What Small Church Pastors Don’t Want to Talk About, pt. 1


In my coaching practice I am often surprised to see some pastors actually avoid talking about their quiet times, or lack of quiet times, with God. Once I venture into this subject, the conversation often shifts from their soul to their church.

“So, Bob, tell me about your prayer life.”

“Could be better, but things are going really well at the church. Attendance is up a little.”

“I’m glad to hear that, but it sounds like your devotional life could use some improvement?”

“Well, it could always be better. I’ll tell you what really could use some improvement is our giving. Could we talk about developing a stewardship program?”

“Sure, Bob.”


Pastors, and the rest of us for that matter, want to be spiritual and yet resist being spiritual at the same time. Henri Nouwen says, “My resistance to solitude has proved as strong as my desire for it.”

We wish we were something we are not yet, but we resist the steps necessary to become who we wish we were.

I have found that most pastors don’t have a consistent and meaningful devotional life, and many have quit trying to have one. You might think I’m exaggerating but I’m not. Here are some theories I have as to why this is so.

First, it’s hard to develop a devotional life, especially if we don’t have much of one in the first place or if we have tried and failed repeatedly. It’s no wonder things like prayer, meditation, silence, and solitude are called spiritual disciplines. It takes discipline to engage in these practices and discipline is hard—and we tend to resist what is hard and favor what is easy.

Second, we’re afraid of what we might hear in the silence. There can actually be some anxiety surrounding the thought of being alone with God. Henri Nouwen put it this way:

We seem to have a fear of empty spaces. The philosopher Spinoza called this a horror vacui. We want to fill up what is empty. Our lives stay very full. And when we are not blinded by busyness, we fill our inner space with guilt about things of the past or worries about things to come. Perhaps part of our fear comes from the fact that an empty place means that something may happen to us that we cannot predict, that is new, that invites leads us to a place we might not want to go. I might not want to hear what God has to say.

For two years I met with a spiritual director, named Russ Ikeda, while transitioning from the pastorate to coaching. Russ gave me a helpful definition of the word intimacy: “Intimacy means ‘into-me-see.’” Isn’t that great?

When I sit quietly with God I am inviting Him to look into me and to share with me what He sees. Silence and solitude with God might make us uncomfortable at first, like looking into the mirror first thing in the morning before we’ve had a chance to tidy up a bit. If we persist, eventually our times of quiet with God will become the most peaceful and safe place we’ve ever experienced. Until we experience this, however, the horror vacui causes us to resist.


The above article is an excerpt from my book: Mile Wide, Inch Deep: Experiencing God Beyond the Shallows, Soul Care For Busy Pastors and the Rest of Us. Find your copy here.