Letters to a Young Pastor: Timothy Conversations between Father and Son

Letters to a Young Pastor: Timothy Conversations between Father and Son

Reviewed by:

G. Connor Salter, Professional Writing alumnus from Taylor University, Upland, IN.


Letters to a Young Pastor: Timothy Conversations between Father and Son


Eric E. Peterson and Eugene H. Peterson


NavPress (in alliance with Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.)


Publication Date:

June 2, 2020




240 pages


In the mid-1990s, Eric Peterson was pastoring a church plant. He quickly found that he had plenty of theological education, but no one had ever explained how to handle a situation like the one he was in. Unsure whose advice to seek, he contacted the pastor he knew best: his father Eugene Peterson. Over the next ten years, Eugene wrote regular letters to Eric about the vocation of being a pastor and the struggles that pastors face. Throughout the letters, Eugene gave reflections from his own experience pastoring three churches and what he wished he’d done better. This book presents Eugene’s letters in order, showing a personal side to a man who wrote many acclaimed books about pastoring and following God.

In the introduction, Eric describes his father’s passion as emphasizing the relationship aspect of Christianity: “In matters of salvation and liberation, everything is getting worked out in the context of relationships – life in the flesh, life together.” Even salvation itself is essentially relational, a new relationship set up between a human and God (who is also in eternal relationship with the members that make up the Trinity). Not surprisingly, the importance of good relationships is one of Eugene’s constant themes in these letters. He discusses the problems created by pastors who are more interesting in running good programs than in connecting with their congregation. He also observes how becoming impersonal usually means that ministry leaders focus on “public image and efficiency” so much that they lose their priorities. In one letter Eugene describes a Christian camp director who fired a qualified manager because he wouldn’t do minor things to give the camp a better image, resulting in pain for everyone involved. This relational emphasis serves as a good reminder that pastoral work (in fact, probably any ministry leadership role) has to be more than just following a prescribed program.

Another big theme is “ways and means,” that how we do things is just as important as having the right intentions. As Eugene points out, everything Satan offered Jesus in the wilderness was a good thing in itself: “food, excitement, a decent government… but everything was impersonal, enacted without love or intimacy or participation.” So, going after something in the wrong way is wrong even with a good goal in place. Or in Eugene’s words, “We cannot follow the way of Jesus but then do it any old way we like.” Using methods that don’t honor God cause more damage than good. Anyone who’s worked in ministry and watched leaders create dysfunction with badly-developed strategies can appreciate this point.

Above all these great themes and little insights is something just as compelling: the sense of love that permeates each letter. Eugene repeatedly describes how glad he is to see Eric growing in areas he had struggled in, accomplishing things that he didn’t do well in his own congregations. There’s a deep sense throughout the book of fatherly love for a son and love for a common profession. The subtitle, “timothy conversations,” which references the father-son relationship that Paul had with Timothy, proves to be very appropriate here.

All things considered, a wise and insightful look at the interesting questions that pastors must answer.


Rating (1 to 5 stars)

5 stars

Suggested Audience

Christians interested in perspectives about pastoral work, and the theological questions that pastors must deal with.

Christian Impact

Peterson honestly discusses many common pastor struggles and the mistakes they frequently make. As he considers why some of these mistakes happen, he emphasizes that pastors must rely on God day by day and make choose to have relationship with Christians even when it’s difficult. The result is a humble, challenging and intimate picture of seeking God’s help.

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Letters to a Young Pastor: Timothy Conversations Between Father and Son


  1. | Letters to a Young Congregation: Nurturing the Growth of a Faithful ChurchEvangelical Church Library Association - March 13, 2021

    […] Note: Readers interested in getting the full context of this book may wish to read it alongside Letters to a Young Pastor, a collection of letters between Eric Peterson and his father, Eugene. To read ECLA’s review of that book, go to: https://eclalibraries.org/2021/01/29/letters-to-a-young-pastor-timothy-conversations-between-father-… […]

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