When someone stops by to talk to me about something, even if just for a moment, they usually leave saying something like, “Well, I’d better leave you alone now pastor. I know that you are really busy.” I know this is always meant as a way to humbly say “I don’t want to take up too much of your time,” but my heart sinks just a little bit when I hear it. Yes, there is work to be done. And no, I don’t have all day to just sit and chat all the time. Yes, it might even be true that I am “busy” but what better thing to be busy with than to be listening to God’s people so that I might shepherd them and point them to Jesus! Isn’t that what being a pastor is all about?
In some ways, it is my own fault. As your pastor, I want to make sure things run smoothly at church, and that too is partly my responsibility. But it can become very easy for a pastor to focus so much on the smooth running of the church that we forget our primary vocation to be a shepherd and a caretaker of souls to the people of God. I know I am prone to that, and I ask your forgiveness if I’ve ever implied by my words or demeanor that I am too busy for you.
A pastor named Eugene Peterson wrote an essay a number of years ago for Christianity Today called, “The Unbusy Pastor.” He argued that it should sound scandalous to hear the words “busy pastor.” That should sound to our ears something like “adulterous wife” or “embezzling banker.” To be busy is not the mark of a faithful pastor, because in order to do our best work, we need to be unbusy. For a pastor to truly pray for the flock, he needs unhurried time to sit still before the Lord. Even Jesus often needed to be alone to pray to the Father (Luke 5:16), and the pastor is no different. For that matter, neither is any other Christian.
But it’s not just prayer. For the pastor to be a man of the Word, he needs to spend time with the Scriptures. To preach and teach God’s Word diligently and faithfully requires more than just casually reading a verse here or there, jotting down a few thoughts, and then quickly getting the sermon printed so that the pastor can get back to the business of running the church. Deep reading of God’s Word is necessary if the pastor is to do diligence to his vocation as shepherd.
And in order to minister faithfully, the pastor must be unbusy to listen to the needs of the flock. The pastor’s work was classically defined as cura animarum, the “care of souls.” Just like your body needs a doctor to care for it, your soul needs a pastor who can diagnose your spiritual disease and point you to the remedy in Christ and His Word. But in order to do that well, I need time to listen to you, to give you my full attention, and to pray with and for you. All of that is impossible if I’m always busy.
To be honest, there have been seasons at Zion that the word “busy” could definitely describe what I was doing day in and day out. For that, I repent and ask for your forgiveness. But I’m also pleased to say that especially in recent months, I have been far less “busy” than usual. For that, I have to thank the many volunteers at Zion who have stepped up to help take care of other tasks and work in the church to free me to be faithful in my work as a pastor! Many of the things I have been busy with in the past are important and necessary things in the life of our congregation. And many of them can be done by others besides the pastors. So thank you to everyone who has helped step up, so that I might be free to be an unbusy pastor.
During this month of October, as we are busy finding new volunteers for various officer positions, boards, and committees for next year, I am thankful for the many people at Zion who volunteer their time, their skills and knowledge, their passion, and their resources to help us proclaim and teach the Gospel both to our church members and to our community. We couldn’t do this without you, and I especially couldn’t focus nearly as much of my energy on the heart of it all – Christ proclaimed in Word and Sacrament – if it weren’t for your dedicated help and support. Thank you so much!
“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24, NIV).