‘From Gawping to Goodreads’ (Part 3)

‘Under the Unpredictable Plant’ is an exuberant 197 page book written with passion and intensity by a Pastor for Pastors. Before I first read this book I wanted nothing to do with what I thought was such a dated and out of touch title. Instead, I wanted something vibrant and exciting that the title ‘Pastor’ seemed to be lacking. After 10 years of ministry though I had become lost and adrift with no real centre or identity of who I was and what I was to be. But when I read this book it was as if a great load had been lifted from my shoulders. No longer was I at the mercy of unbearable expectations, instead I now had an identity and a title which would give me a foundation to build on and be a compass to guide me in ministry.

Eugene Peterson, better known as the author of ‘The Message’, grew up and was trained in a model of ministry very much like the one I had been. It was a model rooted around the language of leadership. In this model the Bible, preaching, prayer, pastoral practice would be complemented by AIMs and SWOTS, SMART goals and 5 year plans and all good things associated with a management style of leading. I found it to be the stuff of dreams. I dreamt of churches flourishing and growing – all because of me. I dreamt of people coming to faith and baptisms – all because of me. I dreamt of being successful – all because of me.

The thing is, is that though it seemed to work in my first church when I moved churches I tried to repeat it all over again but it didn’t work. I tried different versions of it but it didn’t work. The harder I tried the more lost I became until I realised it was me who didn’t work. I needed rescuing and who would deliver me from this which didn’t work? The answer was Jonah.

Peterson rarely writes directly, he is loves to be oblique. As he wrote about Jonah sitting in the bottom of the ship in the midst of a storm you realise he is writing about you where you are clueless as to what to do. Like Jonah I realised that I hadn’t a clue in prayer, in listening to Jesus or in loving his people. As I read about Jonah like him I realised I’d forgotten that I had been called to a strange vocation. In this strange vocation my life was to be shaped by the call of God. In this strange vocation I was called to do business with God. In this strange vocation I was to remember that the church belonged to Jesus and who was I to inflict fads and fashions upon his body. In this strange vocation I was to remember that the church is precious in God’s sight and I would serve him and her better by focussing on prayer, on Scripture and on loving his people.

As I re-read Peterson this year I was reminded that this is what I am to be. I know I fail you in this, and I live with this, but I know that being your Pastor is what gets me out of bed each day and that each day I will seek give my all.

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