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Pastors don’t pray much it seems.

They are busy. But they are not filling their time with prayer, meditation or personal devotion. At least a study that came out this week says this is the case. The study, “Are Hard-Working Pastors Hurting Their Own Family Lives?” says about the 1000 pastors who answered the survey:

A telephone survey of more than 1,000 senior pastors indicated a full 65 percent of them work 50 or more hours a week – with 8 percent saying they work 70 or more hours. Meetings and electronic correspondence consume large amounts of time for many ministers, while counseling, visitation, family time, prayer and personal devotions suffer in too many cases.

The amount of time spent in prayer and personal devotions raises questions about the vitality of many pastors’ spiritual lives. While 52 percent report spending one to six hours in prayer each week, 5 percent say they spend no time at all in prayer. Furthermore, while 52 percent say they spend two to five hours a week in personal devotions unrelated to teaching preparation, 14 percent indicate they spend an hour or less in personal devotions each week.

Winter 3Seems to me that more than families are likely hurting if pastoral leaders are spending so little time attending to their own spiritual lives. But lest I sound too judgmental, I remember well the struggle to care for my own spiritual well-being while also attending to the spiritual well-being of those I served in the years when I was full-time on a church staff. I prayed a lot in those years. For others. On behalf of others. To lead others. And even when I was doing what I knew to do to care for my own soul, it was not always the most effective or spiritually nourishing thing I could be doing.

My Baptist tradition offered me a narrow range of choices for attending to my spiritual well-being and most of them were rational and belief-oriented (rather than ritual- or practice-oriented). Baptist piety involved a lot of Bible study, and talking prayers, but the ways that I learned these practices were shallow, and didn’t always restore my own soul. Most of them had a way of leaving my feelings, my body and my imagination out of the equation. So I ventured into other forms of Christian prayer and meditation, journaling, guided imagery and poetry as prayer. These helped me to keep my soul alive, but something was still missing.

Only during the months of my transition from full-time pastoral ministry to graduate study did I discover the vast silence at the core of Christian spiritual practice.  Seven years after seminary graduation I discovered this. A few books and courses hinted at the idea while I was a student. But mostly no one tried to tell me the essential quality of silence as the language of God and the ground of all language about God and worship of God. I’ve been doing the remedial work of learning the practice of silence ever since. This is a particular challenge for an extrovert.

In a few weeks I’ll be offering a class that takes up these concerns in a very direct way. “Prayer and Pastoral Care” will be an opportunity to explore these and related ideas in a community of learners. I’ll also be exploring some of the goals and concepts of the class here by posting some personal reflections as well. And I’ll be inviting you to say something about what you’ve learned. I hope you will join the conversation.

On this fifth day of Christmas, may the gifts of silence and music, bright ice and dark sky be yours. They are there waiting to speak to us the language of God.