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Spring 2001 · Vol. 30 No. 1 · pp. 110–11 

Book Review

The Unnecessary Pastor: Rediscovering the Call

Eugene H. Peterson. Grand Rapids, MI; Vancouver, BC: Eerdmans; Regent College, 2001. 256 pages.

Reviewed by Gaylord L. Goertzen

The book’s primary title, The Unnecessary Pastor, says much about the book, for both the book and the title are not what they appear to be. The book is not a call to a new twenty-first century style of pastoral ministry that makes pastors necessary, but a call to return to an old first-century style of pastoral ministry that makes the pastors “unnecessary.” The book’s secondary title, Rediscovering the Call, makes it clear that the book is about rediscovering what Scripture has to say about pastoral leadership and ministry.

Both Marva Dawn and Eugene Peterson are well-qualified to write the book, for neither are “successful” pastors who have built “successful” churches and are writing a “how I did it” style book. Both have struggled with the reality of pastoral leadership while at the same time working in the idealistic world of theology. As a result, the book is helpfully practical yet firmly biblical.

In the introduction, Peterson defines what is meant by “unnecessary.” Biblical pastoral leadership is “unnecessary” in three ways: in what culture presumes to be important; in what pastors themselves feel is essential; and in what congregations insist pastors must do. Both congregations and ministers base their ideas of what makes a pastor necessary from culture rather than Scripture. Congregations, like the people of {111} Israel, want a “king” who can lead them, inspire them, entertain them, and make the church glamorous and exciting. As a result, pastors leave the biblical model for ministry to follow the business model of managing, marketing, entertainment, and therapy.

The book is a call for church ministers to become “unnecessary” by moving from culturally-based to biblically-based pastoral leadership. Dawn and Peterson strip away the cultural expectations from pastoral ministry to reveal the true nature of biblical ministry as found in the pastoral epistles of Ephesians, 1 Timothy, and Titus. Paul, Timothy, and Titus are held up as examples of “unnecessary” pastors who responded to culture but whose ministry was not defined by culture, their own egos, or the expectations of congregations. The purpose of the book is to “reconnect pastors with the authoritative biblical and theological texts that train us as counter-cultural servants of Jesus Christ” (2). Hence the title, The Unnecessary Pastor: Rediscovering the Call.

The book is primarily written for those in positions of pastoral leadership and is taken from “The Unnecessary Pastor,” the title of a conference at Regent College for church leaders led by Dawn and Peterson. The book provides a clear and biblical alternative to other books on pastoral leadership that focus on a “CEO” style taken from the corporate world.

Gaylord L. Goertzen
Senior Pastor, Ebenfeld MB Church
Hillsboro, Kansas

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