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The Pastor: Eugene Peterson on How to Be an Unbusy Pastor

By Eugene Peterson | Excerpted from "The Pastor: A Memoir" | August 25 2011

As a congregation, we had achieved critical mass, we were self-supporting financially, we had built a sanctuary that gave visibility to our worshipping presence in the neighborhood. It was the beginning of what I earlier called the badlands era in which the euphoria of establishing a church had gone flat,

the adrenaline of being involved in a challenging enterprise had drained out. I had worked hard for those three years. The congregation had worked hard. We couldn't sustain it.

Except that I tried. I formed committees. I made home visits. Longer hours. A longer workweek. Just a few years previous to this, Roger Bannister, the first 4-minute miler, wrote his autobiography in which he described life following his high-profile athletic celebrity. He wasn't breaking records anymore.

He compensated by working harder and harder. He described himself as a carpenter who "made up for his lack of skill by using a lot of nails." That was me. I had tried to slow down. I had tried to relax, but I was afraid of failing. I couldn't help myself.

One evening after supper, Karen—she was 5years old at the time—asked me to read her a story. I said, "I'm sorry, Karen, but I have a meeting tonight."

"This is the 27th night in a row you have had a meeting." She had been keeping track, counting.

The meeting I had to go to was with the church's elders, the ruling body of the congregation. In the 7-minute walk to the church on the way to the meeting I made a decision. If succeeding as a pastor meant failing as a parent, I was already a failed pastor. I would resign that very night.

We met in my study. I convened the meeting and scrapped the agenda. I told them what Karen had said 20 minutes earlier in our living room, and I resigned. I told them I had tried not to work so hard, but that 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 for six months. I pray in fits and starts. I feel as if I'm in a hurry all the time. When I visit or have lunch with you, I'm not listening to you; I am thinking of ways I can 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."

"So what do you want to do?" This was Craig speaking. His father had been a pastor. He knew some of this from the inside.

"I want to be a pastor who prays. I want to be reflective and responsive and relaxed in the presence of God so 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.

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