The Listening Pastor

February 2, 2016 § Leave a comment

After 36 years, Leadership Magazine is calling it quits as a print magazine. The Winter 2016 issue is its last, as its parent company, Christianity Today International, is replacing it with a new section inside the pages of Christianity Today, and a future website, CTPastors.com.

Leadership is currently celebrating its history by counting down a series of “Top 40” articles, presented in chronological order, at the magazine’s site. Number 38, reprinted last week, is Eugene Peterson’s “The Unbusy Pastor,” originally published in the magazine’s second year.

It’s amazing to realize that Peterson has been writing about, and living out, his opposition to busyness for that long.

Two years ago I borrowed from Peterson’s article, using a quotation in a post I wrote about  listening. I’m reposting it below, because Peterson on listening is worth reading again . . . and again.

Listening and the Spirit of Unhurried Leisure

9563583010_8d7fb48cc5_z

“Get busy.”

That’s the mantra of many a boss.

“Look busy.”

That’s what coworkers say when the boss is coming.

Busyness isn’t always a synonym for work. In fact, busyness can get in the way of productivity.

Eugene Peterson, best known for his translation of the Bible, The Message, also served as a pastor of Christ Our King Presbyterian Church in Bel Air, Maryland, for 30 years. One of the consistent themes in his teaching and writing is that pastors should not fall into the seductive trap of busyness. Instead, as he writes in “The Unbusy Pastor,” his goal in his role as a church leader was to do three things, things that are too easily pushed aside by a busy life: to pray, to preach, and to listen.

Listening, he says, needs “unhurried leisure.” This leisure is the opposite of busyness. And just as busyness does not equal work, neither is leisure the same thing as laziness. Instead, leisure is having time at one’s disposal, and when one chooses to use that time for listening to what someone else has to say, it is a very valuable gift.

The passage below was written by Peterson in 1981. It is about and for pastors, but it can help any of us listen better, unless, of course, listening is something else we’ve ceded over to the professionals.

I want to be a pastor who listens. A lot of people approach me through the week to tell me what is going on in their lives. I want to have the energy and time to really listen to them so when they are through, they know at least one other person has some inkling of what they’re feeling and thinking.

Listening is in short supply in the world today; people aren’t used to being listened to. I know how easy it is to avoid the tough, intense work of listening by being busy (letting the hospital patient know there are ten more persons I have to see). Have to? But I’m not indispensable to any of them, and I am here with this one. Too much of pastoral visitation is punching the clock, assuring people we’re on the job, being busy, earning our pay.

Pastoral listening requires unhurried leisure, even if it’s for only five minutes. Leisure is a quality of spirit, not a quantity of time. Only in that ambience of leisure do persons know they are listened to with absolute seriousness, treated with dignity and importance. Speaking to people does not have the same personal intensity as listening to people. The question I put to myself is not “How many people have you spoken to about Christ this week?” but “How many people have you listened to in Christ this week?” The number of persons listened to must necessarily be less than the number spoken to. Listening to a story always takes more time than delivering a message, so I must discard my compulsion to count, to compile the statistics that will justify my existence.

(Eugene Peterson, “The Unbusy Pastor,” Leadership, Summer, 1981, also in The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction, reprint edition, Eerdmans, 1993)

[photo: “Railway Chit Chat,” by Brett Davies, used under a Creative Commons license]

Listening and the Spirit of Unhurried Leisure

May 14, 2014 § 3 Comments

9563583010_8d7fb48cc5_z

“Get busy.”

That’s the mantra of many a boss.

“Look busy.”

That’s what coworkers say when the boss is coming.

Busyness isn’t always a synonym for work. In fact, busyness can get in the way of productivity.

Eugene Peterson, best known for his translation of the Bible, The Message, also served as a pastor of Christ Our King Presbyterian Church in Bel Air, Maryland, for 30 years. One of the consistent themes in his teaching and writing is that pastors should not fall into the seductive trap of busyness. Instead, as he writes in “The Unbusy Pastor,” his goal in his role as a church leader was to do three things, things that are too easily pushed aside by a busy life: to pray, to preach, and to listen.

Listening, he says, needs “unhurried leisure.” This leisure is the opposite of busyness. And just as busyness does not equal work, neither is leisure the same thing as laziness. Instead, leisure is having time at one’s disposal, and when one chooses to use that time for listening to what someone else has to say, it is a very valuable gift.

The passage below was written by Peterson in 1981. It is about and for pastors, but it can help any of us listen better, unless, of course, listening is something else we’ve ceded over to the professionals.

I want to be a pastor who listens. A lot of people approach me through the week to tell me what is going on in their lives. I want to have the energy and time to really listen to them so when they are through, they know at least one other person has some inkling of what they’re feeling and thinking.

Listening is in short supply in the world today; people aren’t used to being listened to. I know how easy it is to avoid the tough, intense work of listening by being busy (letting the hospital patient know there are ten more persons I have to see). Have to? But I’m not indispensable to any of them, and I am here with this one. Too much of pastoral visitation is punching the clock, assuring people we’re on the job, being busy, earning our pay.

Pastoral listening requires unhurried leisure, even if it’s for only five minutes. Leisure is a quality of spirit, not a quantity of time. Only in that ambience of leisure do persons know they are listened to with absolute seriousness, treated with dignity and importance. Speaking to people does not have the same personal intensity as listening to people. The question I put to myself is not “How many people have you spoken to about Christ this week?” but “How many people have you listened to in Christ this week?” The number of persons listened to must necessarily be less than the number spoken to. Listening to a story always takes more time than delivering a message, so I must discard my compulsion to count, to compile the statistics that will justify my existence.

(Eugene Peterson, “The Unbusy Pastor,” Leadership, Summer, 1981, also in The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction, reprint edition, Eerdmans, 1993)

[photo: “Railway Chit Chat,” by Brett Davies, used under a Creative Commons license]

Farewell to “The Story,” with Listening Lessons from Mr. Gordon and Some Maasai Visitors

November 29, 2013 § Leave a comment

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

On October 11, Dick Gordon recorded his last episode of The Story. He’s moving back to Canada to be closer to family, and so ends the radio show’s 8-year run.

As I’ve written before, I’m a big fan of Gordon’s interviewing and listening skills, and I’ll miss catching his new installments from time to time.

After his last segment, Gordon recorded about 4 minutes on his philosophy of getting people to share their stories. The piece is entitled “Goodbye.” In it he talks about listening with patience:

There is a natural pause after the first part of an answer to a question. I ask you what it was like going for a walk with your grandfather, and you say, “It was nice. Not too cold. We had a good talk.” And if I wait, and if I don’t feel like I have to fill that pause and jump in with something else, that’s when you’re most likely to say, “He told me this story that I’d never heard before.”

“So that’s my conclusion,” he says, “after more than 36 years of talking on the radio, that the best thing I can do is not talk but listen. That’s when you hear the best stories.”

In another short audio post for The Story, this one from December 11 of last year, radio producer Marika Partridge talks about what she learned from a group of Maasai performers. As a child, she had spent a month camping with her family among the Maasai on the plains of Kenya. Years later, she was asked to interrupt her harried routine and host a group of Maasai singers and dancers coming to her home town of Takoma Park, Maryland. She consented and was glad she did. The experience broke through the busyness of her daily life and taught her about “conversation and caring”:

“Our way of life is really very strong on adhering to the word of mouth,” says the leader of the performing group. “When we speak to one another, we say we feed each other. We nourish each other spiritually.”

In “Saying Yes to Visitors,” Partridge shares the new perspective she gained:

Do I connect with the people I meet every day? Most of the time, other people seem like stumbling blocks, preventing me from getting to my next appointment. If I slowed things down and connected in this Maasai way maybe I could rediscover how to experience humanity as more than a series of interruptions.

Goodbye to The Story.

Goodbye Mr. Gordon. Enjoy your long conversations with family and friends—old and new—in Canada.

The Story is dead. Long live the stories.

[photo: “Listen,” by Jay Morrison, used under a Creative Commons license]

Pico Iyer on Home, Travel, and Stillness (plus, Have You Seen the TED Commandments?)

September 24, 2013 § 2 Comments

161335960_3c30374d20_nPico Iyer, best-selling author on the topic of crossing cultures, finds the concept of “home” difficult to describe. It’s no wonder. His parents are Indian. He was born in England. At the age of eight he moved with his family to California. And currently, between his many travels, he lives with his Japanese wife in Japan.

In a TED Talk from 3 months ago, Iyer “meditates on the meaning of home, the joy of traveling and the serenity of standing still.”

Some great writers are not great speakers, but Iyer expresses his thoughts with eloquence in both forms. Here are a few of those thoughts:

On multi-cultural children:
“[T[heir whole life will be spent taking pieces of many different places and putting them together into a stained-glass whole.”

On traveling:
“The real voyage of discovery, as Marcel Proust famously said, consists not in seeing new sights, but in looking with new eyes. And of course, once you have new eyes, even the old sights, even your home become something different.”

On the concept of home:
“[H]ome, we know, is not just the place where you happen to be born. It’s the place where you become yourself.”

On collecting 1 million miles on a frequent-flyer program:
“You all know that crazy system, six days in hell, you get the seventh day free.”

And on spending three days in silence at a monastery:
“I began to think that something in me had really been crying out for stillness, but of course I couldn’t hear it because I was running around so much.”

Following the TED Commandments

I’ve watched several TED Talks, and I’m always impressed with how the speakers seem to present their thoughts articulately and effortlessly. I’ve always wondered if they use teleprompters. I found my answer at Jimmy Guterman’s blog. Guterman, a TED Talk presenter, wrote that the TED Talk stage includes “confidence monitors.” These floor-mounted monitors show the slides used in the presentation, to which presenter notes can be added. He added these notes, but regretted it later, as he was distracted by the monitors and felt that he looked down at them too often.

Guterman goes on to list the “TED Commandments” that TED sends to every speaker. It’s a great list of advice, and most of it applies to even casual conversations:

I. Thou shalt not steal time.
II. Thou shalt not sell from the stage.
III. Thou shalt not flaunt thine ego.
IV. Thou shalt not commit obfuscation.
V. Thou shalt not murder PowerPoint.
VI. Thou shalt shine a light.
VII. Thou shalt tell a story.
VIII. Thou shalt honor emotion.
IX. Thou shalt bravely bare thy soul.
X. Thou shalt prepare for impact.

To this, Guterman adds a number eleven: Trust thyself. (In other words, Don’t use monitors.)

If you’re thinking about brushing up your public-speaking skills and want to imitate that TED Talk style, you might want to take a look at this “Onion Talk,” produced by the folks at The Onion. It’s called “Ducks Go Quack, Chickens Say Cluck” . . . sort of a lesson on cross-cultural communication.

(Jimmy Guterman, “How to Give a TED Talk (and How Not To),” Jimmy Guterman’s blog, March 12, 2002)

[photo: “Loneliness,” by David Jakes, used under a Creative Commons license]

Jesus Has Rhythm, How about You?

January 15, 2013 § Leave a comment

5952477370_6475320cc9_m“In the gospel accounts, we don’t see Jesus scurrying around driven by what we might call ‘hurry sickness,'” writes Stephen W. Smith. “We don’t sense Jesus navigating white water. We don’t see Him spinning plates or trying to live a balanced life. None of the four biographers of Jesus show Him in a hurry—ever.”

In his book, The Jesus Life: Eight Ways to Recover Authentic Christianity, Smith teaches that we not only need to listen to the words of Jesus but watch the lifestyle of Jesus, as well. And if we look closely, we’ll see that Jesus’ life is marked by a rhythm. This is especially clear, says Smith, in the Gospel of Luke:

Engage then disengage; work in the crowds but always make time to rejuvenate with time alone. Luke revealed that Jesus was not always on, He was not always available. This important lesson is key to sustaining a resilient and satisfying life.

Smith then goes on to tell the story of two “modern pilgrims,” Rich and Carla, who “graduated from a Christian college, got married, and moved to the mission field.”

They both had a dream of sharing Jesus with others who had never heard His teachings. But eighteen months after they arrived in their assigned country, they came back home. They left enthusiastic and invigorated. They returned broken and discouraged. Both shared that they had worked over seventy hours a week in a tireless effort with dozens of volunteer teams to build a children’s center from a crumbling building. They said, “We never had a day off. We never had one moment to ourselves. We hosted college students in our homes who stayed up late playing games, and we found ourselves playing the games with them until the early-morning hours. We went to bed exhausted, got up exhausted, did our work exhausted, and fought all the time—it seemed.”

Sound familiar? Feel familiar?

If so, and if you’d like help in imitating the rhythmic life of Jesus, pick up a copy of The Jesus Life.

(Stephen W. Smith, The Jesus Life: Eight Way to Recover Authentic Christianity, Colorado Springs: David C Cook, 2012)

[photo: “Plate Spinning,” by Vincent Cornelius, used under a Creative Commons license]

Where Am I?

You are currently browsing entries tagged with busyness at Clearing Customs.

%d bloggers like this: