are exchanged.  It must never be a place where a person is labeled.  It can never be a place where gossip is perpetuated.  Before anything else, it is a place where a person is named and greeted, whether implicitly or explicitly, in Jesus’s name.  A place where dignity is conferred” (39-40).  How would you respond to Peterson’s understanding of congregation?  How was your understanding of congregation formed?
  11. On pp. 40ff, Peterson speaks of how he had to unlearn later on something that he learned in his father’s butcher shop when he was young, namely “ …work, out-of-control work, work as a kind of pain killer which could well have caused a malignant cancer” (40).  What are some things that you have had to unlearn during your development as a pastor.
  12. How do your efforts at evangelism compare with Peterson’s “conversion” of Garrison Jones (Chapter 5)?
  13. Regarding “The Treeless Christmas of 1939” (Chapter 6), did you have any counter-cultural experiences in your family of origin and, if so, what were they
  14. In Chapter 7, Peterson tells how the story of his Uncle Sven helped prepare him to understand “the ambiguities of life in the actual circumstances” of the people in the congregation he served (59)?  What has helped you to understand ambiguity in the lives of the people that you serve?
  15. Regarding “The Carnegie” (Chapter 8) what are some influential books (besides the Bible) that you read when were young?  What impact did those books have on you?


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