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The Pastor: A Memoir

by Eugene Peterson (HarperOne, 2011) Reviewed by H. Mark Abbott

The Pastor

For 29 years Eugene Peterson was pastor in a congregation he launched. Not a CEO-type pastor, Peterson focused on leading people in worship and walking with them in community, all under Scripture's guidance. This mentor-pastor, author, and seminary teacher has now told his story and described his vision in the memoir The Pastor.

"When I became a pastor," writes Peterson, "I resolved on a double focus for keeping my vocation on track: worship and community." But, he continues, "The religious culture of America that I was surrounded with dismayed me on both counts. Worship had been degraded into entertainment. And community had been depersonalized into program."

Peterson's protest against these changes is pointed. "The vocation of pastor," he writes, "has been replaced by the strategies of religious entrepreneurs with business plans." But he offers a compelling witness to another vision of pastoral vocation. Informed by his encounters with ordinary people, with Scripture, and with the arts, Peterson shows that his work as a pastor has required a close attention to the inner life — both his own and that of his parishioners.

When pressured to show a positive trajectory of nickels and noses, offerings and people, pastors like me have often taken refuge with Eugene Peterson. Peterson leads us into being personally and vocationally shaped by God, through Scripture and prayer. His candor and insights may not help us get high-powered jobs in today's church world. But they do help us stay sane, spiritual, and biblically faithful as we work our way through what he calls "the messiness" of being pastors.

Formerly the pastor of First Free Methodist Church, adjacent to SPU, H. Mark Abbott is now retired and living in Seattle. He is also an instructor in preaching in SPU's School of Theology.

Join SPU in Reading The Pastor

For more than a decade, Response has invited readers to join with the Seattle Pacific University community in reading a book that contributes to the intellectual life of the campus.

This year, our featured book is Eugene Peterson's The Pastor: A Memoir, a book that reflects on a life's vocation and invites all of us to consider questions of leadership, calling, and faith.

Response offered a limited number of free copies of The Pastor to interested readers, but there are no copies left as of October 12, 2011. You can find the book in many bookstores or order it from or

Join H. Mark Abbott for a discussion of The Pastor in the Fine Center at First Free Methodist Church (adjacent to campus), Friday, October 21, at 2:30 p.m. This book discussion event follows the conference “Scripture as Formation,” at which Peterson is a keynote speaker. For conference information, visit