Eugene Peterson’s “Unbusy” Pastor – Evangelicalism Needs More of These

I’ve been reading Eugene Peterson’s The Contemplative Pastor again. I’m not sure how many times I’ve read this book. Sometimes I think I should always be reading it for at least a few minutes a day. Today I was struck by this line:

I am busy because I am vain. I want to appear important. Significant. What better way than to be busy? The incredible hours, the crowded schedule, and the heavy demands on my time are proof to myself – and to all who will notice – that I am important.” p. 18

If we are busy, as pastors, it is because we are ruthlessly serving the clamoring ego. We are vain. We have bought into the lie that we are what we produce and that our worth to our congregation is tied to productivity, and therefore we must be conspicuously productive. The allure to become busy, to win the approval of our congregations because of our hard-work and busy schedule is a force that weighs down the pastor like gravity. It crushes the soul, making us into the kind of people who cannot see reality clearly. Busyness will leave us unable to pray, unable to preach from a deep encounter with God instead. The busy pastor cannot be profound, they can only be cute – kitschy. The busy will ruin us and our churches, and it will ruin the busy pastor and his/her family. Look at this list I grabbed from a recent blog post I read:

* 90% of the pastors report working between 55 to 75 hours per week.
* 80% believe pastoral ministry has negatively affected their families. Many pastor’s children do not attend church now because of what the church has done to their parents.
* 33% state that being in the ministry is an outright hazard to their family.
* 75% report significant stress-related crisis at least once in their ministry.
* 90% feel they are inadequately trained to cope with the ministry demands.
* 50% feel unable to meet the demands of the job.
* 70% say they have a lower self-image now than when they first started.
* 70% do not have someone they consider a close friend.
* 40% report serious conflict with a parishioner at least once a month.
* 33% confess having involved in inappropriate sexual behavior with someone in the church .
* 50% have considered leaving the ministry in the last months.
* 50% of the ministers starting out will not last 5 years.
* 1 out of every 10 ministers will actually retire as a minister in some form.
* 94% of clergy families feel the pressures of the pastor’s ministry.
* 66% of church members expect a minister and family to live at a higher moral standard than themselves.
* Moral values of a Christian is no different than those who consider themselves as non-Christians.
* The average American will tell 23 lies a day.
* The profession of “Pastor” is near the bottom of a survey of the most-respected professions, just above “car salesman”.
* Over 4,000 churches closed in America last year.
* Over 1,700 pastors left the ministry every month last year.
* Over 1,300 pastors were terminated by the local church each month , many without cause.
* Over 3,500 people a day left the church last year.
* Many denominations report an “empty pulpit crisis”. They cannot find ministers willing to fill positions.
(Statistics provided by The Fuller Institute, George Barna, and Pastoral Care Inc.)

Pastors are not meant to be professionals in the sense we might typically understand that word. Pastors are meant to be the counter-balance to the crazy lives of the professionals from whom we are called out to serve  in a different rhythm. The busy pastor is not able to have the kind of soul sufficient for service in and to a congregation full of people who are busy. In other words, part of why we have pastors is so that they’ll be the one group of people in the church who deliberately goes at a slower pace, in order that they might teach us all the benefits of slowing down. Peterson calls this the “unbusy” pastor. It’s a vision I’m trying to embrace more carefully.

About Tim Suttle

Tim Suttle is a pastor, writer, and musician. He is the author of several books: Shrink: Faithful Ministry in a Church Growth Culture (Zondervan 2014), Public Jesus (The House Studio, 2012), and An Evangelical Social Gospel? (Cascade Books, 2011). Tim's work has been featured at The Huffington Post, The Washington Post, Sojourners, and other magazines and journals. Tim is also the founder and front-man of the popular Christian band Satellite Soul, with whom he toured for nearly a decade. He has planted three successful churches over the past 13 years and is the Senior Pastor of Redemption Church in Olathe, Kan. Tim's blog, Paperback Theology, is hosted at Patheos.

  • Jesse Blasdel

    I am in the last month of a 3 month sabbatical and I look back at my first decade of pastoring and wonder why I felt the need to be so busy all the time. Why did I put so much stress on my family while I was at events and meetings and sports events? Sabbatical has been a breath of incredibly fresh air. I want to keep breathing it as I return next month.


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