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The Pastor: A Memoir
Eugene H. Peterson
336 pp., $25.99
Martin B. Copenhaver
Not the Hero of His Own Story
Surely the pastoral life is more given to narration than many other vocations are. A pastor works at the teeming intersection of the divine and the all-too human—which, if nothing else, is an interesting place to be. A pastor's life is awash in stories, from the biblical story to the stories of the members of the congregation.
The pastoral life itself also requires narration, largely because it does not make sense in the ways we normally calculate things. The challenges and frustrations of pastoral ministry are many, the material rewards are few. That is, it is not the sort of vocation that someone likely would pick out at a jobs fair or in response to a classified ad. So a pastor's life requires some kind of narration, a story that helps make sense out of this work. Of course, the gospel story is foundational for the pastoral life. Beyond that, however, pastors also need to articulate their own stories in light of that meta-story. That is one reason why candidates for ordination are repeatedly asked to share their "call story." That request is itself an invitation to begin to narrate the pastoral life.
It is interesting, then, how few fine memoirs have been written by pastors in our time. To be sure, there are the self-promoting memoirs written by pastors who successfully "grew" their churches. Such books resemble the campaign autobiographies popular with politicians running for office. They have obvious designs on the reader. They tout success in an attempt to breed more success. But with a few notable exceptions (Heidi Neumark's Breathing Space and Richard Lischer's Open Secrets come to mind), honest and nuanced pastoral memoirs are rare. Why is that? Perhaps it is because so few pastors write well, or because they cannot shake the influence of one form of writing—the sermon—when they attempt to shift to a very different genre. Or perhaps they don't know how to tell the story of their vocation without betraying the confidences of others. Whatever ...