The Unbusy Pastor–Part II

If the pastor is not to be crazy busy, how shall he live? In his book, The Contemplative Pastor, Eugene Peterson continues the discussion on giving adjectival clothes to the noun of pastor.  The last post was an introduction to this new category on the “South River Pastor’s Blog” and it was a first glimpse of the “Unbusy Pastor.” In this post I will offer Petersons three points of application for the unbusy pastor. Peterson writes, “If I am not busy making my mark on the world or doing what everyone expects me to do, what am I to do? What is my proper work? What does it mean to be a pastor? If no one asked me to do anything, what would I do? Three things.” (The Contemplative Pastor, 19) The remainder of the post will focus on these three things.

First, he writes, “I can be a pastor who prays.” Prayer is the primary way to cultivate the pastor’s relationship with God and is essential to lead the church efffectively.  A pastor who is known for a strong prayer life will have parishioners approaching him often for intercession and counsel on how to pray.  Without prayer the preacher will be ministering from a cold spirituality and out of an impotent intimacy with God.  Without prayer the pastor will awkwardly draw from an impersonal experience in his counsel.  Without prayer the pastor cannot bear witness of the power of God at work in his life or others.  Peterson writes, “I want to witness out of my own experience, I don’t want to live as a parasite on the first hand spiritual life of another, but to be personally involved with all my senses, tasting and seeing that the Lord is good.” (Peterson, 19)

The pastor must also not rely on “ready-made” prayers for his primary prayer diet.  These are the prayer of others recorded in church history.  They are helpful as guides, but cannot fully sustain a personal prayer life. One primary reason ready-made prayers cannot serve as the sole bread and water of our prayer life is that we are each so different.  In his book, Letters to Malcom: Chiefly on Prayer, C.S. Lewis gives counsel to another on prayer. He writes, “No other creature is identical with me; no other situation identical with mine.  Indeed, I myself and my situation are in continual change.  A ready-made form can’t serve for my intercourse with God any more than it could serve for my intercourse with you.”   (C.S. Lewis, Letters to Malcom, 10) However, Lewis does stress that ready-made prayers (especially those offered in scripture) remind us of three things.  First, they keep us in touch with sound doctrine. Second, they remind us what we should and should not ask for.  Third, they provide an element of the ceremonial which we all need to strengthen our individual faith and increase our fellowship in the community of saints. (Lewis, 13)

Second, Peterson writes, “I can be a pastor who preaches”.  Pastors must decide that preaching is a gift from God each Monday. The best way to prepare is to be simultaneously immersed in the lives of your sheep and in the portion of the Word to be preached on the coming Sabbath.   Peterson writes, “I need to have a drenching in the scriptures; I require an immersion in biblical studies.  I need reflective hours over the pages of scriptures as well as personal struggles with the meaning of Scripture.” (Peterson, 20)  In this way, the preparation struggle is not merely with a text, but within the soul of the pastor and in his awareness of soul struggles of his congregants.

There is also a quiet prayer life that must circumscribe the preaching event each week.  Prayer is essential for the pastors understanding of the text and for the careful exegeting of the assembled saints on the coming Sunday. The convergence of these factors (Quiet Prayer and Deep Study) do not produce a “fairly respectable talk” or a “snappy illustrative message”, but a word from God forged from the Word of God for the people of God on the Lord’s Day.  In this way, the pastor functions a minor poet.  In his book, The Pastor as Minor Poet, Craig Barnes writes, “Minor poets…inculcate truth to a particular people in a particular place…most pastors are minor poets whose humble calling is to spend their lives making sense of the major lines of poetry they have inherited from the sacred tradition to a specific gathering of people called the local congregation, for as T.S. Elliot has written, ‘every people should have its own poetry’.” (Barnes, 24) The kind of preaching that is faithful to God and relevant to godly people requires deep scriptural study and quiet prayer made in solitude.  Peterson describes the great value of this kind of preaching. He concludes, “This kind of preaching is a creative act that requires quietness and solitude, concentration and intensity. R.E.C. Browne was wrote, ‘All speech that moves men was minted when some man’s mind was poised and still.’ I can’t do that when I am busy.” (Peterson, 21)

Third, Peterson writes, “I can be a pastor who listens”.   I believe this one is hard for some pastors.  Many pastors are great with their minds and their mouths, but not with their ears.  Many pastors read with their eyes during the week and think with their minds in the study and in staff meetings.  However, listening is not always what we are known for? Too often pastors listen to the problems of people in their office or study, but they are not truly hearing the heart of the person before them.  They could be thinking of their reply while the person is sharing or they may think they already know the answer for the problem before the first few sentences of the person sharing are complete; so they check out.  Peterson emphasize the art of listening:

“Listening is in short supply today; people aren’t used to being listened to…pastoral listening requires unhurried leisure, even it’s only for five minutes.  Leisure is a quality of spirit, not a quantity of time. Only in ambiance of leisure do persons know they are listened to with absolute seriousness, treated with dignity and importance.”

Often as pastors we are asking ourselves and our people, how many people we shared Christ with this week.  However, perhaps another question could be? “How many people have you listened to in Christ this week?” Listening to another is often more difficult than speaking to another.  There seems to be more glory in speaking than listening, but both are needed.  The shepherd must speak to the flock, but he must also listen to the sheep. We should really try to ask and listen more and reply with more succinct and weighty words to help the hurting soul before us.

The reality of listening is that it cannot be done if a pastor is frenetic in his schedule.  Margins are essential in the calendar of a pastor.  Biblical priorities applied to carefully developed routines, habits, and calendaring can assure listening opportunities.  Peterson concludes, “I can’t listen if I’m busy.  When my schedule is crowded, I’m not free to listen: I have to keep my next appointment; I have to get to the next meeting. But, if I provide margins to my day, there is ample time to listen.” (Peterson, 22)

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