The Unbusy Pastor: Praying. Preaching. Listening.

Today’s Eugene Peterson Quote:

If I’m not busy making my mark in the world or doing what everyone expects me to do, what do I 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. 1) I can be a pastor who prays. 2) I can be a pastor who preaches. 3) I can be a pastor who listens. The appointment calendar is the tool with which to get unbusy. The trick, of course, is to get to the calendar before anyone else does. I mark out the times for prayer, for reading, for leisure, for the silence and solitude out of which creative work – prayer, preaching, and listening – can issue. Eugene Peterson (from Chapter Two, The Contemplative Pastor pp.29-30)


Maybe Peterson is right.

Maybe, just maybe, every one of us in pastoral ministry needs to stop being so busy trying to make our mark in the world or doing what everyone expects us to do and simply get about the business of becoming the praying, preaching, and listening pastoral shepherds Jesus is hoping us to be?

Unfortunately, our flesh truly gets in the way of such a godly assignment, don’t you think? In all honesty, it’s our self-consumption and preoccupation with significance, more than any real dedication to God, that drives most of us pastors to make our churches the biggest, best-est, and brightest in our denomination or in our city. Before returning to the pastorate to begin what now has become the Association of Vineyard Churches, John Wimber worked with Fuller Institute of Church Growth, traveling across North America working with pastors and churches from a variety of denominational backgrounds. After several years of this church work, dealing firsthand with the self-centeredness and drive of so many pastors and leaders, John once commented sadly to his wife, “Carol, I’ve almost come to the conclusion that God honors ambition and ego, because that’s about all I find out there.”

Sometimes I wonder if God bemoans this same sad state of affairs. I wonder if God is hoping the day will soon come when a handful of His pastors across North America might drop our drive to succeed at all costs, and begin to listen to Eugene Peterson’s call for men and women in leadership who stop their busyness, becoming ones who 1) pray (i.e. practicing the Kingdom presence of God), 2) preach God’s Word with humility and Holy Spirit power, and 3) listen carefully for both God’s voice and the cry of God’s people?

My pastoral coach, Dave Jacobs, made an interesting comment to me early on in our coaching times together. He said, “Marty, as a pastor myself and now as a coach to other pastors, I find so often we focus on ‘telling and selling’ instead of ‘asking and listening.’” That comment has stuck in my craw over the years and I’m finding more and more that when I pastor my church through ‘telling and selling,’ I’m betraying my God-given call to simply pray, preach and listen. On the flip side of that coin, when I choose to lead by asking great questions and listening, (instead of telling and selling), I find more seems to get done in the long run and my people seem happier as well!

So, let’s read on, my pastoral friends. Now that Peterson has shared his first adjective, ‘unbusy,’ for the noun, ‘pastor,’ let’s see what he has to say about his second adjective, ‘subversive.’ Join us next time.

My prayer: Jesus, sadly, I’ve spent most of my pastoral career “telling and selling,” trying my very best to convince others to join me in my pursuit to build the biggest and best-est church in town. Today, I choose to finish my work in ministry spending more time becoming the unbusy pastor Peterson describes. For Your name’s sake. Amen.

My questions to ponder: So what needs to change in my daily schedule so that I can move from being the over-busy pastor/leader who is “telling and selling” to the unbusy one who spends my time focused on solitude, preaching God’s Word, and listening well to others?

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.

If you like what you’re reading, might we suggest you share this page with others!

Click here to continue to the next blog in this series…

1 thought on “The Unbusy Pastor: Praying. Preaching. Listening.

  1. Pingback: The Unbusy Pastor: Leading Others Beside Still Waters. | The Contemplative Activist

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