Reformed Articles

The “Blessed Anonymity” of Pastoral Work (Peterson)

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 One time when someone asked Eugene Peterson what he liked best about being a pastor, he said, “baptisms and funerals.”  The person was confused, but as they discussed it, Peterson told him that he liked baptisms and funerals because at these events, he was not in the spotlight.  And that, he explained, is the way it should be since the pastor is not the center of the church’s life and worship.  This is a great note to help counter our celebrity-pastor-big-conference-Christian-culture where some pastors want to be noticed and famous.

Here’s a snippet of Peterson’s conversation:

“…Most pastoral work consists in pointing away from yourself to something other than you.”

“You are at your pastoral best when you are not noticed.  To keep this vocation healthy requires constant self-negation, getting out of the way.  A certain blessed anonymity is inherent in pastoral work.  For pastors, being noticed easily develops into wanting to be noticed.  Many years earlier a pastor friend told me that the pastoral ego ‘has the reek of disease about it, the relentless smell of the self.’  I’ve never forgotten that.

…A clamoring ego needs to be purged from the pastor’s soul.  From every Christian’s soul for that matter, but pastors are at special risk.  Baptisms and funerals are especially useful in this purging, acts of worship in which the pastor is the most inconspicuous, almost incidental to the real action. …At neither baptism nor funeral is the pastor front and center.  Get used to it.

Eugene Peterson, The Pastor, p. 292-293.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015