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A Pastor’s Reflections: Vacation

October 25, 2016

One of the most important things you can do as a pastor to prolong your ministry is to take vacations. It may sound odd, but it’s true. As a pastor you need to take time off to recharge your batteries. You many not realize it, but when you count sermon preparation, prayer meetings, session or consistory meetings, administration, and then being “on” for the better part of Sunday can eventually take its toll. I know of some pastors who will take a week off but still attend worship at their own church. While there’s nothing wrong with doing this, at the same time I never wanted to do it because you still have to work even when you simply want to worship. You can’t hang a sign around your neck that says, “Sorry, please don’t talk to me or ask me questions, I’m on vacation.” Some might find it funny but most would probably be offended. Therefore, when I vacationed, I wanted to go elsewhere, preferably where I was anonymous—where I could receive the means of grace and worship. By being anonymous I could truly rest—I didn’t worry about who I saw or what people might expect of me. It was freeing, and thus restful, to know that people only expected me to sit quietly, listen to the sermon, sing the hymns and psalms, and that’s it!

Some pastors have hard time taking vacations—they don’t want to give up their pulpit. They’re afraid to leave for fear of what might happen in their absence. In one sense, I can understand such fears. I suspect captains of sea-going vessels have such fears—they worry about retiring to their cabin and wonder what might happen if they’re not on the bridge to make a critical decision. If you’re made of iron and never have to worry about the acidic consequences of stress, then more power to you. But if you’re like most mere mortals, continual work and no rest can erode your well-being. Studies on burnout reveal that it does not occur over the long-term but can occur almost overnight. You work to the point of exhaustion and then have little to no gas in the tank and find yourself immobilized. One of my seminary professors said it best: “If you don’t take your days off and vacations when you need to, you’ll take them all together in one dose as you’re bedridden.”

Get away from work, from the church, rest, play, recharge your batteries, read a novel, watch interesting films, play with your children, and spend time with your wife. If you’re like me and you think such things make you feel like you’re being lazy—don’t think it! The craftsman who takes the time to sharpen his blade isn’t be lazy—he’s ensuring that he’s going to be more effective by taking the time to maintain his equipment. The same goes for you—taking time to rest, to have a vacation, so you can be more effective upon your return. This is good advice, I believe, for pastors and anyone, frankly, who works hard.