Stop Chasing God’s Chickens.

Today’s Eugene Peterson Quote:

If we can develop a sense that sacrificial love, justice, and hope are at the core of our identities – they go to our jobs with us each day, to our families each night – then we are in fact subversive. You have to understand that Christian subversion is nothing flashy. Subversives don’t win battles. All they do is prepare the ground and change the mood just a bit toward belief and hope, so that when Christ appears, there are people waiting for Him. Eugene Peterson (from Rodney Clapp’s Introduction to The Contemplative Pastor pp.18-19)


As Peterson states here, “Subversives don’t win battles. All they do is prepare the ground and change the mood just a bit toward belief and hope, so that when Christ appears, there are people waiting for Him.”

Yet, my dear friends in the pastoral ministry, let’s ask a few hard questions.

Are you and I guilty, in our Americanized church mode, of trying to do so much more than simply “prepare the ground” or “change the mood just a bit toward belief and hope?” Are we working our tails off trying to win battles that only Jesus can win? Are we laboring hard at breaking through the next church-growth barrier, building (B)uildings, banking (B)ucks, and putting more (B)utts in the seats (the 3-B’s) so that we can win some contest that Jesus never intended us to enter? Could Peterson be right when he suggests in later chapters in this book, The Contemplative Pastor, that we busy pastors need to dump ‘the busy’ in order to obtain the true call of God on our lives?

A few years back, I found myself in a local park, quieting my heart like Peterson suggests. The ‘busy pastor,’ Marty Boller, was intentionally dumping my ‘busy’ long enough to do a bit of reflecting. As providence would have it, I was walking through the park and came to the little petting zoo that has been in this city park for years. This petting zoo is a popular place for families during the summer months, but on this cool fall day, the area was closed to visitors. As I stood by the closed gate, I noticed a small sign posted on the barn just inside the zoo gate. On numerous occasions, Sandy & I have brought our grandkids there to laugh and play with the ducks and chickens that waddle around that barn. But I’d never noticed the sign on that barn…until today.

PLEASE DON’T CHASE THE CHICKENS, the sign read.

I chuckled to myself as I thought of the way my grandkids love to do just that whenever we bring them here. And then, in the middle of my chuckle, the Lord spoke to me. “Marty, as a pastor of my people, will you PLEASE stop chasing My chickens?”

Yikes, Lord. What do you mean?

And in a way that only the Holy Spirit can, I quickly realized that much of my last thirty years of pastoral ministry has been so much like the scene outside that little petting zoo. There I was, Pastor Marty, acting just like a little kid, chasing God’s people, like chickens, trying to get them to do the things I felt we needed to do to get ourselves prim and proper for God.

The picture of a little Marty chasing chickens immediately brought me to a recollection from my childhood. When I was no more than six or seven in age, I’d go to my grandmother’s house in Wayland, Iowa for the day. One of my favorite things to do there was to go into my grandma’s big backyard, sneak into the fenced-in chicken area, and play with the chickens. My grandmother, in those days, raised at least 36 chickens each year, using them for both a great supply of laying eggs and, of course, for memorable Sunday-after-church chicken dinners!

Now my grandma was a gentle, Christian woman with a soft voice. But whenever I would get too rambunctious with her 36 chickens, I would immediately see her lean out of her back porch window, yelling at the top of her lungs, “Marty, stop chasing my chickens!” After I’d come back inside from my backyard adventures, my grandmother would graciously sit me down and tell me why this harsh rule for not chasing chickens was necessary. “Marty,” my grandma said, “chickens that are chased just won’t lay eggs and eventually birds that are always on the run just won’t make for great Sunday-after-church chicken dinners. It will make their meat tough and dry.”

As I was hearing the echo of my grandmother’s voice from years ago, the Lord was showing me, once again, that sign on the petting zoo barn.

PLEASE DON’T CHASE THE CHICKENS.

And gently, the Lord asked me to stop chasing His beloved children, making them do things that were beyond both their capability and, more importantly, beyond the Lord’s desires for them. And now, here I am reading Eugene Peterson! Marty Boller, the perennial chicken-chasing, church-growth 3-B’s pastor, now being told by Peterson the very same thing my grandma said to me. Let me close today, using my newly-found Peterson quote, but re-phrasing it using my chicken analogy for pastoring God’s people: 

“Subversives don’t chase chickens. All they do is prepare the ground and change the mood just a bit toward belief and hope, so that when Christ appears, there are His chickens waiting for Him.”

I hear you, grandma, I hear you.

My prayer: Father, I confess. I’m one pastor who can “chase your chickens” just about as well as anyone I know. I confess that I’ve spent too many of my years in pastoral ministry trying to get-r-done for Jesus while rarely taking time to give myself (or others, for that matter) a time to take a deep breath. Forgive me, Lord. I choose today to let your chickens be. For Your name’s sake. Amen.

My questions to ponder: What might it look like for me to be pro-active in my leadership skills yet never become one who “chases the chickens” so hard that we all become exhausted in our faith journey? What might a “faith walk” look like versus a “faith run” with Jesus?

So what is God speaking to you today as we ponder together The Contemplative Pastor?


Over a 37-blog series, you and I will take a deeper look at Eugene Peterson’s classic, The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction. In order to keep all the blog sessions organized, we suggest you bookmark our blog series home page for ease of use. Keep in mind that one of the best ways to explore the on-going applications of this blog series is to walk alongside a biblically-based, Christ-centered spiritual director who is familiar with how to make material like this part of your overall spiritual formation in God. Many of our directors in our Contemplative Activist network are available to companion you in your journey with Jesus. Click here for more info.

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