Why Are So Many Pastors Tired, Stressed, and Spiritually Dry?

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In his book Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work, Eugene Peterson writes, “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 many 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 created by constant activity? Few people are more constantly active than the average pastor.

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

Richard Foster comments 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, focused, and productive without the sense of being driven, hurried, or busy.

W. Tozer suggests, “Our religious activities should be ordered in such a way as to leave plenty of time [margin] for the cultivation of the fruits of solitude and silence.”

Henri Nouwen dares to ask, “Is there a space in your life [margin] where the Spirit of God has a chance to speak or act or show up? To be contemplative means to peel off the blindfolds that keep us from seeing his coming in us and around us. It means to learn to listen in the spaces of quiet [margin] we leave for God and thereby know how better to relate to the world around us.”

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 push 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.

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You’ve just read an excerpt from my book ‘Mile Wide, Inch Deep: Experiencing God Beyond the Shallows, Soul Care for Busy Pastors, and the rest of us.’ Your copy is waiting for you here.