Do you need to ‘unbusy’ yourself?


I was recently asked by Jeff and Jonny over at (You need to visit their site and sign up for their newsletter.) to come up with a list of the top challenges pastors face. I guess because I’ve now entered into my eighth year of coaching pastors they thought I might know something about this. What you’re reading is the first in this series.

Pastors are constantly facing the challenge of being too busy.

In his book Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work, Eugene Peterson says, “In order for there to be conversation and prayer that do the pastoral work of meeting the intimacy needs among people, there must be a wide margin of quiet leisure that defies the functional, technological, dehumanizing definitions that are imposed upon people by others in the community…”

Remember that phrase, “…a wide margin of quiet leisure…”

Having interacted with hundreds of pastors in North America and around the world I have observed that most of those in the ministry are too busy. There is simply no time for the “wide margin of quiet leisure” that Peterson speaks of. Because of this many pastors feel tired, stressed, and spiritually dry.

How can we lead others into deep waters if we ourselves live in the shallows generated by constant activity? Few people are more constantly active than the average pastor.

The pastor’s week is filled with phone calls and follow up, meetings and mentoring, emails, sermonizing, problem solving, people placating, visitation and vision-casting, drop-ins, counseling, planning, and dodging bullets.

Richard Foster commented in Celebration of Discipline, “In contemporary society our adversary majors in three things: noise, hurry, and crowds. If he can keep us engaged in “muchness” and “manyness” he will rest satisfied. Psychiatrist Carl Jung once remarked, “Hurry is not of the devil; it is the devil.”

Great pastors are organized and focused and productive without the sense of being driven, hurried, or busy.

“Life for many leaders is a blur of activity and planning, with sparse occasions for reflection (margin), replenishing (margin), rejoicing (margin), and responding to (margin) the relationship the Lord is inviting them to experience and enjoy in Him. The urgent crowds out the essential. Doing ignores being. Developing skills becomes more important than shaping character.” (TransforMissional Coaching)

Can you think of any good things you could take off your plate in order to make margin for better things such as: spiritual formation, thinking and planning, and cultivating key relationships? Notice, I said good things.

For most of us the challenge is not to take bad things off our plate. Bad things are obvious, they prick our conscience. What pushes us over the edge are good things that crowd out better things. Our calendars are not filled with too much bad, but with too much good.

God will give me all the time I need to do the things He wants me to do. ‘Too busy’ is an indication that there is something in my life that did not originate from God.

(This article is an excerpt from my first book, ‘Mile Wide, Inch Deep: soul care for busy pastors…and the rest of us.’ to be released this year.)