Under the Unpredictable Plant: An Exploration in Vocational Holiness, by Eugene Peterson, is the third in a series of three books on the work of pastors in North America. (The other two titles are Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity and Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work, which sit on my bookshelf waiting to be read.)
If I had to choose a pastor after whom to model my ministry, it would be Eugene Peterson. He seems so much more concerned about his congregation’s toward maturity in Christ than about its growth in size. His writing is theological, sometimes philosophical, often eminently practical. Best of all, he offers no programs to sell, no models to follow; only sound, Biblical counsel.
In Under the Unpredictable Plant, Peterson uses the story of Jonah to help clarify the pastoral vocation in the midst of a culture that calls (and tempts) pastors to “religious careerism.” He uses Tarshish, Jonah’s destination of choice, as representing an exotic and far-away city where Jonah dreamed of doing big things for God (just not in God’s presence). Pastors today are similarly tempted by the culture to run to the next big, exciting church where they might do great things for God…and then get invited to speak at a conference or two. Ninevah, on the other hand, represents the heart of what God calls pastors to do: faithfully proclaim His message of love and grace to messy people.
Throughout his books, Peterson weaves pieces of his own story: growing up in a home with a Pentecostal preacher mother and a butcher father; childhood encounters with rough-edged farmers; struggling to make the language of the Bible real for an adult Sunday School class (the genesis—no pun intended—of his contemporary-English Bible translation, The Message). These personal stories bring Peterson’s philosophy and theology to life.
I would love to meet Eugene Peterson. I am almost jealous of a pastor friend who, with his wife, got to spend several days in Peterson’s home as a gift from his church! In fact, when looking into seminaries several years ago, Regent University in British Columbia was high on my list, precisely because that’s where Peterson was serving at the time. For now, though, I am content to be mentored vicariously through his books.