Dear Mr. Peterson,
I received your address from David Hansen. I read his book The Art of Pastoring and sent him a letter thanking him for his contribution to my understanding of what it meant to be a pastor and we have become pen pals. (Even though we do it by email.) Since you wrote and endorsement to his book, I wondered if he might have a way for me to get a letter to you. He obliged.
I am a third-generation Southern Baptist preacher. My oldest son has also answered the call to be a minister. The first book of yours that I bought was The Contemplative Pastor. I tried to read it, but I could not find it interesting. I tried. I really did. But my value system and maturity as a Christ-follower was as deep as a birdbath in my thirties. Ten years, and a life implosion later, I read it again. It fed my soul. I read it every other year now to remind myself of what my primary responsibility to my congregation is to be.
I read The Message every day.
When I finished reading your memoir The Pastor, with tears in my eyes, I said aloud to God or myself or both—I am proud to be a pastor. I have not always felt that way. My calling a pastor has been unequivocal, but my self-esteem in that calling has always been queasy at best. After I read The Pastor that all changed. God used that book to change how I view my calling.
So, thank you.
I’ve been married to the same girl for thirty-six years. We have three grown sons and four grandgingers. I pastor a small, older congregation in the mountains of Colorado in a town called Buena Vista. It is at the headwaters of the Arkansas River.
Every summer people come from all over the country to raft the river. That means that river guides also come to lead those trips while the water is high from the spring run-off. These guides live like homeless people. They live in tents and eat mostly Ramen for the summer. Our church began a ministry to feed those river guides over twenty years ago. So, every Monday night from Memorial Day through the first week of August, we open our doors to the guides to come take a shower and eat a home-cooked meal. We can feed upwards to 100 guides.
These guides won’t tolerate much evangelizing, so we try our best to show them kindness and the love of Jesus in the form of Soup, Soap, and Soul Care. They can get a good meal, and hot shower, and prayer or a warm conversation if they want one.
My congregation is primarily senior adults. When I was considering whether to answer the call to pastor this mountain church, I was lamenting to my seventy-eight-year-old father that everyone is so old. He looked at me sternly and said, “Son, old people need a pastor, too.” The church extended an invitation to me to be her pastor, I accepted, and my wife and I moved here from the Pacific Northwest in the spring of 2015.
We have struggled with what we need to do to be the church God wants us to be. There are twenty churches in this town of 2,700 people. Three other churches are large and very effective. I know their pastors well and love them dearly. They are reaching many young families with children and students. We are attracting early retired folks and lots of snowbirds. At first, I struggled with this mono-demographic. But, as time has gone on, I have grown accustomed to who we are. We are trying to be a church of elders, not just seniors.
While I lived in the Seattle area for fifteen years, I began to mentor young church planting pastors. I fell in love with them. I love spending time with them and listening to them. I don’t have much to offer them in terms of strategies, but I ask them about their hearts, kids, and wives. That seemed to surprise them and comfort them at the same time. I’m old enough to be their father and it comes easy for me to shepherd their souls.
I have a dream of offering, for the lack of a better term, a ministry intensive to pastors. This would be loosely based on the psychological model of intensives. A ministry couple would come and spend a week with my wife and I in our mountain home and we would do a 360-degree examination of their ministry that would include: Interior Life of the Soul, Relationships as a Pastor (Marriage, parenting, friendships, and spiritual direction), Pastoral Care of their Congregation, and Leadership as a Shepherd.
We have not had a pastor come yet. But, we are ready.
I’m really writing this letter to tell you how much you have meant to me as a mentor. I am a voracious reader. I’ve read all your books. Some of them more than once. No one has influenced my calling as a pastor more than you. God has used you to make me a better shepherd.
I have a Mt. Rushmore of authors: Dallas Willard, Henri Nouwen, C.S. Lewis, and you.
So, thank you, sir for being faithful to your Lord and Master. I admire you greatly. When I am faced with how to respond to a pastoral concern, I pray to the Lord, I read the ancient book that we love, and I ask myself, “How would Eugene respond?”
Thank you for showing me the way…The Jesus Way.