Today I feel like I lost a friend and mentor that I have never met. Author and pastor Eugene Peterson died earlier this week at the age of 85. According to reports, Peterson was put in hospice last week with dementia and congestive heart failure. Some of his last words as he looked up to heaven were, “Let’s go.”
He is probably best known for his paraphrase of the Bible called The Message. I have heard critiques of this, with people saying it is not a good translation of the Scripture. It is not a good translation, but it was never meant to be. As Eugene Peterson paraphrased his sermon text every week for his church, he started the work of The Message. He would take the text for Sunday and put it in words that his congregation could understand. He even wrote portions of the book while in residence at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.
That was the kind of pastor that Peterson was. He labored for his people and worked to teach them the Bible. You can see that kind of effort in his recently published sermon book, As Kingfishers Catch Fire. He had a way of diving into the Bible with an eye for story and mystery and inviting those that heard (and read) his words into that way of thinking.
Pastor to Pastors
For many pastors, Eugene Peterson was their pastor—a pastor to pastors. He taught many of us what it means to be a pastor, how to love our people, and how not to get caught up the in glamour or career possibilities of ministry. His memoir The Pastor will be a treasure to many generations of clergy. His lesser known book Under the Unpredictable Plant gives a biblical understanding of what it means to follow God’s lead faithfully as a pastor and is the theological underpinnings of his memoir. I try to read it again every year.
I have been sad today at the loss of Eugene Peterson—sadder than I expected. On reflection, I think it is in part because of how formative Peterson has been for me. Many of my thoughts about what it means to be a pastor and the importance of the Bible in ministry come from him.
But I am also mourning the loss of many other leaders. In the last few years we have lost important pastors and preachers, such as Billy Graham, Haddon Robinson, Fred Craddock, Robert Schuller, Gardner Taylor, and R.C. Sproul. We have said goodbye to great thinkers and writers, such as Phyllis Tickle, C. Peter Wagner, Kenneth Bailey, Thomas Oden, and Lyle Schaller. At the same time, numerous other leaders have retired, such as Walter Brueggemann and Timothy Keller. Others are retiring soon, such as N.T. Wright.
What I am mourning today is not just the loss of Eugene Peterson, though that certainly stings, but what I sense is a growing gap in leadership for the church today. Yes, other voices are stepping up, but I worry that many young leaders do not have the spiritual depth, personal class, and love of Scripture that the generation we are losing had.
I pray that more leaders will rise up. I hope that the church of the future will be guided by pastors like Eugene Peterson. I also look for more diversity in our leadership in the future—that the pastors of the future will have more women and minorities to look up to.
As Elijah and Moses were taken up, and as those who have fought the good faith are receiving their reward and entering the resurrection so long spoken of . . . as our church stands in need of influence, may we all step up and play our part.
Jordan Rimmer ’12 is the pastor of Northminster Presbyterian Church in New Castle, Pa. Previously he served at Westminster Presbyterian Church in New Brighton, Pa. He earned his Master of Divinity (MDiv) degree from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and completed his Doctor of Ministry degree. Before moving to Pittsburgh, he was the director of outreach and youth ministries at Glenwood Methodist Church in Erie, Pa. He is a husband and father of four children. Jordan blogs at jordanrimmer.com and tweets at @jrimmer21. His sermons are available for download on iTunes or at http://jordanrimmer.podbean.com.