What Small Church Pastors Don’t Want to Talk About, pt. 2

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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.”

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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.

If you haven’t read part one this might be a good time to do so.

Third, our constant “spiritual activities” can fool us into believing we are more spiritual than we really are. Many pastors give more of themselves to their church or ministry than they do to God. If I confuse my ministerial duties with time spent alone with God, I can draw just enough spiritual nutrients from my job to make it through another day but not enough to sustain a life infused with the power and presence of Jesus.

Fourth, we’re just too busy. In Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work, Eugene Peterson tells us that “busyness is an illness of spirit, a rush from one thing to another because there is no ballast of vocational integrity and no confidence in the primacy of grace.”3

The busier our lives are, the harder it will be for us to take the time to sit quietly with God. When we do force ourselves to sit down we will be reminded of all the important things to be done today. Then the temptation is to give in to the distractions, cut our time short, and go on about our day.

Finally, in any discussion as to why we find it so difficult to cultivate our inner life, we must not forget the devil.

Certainly our adversary is content to find us any place other than in our prayer closet. The devil couldn’t care less about our ministry activities as long as our souls are shallow and Jesus seems like a distant cousin rather than our Savior-friend. The reproduction of intimacy with Jesus in the lives of those we minister to flows out of our own intimacy with Jesus. Our true identity, the beloved of God, takes root and grows as we spend time with our Father. If our enemy can keep us from that place then he will succeed, and we will only be able to reproduce a superficial spirituality in the people we’ve been called to pastor.

Thomas Merton said, “Those who cannot be alone cannot find their true being and they are less than themselves.” Haven’t you felt that there must be more to life than you are experiencing? Pay attention—that longing for more is your true being crying out for Jesus.

The restlessness and resistance we feel toward solitude with God is an indication of something we need to face and overcome. We need to be courageous enough to sit still and invite God to “into-me-see.” He will come. He will see. He will share with us what He has found. He will be gentle. He will help us overcome the resistance. Once we overcome the resistance, we will be overcome by Him.

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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.