Wednesday, September 17, 2014

I Want To Be An Unbusy Pastor

Photo Credit: Mickey_Liaw (Creative Commons)
I collapsed on the couch after another full Saturday of ministry commitments--my "day off" but we all know that isn't really true most weeks--while my children proceeded to destroy the living room. Couch cushions, puzzle pieces, Lego figures, and the books from the nearby shelves were being methodically scattered about. One book from the shelf ended up near my feet--Eugene Peterson's memoir on being a pastor--and as I picked it up, a page caught my attention. An asterisk and bold line in the margin, written there by my own hand years ago, caused me to read the following manifesto over and over. This was a response from Eugene Peterson to the elders at his church in the early years of his ministry, a season where he was running at full-sprint and knew it would cost him, that something needed to change.

I share Peterson's manifesto here as a reminder of my own desires and personal views of the role and vocation of a pastor, and hopefully as an encouragement to those who are trapped in the lie of busyness equals success. I've slightly adapted it, using personal names of my family instead of Peterson's:
I want to be a pastor who prays. I want to be reflective and responsive and relaxed in the presence of God so that I can be reflective and responsive and relaxed in your presence. I can't do that on the run. It takes a lot of time. I started out doing that with you, but now I feel too crowded. 
I want to be a pastor who reads and studies. This culture in which we live squeezes all the God sense out of us. I want to be observant and informed enough to help this congregation understand what we are up against, the temptations of the devil to get us thinking we can all be our own gods. This is subtle stuff. It demands some detachment and perspective. I can't do this just by trying harder. 
I want to be a pastor who is present. I want to be a pastor who has the time to be with you in leisurely, unhurried conversations so that I can understand and be a companion with you as you grow in Christ--your doubts and your difficulties, your desires and your delights. I can't do that when I am running scared. 
I want to be a pastor who leads you in worship, a pastor who brings you before God in receptive obedience, a pastor who preaches sermons that make scripture accessible and present and alive, a pastor who is able to give you a language and imagination that restores in you a sense of dignity as a Christian in your homes and workplaces and gets rid of these debilitating images of being a 'mere' layperson. 
I want to have the time to read a story to Copeland and Eloise, to listen to the stories of the day from Katie. 
I want to be an unbusy pastor.
-adapted from Eugene Peterson, The Pastor, pg. 278

After Peterson shared this with his elders, they turned it back to him: "so why don't you do this? What's stopping you?" For Peterson, and for myself, it's not just the busy culture we live in or the expectations of others. It's the personal commitment and discipline to practice Sabbath, to overcome the tendency of being a frantic people-pleaser, to value my own soul and my family's well-being over ministry obligations, and to empower the whole church to serve and build-up one another in meaningful and sustainable rhythms. It's the (unhealthy) belief that the church--it's people, programs, problems, etc.--rest on my shoulders, and I must carry them all with a stoic diligence. Perhaps I need to unshoulder the burden on to the Shepherd who can truly and wholly care for the flock.

I want to be an unbusy pastor. By God's grace (and a little repentance and discipline), I'm beginning to believe I can.

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