I suppose there are as many models for pastoral ministry as there are pastors, but I find Eugene H. Peterson’s philosophy of ministry compelling. Three years after he had started a church, he realized that he had worked himself into an unhealthy busy pastor mode. One day his daughter, Karen, asked him to read her a story. As usual, he apologetically declined, as he had another evening meeting to attend. Her response hit him hard: “This is the twenty-seventh night in a row you’ve had a meeting.” His heart was broken, and he knew that he couldn’t continue living this way. So he went to his evening meeting and resigned. He told his story of perceived failure in parenting and pastoral ministry. One wise leader asked: “So what do you want to do [as a pastor]?” This was Eugene’s response:
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 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 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 get rid of these debilitating images of being a ‘mere’ layperson. . . . .I want to be an unbusy pastor.”
(Eugene H. Peterson. The Pastor, 278.)
I’m not suggesting that every pastor should be exactly like Eugene Peterson. But I do believe that his view of ministry is helpful for all pastors. Godly leaders are reflective. How can we help others to know Jesus if we don’t know him ourselves, which comes from spending considerable time with him in solitude and silence. So may the Lord help me and all pastors to take Peterson’s story to heart. May he show us how to be unbusy pastors, so that we can know Christ and make him known in this busy, distracted world.