“What the church needs today is not more machinery or better, not new organizations or more and novel methods, but men whom the Holy Ghost can use–men of prayer, men mighty in prayer. The Holy Ghost does not flow through methods, but through men. He does not come on machinery, but men. He does not anoint plans, but men–men of prayer” ~ E.M Bounds
Should pastors be busy? Well-known pastor and author Eugene Peterson says no. In fact, he says the one adjective that should never modify the noun “pastor,” is “busy.” He goes even further: “[T]he word busy is the symptom not of commitment but of betrayal. It is not devotion but defection. The adjective busy set as a modifier to pastor should sound to our ears like adulterous to characterize a wife or embezzling to describe a banker. It is an outrageous scandal, a blasphemous affront.”
Okay, now that I’ve got your attention. Most people (dare I say even Christians) are probably confused when they read those words. After all, we live in a day when people are busier than ever. Shouldn’t pastors be busy? Shouldn’t they be earning their paycheck like the rest of us?
What should a pastor be doing? In his book The Contemplative Pastor, Peterson calls pastors back to what the Bible calls them to do. I like to think that Peterson is calling us once again to read 1 Timothy 4:6-16 carefully. He’s calling us to remember what the Apostles said in Acts 6:2 and 4: “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables . . . But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”
So, with the full realization in view that pastors cannot do everything, what should they be doing? Here’s what Peterson says he can do:
- I can be a pastor who prays.
“But we will devote ourselves to prayer . . .” (Acts 6:4). That’s what the apostles said they would do. Not that meeting peoples’ needs is unimportant. It is; but that’s why they established the office of deacon. Pastors must be committed to praying—for themselves, for their children, for the people in the church. We must do this daily and it must be earnest prayer. As the rest of Acts 6:4 makes clear, pastors must also devote themselves to the Word, but as John Piper so eloquently puts it, “We are called to the ministry of the Word and prayer, because without prayer the God of our studies will be the unfrightening and uninspiring God of insipid academic gamesmanship.” Or, for simplicity’s sake we could listen to E. M. Bounds: “Prayer makes the man; prayer makes the preacher; prayer makes the pastor.”
- I can be a pastor who preaches.
“The pulpit is a great gift, and I want to use it well,” Peterson writes. Paul tells Timothy to “Preach the Word” (2 Tim. 4:2). One of the qualifications for elders is that they must be “able to teach” (1 Tim. 3:2). In Ephesians 4, Paul says one of the gifts God has given to the church is “shepherds and teachers,” or, as that phrase can also be translated, “shepherd-teachers,” highlighting the fact that what pastors basically are is teachers.
This isn’t to say that pastors don’t do anything else; of course they do. But the bulk of their time is taken up with reading and studying the Scriptures. To be sure, this is not what most pastors do with their time. Many get bogged down with things that do not necessarily pertain to their calling. “But,” says Peterson, “what I want to do can’t be done that way.” I wholeheartedly agree with what he says next:
I need a drenching in Scripture; I require an immersion in biblical studies. I need reflective hours over the pages of Scripture as well as personal struggles with the meaning of Scripture. That takes far more time than it takes to prepare a sermon. . . . I can’t do that when I’m busy.
Taking time (quality time) to preach and to pray doesn’t come easy. We live in a world that is fast-paced. We often find it hard to sit quietly and read and pray. This time for pastors must be worked in to our schedules. As Pastor Arturo Azurdia comments, “If I pray only when people and circumstances allow it to be convenient, I would rarely pray.”
With all this time taken up in preaching and praying, members and others might view the pastor as unapproachable and inaccessible. Azurdia offers this response: “Over time, however, maturing Christians will come to appreciate the value of such discipline. They themselves will be the benefactors of it. Until such a time, a preacher must rest in the conviction that the protection and cultivation of his own inner life is in the best interest of the congregation.”
- I can be a pastor who listens.
Peterson writes, “Too much of pastoral visitation is punching the clock, assuring people we’re on the job, being busy, earning our pay. . . . Pastoral listening requires unhurried leisure, even if it’s only five minutes.”
If pastors are always in a rush, always in a hurry, and never have time to listen to people, to engage them in small-talk and actually listen, then they won’t be able to carry out this vital aspect of their ministry. As Peterson writes later in the book, “If we avoid small talk, we abandon the very field in which we have been assigned to work.”
To recap: Praying, preaching, and listening. This is what Peterson says should take up the bulk of a pastors time. Perhaps some people reading this are saying to themselves, “Wow! That’s it! What a sweet gig it is to be pastor!” Well, yes, it is a great blessing and a huge privilege. Maybe others read this and are a bit perturbed. They think pastors should be doing more. They should be mowing the church’s lawn; changing light bulbs, dusting and sweeping, etc. There’s certainly nothing wrong with those things per se.
Although this may sound a bit harsh, I think Peterson is correct when he says that pastors cannot “let people who do not understand the work of the pastor write the agenda for [our] day’s work.”
 Eugene H. Peterson, The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993), 17.
 John Piper, The Supremacy of God in Preaching, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004), 63.
 E. M. Bounds, Preacher and Prayer (Los Angeles: Del Williams, 2012), 9.
 Peterson, Contemplative Pastor, 20.
 Ibid., 20-21.
 Arturo Azurdia, Spirit-Empowered Preaching: Involving the Holy Spirit in Your Ministry (Great Britain: Mentor, 1998), 139.
 Peterson, Contemplative Pastor, 21.
 Ibid., 115.
 Ibid., 18.