The Unbusy Pastor

Eugene Peterson has a section in The Pastor: A Memoir called “The Unbusy Pastor.” After successfully planting a church, finishing a building project, and achieving financial sustainability in ministry, there was a lull. The energy and adrenaline that had kept everything going was unsustainable.


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Not for lack of hard work. Eugene describes endless committee meetings, home visits, ministry projects and the like, as an effort to regain earlier momentum and glory.

It was a comment by his daughter that caused Eugene to unwind emotionally. “This is the twenty-seventh night in a row you have had a meeting.”

On the way to the meeting Eugene decided to resign. Convicted by his busyness and lack of time for family, he scrapped the agenda, and told his leadership team what Karen, his daughter, had said. Then he resigned!

Most people who have served in ministry have been tempted to do the same thing. The fear of failure (and a love for God?) drives us to work hard, sacrifice much, and all too often burn out in the process. Paul Tripp in an article called  The Fearful Pastor which appears in the Christian Post writes about the pastor who works hard but is dying in process (the link is below) I came across this article and the Eugene’s The Unbusy Pastor on the same day. I don’t think it was a coincidence.

Eugene Peterson writes,

I resigned. I told them I had tried not to work so had, but I didn’t seem to be able to do it. “And it’s not just Karen. It’s you too. I haven’t been a pastor to this congregation in six months. I pray in fits and starts. I am in a hurry all the time. When I visit or have lunch with you, I’m not always listening to you; I am thinking of what I can do to get the momentum going again. My sermons are thrown together. I don’t want to live like this, either with you or with my family.”

The voice of clarity came through a question by one of his church leaders. “Well, what do you want to do?”

Eugene’s response is interesting to me because it seems to be so in line with what most ministry leaders want but don’t have. Here is a summary of Eugene’s words. As you read it consider how you will answer the question above.

  1. I want to be a pastor who prays.
  2. I want to be a pastor who reads and studies.
  3. 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…
  4. I want to be a pastor who leads you in worship, a pastor who bring you before God in receptive obedience, a pastor who preaches sermons that makes scripture accessible and present and alive, a pastor who is able to give you a language that restores in you a sense of dignity as a Christian…
  5. I want to have time to read a story to Karen.
  6. I want to be an unbusy pastor.

Is their any hope for busy pastors and ministry leaders?

I put together a little worksheet that might help you answer this question.

What do you most want to do as a ministry leader? It doesn’t matter what your role is, whether you area an active volunteer in Christian leadership, a para-church leader, missionary, or pastor. Take some time to really think through what you want to do. You can download a this one page sheet: Becoming an Unbusy Leader: A Self-Assessment as a PDF or Word document.

All leaders have to spend some time doing things that just have to be done. Far too many of us do things out of fear or the tyranny of the urgent. What might it look like to reclaim our calling?

If you have any thoughts leave a comment below.

If you’re interested in reading The Pastor: A Memoir by Eugene Peterson, I highly recommend it. You can find it on Amazon through the link above. It’s an affiliate link and if you do buy it through this link I do get a small commission which helps cover the costs of this blog.

Consider reading “The Fearful Pastor by Paul Tripp, an article that appeared in The Christian Post. It’s very good!

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