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Eugene Peterson and the Burning in His Bones

Let’s take a hard turn in the blogs for a couple weeks.

Last week I shared the incredible need to fund the crazy, rapid growth of our international training, principally centered in Africa. It’s amazing that pastors who have nothing and come with nothing present themselves with passion and evangelistic hunger for PLI’s biblical leadership training! If this is in the sights of your church’s mission budget in the near future, would you reach out to Rika?

And, I am encouraged by the churches sending people to Multipli’s easily accessible evangelistic discipleship training, most of them sending 2 or 3, some 5 or more. For over 20 years, PLI has taught the church life cycle curve, and once it starts downward toward death, a new vision is needed that can quickly draw some champions into it. Multipli can help usher in rebirth.


I was mired in trying to write my D.Min. dissertation on congregational change. Wistfully, I had titled it “CHANGE: Learning to Lead It and Living to Tell about It.”

And, I had one more class I needed to take. It “fit” to enroll in a course led by unknown to me professor Eugene Peterson. A pastor in Maryland. He’d written some books. Incredibly soft spoken. Contemplative. Far from dynamic. You may be catching on that this was before The Message, an earthy, contemporary translation of the Bible. 

Eugene didn’t talk so much about praying as he modeled a life of prayer. And what it was like to shepherd the flock. Not to strive but to receive.

You see, there was a lot going on for me back then. And in me. Our church at the suburban campus was growing so fast. The “attract and assimilate” side of the life cycle above was in full bloom. The inner city campus continued to experience more violence in the neighborhood. A very popular basketball star at the Catholic high school nearby had been killed by rival crossfire after a game near our church.

Inside of me burned a desire to “make a difference.” To reach people for Jesus. To guide our congregation well. But also… Every side has a dark side, right? I needed the approval of people. Achievement equaled approval. It stung deeply when people were angry at me or complained that my out of balance life needed to tip farther out of balance to meet their expectations. This was back when congregational change promised a “win-win” outcome! Now, most leaders in PLI have heard me say that the challenge for leaders today is “to disappoint people at a rate they can manage.”

Some Lessons from Eugene

Gail gave me his biography as a gift, knowing the impact that he’d had in my life in that D.Min. class so many years ago.

It’s an incredibly transparent look at a life well lived by a flawed man. On virtually every page it excerpts quotes from his prayer journals or correspondence he typed. (He refused to surrender to email as an inadequate means of communication!)

I thought you might benefit from listening in on a few of his journal entries this week and next week.

Eugene was invited to speak at the Christian college his two sons attended.

Eric is in charge and Leif is program director. At Forum yesterday I was more nervous than I thought I should be: I wanted to do well and be well received for their sakedidn’t want to embarrass them! But it went wellsome said best in memory!but I wish I could escape or grow out of my self-consciousness: anxious about whether I am doing a good job or not, and just be here in ministry.

On seeing his sons in their element:

…incredibly proud of them…I keep expecting them to discover my clay feet and become impatient and critical of my shortcomings.  But if they do they don’t let on to me.

The same weekend, Eugene shared the platformand compared himselfto a prestigious headline speaker.

I have the deep sense that I have something to do that is better and deeper than what he is doing and saying. I’m very aware—maybe too much—of his prominence and my obscurity—and that what I do has to take place in the obscurity: working in the darkness of the mines.

I affirmed this in a slight way last evening when I turned down the invitation to go to (a faculty member’s home to meet the prominent speaker) in favor of going out for nachos and beer with (my sons). They are the raw material of my life that I need to contemplate and be with and love and understand and respond to. 

Thanks for reading a little farther this week. What do you think? I’ll share a few more excerpts next week.

(Quotes from A Burning in My Bones by Eugene Peterson, pages 176-177)

One Response

  1. Patra Mueller says:

    That is so cool that you got to have Eugene Peterson for your last class. Thanks for sharing this book. He was a professor at Regent in Vancouver where Peter went to seminary so we have followed him quite closely as well. Have you seen his interview with rock star Bono? It’s quite inspiring as well. If you’re interested you can Google it on YouTube.
    Thanks for the encouragement Jock! Give Gail a big hug. Praying her launch is going well.

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