An afternoon with Eugene Peterson

Last Friday I had the opportunity to listen to Eugene Peterson speak in Baltimore. Eugene – pastor for 30 years, author of 36+ books, translator of The Message – was asked to speak at this event which was hosted by the Ecumenical Institute of Theology, which is connected with St. Mary’s University and Seminary, the oldest Catholic seminary in the country. (Actually, I just found out its the oldest seminary in the country). It is also the single greatest seminary facility in the U.S. When we pulled in and got out of the car, for a moment I was convinced that we were walking up to Buckingham Palace. Seriously.

I had never heard of the Ecumenical Institute of Theology before, but I learned that they are attempting to bring together Catholics and Evangelicals for theological discussion. Apparently, this theological experiment is working. They have brought in some solid academics and theologians to share in the past (most recently, N.T. Wright) and will be hosting Yale theologian Miroslav Volf in the fall.

Jason (one of our apprentices) and Dennis (one of our elders) and myself enjoyed hearing Eugene share thoughts about his recently released memoir The Pastor, facilitate a discussion and answer questions from the 250-ish people in attendance. It was quite a treat. And it was good to see Eugene again and, at a break, introduce him to Jason, who has been marked deeply by his works.

I wrote down some thoughts and notes from our time together. Here are a few of the highlights – listed by topic. The comments in bold are my personal favorites.


“I am a pacifist. Pacifism doesn’t offer a way to change the world; instead it offers a witness.”

“I have no interest in combating people who are wrong. I am more interested in showing the way. I take people on by slant.”

Reading and Studying Paul:

“When I was young I liked the intellectualism of Paul, but as I grew up I evolved. I loved the simplicity and the stories of Jesus. I found the Gospels to be relational and intimate.”

Pastors as storytellers:

“Read fiction. It’ll help you read and tell stories better. Stories are not individualistic. There is nobody who is uninteresting.”

“Whatever you do, develop followers of Jesus. Cultivate environments of fruitfulness.”

His writing:

“All my books are self-education.”

“My greatest fear in writing is that I will say something I haven’t first lived.”

“A lot of The Message came out of my congregation.”

Pastoral work:

“The quality pastors lack the most is patience.”

“Stop listening to the church growth experts. Don’t have a public relations budget. Just do the best with what you have…”

“Pastoral work is slow and tedious. Be patient. It’s not easy or exhilarating. It’s plodding. In some ways its easy. Just stay there and be faithful. Pray. Know the names of the people in your community. Trust them and see them as blossoming saints, even if they don’t act like it.”

“Prayer begins when you step out of the door.”

On having “quiet times”:

-“I don’t like the term ‘quiet time’. Quiet time is not something I should be able to control.”


“When language or a word or phrase is cheapened and it becomes a cliché, I think we should retire it for a while and only bring it back if it regains the power of its original meaning.”

Spiritual direction:

“It’s intentional spiritual conversations and listening. You need just two things: show up and shut up.”

-he used a great phrase: “Eucharistic hospitality” – “the dining room table is the center of family life.”


“The role of a pastor is to develop attentiveness and responsiveness.”

“I grew up in a church where miracles happened in China. I pastored a church where we wanted to be attentive to the miracles that happen in our congregation.”


“Discipleship is relationship. We are in the business of personalization. But technology is depersonalizing. Use technology but don’t let it ruin your life.”

“How do I respond to technology? I ignore it.”

If you have not read anything by Eugene Peterson, you are missing out.

Pick up anything by him.

9 Replies to “An afternoon with Eugene Peterson”

  1. Great thoughts, especially since they seem to be embodied by him and not just remain in the land of abstract. That is something I know I tend to do. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I cannot thank you enough for this.

    I listened to Mr. Peterson at the Calvin Writing Festival last year and I can hear his voice speaking all this wisdom.

    What you’ve offered us here is pure gift…

    All’s grace,
    Ann Voskamp

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