Over the last couple of months I have been slowly reading through Eugene Peterson’s memoir, The Pastor (slowly so I can allow plenty of time for reflection). I find that Peterson’s observations on pastoring have a particular relevance in my life as I seek to live out the vocation of pastor in my own context. I am particularly intrigued by the way he sees the primary role of a pastor as leading the congregation in worship of Jesus.
Peterson shares a story of how he and about 15 other area pastors were invited by a psychiatrist to spend two years meeting once a week to learn the basics of diagnosing and helping people with emotional, psychological problems. The psychiatrist invited the pastors to be a part of this mentoring group as he saw them as being on the front lines of encountering people with issues. Peterson writes about how those 2 years were tremendously helpful in coming to understand some of the issues people were facing whether addiction, abuse, depression, or grief. He even writes how at one point he was tempted to quit being a pastor so he could devote more time helping people overcome their issues. Yet it was at this point Eugene Peterson had a sort of epiphany:
In the Tuesday chairs [the meetings with the psychiatrist and the other pastors] I was learning to understand people in terms of their problems; in the Sunday chairs I was learning to understand people in terms of God’s grace working in them. The epiphany was not in the observation itself, but in the realization that I was gradually becoming more interested in my congregation as problems to be fixed than as persons made in the image of God, capable of living, just as they were, to the glory of God…
…Incrementally, without noticing what I was doing, I had been shifting from being a pastor dealing with God in people’s lives to treating them as persons dealing with problems in their lives. I was not being their pastor. I could have helped and still been their pastor. But by reducing them to problems to be fixed, I omitted the biggest thing of all in their lives, God and their souls, and the biggest thing in my life, my vocation as pastor.
Once Eugene Peterson began to embrace the calling of being a pastor he truly began to see one of the highest acts of that vocation in leading his congregation in worship, which for him included the whole of the weekend church service.
Perhaps if I had grown up in a more liturgical tradition I would have naturally thought of the whole Sunday service as worship from the songs, to the sharing of the word, to communion, and prayer. But somehow in all of my years in more nondenominational expressions of church I have somehow come to associate leading worship with just the songs of worship—The Pastor preaches and teaches and the worship leader leads people in worship! Yet as I have pondered these reflections of Peterson I have found myself being challenged to look more at every aspect of a church service as leading people in worship. So if I lead people in singing to God, then I am leading folks in worship. If I lead people in reading aloud from the scriptures then I am leading people in worship worship. If I share the gospel story with the people in the congregation then it is to lead them into worship. This may seem like a no-brainer to some but has really been a great way for me to approach our weekly gathering at Northshore Vineyard.