I used to feel guilty any time I took a break. I mean anytime. Sometimes I felt like I was wasting time that could have been spent on something more “worthwhile.” Other times I suffered from the “why wasn’t this money taken and given to the poor,” syndrome…though my vacations weren’t necessarily spendy. Getting away for a bit to replenish or spend time with the family was apparently fine for everyone else. Rationally, I knew it was OK for me, too. I just didn’t feel like it was OK.
Some of you know what I’m talking about. Perhaps you serve a church that piles on the guilt or gives only moments a year for vacation, study break, or Sabbath. One church I interviewed at many years ago offered me 2 weeks vacation a year (10 days, not 14), with one of those weeks being a church short-term mission trip that I would lead and attend at my own cost. While that example is extreme, it’s not that extreme or uncommon.
Sabbath is something pastors will have to learn to embrace or it will force it’s way into their lives violently. I used to feel guilty going on vacation. Now I feel guilty when I don’t. I’ve learned the hard way that a burned out minister has little to offer except his/her fumes and can do serious damage to themselves and their families by ignoring God’s Word on rest.
The church deserves better. Your family deserves better. God deserves better…and rest is His grace offered to you. Accept it. The world can go on without you. In fact, if you’re burnt up…it may go on better without you until you breathe again.
Here are some of the “best practices” I’ve gleaned from my own journey and that of my colleagues. When you take a break:
- Be thankful for your vacation, but don’t brag about it. While most church members are glad to see you have a good time, they don’t want to feel like you live for vacation or spend most of your time having fun. They want you to spend some time having fun. Just not most of the time 😉 Especially be mindful of how the money side of the vacation looks. It doesn’t matter if your parents paid for the whole thing or you used hotel/airline points or Ed McMahon delivered it to your door personally. You’ll never have the chance to explain. You don’t have to pretend you lived like a pauper if you didn’t. Just don’t brag and be wise about it.
- Don’t apologize for it. Part of your church’s spiritual growth is knowing where they end and you begin. It’s also good for them to embrace the Sabbath concept and develop grace toward their pastors–and to see you role-modeling a balanced life. If you apologize for resting, you hinder all of that.
- Watch your tweets and Facebook posts! These are prone to both understatement, hyperbole, and misunderstanding. It’s fine to share a little of your vacation so people can see what you did if you want to. But, be careful. Share what you really think might interest people. Spare them the pictures of your wife in a bikini, pictures involving you and alcohol, etc. No one really wants to see those anyway–except those who want to use them against you.
- When possible, take vacations when it’s least “expensive” to the church. I don’t mean monetarily. I mean the times of the year during which the church itself lets down naturally. As I type this our President is under intense scrutiny for heading to Martha’s Vineyard during a crisis. Be there when the church needs you there the most–Easter, back-to-school time, January, and for various long stretches during the year. I’ve learned over the years which Sundays are best for me to be gone for the church, which allow me to miss the fewest actual work days, and have me well-watered for the peak seasons of ministry. I nearly always take off the week after Christmas, for instance. It hardly “costs” the church anything, we’re between message series, lots of people are out of town, etc.
- Know thyself. Each minister I know has a different vacatio-rhythm. Except for this year, I tend to take most of my time off during the summer in a big block, because it takes me a while to unwind…and an extended period best allows me to get spiritually, emotionally, intellectually and creatively synced. Others I know take a more conventional approach. Know what works best for you to achieve maximum refreshment with the time you have.
- Have at least one getaway per year with just your family and two with just your spouse. These don’t have to be long. One-nighters, even. However, the longer, the better. I’ve found that because ministry interrupts family/marital life as often as it does, this practice keeps my wife and kids happy to be in ministry. A trip to visit your in-laws or a vacation with another couple doesn’t count. I’m talking about just you and the kids, just you and your spouse.
- Work hard when you’re not on vacation. Straight up–when your life is already a vacation with an occasional obligation thrown in, you don’t deserve one. Honor God and His Church by working hard, and your rest will bring Him joy. It will also do the same for any church worth their salt.