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What pastors might really want

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I’ve wanted to play a pastoral role since I preached my first sermon at sixteen. In the fourteen years since then, I’ve had the opportunity to play that role in several different ways and it has been a huge blessing. But that’s not to say there haven’t been complications or distractions that sometimes have frustrated or obstructed what I was aiming for. It’s amazing how easy it is to lose track at times and forget what I’m doing; I recently read something that delightfully reminded me.

When Eugene Peterson was about three years into his ministry as the pastor of a new church, he began to notice the congregation’s energy slowing down. His solution had been to work harder (and then much harder) at administrative duties and creating committees. In his recent memoir, “The Pastor”, he recounts how after six months of this, one night he declined to read his daughter a goodnight story because of an elders meeting he was about to attend; she pointed out he had been attending meetings for twenty-seven days straight. That night he abandoned the agenda and offered his resignation; he explained he was now always in a hurry, was failing as a parent, frantically thinking of how to increase the church’s momentum, not able to focus on prayer or people, just throwing sermons together. He didn’t want to live like this anymore. One elder asked him “So what do you want to do?”

“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 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 Karen.”

“I want to be an unhurried pastor.”

Instead of a resignation that night, Peterson and the elders worked to reorganize how the church was administered, an arrangement that has helped Peterson to become one of the most contemplative pastors and spiritual theologians from whom we have the opportunity to learn.

If you’re not a pastor, but have one, consider asking him or her what you can do to serve the congregation; it’ll make their week. If you are a pastor, I hope this blesses; you’re a much-needed light to the heaviness and dark of this world. Please do what you need to do to fan your flame; we need you. Peace of Christ to you.

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