Eugene Peterson on pastors as historians, from Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work.
Pastors are historians, not moralists. they learn their craft at the feet of the great theological historians of Sinai and from their direct descendants, the four Gospel writers, not by collecting aphorisms in the fields of the Roman Stoics. If pastors only carry moral sayings in their pockets and go through the parish sticking them, like gummed labels, on the victims of the week, there will be no good pastoral work; they must learn how to be gospel storytellers. After the manner of the storyteller of Ruth, they must become skilled in making a story of out of the details of a particular trouble, using the plot design and vocabulary that the have assimilated from, say, the Deuteronomist. The storytelling pastor differs from the moralizing pastor in the same way that a responsible physician differs from a clerk in a drugstore. When an ill person goes to a physician, the physician “takes a history” before offering a diagnosis and writing a prescription. The presumption is that everything that a person has experienced is relevant to the illness and must be taken into account if there is to be a healing. The clerk in the drugstore simply sells a patent medicine off the shelf–one thing for headaches, another for heartburn, another for indigestion–without regard for the particular details of a person’s pain. Biblical pastoral work “takes a history” and with that raw material creates a story of salvation, like the Ruth story fashioned out of famine, widowhood, barley harvest, levirite law, God’s steadfast love, providence and peace, the town of Bethlehem and the land of of Moab.