Doing The Next Thing

I was recently blessed with getting to spend some time with Pastor and Author Eugene Petersen. Like so many Evangelicals, I first heard of him when his paraphrase of the Bible, The Message, came out. Every time I heard his name, he was being verbally crucified for his ‘liberal’ translation. So like many young Christians, I just avoided anything with his name on it. Not realizing that he has written some of the most compelling books on pastoral ministry in the history of Christianity. It was about four years ago that I decided that I was going to start reading his writings. I have never been let down by the depth, clarity and Christocentricity of what he writes. He is not teaching the technique of pastoring. Instead he is revealing the heart of a shepherd. And I, for one, have been greatly challenged by what he is led to pen.

So in the beginning of June, he came to our area for a Pastor’s Appreciation breakfast. I knew the person who was putting on the breakfast and he made sure I got some time with Eugene. We got to speak for awhile about a great many things. It was casual, fun, deep and at times, profound in simplicity.

I asked him about moving from education to the pastorate to the professorship to retirement, with the writing of The Message and other books threaded through it all. It was something that I had been pondering as I thought about all of the changes that have happened in my own personal ministry.

Dr. Peterson answered quite simply, “I simply did the next thing.” I must have looked a bit bewildered. So he followed up with, “I really was not trying to do something new. I just did what came next”. I think what I loved the most about his comments were the total lack of self focus in his thinking. He was not consciously making strategic decisions for expedient reasons. He was simply taking the next step in the process. In the weeks since I heard this, I have thought much about this conversation. I thought of Jesus saying, “Don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” I realized that Dr. Peterson was onto something that I still don’t understand. But I like it!

13 replies
  1. michael schreck
    michael schreck says:

    love this post daniel…brings to remembrance Ephesians 2:10 – continually being prepared for a continual next work that the Lord has preordained for us. Daniel, i’m sure you can look back at all of your previous steps and how they have prepared you for this next step, and also think of the possibility of what this step is preparing you for next 🙂 🙂 ultimately heaven 🙂 blessings

  2. Josh Olson
    Josh Olson says:

    Great post, Daniel. I was just talking to two brothers last night after our Greek class about this very topic.

    I have been very concerned about so many believers in the church today that they have become preoccupied with what “may” happen, or who is in power politically, or the exact timing of prophetic events. Those things may have their place but I fear that they have become disproportioned in so many minds that their daily walks have become largely ineffective. This is not to say that the Lord does not use them, for He does. I know I am speaking in large broad-stroked generalities when I say these things but I fear that so many think they are “going deeper” when in reality they are not exactly “pondering the path that their feet are on but have drifted either to the left or the right a bit.

    The effective ambassador is one who has that eye toward heaven but is also “working out his or her own salvation with fear and trembling”, having a heart that is overflowing with desire to bring a bit more glory to the One who has redeemed them here…in the earth.

    I’ll have to pick up that book, “The C***********E Pastor”.

    p.s. you guys just wish you were out-laws.

    • Greg
      Greg says:


      Yeah, it’s really easy to be drawn off to the right hand or to the left, drawn away by his own lusts and desires… Yet at the same time I think of the length, width, depth and height… the digging deep to lay the foundation on the rock.

      And so when a man’s paraphrase changes the spirit and intent of God’s word, altering the paths… that’s hardly tolerable.

      Unlike Daniel, I haven’t known the name of the man and reading Daniel’s account of his other books, I kind of see the author like Peter… his epistles not disregarded because of his major slip-ups. But that doesn’t mean I should be enamored with the man either.

      Given the chance to talk with Peter after Paul’s rebuke I’d hope not only to talk about the epistles he wrote, the walking on water… but the pitfalls to avoid so that I don’t find myself standing where he stood.

      To cluster The Message with the other quality works Daniel says he’s written only affirms it instead of refutes it.

      Like you said, ‘Can God use…’ sure, God can use a donkey, He can certainly use anything… It’s just that if we are to strengthen the arms that hang down and feeble knees, making straight paths for our feet… how is that accomplished using something that distorts, twists and alters?

      Psalm 27:8,9 comes to mind as does Psalm 119:176

      • Daniel Fusco
        Daniel Fusco says:

        What I find the most interesting is that, like Greg’s post above, Peterson gets in trouble for doing exactly what he intended to do. He was trying to put the story of the Bible in the everyday street language of English in the late 20th century. Outside of church (and a few video games), there is no lordship, righteousness, propitiation, atonement in the common vernacular. So he is in trouble for doing exactly what he set out to do. Now, you can say, “I don’t know if he should have set out to do that.” But before his own master a servant stands or falls.

        It’s much like Miles Davis getting panned by critics when he started putting out his electric fusion albums. They said, “That’s not traditional jazz.” Miles was like, “Exactly. I had already been at the forefront of traditional jazz for 25 years. Now I am onto the next thing.” So I agree, The Message is a paraphrase. Like any and all paraphrases, there are some highlights and some lowlights. But it is exactly that, a paraphrase. That is what he intended it to be.

        Listen to Peterson speak about the message.

        Peterson wouldn’t recommend The Message as a study Bible because it has no concordance, and he doesn’t like to see fellow clergy use it for sermon preparation. “When pastors tell me they preach from it, I tell them they miss the connection with the past with this translation,” he says. So what purpose does The Message serve? Peterson says it’s a comfortable entry point for those who have been turned off by the institutional feel of the traditional text. With a translation that speaks in contemporary language, there’s no reason for first-time readers to fear the Bible. He hopes The Message will only be a launchpad into the standard translations. “Get weaned from it,” urges Peterson. “I actually prefer translations that are archaic and stay close to the syntax of the ancient language. It makes for awkward reading, but it preserves the uniqueness of the works.”

        • Justin
          Justin says:

          but if it alters the original language, it doesn’t do much for the new readers because they’ll be reading false writing– not the Word of God. I love the idea of having a paraphrase for new readers, but it should be a paraphrase, not a new book altogether… :/

  3. pstrmike
    pstrmike says:

    Thanks for sharing this little piece, Daniel. Peterson’s works on the pastorate are some of the best I’ve ever read on the topic.

    Sometimes we fail to apprehend the plan of God because we forget it is all a part of His plan. God has given us the choice to do the next thing, or we can map out our lives for ourselves; and I’m convinced God will let us have our way. If only we could see the end of our life at the beginning…

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