January 18, 2021

Sabbatical Journal 1

chapel.jpegUPDATED: I’m sortof liveblogging the Eugene Peterson/David Wood sessions.

My first step in my sabbatical is a three day orientation here on the campus of the Louisville Presbyterian Seminary. Denise and I are staying in Laws Lodge and we will be hearing Eugene Peterson later tonight.

This is all a very different world for me than my home in Eastern Kentucky, but this is a gift God is giving me as well. We intend to enjoy it.

I’ll add some reflections to this post as we go along through each session.

(Later on, a visit to O’Shea’s, a favorite Louisville spot.)

Session 1/Monday Evening

After a short presentation to those of us going on sabbaticals, David Wood introduced Eugene Peterson. These two have a fascinating relationship, and it has yielded some good interviews. Here is a Wood interview with Peterson on some of the same material as tonight’s talk.

Wood said that sabbatical is bringing what is in the background into the foreground, in hope of bringing the two into sync. My sabbatical proposal is on “Contemplation and Balance in Life and Ministry,” so I liked this a lot.

Wood also did a litany using all the verbs from our proposals. It was very moving and inspiring. Wood said that he received his grant in 1992, and wishes he had done better things with it. We learned tonight that there were over 400 proposals made, and I suppose there are about 70 of us who have received academic or pastoral grants. I’m really blessed to be part of this group.

Because this is a group of mainline Christians, at least half of the room is women in ministry. This is very different from my Baptist tradition….and I like it. It really makes for a very different atmosphere than what’s going on in the “man camp” evangelicalism of Driscoll and the SBC.

Eugene Peterson….what can you say? He’s like a prophet from the Old Testament. Slim. White hair, at least what he has. Raspy voice that was very hard to hear at first. He has finished the fifth book in his current series and says it may be his last, as it seeks to answer the question he’s had his entire ministry: what do pastors do for the church.

Peterson presents himself as a man who has been searching his entire writing career for what it means to be a pastor. He knows the answer is in scripture, and he provides an incredible model of living, savoring and thinking through the Bible as a life’s quest. He said his son helped him realize he only has one book and one sermon, and that’s ok.

He simply told stories tonight, all around the idea that “the church we want is the enemy of the church we have.” Typical Peterson. Wham. A bolt of lightning. He told about his own brief flirtation with the church growth movement, and how after three months he took all the books to a landfill and decided to grow the people he had- the body of Christ- into mature Christians.

Some of Peterson’s stories wandered a bit tonight, I’m sure because he was tired after a long day traveling. At the end, he was closing and his last line was…”…and the church in America has become an abomination of desolation.” Wham. More lightning. It’s like that with this man. He has scripture so absorbed that he makes amazingly obvious connections with the language of the Bible in ways that are jolting and true.

More tomorrow.


  1. Will you still be in Lou next Monday? If so, I would like to meet the infamous iMonk.

  2. steve yates says

    Can’t wait to hear how your Sabbatical goes, iMonk. Just wondering if you’re planning on giving details about how you’re structuring your time away from work (readings, meditation, none of the above, etc.) – it would definitely be helpful for those of us considering a similar departure from normalcy.

    steve yates

  3. Leaving Wed.

    When I start my sabbatical, I’ll decide what I’m going to do on the net. That will be the middle of May.

  4. Michael,
    Praying that God gives you rest and a fresh vision for His plans for your ministry. I really enjoy reading your posts – they are always thought provoking and encouraging to me – as we all journey together in our own personal relationship with God.

  5. Enjoy it, and I know that I am grateful for any thing that you share. I’m especially encouraged by stories, because I tend to be nourished more by them than by straight theology.

  6. “the church we want is the enemy of the church we have.”

    That line just kicked my butt.

    I’d be interested in reading more about what he said in relation to this.

  7. Thanks. I’ll have to catch up with you in May. I avoid the city except on Monday when I have class.

  8. I heard Peterson at a conference this summer. I’ve read a lot of his stuff and always appreciate what he writes, but I like you found that he wandered quite a bit and that it was difficult to focus so that you didn’t miss those zingers and incredible insights he has to offer.

  9. Nicholas Anton says

    re; “Peterson presents himself as a man who has been searching his entire writing career for what it means to be a pastor.”

    Would it, perchance, be better to research and evaluate what it means to “pastor”, rather than what it means to “be a pastor”? A person is/becomes what he does rather than does/tries to do what he is by appointment and definition. If it was necessary for Christ to take on human flesh and experience humanity in order to be our High Priest, how much more to those who tentatively shepherd the church. Academics and youthful exuberance are fine and good, but never take the place of experience. That is why Paul instructed Timothy and Titus to place “older” men “elders” to pastor and shepherd the flock.

    In the universal ekklesia, everyone can help feed the flock “over which the Holy Spirit has made you (unofficial) overseer” (which is composed of all true believers within one’s association) according to his/her own experience and ability. In a bureaucratic church, only those delegated as official “pastors” can freely function in that capacity. Many of these are “youthful” pastors who only have book/second hand knowledge.

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