I spent most of my adult life hating silence—and didn’t know it.

It was a major blind spot. I always dismissed my desire to be with people and avoid being alone as due to me being an extrovert and loving people. I excused my talkative nature as a sign of heightened relational instincts. These qualities also seemed to help my interactions with people as a pastor, so I thought nothing more of it. It wasn’t until I began my own counseling journey out of a crisis that I was confronted with this long-held deception. 

My counselor observed some behavior in my life that went unnoticed by most but became flags of concern for him. He saw that I ran from being alone. He realized I was uncomfortable in silence and didn’t know how to face it. He experienced the way I often dominated conversations with my words. This also exposed my terrible listening skills.  

As a result, he began to press me in this area—and it was difficult. Silence exposes the soul. Ugly things surfaced that I was not ready to face. At one stage it felt as though I had imploded. But God, in his amazing grace, met me in a sweet, powerful way and began a healing journey that has brought a consistent peace in my soul. It was only through silence that I experienced this deeper level of God’s grace and presence within my soul. 

In order for a pastor to have a long and fruitful ministry, he needs regularly to experience the power and love of God in these deep places of his soul. These places cannot and will not be reached in the midst of the frantic, noisy, and distracted pace at which most pastors commonly live. Hurried pastors, by their very nature, run from stillness—but the practice of silence can be a powerful vehicle for renewal. 

Reasons for Silence 

Most of us can agree on some obvious reasons for silence: we all need time to get refocused, be alone with God, pray, and read God’s word, free from distraction. However, I would like to give four additional reasons that may be less obvious—and that connect to silence being a catalyst for care for one’s soul and for combating a noisy, hurried ministry. 

First, silence exposes the soul. Busyness and noise are common defense mechanisms that we use to avoid pain in our lives. That could be unresolved pain and abuse from the past, or it could be current suffering. Regardless, noise and distraction can give the illusion that the suffering isn’t there or that it has no power. Many pastors are in a hurried state, not ultimately to be productive but to run from the pain of their own soul. Silence can expose that deep pain and demonstrate its undeniable presence in our souls. 

Second, silence confronts the voices; these voices are the messages we hear about ourselves, replaying in our mind. We all have them. They are the voices of people from our past. They are the lies the enemy loves to whisper in our ears. They are the messages of those currently in our life. When those voices are harsh and abusive, and they lie about our value and identity in Christ, they become very unpleasant to hear, and we do what we must to run from them. 

For years, I was tormented by these voices. Abusive voices from my past, lies from the enemy, and painful words of criticisms from the present all created these messages of failure and self-loathing that were loudest when I was alone in silence. So, I ran from silence to try and escape these voices. 

What I didn’t realize, however, was that I needed silence in order to confront these voices. The solution wasn’t to run from them but to speak at them: to speak powerful, gospel truth against the lies I had heard and believed for so long. Martyn Lloyd-Jones famously addressed these voices in the context of depression and said:

The main trouble in this whole matter of spiritual depression in a sense is this, that we allow our self to talk to us instead of talking to our self. Am I just trying to be deliberately paradoxical? Far from it. This is the very essence of wisdom in this matter. Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself?[1] 

In order to do that, I needed space. Silence helped me to recognize the areas in which I was listening to myself instead of talking to myself. In silence I better identified the voices and was able to confront them with truth. 

Third, silence teaches us to listen. It was troubling when I realized I had been a pastor for a long time and yet was such a poor listener. I listened, but it was to prepare to respond. I needed to learn to listen without a need to respond: to just listen and empathize. As I began to embrace silence, I realized I was beginning to listen too. I heard sounds around me that I had never noticed before. I felt more receptive to the message of God’s word. It is amazing what happens when you are not so preoccupied with trying to figure out what to say or do next. Just listen. 

Finally, silence tests our need for noise. I thought I just loved people and activity. I had no idea that I needed noise because my soul was tormented by silence. If you are a hurried pastor, it may be because you have an unhealthy need for noise too. Silence exposes the soul and can test how much we have grown to depend on noise to block out the pain of our lives.  

Pastors do not have to make much effort to find noise and distraction. It naturally flows from a hurried life. But silence is another matter. We must fight for it. Silence challenges us to face that pain and allow the power of the gospel to penetrate deep in our souls and bring healing. 

* * * * * 

Editor’s note: This article is adapted from The Unhurried Pastor by Brian Croft and Ronnie Martin. In the book, Brian and Ronnie help pastors adopt an approach to ministry that is effective, enjoyable, and sustainable.

[1] Martyn Lloyd-Jones in Spiritual Depression. 

Brian Croft

Brian Croft is the former senior pastor of Auburndale Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky and is the founder of Practical Shepherding. He is also Senior Fellow for the Mathena Center for Church Revitalization and an Adjunct Professor at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Ronnie Martin

Ronnie is the founder and lead pastor of Substance Church (EFCA) in Ashland, Ohio. He is also the Director of Leader Renewal for Harbor Network, a church planting collective based out of Louisville, Kentucky.

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