Pastoral Busyness as Idolatry

Most pastors that I know, including myself, struggle with being excessively busy. We see how many things we can pile on our ministerial plates. We know that ministering within a local congregation itself is more than a full time job. Most people, who have never walked in the shoes of a pastor, imagine the pastor sitting all day with his feet up, sipping coffee, reading the Bible and generally basking in the Shekinah. For many of us, we expected this when we sensed the Spirit’s call for us into ministry. But in reality, for most of us, it is long days of counseling. Sure there is coffee, but normally accompanied by the tears and struggles of the person sitting across the table from you. There are continual issues, emails, phone calls, meetings and preparation. Whether it be physical (like a broken sound system, coffee pot or a balky back), emotional (us on the top of that list), relational (no there are never any interpersonal conflicts in church), societal (some real world happening that is dramatically impacting) or spiritual (growing in Christ is a messy business), it really never ends. For most of us, instead of basking in the Shekinah, we drag ourselves into the pulpit with broken prayers for the Spirit to speak despite ourselves. And that leaves out budgeting, family time and the most important reality of a prayer life and relationship with God Himself. Please don’t feel that I am complaining or lamenting. I am not. I am just trying to set the stage.

You see all of that is more than a full time job (and for many of us, we also work a day job). But yet, for so many of us, there are a million and one other things that we find ourselves doing in God’s name. Chaplaincy, disaster response, blogging (like I am doing right now), countless hours doing innumerable good things. Oftentimes, pastors have a ton of additional things that they are involved in. For many of us, if we are not busy, then we are not pastoring. If we are pastoring and also busy, then we have value in the ministry. If we can say that our calendar is full then we justify our existence. When we get to the end of our day and we are exhausted, we can say to ourselves, “You are God’s man, well done, good and faithful servant!”.

But we are valuing ourselves not by the resurrection of Jesus Christ and His love and grace. Instead we are valuing ourselves by our busyness. I have often asked myself, “Would I be bored in my Christian walk if there wasn’t so much ministry to do?” I struggle with my own heart’s response. I would be restless and bored. That makes me nervous. Should I be restless or bored with Jesus alone? We all know the answer to that!

4 replies
  1. Tim Brown
    Tim Brown says:

    Hi, Daniel. Thanks for your post. I remember reading Eugene Peterson’s, “The Contemplative Pastor,” many, many years ago. What he said has stuck on my soul – “The word ‘busy’ should be a dirty word for a pastor.” Busyness draws us away from our calling, not further into it – it is not the context in which our calling is walked out.

    I think every pastor should develop a healthy ability to say “No” to people/things/ events. Sure – there are seasons where there are more hospital visits than normal, more counseling than normal, more family ‘crises’ than normal, and some texts are more challenging to exegete than others, but if our pace is always at a jog – maybe, as your title suggests, we are idolaters and burnout is just around the corner. Thanks again.

  2. Kellen Criswell
    Kellen Criswell says:

    Good post, my brotha. I heard Keller say once “Most pastors preach justification by faith, but emotionally believe they’re justified by their ministry.” That’s a crazy blind-spot/trap we get into. A good fighter verse on that is 2 Timothy 1:9 which states God “saved us AND called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ before time began.” I love that. My salvation AND my calling are by God’s grace through the gospel. It seems like that should help with perspective on the issue you bring up in this post.

  3. Bill Holdridge
    Bill Holdridge says:

    I’ve been accused of being addicted to ministry in the past. I’m afraid that my accusers were probably right in some respects.

    The pathway from “more fruit” to “much fruit” in John 15 is not through doing more of what we do while we’re bearing “more fruit,” which is what we typically think.

    Actually, the pathway from “more fruit” to “much fruit” is through abiding. “Abiding” is a two-way relationship. Christ in us; we in Christ. Living in Him, He living in us.

    Now, to really learn how to do that!

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