The Unnecessary Pastor: Rediscovering the Call

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Best-selling authors Marva Dawn and Eugene Peterson offer encouragement to pastors.

Pastors are strategically placed to counter the culture. No other profession looks so inoffensive but is in fact so dangerous to the status quo. Their weapon? A gospel that is profoundly countercultural. But standing firm in today's world isn't easy. Powerful forces, both subtle and obvious, attempt to domesticate pastors, to make them, in a word, unnecessary.

In this book, two of today's most respected authors help pastors recover their gospel identity and maintain a pure vision of Christian leadership. Marva Dawn and Eugene Peterson reconnect pastors with the biblical texts that will train them as countercultural servants of the gospel. Marva Dawn looks to Paul's letter to the Ephesians for instruction for churches seeking to live faithfully in today's world. In turn, Eugene Peterson explores Romans, 1 and 2 Timothy, and Titus, drawing from them the correct view of pastoral identity.

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Editorial Reviews

Christian Retailing
The book's premise is that there are three ways that pastors are unnecessary: to what the culture presumes is important, to what pastors themselves feel is essential and to what congregations insist that pastors must do and be. The Unnecessary Pastor should liberate ministers from such manmade limitations and free them to become what God has called them to be. It's likely not only to be popular with clergy, but also clergy-to-be, as seminarians could definitely benefit from its godly insights.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802846785
  • Publisher: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing
  • Publication date: 9/28/1999
  • Pages: 268
  • Sales rank: 696,656
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.61 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Introduction (from pages vii-x)

I am always a bit nervous putting together a book like this. Books are wonderful. I like to read them; I like to write them. But there is a sort of built-in falsehood in what Marva and I are doing here because a book is an inevitably misleading object. All of the sentences end with a period. All of the semicolons are in the right place. All of the sentences parse. All of the pages are numbered in sequence; you don't have to skip over anything. All of the chapter titles unfold before you in an orderly fashion. Books have covers, which give a false sense of completeness. It's all there, laid out nice and tidy for you.

But life is not that way. Neither ministry nor spirituality is that way. I'm not like that, and neither is Marva. Life is full of starts and stops, blind alleys, disappointing detours, and bad guesses. Eventually, by God's grace, we find our way into acts of obedience, acts of praise. But along the way we spend considerable time extricating ourselves from brambles and scratching our heads. I think it will be useful to stop and read and pray through this—and, even better yet, do it with a colleague or spouse or friend. But you mustn't suppose that Marva and I are working at a higher level than you are. There are no higher levels in the life of Christ—there is simply following Jesus and obeying him, day after day, struggling with sin and sinners, and being surprised by grace and resurrection.

What I'm getting at is this: spirituality and ministry are always local and specific, always taking place in conditions. We aren't working with a set of truths, abstractions, and generalities, but rather with a cultivated habit of the heart and a determination to immerse ourselves in our place, our town, our congregation after the manner of Jesus in Galilee and Jerusalem, Paul in Rome, Timothy in Ephesus, and Titus in Crete.

So, when it comes to putting together a book on ministry, I feel like someone who has been working in a garage for most of my life, underneath the cars with grease on my face and under my fingernails. And then, someone puts me in a shower, has me scrub off the mess, dresses me up, and puts me in front of a group of people and says, "Tell them what you do."

"Well, I work on cars."

"Oh, really, you don't look like someone who works on cars. What do you do on them?"

"Well, it depends. Is it a Pontiac, a Chrysler, a BMW? What's wrong: the transmission, the carburetor, the spark plugs? Do I need a crescent wrench or a 3/16 socket wrench? Ask me a question." And then you do, and I say, "I have no idea about that."

There is a wonderful radio program called Car Talk that I love listening to, even though I don't know all that much about cars. On it, two brothers, Click and Clack, field questions from listeners about car problems. These two brothers banter back and forth—they're witty and irreverent—but they know everything about cars. Even if you have an old car from 1932, they know exactly what you're talking about. And within thirty or forty or fifty seconds on the radio, they have diagnosed the problem with your car. They don't theorize, don't make any big pronouncements, say nothing of a general nature. They revel in the details. You never know whether they were right or not. But they act confident, and the people who call in seem to be satisfied.

Whenever I hear them, I think, I'd like to be a pastor like that. I'd like to know so much about souls that I could diagnose them that quickly and figure them out that accurately and know what I'm doing. Then I think, there are a lot of different makes of cars, but there are a lot more makes of souls. All that can go wrong with a car is something mechanical. And given physics and materiality, there are only a certain number of ways that problems can occur and be fixed. But sin is exponential. You can't imagine all the ways that sin can destroy a life. So, I give up on that and am content with being a pastor who doesn't know a lot and has to figure things out as I go along. But at least Click and Clack tell me this: don't bluff your way with big ideas, grand visions, sweeping eternal truths—immerse yourself in the details. You can't do pastoral work in general or objectively—you are in it.

As a schoolboy, I remember being told about the "scientific method," by which scientists in laboratories would make exacting efforts to carry out experiments that are totally objective, with no subjective human contamination. The aim was to create an absolutely sterile environment, insuring results that are pure fact, which then can be precisely duplicated anywhere, at any time. And then they found that the very presence of the observer affected the experiment. Just being there changed things.

If the scientists in controlled conditions can't come up with pure objectivity that translates into precise predictability, we're certainly not going to. For we work at the other end of the control spectrum: put a pastor and a congregation together and mostly what you have is some kind of chaos, what Genesis 1:2 names tohu wabohu, "without form and void." This may not seem very promising, but you also have the Spirit of God, hovering over this chaos, and God's Word being spoken, bringing a world of creation and salvation into being. All ministry takes place in conditions of sin, over which the Spirit of God hovers and into which the world-making, life-changing Word of God is spoken.

And then I sit down to write a book or give a series of lectures, and I feel like Click and Clack again—or, in this case, Marva and Eugene—full of clean, objective answers. Marva and I will probably come across as if we know more than we really do. But, hopefully, that's not what ends up happening. Our aim is to put some biblical texts before you — the Pastoral Epistles and Ephesians — in such a way that they shape your understanding of what you have been called to be as pastors and lay ministers. We want to aid you in the shaping of a biblical, pastoral identity out of which you can minister in the complex and messy details of the souls entrusted to your care by God.

As much as we would love to mimic the ease and wit and specific solutions of Click and Clack, Marva and I have contented ourselves with painting the big picture as accurately as we can so that you can fill in the details of your life in ministry. If we have succeeded in doing that, then we will be glad.

Eugene H. Peterson
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Table of Contents


  1. On Being Unnecessary EUGENE H. PETERSON
  2. Preludes to Rediscovery MARVA J. DAWN
  3. The Call to Be a Living Doxology MARVA J. DAWN
  4. Paul: Finishing Up in Rome EUGENE H. PETERSON
  5. The Call to Triumph over the Principalities and Powers MARVA J. DAWN
  6. Timothy: Taking Over in Ephesus EUGENE H. PETERSON
  7. The Call to Be Formed and Transformed by the Spirit of the Ascended Christ MARVA J. DAWN
  8. Titus: Starting Out in Crete EUGENE H. PETERSON
  9. The Call to Build Community MARVA J. DAWN

For Further Reading

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