In the light recent public debate on the enormous benefits for the nation when political figures have 'thinking time', I asked this question, "Can parishioners give permission to their clergy to stop and think?"
Former Treasurer Peter Costello recently stated wisely that 'thinking time' was essential for national decision makers. Likewise, former Prime Minister Paul Keating says that 'thinking time' is more than essential. I recall USA Presidential Democratic Party candidate Barack Obama stated (who later served two terms as President), "The most important thing you need to do is to have big chunks of time during the day when all you're doing is thinking."
If these successful politicians of all persuasions recognise the innate value of this type of personal "reflection", why is it, that so many local Christian congregations think - so poorly - of their Minister taking time out for being physically "still" but mentally active, and "thinking"?
In Christian circles, particularly within my experience of evangelical and pentecostal practices, reflection and listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit for directional guidance is advocated, yet the 'actions' of clergy do not necessarily match the 'words' in this regard.
The perceived sentiment in the 'free church', the non-conformist traditions, is that the Minister should be busy doing Christ's work; particularly that of evangelism.
This has become a code for getting out and about, and telling people about Jesus and Salvation; the converse sentiment is the silent code that emphasises that a Minister who is 'not' engaged in these activities 24 hours a day, seven days a week, is viewed negatively and condemned as being idle. It is considered that he is being paid by the congregation to be active.
Why is the rhetoric that is so keenly espoused for 'thinking time' not translated into action, and its importance emphasised to those sitting in the pews, so that they can celebrate the wisdom of their pastor?
I put forward three reasons for this dichotomy:
First, the non-conformist philosophical tradition has not placed a high practical value on 'thinking time' as they have on 'out-there evangelism'.
Second, in non-conformity, there has never been an academic tradition where 'evangelism' is intrinsically linked to a priory of 'thinking time'.
Third, the non-conformist historically is linked to the Protestant work ethic, where idleness is considered to be at the root of evil thought, leading to wickedness. Therefore every effort is made to be active (or to be seen to be physically active).
Yet, in complete contrast to this way of non-conformist theological thinking, the greatest of all the evangelists since the Reformation in the 16th Century have been people who had taken time out to 'think' and actively reflect.
The difference between these two, is that those great evangelists on the one hand ignored the silent pressures to 'conform to being busy' and on the other, were great leaders and could demonstrate that they had earned the 'right' to have time to think.
I draw the conclusion that, in our present society, unless the clergy can prove themselves in the market place of evangelism, they have not earned this 'right' to take time for stillness and quiet reflection.
Consequently, it is time for the clergy to follow the pathway of Christ, ignore the criticisms, be faithful to their calling and take time to listen carefully and thoughtfully to the voice of God.
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He mentors young writers and has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children. Dr Tronson writes a daily article for Christian Today Australia (since 2008) and in November 2016 established Christian Today New Zealand. Dr Mark Tronson’s Press Service International in 2019 was awarded the Australasian Religious Press Association’s premier award, The Gutenberg.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/mark-tronson.html