Getting UnBusy

BECOMING UNBUSY

I hate the word ‘busy’. I hate it with growing fervor. I hate that it is the sacred, unassailable and unquestioned excuse our culture uses to avoid events and people. I hate how it is used to flatter, to express sympathy and to keep relationships on a superficial level.

I also hate how everyone is ‘so busy’ yet little of consequence ever seems to get done. What is really getting accomplished in our frenetic hustle? Have we eliminated poverty or found a cure for cancer? Or have we simply succeeded in maintaining the economic engine of our society – mindless consumption?

I hate the cultural norms that excuse employees for checking Facebook or ESPN at work and then sympathizes with their “heavy workload” that keeps them from riding bikes or playing in the dirt with their kids. I hate that over half of the meals in America are eaten in cars or in front of a TV screen.

I am on a crusade against busyness. I realize that I run the risk of offending a lot of people because I am attacking one of our most cherished idols, the one we sacrifice our lives and families to, but I believe the risk is worth it. There is a better way of living that is more satisfying, more productive and more enjoyable.

MY STORY

Burned out Pastors

The first year I pastored was tumultuous. I had no previous experience pastoring or leading an organization and it was everything I could do to keep from drowning. A whole lot of things went undone that first year because I didn’t yet have the capacity to manage it all.  My days were hectic and scattered. I never felt that I accomplished anything or that I was on top of my workload. In the worst moments I fantasized about quitting and sympathized with the estimated 1,700 pastors who quit the ministry every month. (By the way, that statistic isn’t true – it is urban legend. However, that first year of pastoring made it all too believable.)

On top of it all, that same year, two Pastors whom I highly respect went through terrible health issues and burn out. Each Pastor was a veteran saint who had spent decades building his congregation. Each was lauded by their respective city and denomination as a model Pastor and church, the kind wet-behind-the-ears-whipper-snappers like me were supposed to emulate. However, I had a very privileged view into the lives of these men and their congregations and I saw what pushing for growth cost them personally and professionally.

No Thank You

Because I got to see the terrible effects of burn out first hand, I had absolutely no desire to pursue the kind of ministry they had mastered during my lifetime. If building a “successful” church meant that I had to be a driven, Type A workaholic who demanded much from myself and more from others and resulted in a mental/physical/spiritual/social breakdown then I didn’t want it. I’d rather be happy and healthy instead. Thus, the name of this blog, “The Happy Pastor” was born. My intent at the beginning of this blog was to scour the internet and accumulated wisdom of the ages to see if their was a better model of pastoring. My focus has shifted since then, but that was the genesis of this site.

Lifeline

In one of my darkest times, when my fantasy of quitting was about to become a reality, my friend Marty made me aware of a book by Eugene Peterson called The Contemplative Pastor. I was familiar with Peterson’s name from The Message, but I hadn’t read any of his work. Based on Marty’s recommendation I picked it up.

To say The Contemplative Pastor was life changing wouldn’t be much of an overstatement. It came at a critical time in my life and career and has formed me in more ways than I know. I have yet to put it into practice in all the ways I would like, but I return to it again and again as a model for the kind of Pastor I want to be.

Peterson’s manifesto includes three adjectives he uses to describe pastoring and he develops each in turn. The three adjectives Peterson applies to Pastors are: unbusy (hence the name of this post), subversive and apocalyptic. I’ll only deal with the first here, but the others are worth exploring at another time.

THE UNBUSY PASTOR

There are so many good quotes it is hard to choose, but perhaps the most salient is the following:

“THE ONE piece of mail certain to go unread into my wastebasket basket is the letter addressed to the “busy pastor.”

Not that the phrase doesn’t describe me at times, but I refuse to give my attention to someone who encourages what is worst in me. I’m not arguing the accuracy of the adjective; I am, though, contesting the way it’s used to flatter and express sympathy.

“The poor man,” we say. “He’s so devoted to his flock; the work is endless, and he sacrifices himself so unstintingly” But the word busy is the symptom not of commitment but of betrayal. It is not devotion but defection. The adjective busy set as a modifier to pastor should sound to our ears like adulterous to characterize a wife or embezzling to describe a banker. It is an outrageous scandal, a blasphemous affront.”

Eugene H. Peterson. The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction (Kindle Locations 149-154). Kindle Edition.

Peterson continues to rail against our “blasphemous anxiety to do God’s work for him,” but much of the above section can readily apply to all of us, not just pastors.

REASONS FOR BUSYNESS

Peterson also identifies several reasons for busyness. I have drilled down a little deeper and offer you my own take on why it is so easy, even rewarding, to be busy.

Pride

American culture idolizes busyness. Busyness is a status symbol, a way of showing our importance. A full calendar tells us, and all who will take notice, that we are important, vital, highly sought after. Our understanding of economics supports this. A commodity with little supply and huge demand is far more costly than one with a large supply and little demand – therefore, limited time because of endless demands means I am valuable.

We use busyness as a badge of honor, a way of reminding ourselves that we are essential lynchpins in the mechanism of society. I’ve known people who refuse to take vacations because they are so certain they are the only ones who can do their jobs and that the company would fall apart without them. Their job security rests on them being the only one capable of doing certain things. Then they get sick and (horror of horrors!) life goes on without them.

None of us are irreplaceable. That doesn’t mean we are just widgets or cogs in the wheel a la Henry Ford. Rather, it means that the world will adapt to our absence with little to no side effects. We aren’t nearly so important as we think. I find this intensely liberating because it means emails, text messages and voicemails can wait – people really can solve their own problems.

Impotence

I also find myself being busy when I can’t say no. Especially in Christian circles we confuse powerlessness with holiness. The inability to say no, the constant devaluing of our own needs for the sake of others, the lifestyle of being constantly on the go yet never getting anything done – this is not what God intended and it is not a sign of maturity.

One of the most liberating books I have read in the past year is Keep Your Love On by Danny Silk (seriously, go get it) because Silk does an outstanding job of explaining what it means to be a powerful person. It isn’t holy to live without boundaries, it isn’t healthy or God-honoring to never say ‘no’ or to give people unlimited access to your heart, home and time. This was a serious battle for me. I’m a bleeding heart and want to help, but without boundaries I will bleed out.

Jesus said to “love your neighbor as you love yourself.” I don’t know about you, but that sounds like I need to love myself before I can love my neighbor. If I don’t love myself, care for myself, value myself, nourish myself, shepherd myself, or protect myself then I am simply unable to do that for others. But the Religious Spirit in America says “No! You must give and give. To say ‘no’ to others is selfish. You are a servant, you are supposed to give, you are supposed to be last.” I don’t even try to argue with this anymore, I just douse them with holy water and say “Be gone in Jesus’ Name!” Not really, but I want to. I’ve never found myself able to convince someone to value themselves when this is their mindset. They either have to burn out and learn it the hard way or Holy Spirit has to make it real to them – I can only step aside and pray after I’ve spoken to them.

Fear

Finally, some of us are busy because we are absolutely terrified of being alone. If we ever have a moment of unoccupied time it seems like all of the monsters start crawling out of the closet and from under the bed. In a desperate attempt to keep from thinking or processing at a deeper level, we pursue busyness with a vengeance, even taking our smart phones with us to the bathroom so we can read or play a game. Boredom is the enemy we are determined to conquer.

This has always been the case for humanity. In times past it was movies, newspapers, books or work. We have always been afraid to be with ourselves and run the risk of recognizing how shallow and insignificant our lives really are. Perhaps that is why Christians have so long recommended the Disciplines of Solitude and Silence and means to spiritual growth. Confronting our demons, our insignificance and our impotence is, surprisingly, the only way to actually influence the world and accomplish anything of worth. Solitude and Silence is hard work and strong medicine, but it has helped to make sinners into saints for centuries.

CLARIFICATIONS

Now, before I go on, I’d like to clarify one thing. I am not advocating that you quit your job, cancel all your appointments and activities and go be a monk. I’m also not saying that you can’t have fun, enroll your kids in enrichment activities or have a full schedule.

What I am saying is that busyness is a quality of the soul. Busyness is when our minds are distracted, our energy dispersed and we are unable to be present to the world around us. Busyness is when we cannot listen to another human being because our lunch hour is up or we’re preoccupied with the seven other things on our To Do List. Busyness is being self-consumed, totally cut off from communion with God and fellowship with others. What I am advocating for in my crusade against busyness is primarily a change in mindset that will overflow into a change in our schedules.

THE GOALS OF BECOMING UNBUSY

Being Present

I get having a full schedule, I have my day planned from 5am to 10pm every day of the week. But because I have a plan and have dedicated myself to the hard work of being a powerful person, I am not busy. I certainly have things to do, but I’m not busy. My schedule allows me to be fully present wherever I am and whatever I’m doing because I know everything has a time and a place. I find it difficult to describe how liberating it is to enjoy a nap guilt free because you know your work is going to get done.

Even more valuable, as I go about my day and work I find myself better able to talk with God because my mind isn’t cluttered with multitudes of projects and ideas. When I go shopping I carry a list which frees me from trying to remember things and also frees me to pay more attention to the people around me. I find myself praying more and asking God better questions. It is really quite fascinating to see how taking care of myself allows me to take better care of others.

Living on Mission

And that brings me to the main point of this post. Busyness distracts us from our proper work as citizens of God’s Kingdom. We are called to be salt, light and leaven to the world around us. We are called to give to others the unhindered flow life which flows in to us from God. We are called to make disciples of all nations, immersing them in the character and nature of God and teaching them to obey all Jesus commanded us. We can’t do that when we are busy.

Seeing people and having compassion on them requires a presence of soul that is rarely found in the world today. The ability to listen is in short supply and those able to speak words of life even more so. Getting unbusy is the first step in making ourselves available to God so that he can use us to advance his Kingdom.

Once again, I’m not saying you need to quit your job or the activities you love. Instead, I’m suggesting that if we are going to truly live into our calling to make disciples then we will need to learn how to be powerful people who take control of our schedules and who fight against the cultural norms imposed upon us. We need to reject the notion that our worth comes from our busyness and we need to learn to be alone with ourselves. In doing so, we open ourselves to the possibility of God speaking to us and moving through us.

So, by all means, take your daughter to dance class or football practice, but while you’re there, please stay off of your phone. Sit by yourself and pray or start asking God to speak to you about the other parents present. Strike up a conversation – invite them to your home group – who knows what will happen?

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Theological Designations

“The word ‘sinner’ is a theological designation. It is essential to insist upon this. It is not a moralistic judgment. It is not a word that places humans somewhere along a continuum ranging from angel to ape, assessing them as relatively ‘good’ or ‘bad’. It designates humans in relation to God and sees them separated from God. Sinner means something is awry between humans and God. In that state, people may be wicked, unhappy, anxious, and poor. Or, they may be virtuous, happy, and affluent. Those items are not part of the judgment.

Eugene Peterson, The Contemplative Pastor

My friend Marty recently blogged his way through Eugene Peterson’s (must read) book The Contemplative Pastor. In the course of his blogging, Marty posted an extended version of the quote above and offered his thoughts. Today, I thought I’d do the same because that quote has stuck in my brain for weeks and something that tenacious is a good indicator of Holy Spirit’s involvement.

Peterson articulates something I have known intuitively for a long time, but never had language for. “Sin” and “sinner” are theological terms, not moral ones. For that matter, “saint” is also a theological term and not a moral one. But we are so used to thinking in moral terms (sinner = bad and saint = good) that it requires a considerable amount of conscious effort to rid ourselves of the habit and think correctly about these ideas.

Peterson says, “‘Sinner’ means something is awry between humans and God. In that state, people may be wicked, unhappy, anxious, and poor. Or, they may be virtuous, happy and affluent. Those items are not part of the judgement.”

In the town where I live I encounter an overwhelming number of virtuous sinners. They live decent lives. They pay taxes and vote. They love their families and work hard. They are civically minded and engaged. And… they are sinners, because they refuse to submit to Jesus as their Lord (ultimate authority) and Savior (the only way to the Father – aka salvation). These very virtuous sinners aren’t falling apart at the seams – in fact, they are doing quite well by any moral, ethical or economic standard you choose. But they are spiritually impoverished for they live as enemies of God, His Kingdom and His Christ.

I’m really done with the evangelistic model of trying to convince people they are no-good, dirty, rotten sinners. I’m not convinced it is effective and it isn’t something I’ve been able to make myself do, so how can I expect the people I pastor to do it? So the question I have been asking myself is this – Is there a better way?

I believe there is.

When Jesus begins his ministry, he begins with a call, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!” Jesus then proceeds to demonstrate God’s power, rule and reign over all the created order – over sickness, disease and death, over natural elements and over demons. Each and every demonstration of God’s power was to drive home the message that God’s Kingdom was breaking in all around them and people had better decide whether to be for God and His King or against them. The decision to “be on God’s side” was shown by a transformed life – living as a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven and abiding by the laws of that land.

Much of Jesus’s message and ministry bypassed moral objections. His proclamation and demonstration showed (a) that God was very real and very powerful, (b) that God’s Kingdom was invading the sovereign territory of their experience and (c) that to submit to God and His Christ was life and to continue to remain in rebellion to God was death. Jesus’s evangelistic model didn’t rely on convincing people they were sinners or on convincing people how much their Father loved them – He simply modeled that God existed and was Good. After modeling the character of God and explaining what life in the Kingdom was like, Jesus let people make their own decisions.

I think we are called to do the same.

I think we are called to let people know what life in the Kingdom is like, according to the Bible. I think we are called to display and declare the character of our King. I think we are called to proclaim and demonstrate that God is and that God is Good.

I know of no better way to do that than what we in the Vineyard call “Power Evangelism,” that is – using the gifts of the Spirit to provide an unbeliever with a God encounter. It might be prophecy, healing or a supernaturally empowered act of compassion – but whatever it is, it lets that person know that God sees them, knows them, loves them and wants them.

Once people have encountered God, their hearts are open to receiving the Gospel message. It is at this point that a clear, concise and rational presentation of the Gospel is in order. Power evangelism is never anti-rational, it is super-rational, that is, it is rational and experiential and appeals to much more than the mind, but the spirit, soul and body as well. The reason we need to present an accurate Scriptural portrayal of the Kingdom is simple – that person needs to decide wether or not they want to follow Jesus as their King and live by His laws. Some people do. Some people don’t. Either way, that isn’t for us to decide. We are called to present the Gospel, make disciples and teach those disciples to obey what Jesus commanded. It is Holy Spirit’s job to convert. It is our job to make converts into disciples.

For me, this process is what addresses the theological component of “sin,” “sinner” and “saint.” This type of evangelism deals with the issues of allegience, loyalty and the kingliness of Jesus. In the course of this God encounter people might also get a glimpse of their moral short comings, much like Peter did when Jesus provided him with the miraculous catch of fish – that is good, but it isn’t the goal. Our goal is to accurately display the Reality of the Kingdom and the heart of our King and to invite them to “come and see” or “follow Me.”

This is what I have become convinced of and what I intend to put to the test over the next few months. I’ll be sure to write about my encounters and let you know how it goes.

Thanks for reading friends.

Busy-ness

So much of healthy pastoring is learning how to be “unbusy” as Eugene Peterson calls it. It is the ability to minister from a place of sureness, identity and peace. Richard Foster would call it otium sanctum or “holy leisure” – the ability to slow down and be fully present in everyday life. This slowness, this timelessness, is the distinguishing feature of a saint who has lingered in the presence of the Loving Father. There is no need to rush, no compelling need to prove oneself to others when you are grounded in Reality.

So why are we (pastors included) so busy? I like what Eugene Peterson has to say in “The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction.” On pages 18 and 19 he says:

I am busy because I am vain. I want to appear important. What better way than to be busy? The incredible hours, the crowded schedule, and the heavy demands on my time are proof to myself and to all who will notice — that I am important… I live in a society in which crowded schedules and harassed conditions are evidence of importance, so I develop a crowded schedule and harassed conditions. When others notice, they acknowledge my significance, and my vanity is fed.

I am busy because I am lazy. I let others decide what I will do instead of resolutely deciding myself. It was a favorite theme of C.S. Lewis that only lazy people work hard. By lazily abdicating the essential work of deciding and directing, establishing values and setting goals, other people do it for us.

I would add to Peterson’s insights, I am busy because I am afraid. So often busyness becomes an anesthetic. When I am busy I don’t have the time for self-awareness and evaluation. When I am busy I don’t have to think about or deal with my past hurts and brokenness.

Silence is the bane of our age it seems, for in silence, in unbusyness, the Holy Spirit begins to speak, gently bringing to mind all of the things He would like us to turn over to Jesus. But we are uncomfortable with such an intimate and invasive God who earnestly desires every aspect of our hearts – so we drown Him out with iTunes or find something more “productive” to do. But we stunt our spiritual growth, and greatly jeopardize those under our care, when we refuse to slow down and surrender our schedules to God.

Have you ever met someone who embodied holy leisure? What impact did that have on you? Can you imagine what life would be like if you let God rearrange your scheduled priorities?