Pastors are a strange breed.
We’ve established that. But they’re exactly like anyone else, and no less so than when it comes to holidays. Pastors need to rest, but find it very hard to rest well. Now we’re into holiday season, here are a few thoughts and pointers on taking time out in the summer.
Not taking full holiday
Many pastors (I include myself) don’t usually take the full allocation of their holidays. This is true. They are usually conscientious, we love the job, and sometimes we are just not organised enough to take off necessary and entitled rest. If you’re a Christian leader and this is your habit, then you need to address this fast. Don’t listen to that nonsense which says, ‘I’ll take a holiday when the Devil takes one’. And don’t think your skimping on rest tells everyone that you’re tough and godly. You may be tough and godly at the moment; the chances are that you’ll join the casualty list of the fallen if you don’t take proper holidays. It’s an overtired, joyless vulnerable you who will be your church’s next disaster. Get out of town!
Tips for the pastor on holiday
Pastors often have the grumps on holidays. Ministerial exhaustion seeps out and colours everything. Sometimes, very sadly, it spoils everything. I almost always collapse in tears at least once on our holidays over something (usually trivial). I discover that all my mental and spiritual energy has been used up in ministry. I need to watch out for all sorts of emotions. Be aware, and remember that forewarned is forearmed.
Holidays aren’t heaven. How often are our holidays spoilt by silly expectations? Holidays can be about sinners attempting to gain the world. That will fail. We Christians are people seeking a bit of R&R on our way to the real rest of heaven. If you expect that a holiday will meet all of your needs, you’ll be disappointed. Relax – it’s only a holiday.
The holiday is for you. Pastor, you are exhausted, you need to rest. Holidays are for going slowly. They are for sleep, and unhurried meals. If you really need to go white-water rafting after a ten mile pre-breakfast jog, then do it. Probably, you don’t, and shouldn’t. Don’t flog yourself to try to give your family a week or two of unforgettable thrills. They need you to be refreshed for the long-term, even if you’re not the 24-7 action dad on holiday.
That said, the holiday is for your family. Enjoy yourself, and do the things you love to do. Don’t feel guilty about the odd morning on your own, if that recharges you. But be as generous as you’re able to be in giving yourself to your family. Don’t resent or get out of family time. Your family goes without you a lot through the course of your ministry year. Holidays are pay-back! Serve them by being all-in on your holiday.
Remember your soul. Plan to feed yourself spiritually. Choose your books carefully before you go. Take something which stretches you spiritually, something which warms and reassures, something you would never normally read, and a novel or something else totally removed from work. Know what you want to read in your Bible, and stick to it. Load your iPod with sermons. And don’t try to read or to listen to everything, it just won’t happen! Go where your mood takes you. Also, aim to get an extended time of prayer, away from everyone else, in the first day or two of the holiday. That has a wonderful way of putting things back into focus before the Lord, so that you begin to rest properly as the holiday unfolds.
Tips for church members
Lastly, two pointers for those who love their pastors:
Insist that your pastor takes his full holiday allowance each year. He will be better for it, and so will his ministry. Elders need to make him accountable to rest just as much as they should encourage him in the work. Does your church have that one covered?
Then ﬁnally, how about paying for, or making a contribution towards, your pastor and family going away? And not to a wind-battered static caravan somewhere you got dirt cheap but wouldn’t dream of going to yourself. Give generously, and invest in their rest and together-times, as an act of love. That might be better done anonymously, as a pastor’s job is often harder when he’s aware of particular gifts within the church. However you do it, make him sure that he’s taking a break with your love and full support.
Holidays and rest are a big subject. Over the next three columns we’ll think about burnout, and the place of sabbaticals. For now, remember, you need to go away. And enjoy it, for Jesus’s sake.
Pastor Anonymous is in full-time pastoral ministry somewhere in the UK.