Mark 6:31-32 And he said unto them, Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while: for there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat. (32) And they departed into a desert place by ship privately.
Someone has said that the pastoral ministry will make a man old before his time. This was not a complaint, but simply an observation after many years of ministry. An active, busy, soul-winning pastorate in an active, busy, soul-winning church takes a lot out of a man AND his family. We are all made of spirit, soul and body – and the ministry can take a toll on all three parts of our being. Read the biographies of many of the great preachers of old and you will often find, somewhere along the way, a physical breakdown of some sort or another, requiring a period of extended rest. Though many of us may not be called upon to bear the sorts of burdens some of those men bore, we still need to heed the old admonition to “come apart before you come apart.”
Last year, my family took a vacation to the Smoky Mountains. Our neighbor at one stop was a pastor taking a “forced vacation.” He told me that after burning the candle at both ends for years, his health had broken down completely, and he’d suffered a mini-stroke. This man – in his 40’s – required complete rest. He admitted that he had been a workaholic, that he fooled himself into thinking that the church couldn’t make it even a week or two without his presence, and that “success” in the ministry was more important to him than anything else. Reality eventually taught him the truth.
The preacher, though, isn’t the only one that needs a vacation. His wife and kids need one too. And they need time with their Dad – and not just time divided between conference meetings and cell phone calls. The pastor with children at home should schedule one day off a week for his family responsibilities and at least one week off a year for an uninterrupted family vacation. He needs to be with them in body and in spirit. Too often, he is there in body, but his mind and heart are elsewhere.
Your church needs for you to take a break also. Time away will improve your spirit and your preaching. Hearing quality guest speakers will only do them good. If you have preachers in your church, allowing them to preach will be a blessing to them. Visiting churches out of town (as you should) will give you new ideas, and perhaps a new appreciation for your church. In the long run, good annual vacations will not only bless and preserve your family, they will bless, strengthen, and lengthen your ministry.
Of course, I understand that times may be hard, or the church very young. However, let me make a few general suggestions concerning the pastor’s vacation:
- Going to a conference is NOT a family vacation. I like conferences. I’ve taken my family to a few. But it ain’t no vacation – pardon the bad grammar. A week in a National Park with just your family, hiking or fishing or sightseeing, and visiting churches during the regular times, may do your family more good than any conference. The only people that want you to think otherwise are those that want you to attend their conferences.
- If your church can’t take care of business while you are gone a week, they are too dependent on you. You have not trained people, or delegated responsibilities. If people can’t live without you for a few days, they are too personally dependent on you, instead of the Lord.
- If you think the church CAN’T make it without you, you’ve got an inflated ego. Someone else can preach. Someone else can teach. Someone else can pick people up. If the church folds because you’re gone one week, something is wrong – but you might be surprised to come back and find it’s still there and doing just fine.
- Disconnect from your ministry responsibilities and focus on your family. Answering the phone all day because staff can’t find the hand soap or because someone needs emergency counsel on whether to buy Coke or Dr. Pepper tells your family, “I’m here in body, but absent in spirit.” You’d be surprised how insensitive some people can be about your vacation, so you have to be firm.
- By researching and asking pastors, you can often find a free or discounted place to stay. There are quite a few cabins or houses available to Baptist pastors if you plan in advance.
- If you can’t go far, have a stay-cation – but STAY away from the church. You’re supposed to be recharging and renewing.
- If you enjoy “preaching out” and have the opportunity, go ahead. Personally, I enjoy it. (And if they give a love offering, it helps with trip expenses!) But if not, don’t be afraid to tell pastors that you would just like to take a break and listen to them preach.
Sunday night after church, we are leaving for a 10-day vacation/mission trip. We are heading to the Navajo reservation in Arizona, where a friend is loaning us his cabin. We will see the Grand Canyon, the Petrified Forest, Monument Valley, and Carlsbad Caverns. We have been planning for it and looking forward to it all year. I skipped conferences this year so that we could do this as a family.
And I don’t even feel guilty about it.
Thank you for reading. God bless.